For many gamers, the Nintendo 64 (or N64) was their first glimpse at 3D gaming. The third major console released by Nintendo, the N64 hit store shelves in 1996 (or '97 if you're in Europe or Australia) a year or two after the groundbreaking Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. On paper, the N64 featured impressive hardware specifications compared to its rivals of the time, but because of some quirks, notably the N64's 4Kb of texture memory (compared to the PlayStation which had 1Mb of dedicated video memory, which could be allotted variably for textures), its games didn't really have much of a technical advantage. Furthermore, N64 games were cartridge-based (not counting 64DD) which meant that there was less space available. This noticeably impacted the amount and base quality of sounds and music, especially noticeable compared to the CD-quality sound on PlayStation and Sega Saturn.
That all being said, the Nintendo 64 still has some of the best and most iconic games of all time and amazing soundtracks to go along with them. While Nintendo might have lost the console war this time around, these songs are all winners in our hearts! Here are our top 10 game soundtracks from the Nintendo 64!
10. Mario Kart 64
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Nintendo EAD
- Release Date: December 14, 1996 (JP) February 10, 1997 (NA) June 24, 1997 (EU)
Mario Kart 64 is the sequel to Super Mario Kart on the Super Nintendo and the first in the long-running kart racing series to feature true 3D environments in its tracks (but not true 3D character models which are prerendered). This technology made more complicated tracks possible, allowing for changes in elevation, walls, bridges, and more unique stage pieces to liven up the environments. The game also upped its multiplayer count to 4-player (from 2-player on Super Mario Kart) and added other new features such as ghost data for time trials, mirror mode, and a character weight system still present in the current series.
The music for Mario Kart 64 was composed by Kenta Nagata and was his first work on a Nintendo game, he later would do more music for the Mario Kart series as well as other games like New Super Mario Bros., Pokémon Stadium, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Animal Crossing. We love how lively yet smooth a lot of the songs on the Mario Kart 64 soundtrack are, and the excellent instrumentation (ooh that pan flute!). With good variety to match the different stages and some truly memorable, nostalgic jams, the Mario Kart 64 OST fits perfectly with its game, making all the fun moments even better and added an appropriate feeling of accomplishment at the end.
Standout tracks: Rainbow Road, Victory Lap, Frappe Snowland/Sherbet Land
9. Goemon's Great Adventure (Ganbare Goemon Derodero Dōchū Obake Tenko Mori)
- Publisher: Konami
- Developer: Konami
- Release Date: December 23, 1998 (JP) September 15, 1999 (NA) June 18, 1999 (EU)
While the Goemon games (often called Mystical Ninja in the localized versions) aren't unknown in the West, it's certainly more obscure than in its native Japan where the series has received over 20 installments and over a dozen spinoffs. The Nintendo 64 is actually the system that saw the most worldwide releases with two games: Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon and Goemon's Great Adventure (or Mystical Ninja 2 Starring Goemon in Europe). The Goemon games revolved around the titular Goemon, a Robin Hood-like ninja loosely based on the semi-legendary Ishikawa Goemon, and his quirky adventures in a fictional feudal Japan where all of the folklore of the time is true and there are also giant robots and other anachronistic material.
Goemon's Great Adventure marked a return to side-scrolling gameplay more reminiscent of the earlier Super Nintendo /Super Famicom games but with an added 2.5D flair and a two-player cooperative mode that made it what is considered the best side-scrolling game on the system. The Goemon series has had a history of strong soundtracks and Goemon's Great Adventure is not exception. Blending traditional Japanese instruments and melodies with modern synthesizers and a few rock numbers for character theme songs gives the music a unique style that makes this OST stand out. Its track listing is also massive with nearly 70 songs and day/night variations, very impressive given cartridge limitations. The offbeat, distinctly Japanese style of Goemon's Great Adventure's soundtrack matches the gameplay and story perfectly and easily makes our top 10 Nintendo 64 OSTs.
