It’s time to square off against your mortal enemy as we check out the best N64 fighting games!
The Nintendo 64 didn’t have a great track record when it came to fighting games overall, which is strange because it was an absolute trailblazer with a very specific sub-genre of fighting: wrestling games.
Just check out the classics in our best N64 wrestling games list!
The N64’s collection of fighting games, on the other hand, was small and not full of fondly remembered classics – but that isn’t to say that it didn’t get some enjoyable fighters.
Best of all, many N64 fighting games were exclusive to the console too – so if you wanted to play most of these games back in the day, getting an N64 was a must!
Which are the best though?
Let’s find out, as we check out the best N64 fighting games!
10. War Gods (1997)
Though War Gods felt similar in some ways to the Mortal Kombat games (with both War Gods and the Mortal Kombat series being developed by Midway), it didn’t quite hit the mark in numerous ways – and definitely didn’t achieve anywhere near the same level of popularity..
War Gods is, these days, a mostly forgotten title – which is a shame, because it isn’t a complete disaster by any means.
It had a unique feature (for the time) with its ‘3D button’, allowing players to take advantage of the third dimension for dodging and using environmental attacks.
Based on an arcade game – which again, is largely unremembered – War Gods also made good use of then-new visual techniques, such as ‘digital skin’; a Midway-developed technology that allowed photographs to be mapped onto the 3D fighter models.
Unfortunately, the N64 conversion suffered with frame rate issues, slowdown and cut-down animation in general.
It’s a shame, because the ‘battling divine beings’ concept was a good one – and it even had its own Mortal Kombat-style fatalities in 3D too!
9. Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. (1998)
Midway really went all in on the fighting game genre after the stratospheric success of Mortal Kombat; Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. – that’s Biological Flying Robotic Enhanced Armored Killing Synthoids to the acronym-phobic readers out there – is another one of their games that had some interesting elements, but never quite received much success or recognition.
Just like Mortal Kombat and War Gods, Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. also allows players to execute brutal fatalities at the end of a match.
Bio F.R.E.A.K.S. had a uniquely grimy, toxic feel to its fighting action – with industrial settings and clanking, hefty and somewhat gross cyborg fighters at the centre of the action.
Though by no means the first 3D fighter from Midway, it was perhaps the first that made great use of the third dimension, with less emphasis on melee attacks and more ranged attacks on offer, as well as flying and even multi-tiered arenas.
Oh, and lots of dismemberment too.
Nintendo really were trying to appeal to edgy teens and beyond with the N64, in contrast to their previous family friendly image – and they didn’t bat an eyelid at the gruesome, graphic gore in games like Bio F.R.E.A.K.S.!
8. Rakugakids (1998)
Though that’s not to say that dark and gory fighters were the only option on the N64.
Far from it, as this kooky, unique fighting game goes to show.
Developed and released by Konami at a time when they still sought to innovate and bring new experiences to gamers, Rakugakids kind of looks like a Parappa the Rapper fighting game, with its flat, hand drawn 2D characters leaping around the screen.
Next to most of the games on this list, with their murky, dark and gritty visual styles and content, Rakugakids is an absolute breath of fresh air.
It’s bright, colourful and appealingly cartoony – and its cast of unusual characters have some really unique moves too.
For an N64 title – which always suffered in comparison to its CD-based competitors, the PlayStation and Saturn – the music and sound effects were excellent too.
Strangely, Rakugakids was released only in Japan and PAL regions – meaning that the US missed out on this unique fighting game altogether.
7. Dark Rift (1997)
A sequel to the obscure PS1 fighting game Criticom, Dark Rift is a sci-fi fighting game – with the distinction of being the very first N64 game to run at sixty frames per second!
Which, in practice, makes Dark Rift feel incredibly smooth and responsive; it’s a genuinely impressive looking game when placed beside many other fighters on the N64.
Dark Rift has a nicely varied set of characters too – with a decent selection of aliens and humans on offer.
As the name implies, it is a bit of a dark game, however – though good use is made of visual effects and pyrotechnics to give Dark Rift a bit of colour.
It lacks originality and isn’t the easiest game to pick up and play, but Dark Rift is a decent enough fighting game – so it’s more than deserving of a place on the best N64 fighting games list!
6. Fighters Destiny (1998)
Though Fighters Destiny did get a sequel – oddly titled Fighter Destiny 2, rather than ‘Fighters’ – the first game is a much better game overall, especially as it felt like a genuinely excellent fighting title.
Especially as it came at a time when the N64 felt as if it was really lacking in the genre.
Fighters Destiny felt an awful lot like it was trying to pick up the slack caused by the absence of Virtua Fighter on the N64; which is certainly not a bad thing.
Interestingly though, Fighters Destiny is much more than just a lazy clone of Virtua Fighter.
That’s mostly due to its points-based victory system – which can be adjusted and customised by the player(s).
The default setting to win a match is by earning seven points; these can be earned by knocking an opponent off the arena platform, knocking opponents down with a throw, knocking an opponent down with a counter-attack or executing a special attack.
This system makes fights a much more tactical affair and gives Fighters Destiny a much more unique feel than its very generic aesthetic may at first suggest.
5. Mace: The Dark Age (1997)
Another dark and gory fighting game from Midway, released in the years following their success with Mortal Kombat, Mace: The Dark Age is a medieval-set and more weapons-based title than Midway’s other games in the genre.
With mostly chunky, armoured characters and extreme – for the time – gore, Mace: The Dark Age was a mature and satisfyingly weighty fighting game.
