Nintendo’s cartridge-based, fifth generation console was an absolutely fantastic machine for local multiplayer, and it played host to some of the best N64 Racing games ever made.
With four controller ports at a time when most consoles were known for generally only allowing two players to compete against each other, it revolutionised couch-co-op gaming.
Four ports also allowed for some absolutely amazing multiplayer experiences on the best N64 games. We’re talking four player, split-screen competitions on games such as GoldenEye and Project Dark!
It was also useful for racing games, with the genre’s immediacy being perfect for newcomers to pick up and play, even though the unusual N64 controller itself was sometimes difficult for newbies to get their head around.
There were some absolutely fantastic racing games on the N64. Some were serious, some cartoony, and some a combination of silly and straight-faced.
And, as always, some were much more well known than others.
Let’s take a look at what we consider to be the best N64 racing games…
… Ready…set… go!
10. Extreme-G (1997)
Extreme-G takes the 10th spot in this list of the best N64 racing games of all time!
Wipeout on the PlayStation was a massive success, drawing in an audience that had traditionally been averse to gaming until that point. Clubbers were drawn in by the futuristic racer’s ice-cool branding (courtesy of Designer’s Republic and incredible visuals.
The blisteringly fast races kept us hooked, and don’t forget the soundtrack! We’re talking cutting edge tunes with licensed tracks from The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and Orbital.
The N64 didn’t immediately have its own Wipeout, so Acclaim and developer Probe Entertainment stepped into the fray with Extreme-G.
Rather than the sleek hovering craft of Wipeout, Extreme-G featured lightning fast motorbikes. Players race on dizzyingly designed, rollercoaster-esque tracks against the backdrop of a ruined future Earth.
And don’t worry; there are tonnes of spectacular power-ups to use along the way!
The key selling point, aside from the sheer speed on display, was the competitive four player splitscreen mode. The original Wipeout couldn’t even cope with two players on a single console. Playing with one other person was only possible by hooking up two consoles locally via System Link, requiring a TV each too!
Extreme-G’s four player mode does stress the game quite a bit, however, with severe frame rate drops making the experience a bit like a slideshow at times.
Still, Extreme-G was a superb substitute for players who didn’t have access to a PlayStation. Plus, it was different enough that it could stand alongside Wipeout in any case. And it did, just a few years later on Nintendo’s 64-bit console!
9. Ridge Racer 64 (2000)
So synonymous with the PlayStation brand, it’s often a surprise to be reminded that the N64 also played host to an excellent version of Ridge Racer; Ridge Racer 64.
I still remember those 20 epic courses; a huge number for the Ridge Racer games of that era.
Analogue controls as standard meant that the game felt smooth and satisfying gameplay-wise, with consistent 30fps visuals.
Making use of the extra controller ports, Ridge Racer 64 offers 4-player splitscreen modes too – definitely an advantage over the PS1 titles.
Developed by Nintendo Software Technology rather than Namco themselves, it’s an impressive, original spin on the arcade and PS1 titles and more than earns a place on the list of the Best N64 Racing Games.
8. Mario Kart 64 (1997)
It’s quite a shock to see one of Nintendo’s flagship series represented so low on the list of Best N64 Racing Games. Still, but here we are at number eight with the divisive Mario Kart 64.
Though it was of course a huge hit and felt as universally praised upon release, time has not been kind to Mario Kart 64.
Many players, along with critics, were able to identify its weaknesses with a lot more clarity once more racing games were released for the N64.
Despite the revisionism, Mario Kart 64 is still a great game with some inventive track designs and visual touches that made excellent use of the power afforded by the N64.
Though not entirely 3D – with characters, items and even some background elements actually being 2D sprites made to appear three dimensional – the game still has charming visual and animation touches.
And, let’s not forget gameplay that makes wonderful use of the N64’s analogue controller, which was still a real novelty in its day.
Why not try playing it with some of our chosen best N64 controllers too!
With multiplayer options aplenty, including an addictive Battle Mode, Mario Kart 64 is still great fun. Though unfortunately, it does pale in comparison to other games in the series.
7. Wipeout 64 (1998)
This is another one of those games, like Ridge Racer, that’s absolutely associated with the PlayStation. That’s why it was a surprise to see the Wipeout series appearing on the N64 as Wipeout 64!
Arriving at a time when both Extreme-G and even Nintendo’s own F-Zero X had been released on the N64, it was still quite an event to see Wipeout on the cartridge-based console.
Despite the lack of CD storage, which meant very different, noticeably weaker audio, a few licensed tracks from Propellerheads and Fluke were included alongside the original music by Rob Lord and Mark Bandola.
