Overview: Inside the Best Nintendo 64 Platformers

The Nintendo 64 ushered in the era of 3D gaming, and platformers fully embraced this shift. While Mario defined the fundamentals, daring developers like Rareware pushed boundaries every gamer should experience.

In this retrospective, we‘ll highlight the platforming magic that game designers achieved on the N64 hardware despite its challenges. Relive the adventures that made Mario, Banjo and even Conker into legends with me!

The Nintendo 64‘s 3D Revolution

New Super Mario Bros. looks simple now, but rendering smooth 3D graphics on 1990s hardware presented huge obstacles. Nintendo partnered with Silicon Graphics, whose workstations were used by Jurassic Park animators, to develop custom designs known as Reality Immersion Technology.

This innovative architecture churned out up to 100,000 polygons per second, astounding at the time. But animating expansive 3D worlds taxed the N64‘s 4MB RAM and 93MHz CPU. Clever compromises like pre-rendered backgrounds were necessary to achieve the director Shigeru Miyamoto‘s vision.

Programmers relied on creative solutions like level of detail scaling, culling off-screen objects and building the experience around static camera angles. Games even used special chips built into each cartridge to accelerate rendering. This custom approach resulted in some of Nintendo’s greatest masterpieces.

The Platforming Pantheon

Developers overcame technical challenges with groundbreaking game design and memorable characters. While primitive polygonal models can look messy today, imagination fills the gaps. I still have fond memories speedrunning levels for the 100th time.

Let‘s explore what made these 7 Nintendo 64 titles so magical for a generation of gamers discovering 3D…

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YearGlobal SalesAvg Review Score
199611.91 million9.2 / 10

No list would be complete without Mario‘s genre-defining debut in 3D. Super Mario 64 didn‘t just preserve the tight control and fun factor of prior Mario games while innovating the camera and moveset. It gave players a childlike feeling of awe exploring surroundings like Miyamoto‘s own youth.

Director Shigeru Miyamoto filled Mario‘s first 3D outing with diverse locales, from the treacherous bob-omb battlefield to the gloomy Hazy Maze Cave and the floating wonder of Tiny-Huge Island…

Rare took the baton from Nintendo mastermind Miyamoto to show what richly interactive worlds were possible on the Nintendo 64. Collect-a-thon platformers reached their zenith in 1998‘s Banjo-Kazooie by filling Banjo’s sandboxes with creativity at every turn…

While showcasing its own flavor, Kirby 64 overcame being late to 3D platforming in 2000 by hiding deceptively ruthless challenges behind its cute facade. Combining powers built across 7 worlds was essential for uncovering shards. Meanwhile falling objects crushing Kirby ensured only the most determined players saw credits…

In 2001 Conker‘s Bad Fur Day brought raunchy film parodies starring a drunken squirrel to Nintendo‘s family-friendly platform. The context-sensitive mechanics put items like frying pans and urine to creative use against gangsters and cavemen. Perspective dynamically shifted while hungover Conker platforming controls intensified the disorientation…

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YearGlobal SalesAvg Review Score
1999Over 5 million8.7 / 10

Donkey Kong 64‘s five playable characters with integrated abilities demonstrated Rare‘s ambition to innovate. Managing items/collectibles across kong inventories created puzzles only possible on N64 hardware. Players felt the rush exploring familiar levels with new solutions. Its mini-games offered delightful departures from the expansive worlds…

In 2000, Rare took a darker turn while expanding Banjo-Kazooie‘s signature humor and style. New transformations like termites crawled underworlds while evil scientists forcibly experimented on creatures. These risky themes balanced against football matches with goblins showcased maturation towards emotionally complex experiences…

Rayman 2 pioneered gameplay variety in nonlinear 3D worlds while outperforming contemporaries visually thanks to lush pre-rendered environments. Rayman transitioned flawlessly between freeform exploration and thrilling on-rails vehicle sequences unmatched by primitive polygons elsewhere. New abilities unlocked new paths ensuring familiar zones stayed fresh…

Preserved in Time

While once jaw-dropping technical marvels, the N64 masterpieces covered here can induce some chuckles today. But their legendary game design perseveres thanks to the risks taken by visionaries working around hardware constraints. Emergent environments and player-driven experiences in modern games owe everything to these pioneers of 3D.

The next time you marvel at sprawling vistas in games like Elden Ring, take a moment to appreciate the ambitious efforts required for Mario‘s first steps into the unknown. Every axis of freedom was a hard-won victory by ingenious designers faced with unbelievable obstacles. Their technical wizardry made immersive interactive worlds a reality.

We stand on the shoulders of Nintendo 64 giants who viewed closed doors as fresh challenges rather than dead ends. Limitations inspired invention forging franchises that thrived across generations. For those who lived the magic firsthand, these classics made 3D action dreams into reality.

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