Nintendo’s Online Membership has given us some NES and SNES classics for a while now, but the recent second tier – the ‘Expansion Pack‘ – has opened up Mega Drive and N64 titles too.
Initially let down by imperfect emulation (who knew so many people cared so much about Zelda’s fogging?!), a recent update has made the service much more authentic and improved input latency too.
And what does better input latency mean? Racing games are much more likely to play well on the service. We’ve already got nice versions of Mario Kart 64 and F-Zero X, but what other titles in the N64’s vintage library would be ripe for converting to the service?
Well, with no nostalgia goggles clouding my vision (I was, after all, a Sega child), here’s a list of titles that are still worth playing today.
Wave Race 64
Wave Race 64 remains a beautiful example of blue sky gaming. Every new console generation has a game that shows off its water effects, but Wave Race 64’s are so good, it wasn’t even bettered by its Gamecube sequel.
You truly plunge into this water as your Jet Ski navigates huge, dynamic waves. Lazy day pre-race presentation and incidental flourishes like dolphins jumping through the water turn up the charm so that Wave Race 64 stands the test of time better than a great many 3D games from the same era.
That said, the frame rate isn’t so hot, and the fuzziness of the visuals might put off modern gamers today, but both of those elements could so easily be fixed in an emulated Switch port. Seeing as the franchise is owned entirely by Nintendo, it’s very likely this will appear at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Extreme G II
The original Extreme G offered a sort of two-wheeled version of Wipeout, but it’s rather basic by today’s standards. However, its first sequel clearly laid the groundwork for our favourite in the series, namely the PS2-era Xtreme G III.
Xtreme G II on N64 has a lot going for it with bold visuals, exciting track design with loops, jump ramps, banking and forks in the road, mixed with a good lick of speed. The lighting still looks nice as you zoom through the low-poly environments, but crucially it’s the density of the gameplay that holds up today.
There’s always something to do, and it’s twitch reaction central, which would benefit from Switch’s tighter controls compared to N64’s rather loose analogue stick. Again, smoothing off the graphical edges of this one on Switch would be very welcome, but either way, it would fit the console in handheld play very well.
Ridge Racer 64
The fact the Ridge Racer series hasn’t had a proper entry for a decade at this point is one of gaming’s most heinous crimes. But the existing catalogue is split into two distinct gameplay types: the original versions which favoured racing lines and kick-the-back-out cornering, and the drift/boost-focused RR6/7 and the handheld versions.
The N64 version represents one of the slickest realisations of the original gameplay, complete with that classic seaside route through the arcade game’s tunnel, up over the… well, the ridge, and out along the coastline.
Things soon deviate from the expected basic arcade conversion, with new, far faster cars and some really fun tracks with some rather silly jumps at times. Emulated versions look superb, which bodes well for this… providing Namco’s happy to agree to the licensing, of course. We live in hope.
This one is often overlooked when talking about N64 games, but it’s aging very well. Where modern motocross games have massively unforgiving physics, this game prefers playability, which makes it far more fun for a newbie to play, though there are still plenty of falls to be endured if you’re not careful.
Also, despite its diminutive polygon count, the game still looks good thanks to a smooth frame rate and the fact that stadium grandstands aren’t ever clipped out of existence, instead limiting closer scenery’s draw-in. It’s a clever trick, leaving the screen ever-full of smoothly scaling polygonal 3D.
The track design soon breaks out of its stadium confines and takes in outdoor and industrial settings too, with concrete pipes to duck under and steel beams to ride up. It’s commendably complex and still rooted in that gorgeous ‘solid’ feel that N64 games often have.
Cruis’n USA and its sequels
The Switch recieved an unexpectedly awesome Cruis’n sequel last year with Cruisn’ Blast, but if you look back at the series with its three N64 instalments, you can see the recent game’s DNA most definitely present in Cruis’n Exotica.
With faster action than most N64 titles, but still with pleasingly solid 3D and a decent draw distance, it’s one of the arcadier racers you’ll find without the word ‘Sega’ written on it. But is Exotica the one we’d want on Switch Online?
Probably yes, as it’s got more to it than the original conversion of the Nintendo/Midway coin-op. But that said, it was Cruisn’ USA that first came to Wii’s Virtual Console, and in terms of the company’s history, it was that game that was going up against the likes of Daytona USA in arcades in the early ’90s, so we’ll probably see that first. Fingers crossed all three make it at some point, as they all have merit.
Road Rash 64
Another series that really needs a new entry, Road Rash did manage to go fully 3D after its 16-bit heyday and did so on N64.
Looking at it now, this game actually does a lot of things right. It’s still got the undulating hills and wide roads, and the manoeuvering around your rivals before smacking them in the face with a piece of piping is arguably more manageable than on Mega Drive, even if the riders don’t visibly react as you’d expect to the rather extreme assault.
It would be so awesome for a new generation of gamers to be introduced to Road Rash via Switch, even if Road Rash II would be a better way to do it.
World Driver Championship
The N64 doesn’t have many serious racers in its library, especially not many that dared to challenge Sony’s Gran Turismo at its own game.
But this one had an impressively decent stab. Indeed, the smooth, solid graphics coupled with an expansive career mode – that uses some 10 locations in various layouts – means there’s much more to this one than you might expect.
Given an HD facelift via Switch Emulation, this would still be a perfectly serviceable handheld racer, undoubtedly better than a lot of the dross on the eShop at the moment. Its cars are also unlicensed, which would certainly work in its favour in terms of securing a re-release in 2022.
It came out late in the N64’s life, though, so whether it’s got enough fans or caught enough attention to warrant the effort is another matter, but I for one would still like to play it on Switch.
One of the Dreamcast’s best launch games also received a decent conversion to N64. The powerboat gameplay is super-fun, with time-limited turbo boost pick-ups littered around the tracks.
There are some massive jumps, a sort of ‘hop’ move that lets you leave the water momentarily to enter shortcuts and a wry sense of humour.
The last level is a corker, but the whole game is packed with nonstop, classic Midway arcade action that deserves another chance to shine, especially as its gameplay remains as fresh today as it ever was.
Micro Machines 64 Turbo
And finally, how about some lovely Micro Machines action? Based on Micro Machines V3 on PlayStation, this N64 ‘Turbo’ version fixes the biggest failing of Sony’s offering by smoothing out the frame rate considerably.
The result is a fast-moving, enjoyable racer, albeit one that could do with having a track map since the zoomed-in action makes seeing upcoming corners rather difficult.
Still, the multiplayer action would fit the Switch perfectly, especially since the eight-player pad-sharing mode could theoretically be done with eight JoyCons (still recognised as four shared controllers), and some less fuzzy visuals would be a bonus.
Micro Machines just hasn’t been done properly for such a long time, but this is among the best versions.
In the meantime, do let us know what you think would be worth bringing to the service in the comments below.