Standout tracks: Ryugu Castle, Mokeke Forest, Majin Castle
8. Diddy Kong Racing
- Publisher: Rare
- Developer: Rare
- Release Date: November 21, 1997 (JP and EU) November 24, 1997 (NA)
Interestingly enough, Diddy Kong Racing started development as a real-time strategy game but quickly shifted gears early in development into a kart racer heavily inspired by Mario Kart 64 but with a few twists of its own, most notably having the game feature different types of vehicles: karts, hovercrafts, and airplanes as well as a pretty fleshed-out adventure mode. The whole game was inspired by theme parks like Disney World. These unique features, along with its roster of popular Donkey Kong and other Rare characters, let the game stand out even though its gameplay is mostly derivative from earlier titles.
For fans of Rare, or fans of gaming music in general, the name of David Wise is instantly recognizable. As the long-time composer for many of the company's greatest hits, perhaps most notably the Donkey Kong Country series, David Wise is considered one of the best artists working in video games and his music for Diddy Kong Racing lives up to his reputation. Full of infectious melodies and cool instrumentation, Wise's soundtrack captures the playful spirit of the game wonderfully, letting it drive, float, and fly its way into our top 10!
Standout tracks: Spacedust Alley/Star City, Pirate Lagoon/Treasure Caves, Darkmoon Caverns/Credits
7. Banjo-Kazooie (Banjo to Kazooie no Daibouken)
- Publisher: Rare
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: June 29, 1998 (NA) July 17, 1998 (EU) December 6, 1998 (JP)
Wow, another Rare game! Banjo-Kazooie is a story-driven 3D platformer game with a strong collect-a-thon element in the form of jigsaw pieces (called jiggies) and music notes for players to collect across nine large, nonlinear levels. Banjo-Kazooie also has a fairly well-developed plot involving the titular honey bear Banjo and his red-crested breegull friend Kazooie who lives in Banjo's backpack. The main story involves Banjo and Kazooie rescue of Banjo's little sister Tooty who is kidnapped by the evil, frequently rhyming witch Gruntilda who is is trying to steal Tooty's beauty for herself.
Banjo-Kazooie is considered by some to be one of the best games ever made and definitely a fan favorite on the Nintendo 64. That love is certainly, in part, due to its soundtrack created by fellow in-house Rare composer Grant Kirkhope which has a distinctive country/bluegrass vibe not seen a lot in video games. Some special touches like having the music change to a different variation when you're close to certain objects or places or switch to a more muffled staccato version when you're inside adds another layer of immersion that enhances your experience quite a bit while playing. One of the most cohesive N64 soundtracks, Banjo-Kazooie's OST belongs on any top 10 N64 music lists on technical innovation alone with bonus points for having music notes be a big part of the game as well!
Standout tracks: Spiral Mountain, Click Clock Woods, Treasure Trove Cove
6. Bomberman 64: The Second Attack (Baku Bomberman 2)
- Publisher: Hudson Soft
- Developer: Hudson Soft (Japan) Vatical Entertainment (America)
- Release Date: December 3, 1999 (JP) May 28, 2000 (NA)
The followup to Bomberman 64, Bomberman 64: The Second Attack is an action game with puzzle elements. Compared to the first game, The Second Attack has improvements pretty much all around with improved graphics, a more developed story, and gameplay that focuses a lot less on the finicky “bouncing on bombs” mechanic. Bomberman also has access to seven different types of elemental bombs that you unlock after defeating the bosses Mega Man style. These different bombs let Bomberman interact with the environment, allowing things like freezing water to walk over it with ice bombs, pushing objects and Bomberman with the wind bombs, etc. which really add to the experience. Bomberman 64: The Second Attack also introduces an adorable sidekick character called Pommy that helps out in battles a little bit and interestingly changes into a wide variety of new forms when fed different types of food you can find throughout the levels.
Bomberman is a very long-running series that has had installments on nearly every console ever created with over 70 games. While the music of the series hasn't always been a big focus of the games, there have been many with excellent soundtracks. Bomberman 64: The Second Attack has one of the strongest OSTs with especially interesting instrumentation and an overall chill and smooth electronic sound that fit each stage and story moment with panache. A worthy soundtrack to this ambitious, story-focused entry into a series mostly known for its multiplayer that really sets itself apart. It's one of our favorites on the Nintendo 64!
