Though the Nintendo 64 is best known for it’s excellent 3D platformers and action/adventure titles like Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time, it actually had a stellar lineup of racing games as well. The N64 could never compete against Gran Turismo for the simulation crown, though it made up for this shortcoming with 2 extra controller ports for multiplayer mayhem, and more than it’s fair share of excellent arcade racers. These truly came in all shapes and sizes—from cute karting games to futuristic racers and everything in between. Because of the sheer volume and variety on offer it has been a real challenge to narrow it down to such a short list, but our top picks have crossed the finish line and jumped up on to the podium to claim ultimate glory. Welcome to our Top 10 Greatest N64 Racing Games.
10. Ridge Racer 64
Despite some tough competition, Ridge Racer 64 powerslides ahead of the pack and into our top 10 list for two main reasons. Firstly is the excellent drifting mechanic. Aside from the Initial D manga and anime series, nothing else has had a worse influence on my real-world driving behaviour than the Ridge Racer series. The second factor is the game’s stunning mascot—’race queen’ Reiko Nagase who adorns the game’s cover. As far as digital childhood crushes went, she was right up there… on my wall that is! Fan service aside, Ridge Racer 64 was a blazing fast, arcade racer with tight handling, lots of cars, and a high level of polish that make it a must-play for any arcade racing fan.
9. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer
While you probably won’t find Star Wars Episode 1 on any ‘Top 10 Greatest Movies’ lists, it managed to inspire a fun, faithful, and blisteringly-fast racing game based on the film’s epic pod-race sequences, earning a spot in our Top 10 Greatest N64 Racing Games. Star Wars Episode 1: Racer was packed with lots of pods and courses to choose from, and most importantly it had an incredible sense of speed. If we have one complaint about Star Wars Episode 1: Racer, it’s that it was a little too easy, but this was probably an attempt to appeal to the film’s younger audience—which it certainly did.
8. Excitebike 64
It sounds like a recipe for disaster. Trying to capture the simplistic fun and elegance of the 8-bit NES classic Excitebike and turn it into a 3D racer. But as they so often do, Nintendo proved the doubters wrong yet again and Excitebike 64 more than lived up to the classic title it was inspired by. It makes it into our Top 10 Greatest N64 Racing Games for its excellent (for the time) 3D graphics and physics engine, responsive controls, and a great amount of content to keep players happy either with a group of friends or alone. It’s been a few generations Nintendo, I think it’s high time for a new Excitebike game on the Wii U!
7. San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing
Long before the days of Burnout, San Francisco Rush ruled the road when it came to extreme racing. This game had it all—nice visuals, a wacky sense of humor, huge jumps, countless secrets to discover and much more. Multiplayer sessions would inevitably dissolve into fits of laughter as your cars would launch into the air and into the side of a building. There was also a great sense of excitement as you would uncover hidden paths and ramps to give yourself a shortcut to victory. The San Francisco Rush series also received two excellent sequels on the Nintendo 64, though it is the original title that we have the fondest memories of.
6. Snowboard Kids
Snowboard Kids is often described as ‘Mario Kart on snow’. While that isn’t an entirely unfair description, it also doesn’t tell the entire story. Snowboard Kids, hilariously known as Snowbo Kids in Japan, is an adorable snowboarding themed racer with items and weapons to collect like its karting cousins Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing. Some of the more creative weapons included turning your opponents into snowmen so they couldn’t steer, or my personal favorite, a parachute that would send players flying up into the air only to float slowly back to earth as they watched the competition fly past down below. What really made Snowboard Kids unique however was its chaotic chair lift feature. Races lasted multiple laps meaning players would need to catch a chair lift back to the top of the mountain after each lap. Only one player could get on at a time, so there was always a frantic battle to get on before your opponents.
5. Wave Race 64
Wave Race 64 had no right to be as great as it was. To say that making a jet ski racing game—and a launch game no less—on the N64 with realistic water physics was ambitious is an understatement. It should have been dismal. Instead, early adopters of the N64 were blessed with what might be the greatest water-based racing game of all time. I have vivid memories of playing Wave Race 64 for the first time and genuinely thinking “That’s it, games will never look better than this. It’s like watching a video of people jet skiing”. Recently I looked it up on YouTube to see how horrible it looks by today’s standards, preparing to have a good old laugh at how stupid I once was. Much to my surprise Wave Race 64 looks more or less how I remember it—a fun, great looking racing game with realistic water physics. Maybe it’s time to bring the old N64 out of retirement for another blast around Drake Lake.
4. Mario Kart 64
“Blasphemy!” I hear you cry. Many readers will no doubt be enraged to see Mario Kart 64 rank anywhere lower than first place on this list. But before you reach for that pitchfork and burning torch, just think for a moment. Do you really think Mario Kart 64 objectively deserves the top spot as a game, or are you mostly remembering all of the great times and laughs you had with your friends and siblings? I’m willing to bet that the latter is true. Mario Kart 64 is a fantastic game with three friends, but a slightly lackluster single-player campaign just hold it back from sitting on our podium.
3. Beetle Adventure Racing!
Don’t laugh, I’m deadly serious about this one. If you haven’t played Beetle Adventure Racing! I can understand why you would be skeptical about its inclusion in our Top 3. First of all there is the goofy font, complete with exclamation mark in the games title. But the main reason is likely the fact that the game involves racing exclusively in Volkswagen Beetle’s. Yes, you read that right. The Beetle is hardly known as one of the world’s great supercars, and it’s hard to imagine a game having only one car when people today complain about Forza 5 which has over 200 to choose from. But none of this changes the fact that Beetle Adventure Racing! is one of the greatest racing games on the N64. It boasts six tracks which may not sound like a lot, but oh what tracks they were! The locations in the game were gorgeous with fantastic attention to detail, secret paths and countless hidden collectables to find. On top of this, each track is based loosely on famous blockbuster films like Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park or James Bond to really spice things up. Great graphics, catchy tunes and razor-sharp handling propel Beetle Adventure Racing! into third place, proving that you should never judge a book—or game—by its cover!
2. F Zero X
The Nintendo 64 had its fair share of great futuristic racing games like Wipeout 64 and Extreme-G, but it is Nintendo’s very own F Zero X than can claim the crown. While not the prettiest game on the system, F Zero X excelled in the gameplay department and had a killer soundtrack. The game was insanely fast and packed an unprecedented amount of rivals on screen at once. Aside from some slightly dull visuals, the only other thing holding back F Zero X from the number one spot is the fact that its superior GameCube sequel F Zero GX has spoiled us a bit. Regardless, F Zero X was another excellent entry in an excellent series. A new F Zero game can’t come soon enough!
1. Diddy Kong Racing
This one is sure to upset some die-hard Mario Kart 64 supporters, but the fact is that Rare’s Diddy Kong Racing improved on the kart racing formula in almost every way. The game had cute, colorful graphics, adorable characters (including Banjo who would go on to star in Banjo-Kazooie) and an impossibly catchy soundtrack. But it is Diddy Kong Racing’s wealth of content and challenging gameplay that boost it to the top position on our list. All up the game boasts a massive 30 tracks across five worlds, all cleverly tied together in an overworld stage. Each track is highly detailed and filled with secrets, shortcuts and fun weapons to decimate the competition. Throw in some boss races, battle arenas, and the genius addition of planes and hovercrafts, and it’s clear to see why Diddy Kong Racing earns the title of our Greatest N64 Racing Game!
Top Gear Overdrive, Wipeout 64, World Driver Championship, Road Rash 64, Extreme-G, Top Gear Rally