Gore aside, it didn’t feel overly indebted to Mortal Kombat either; its cast of knights and armoured antagonists felt pretty unique in comparison to other fighting games too.
Dangerous terrain surrounded each arena, damaging combatants who ventured that far – similar to how the explosive Danger Zones worked in rival fighting game, Dead or Alive.
Though a PlayStation version was planned, it was never released – which means that Mace: The Dark Age ended up being an unintentional N64 exclusive.
4. Mortal Kombat Trilogy (1996)
In 1996, the games press had all but dismissed 2D gaming as the past and had gone all in on 3D as the future; as such, even recent classics that had been scoring outstandingly in reviews were rapidly being re-assessed by polygon-obsessed critics.
So when Mortal Kombat Trilogy arrived on the N64, it was met with a much more lukewarm reception than prior Mortal Kombat games had been before.
With the benefit of hindsight, we can now see how well the 2D Mortal Kombat titles hold up against the early, sometimes awkward, attempts to bring it – and other fighting games – into 3D.
Though the N64’s cartridge format made this a lesser conversion of Mortal Kombat Trilogy than those found on disc-based systems such as the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation – with the sound being of inferior quality and only 30, instead of 37, characters to choose from – it’s definitely one of the strongest fighters on the N64.
Despite being cut down in a few different ways in comparison to the version on other systems, the N64 version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy featured a console exclusive 3 on 3 mode!
Despite how feature packed Mortal Kombat Trilogy is, there’s still another game in the series that we here at Retro Dodo feel surpasses it, as you’ll soon see from the next entry on the best N64 fighting games list!
3. Mortal Kombat 4 (1998)
The very first 3D Mortal Kombat game had a lot of expectation placed upon it – and could very easily have fallen far short of fan demands.
Thankfully, Midway settled on not trying to run before they could walk – and despite the visuals being three dimensional, the classic Mortal Kombat 2D gameplay remained mostly intact for Mortal Kombat 4.
Sure, there were the odd elements that reminded players they were in a 3D setting – sidestepping, for example – but on the whole Mortal Kombat 4 retained a 2D feel, albeit with added elements to bring it up to date.
For the first time in the series, Mortal Kombat 4 through weapons and arena objects into the mix.
Characters were able to draw, use, throw and drop weapons during fights – it was even possible to pick up and use an opponent’s dropped weapon, along with throwing rocks or, er, severed heads at your opponent too!
Though the jump to 3D meant that fighter selection, as well as each character’s move sets and fatalities, were notably reduced in variety to those found in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Mortal Kombat 4 was a superb – and technically impressive – updating of the classic one-on-one fighting game formula.
If you’re still hungry for more Kombat-based Karnage (sorry, that does seem to be infectious!) – check out our best Mortal Kombat games list!
2. Super Smash Bros (1999)
I clearly remember thinking that Nintendo were crazy for trying to make a Mario racing game work when Super Mario Kart was announced.
So I should have had more faith when a Nintendo-themed fighting game was announced, featuring a weird cast of characters who just didn’t seem to fit together at all.
Still, I scoffed at the idea.
I’m happy to report, dear Retro Dodo reader, that I was, of course, wrong once again.
Super Smash Bros was fantastic. The series has gone on to become one of the most popular and highest-selling series on Nintendo consoles, with the series having sold close to 70 million copies across the various games, since the N64 original first emerged in 1999.
Super Smash Bros itself also became the 5th highest selling N64 game overall, so it’s fair to say that it was an immediate success.
It also appears very highly ranked on our best N64 games list!
In this first game, there were only 12 playable characters – eight available at the start and four unlocked through progression in-game – with characters from the Star Fox, Metroid, Zelda, Pokemon, F-Zero, Kirby, Donkey Kong, Mother (Earthbound) and Mario games on offer.
Yet this was enough for superb multiplayer battles and a fairly robust, if short-lived, single player mode too.
Super Smash Bros set the standard for an entirely new type of fighting game – and it’s one that is still going as strong as ever to this day.
It’s more than earned the spot right near the top of the best N64 fighting games list – but there’s one more fighting game that we think is the strongest fighter on the console overall!
1. Killer Instinct Gold (1996)
So here we are at the coveted final boss of the best N64 fighting games list, with this undeniable classic from Rare!
The first Killer Instinct game was ported to the SNES and – despite a valiant effort to reproduce the arcade original – it couldn’t hope to match the lavish, rendered characters and incredible pace on the 16-bit console (incidentally, you’ll find an even more technically impressive port on our best 2D fighting games list!).
This port of sequel Killer Instinct 2, however, is able to more closely ape the arcade experience, though it admittedly does so with a bit of the anti-aliasing fuzziness characteristic to the N64.
Despite that, the gameplay in Killer Instinct Gold is phenomenal, though not for the faint hearted.
Racking up improbably huge, incredibly fast combos as you take on the cast of weird and wonderful opponents is the order of the day here – and relying on memorising plenty of directions and presses to pull moves off is what you’ll need to succeed.
Though it took a lot of inspiration from Mortal Kombat, the pre-rendered – as opposed to digitised – characters and massive combos set the Killer Instinct titles apart from other fighting games.
Though it may be controversial for us to place it ahead of Super Smash Bros here, we feel that there’s no better traditional fighting game available for the N64.
Which is why Killer Instinct Gold takes the crown at the top of the best N64 fighting games list!
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Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.