Standout tracks: Ocean Planet Aquanet, Lilith's Theme, Game Planet Starlight
5. Super Mario 64
- Publisher: Nintendo EAD
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: June 23, 1996 (JP) September 29, 1996 (NA) March 1, 1997 (EU)
Super Mario 64 is an absolutely groundbreaking 3D platforming title that has been immensely influential on the super popular Mario series, as well as 3D video games in general. With its tight analog controls, a dynamic camera system that was extremely impressive for the time, good level design, and a really cool 3D hub-world in the form of Peach's Castle, Super Mario 64 set the standard for 3D platformers. As the best-selling game on the Nintendo 64 that remains popular to this day, Super Mario 64 holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers.
The soundtrack was composed by the legendary Koji Kondo, who is the main composer for the Mario games as well other Nintendo series like The Legend of Zelda and Star Fox. Mario 64's OST isn't the most extensive on our list nor is it particularly technically interesting like Banjo-Kazooie's but it more than makes up for it with its incredibly catchy melodies and fun and varied instrument choices. Incorporating remixes and reinterpretations of classic Mario melodies along with completely new material, the music of Super Mario 64 also has an incredible sense of nostalgia, especially for long-time fans of the series, that makes this OST just as classic as the game itself.
Standout tracks: Bob-omb Battlefield/Main Theme, Dire, Dire Docks, Staff Roll
4. The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
- Publisher: Nintendo EAD
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: April 27, 2000 (JP) October 26, 2000 (NA) November 17, 2000 (EU)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is the second entry in the legendary series on the Nintendo 64 that is best remembered for its darker tone compared to most of the other Zelda games, unique time-travel mechanic, multiple character forms, and focus on numerous, well-developed side quests. Set in the world of Termina, Majora's Mask follows hero Link as he attempts to save the world from impending doom in the form of the terrifying moon that will crash into the world in three days. This foreboding sense of dread along with the bizarre and twisted world really makes Majora's Mask an incredible entry in the series and one of the most memorable games of all time.
Veteran Koji Kondo once again assumes his role as the main composer for Majora's Mask along with a few tracks by Toru Minegishi who later worked on some other Zelda titles such as Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass. Like the strange world it is set in, the OST of Majora's Mask has a bit of an unusual slant to it. Kondo himself described it as having an “exotic, Chinese opera sound”. Similar to Super Mario 64, Majora's Mask reuses and remixes earlier tracks (most notably from its immediate predecessor) along with a bevy of original music. Majora's Mask's OST is extensive, hauntingly beautiful (and also often haunting), and perfectly matches the feeling of the game. Playing music itself is also a major gameplay component which just adds extra zest to the rich experience that is Majora's Mask. Time may be cruel and fearful but not to this game or its soundtrack!
Standout Tracks: Song of Healing, Deku Palace, Stone Tower Temple
3. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (Hoshi no Kaabii 64)
- Publisher: HAL Laboratory
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: March 24, 2000 (JP) June 26, 2000 (NA) June 22, 2001(EU)
This beloved Kirby game was the first to use 3D graphics (although the gameplay itself is 2D) and also introduced some new characters and, most notably, an incredibly unique copy ability combiner system that lets the player mix and match many of Kirby's signature powers into new ones. This system added a great variety to the gameplay and made this entry in the series feel quite different compared to previous (and future) games because of it while still capturing the core mechanics that make Kirby games fun. This unique gimmick also largely made up for the game’s relatively short length and small number of levels.
Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards also has one of the best soundtracks on the N64. The music of Kirby has always been an important part of the experience with its distinctive bouncy arpeggios, cute, insanely catchy melodies, and frequent remixes and combinations of older tracks into new forms; Kirby 64 is no exception. The musical duo of Jun Ishikawa and Hirokazu Ando (who have been the main composers for the Kirby series since the beginning) once again take the helm to produce a beautiful variety of tunes for your listening pleasure. With its mix of melodies old and new and distinctive, decidedly N64 instrumentation, this soundtrack is truly a star of both the Kirby series and the Nintendo 64's library.
