Get N or Get Out

There are new 'Mario,' 'Zelda,' and 'Banjo-Kazooie' games for the N64

Blow in your cartridge and wiggle your analog stick. It's time to go back where 3D gaming began.

SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

While the rest of the world is losing their minds over the bleeding edge graphics being promised by Sony's PlayStation 5 and Microsoft's Xbox Series X, I have spent my week playing new Nintendo 64 titles. Yes, there are new, spectacular, games for the Nintendo 64 (which have nothing to do with the Gigaleak).

Now obviously these aren't official releases, as Nintendo is busy toiling away on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 and Metroid Prime 4 for the Switch. These are fan games (but don't let that turn you away, please!). The N64 had been long thought to be too complicated to emulate or develop games for to be worth the time and effort for a passion project that won't make its creators much profit. But thanks to new tools and platforms like Patreon, on which fans can financially support these creators, we're finally entering the golden age of hacks for 1996's little 3D beast.

The appeal of retro gaming — especially these unique, new experiences — is that unlike with Fortnite or Destiny 2, there are no distractions here. There are no microtransactions. There are no brain-hijacking casino gimmicks. There are no notifications. There are no updates. Once you get the game running, it's just you and this work of art that someone managed to spin out of limited hardware and good old-fashioned ingenuity.

To that end, we've got three new titles that would give anyone a reason to dust off the system's super weird three-prong controller — or, you know, an emulator. They vary in length but certainly not in quality. As always, you'll need a patching tool, the patches themselves, and some ROMs. Where you find these materials is your business but our old pal Google should help point the way.

Mario Odyssey 64

This title is an effort by Super Mario 64 hacking legend Kaze Emanuar to demake Nintendo's instant Switch classic Super Mario Odyssey using the N64 game's engine. The results work surprisingly well, as the art styles make for a pretty seamless transition between modern-day and the '90s.

Something old, something new, something borrowed, and something red and blue.Kaze Emanuar

Not only is the game packed with original levels based on Odyssey's, it also features Mario's companion Cappy and the full feature set that his inclusion would imply. You can extend your jumps by throwing him, you can use him to possess any other character in the game (like enemies such as Goombas, Chain Chomps, Bullet Bills, and Pokios) – and some objects – plus he makes for a spiffy hat!

While this game isn't quite as long as the original Odyssey or N64 titles themselves, there are 80 Moons for players to collect across multiple worlds. For a free game, it's hard to argue that it's not loaded with value. Unfortunately, the one catch with this title is that it won't work on actual N64 hardware so you'll need to fire up an emulator if you plan on saving Mario and Peach's low-texture polygonal wedding.

The Legend of Zelda: The Missing Link

Our next entry is also a work of Kaze Emanuar, this time in collaboration with CDi-Fails and /Zel/. The team behind this title threw everything they had at giving fans a fresh, new adventure in the version of Hyrule that changed everything. Oh, and it runs on original hardware if you happen to have a flash cart.

Taking place between the legendary N64 entries to the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask, this game exists to fill in some gaps in the plot that Nintendo never got around to plugging. In the story, the fairies of Hyrule have gone mysteriously missing — including Navi! Naturally, it falls to Link to find them and save the day.

The Zelda titles depend pretty heavily on world-building and lore, which The Missing Link understands and dutifully serves with the help of some expanded universe materials and fan canon. Along the way, players get to experience environments both old and new, including a version of Kokiri Forest remade in much darker shades to reflect the effects of the Deku tree's death. The new environments do a great job of combining elements from both Ocarina and Majora with one particular standout, Monktown Valley, giving me genuine creeps at multiple times.

An instant classic.Kaze Emanuar, CD-i Fails, /Zel/

The game's items change the move-set of Ocarina, with the return of the Bunny Hood (featuring its abilities from Majora) and the Bombchu as well as the addition of an Hourglass that has some fantastic implications for the puzzles in the final act of the game. Also of note is the inclusion of the soul-charged Kokiri sword, which was originally cut from Ocarina. The remixed items and additional devices blend pretty seamlessly into the familiar control scheme and you'll definitely miss them should you return to the OG games any time soon.

The music blends new and old tracks with remarkable verisimilitude. There's also custom enemies for you to best along your travels and a completely bespoke Boss experience that rivals even the imaginations at Nintendo itself.

It's not all perfection, though. The game has some shortcomings that are disappointing and hard to overlook. Some of the most revolutionary items you'll come across are introduced way too late in the game to be properly explored (a sequel, please) and there's a host of bugs — particularly during boss and mini-boss battles — that pop up if you're playing on real hardware. Pray for a patch and save your game very, very often.

With that being said, we think The Missing Link is a must play for anyone nostalgic for summer vacations spent chasing down every secret they and Epona could find.

The Legend of Banjo-Kazooie: The Jiggies of Time

Now it's time for the main event, this time created by Kurko Mods. If you haven't found yourself impressed by the last two entries' brevity, this is the full, long, complete experience you've been waiting for. This is a Banjo-Kazooie sequel so rich and lovingly made, so oozing in charm, that it feels wrong to call it merely a "fan game," even though that's quite obviously what it is. The Jiggies of Time is the mashup of Banjo and Ocarina of Time that Nintendo should have made way back when, if they'd had any sense.

Fans of the franchise have been starved for content by the game's original publisher, Rare, who notoriously stopped making games of their quality after their acquisition by Microsoft during the Xbox's original heyday. While I have the same nostalgia for Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie as anyone who was of school age in the '90s, I can't say that the collect-a-thon genre was ever really my bag. And after the polarizing opinions I'd heard about spiritual Banjo successors Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time, this was the title in the fresh N64 lineup that I was the least excited about.

Well, I'm a moron. The Jiggies of Time has defied those expectations and then some.

A work of art.Kurko Mods

In the game, you play as Banjo and Kazooie, a bear and a bird tasked with stopping the evil witch Gruntilda by hoarding a bunch of random shiny stuff scattered around puzzle-like platforming environments. The twist here, though, is that these environments are full, extensive, recreations of Hyrule from Ocarina of Time loaded with in-jokes from Nintendo's storied past.

The game is lovingly made, with detail and charm to spare. For example, the music consists of classic Zelda compositions but remade with Banjo-Kazooie's instrument set. Absolutely inspired! That's the kind of touch usually reserved for official collaborations like Cadence of Hyrule. Death Mountain, Kakariko Village, The Lost Woods, Kokiri Forest — they're all here and gorgeously remade and tweaked to fit the new style of gameplay. You'll travel to nine worlds with 100 Jiggies, 900 musical notes, countless eggs, Jinjos, Honeycomb pieces and more, all the while stumbling onto Easter Eggs that I can't in good conscience spoil for you. There are even custom Mumbo transformations!

[Navi voice]: Listen! This game is a technical marvel, as evidenced by its functional day/night cycle, fast travel system, and classic Brentilda hints baked right into the experience. And funny! It's genuinely funny! I haven't laughed out loud at a game in a long, long time and it's fourth wall breaking dialogue was amongst its throwback touches that still, somehow, feel fresh.

If I sound like I'm gushing it's because I am. I implore you to give this gem a spin for yourself – especially during this unending quarantine nightmare.