Standout Tracks: Zero-Two, Factory Investigation, Aqua Star
2. Paper Mario (Mario Story)
- Publisher: Intelligent Systems
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: August 11, 2000 (JP) February 5, 2001 (NA) October 5, 2001 (EU)
Paper Mario is the second RPG game of the Mario franchise and was originally planned to be a direct sequel to Square's Super Nintendo classic Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars but later became an original story that has since had several sequels of its own. The story follows Mario in a familiar attempt to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser after Bowser steals the magical Star Rod which makes him invincible. Mario and his many friends have to save the seven Star Spirits in order to overcome Bowser to free Peach and the Mushroom Kingdom. Paper Mario is a RPG (one of the few notable ones on the system) much beloved for its quality writing, unique paper-styled world reminiscent of a pop-up book, storybook-like feeling, and some interesting platformer aspects incorporated in the game's overworld.
What great, story-driven RPG would be complete without a fitting soundtrack? Paper Mario's really shines as one of the best and most memorable, due in no small part to the game's children's book style setting within the Mushroom Kingdom and the excellent work of composers Yuka Tsujiyoko and Taishi Senda. Paper Mario has you traveling through many different places ranging from tropical jungles to ancient desert ruins, haunted houses, and even inside a toy box! This allows for a wide variety of musical styles without seeming out of place. This all wraps around the cute story and presentation to make Paper Mario the unforgettable package of RPG goodness fans still adore today!
Standout tracks: Shooting Star Summit, Battle Fanfare, Mario and Peach's Theme
1. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Zeruda no Densetsu: Toki no Okarina)
- Publisher: Nintendo EAD
- Developer: Nintendo
- Release Date: November 21, 1998 (JP) November 23, 1998 (NA) December 11, 1998 (EU)
Nintendo 64 enthusiasts (and gamers in general) likely saw this coming but our number one pick for the best N64 soundtrack is the legendary Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Ocarina of Time was another groundbreaking blockbuster from Nintendo that has been amazingly influential on future installments and game development as a whole. Ocarina of Time follows Link in an amazing fantasy adventure across Hyrule in his quest to stop evil Gerudo King Ganon from obtaining the all-powerful Triforce. With a beautifully detailed world full of interesting characters, places, and a unique time-traveling mechanic that has you play as both child and adult Link, Ocarina of Time is considered by many to be both the best game on Nintendo's third major console and perhaps the greatest game of all time.
Ocarina of Time's story and mechanics are very musical in nature which is part of what made it a shoo-in for our top spot. Throughout the story, Link will learn songs to play on his Ocarina that have different effects on him and the world. These songs are a major source of the many puzzles players will encounter and have many different types of magical effects such as summoning rain, teleporting Link to various locations, changing night into day, and more. Each is activated by the player actually pressing buttons that correspond to the notes of the song which ties the whole experience together magnificently. The music itself is amazing to say the least, some of Koji Kondo's finest work, and includes some of the most iconic songs in video game history. A masterpiece on all accounts and well deserving of the most prestigious place on our list!
Standout tracks: Title Theme, Gerudo Valley, Zora's Domain
While the Nintendo 64 might not have won the fifth generation console war (Sony's PlayStation sold well over twice as many systems) the legacy many of its games have had on the history and development of games cannot be ignored. These classics showed us the potential of 3D technology in games and are still beloved by many to this day. Music is one of the most important parts in making the experience of gaming enjoyable and memorable and these soundtracks represent some of the best at doing so.
We hope you enjoyed our countdown, be it a nostalgic trip through your old favorites or a journey of discovery of new sounds you might not have heard before. What do you think of our showcase of the best the system had to offer musically? Do our picks serenade your eardrums or fall flat? Please let us know how you feel in the comments below!