There were even advantages over the PlayStation game too. Having analogue controls was a big bonus, as well as the game offering four player splitscreen too.
It’s still jarring to see Wipeout rank higher than Mario Kart 64 on the Best N64 Racing Games list, but it didn’t quite beat Nintendo’s futuristic racing game…
6. F-Zero X (1998)
SNES launch title F-zero was a stunning technical showcase for the 16-bit console. Featuring fast and incredibly smooth pseudo-3D racing, F-Zero X was one of the earliest, most impressive examples of Mode 7.
For those that don’t know, that’s the the iconic SNES sprite-scaling/rotation technique that gave many of the console’s games a unique look and feel.
F-Zero X was the first true sequel to the SNES original. It boasted gameplay that was similarly fast and impressively smooth, running at a pretty astonishing 60fps with up to 30 racers onscreen simultaneously.
Alas, this did mean that the game’s detail was lacking the bells and whistles that players had become accustomed to.
It gave F-Zero X a bland, featureless look in screenshots. But in motion it was a thing of beaut.
It played like a charm, which explains its high ranking on the list of the Best N64 Racing Games. One thing is for sure; it’ll always be a firm favourite at Retro Dodo towers
5. San Francisco Rush 2049 (2000)
San Francisco Rush 2049 takes the 5th spot in this list of the best N64 racing games of all time!
The third game in the ‘Rush’ series of arcade and N64 titles by Atari Games moved the action to the future and into an overtly science fiction setting.
With an arcade immediacy, the hidden course shortcuts that were a series trademark and four player splitscreen modes, San Francisco Rush 2049 was an accessible title packed with fun features.
Oh, and don’t forget the ability for your futuristic automobile to sprout wings and glide!
Its ranking here might feel like a bit of an anomaly to some, however. Still, there’s no denying that it’s a fun game and one that you definitely need in your collection!
4. Diddy Kong Racing (1997)
Diddy Kong Racing is an oft-cited title when gamers are discussing their favourite N64 games, and for good reason.
It’s an absolutely fantastic game, filled with content and original ideas. With a colourful and cute line-up of characters including the pre-Bad Fur Day incarnation of Conker the game’s overall charm is undeniable.
The heavily-featured, non-racing elephant Taj might be a bit of an uncomfortable racial stereotype, however…
In Adventure mode, players drive around hub worlds to find and compete in the races. Gamers use cars, hovercrafts or planes that will allow them to progress through the story.
Races against boss characters play a big feature, as do the four player competitive modes! Pick from both racing and battle options and choose your craft on each stage.
The biggest negative element of this game is the high challenge of the single player mode. The power-ups might not be as cool as shells either, but it’s still one of my favourites.
The beautifully cartoony visuals, charming characters and animation, clever structure and wealth of options put Diddy Kong Racing high in the rankings of the Best N64 Racing Games, as well as one of the finest games on the console overall!
3. Excitebike 64 (2000)
As with San Francisco Rush 2049, some readers might find it odd odd to see Excitebike 64 so high on this list. I guess they’re just less well known in comparison to the bigger names on this list.
Still, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t as good!
A sequel to the beloved NES original, one of the big draws of the first Excitebike was the ability to create custom tracks to race on. With this feature missing from Excitebike 64, the selling point instead became the physics.
We’re talking the make-up of the ramp and hill-laden dirt arenas, affecting the bike riders with every bump and jump.
Performing tricks using analogue control was a satisfying aspect of gameplay, and there were a wealth of additional modes.
That’s right; we’re talking about that epic splitscreen option for up to four players!
It even featured the full, original NES game in emulated form, as well as a remake of it called Excite 3D.
2. Beetle Adventure Racing (1999)
Despite not reaching the audience it deserved, Beetle Adventure Racing is genuinely fondly remembered by everyone who did manage to play it.
More realistic in look to many games on the Best N64 Racing Games list, it featured shortcut-filled, lengthy tracks containing plenty of crates to find.
What was in those crates, I hear you ask? Well, how about nitro boosts, unlocked continues, cheat codes and even a new arena for the game’s Battle Mode?
Naturally, four player multiplayer was included, and the game’s cars (which were all variations on the ‘New’ Volkswagen Beetles) were a lot of fun to drive
An excellent and often overlooked racing game for the N64, Beetle Adventure Racing is genuinely deserving of its spot near the very top of this list.
1. Wave Race 64 (1996)
Wave Race 64 is the best N64 racing game of all time!
Water effects are still a bit hit and miss in video games, which makes it all the more incredible that Nintendo nailed it in such a satisfying way in the mid-90s with jetski-based title Wave Race 64.
Though these days the frame rate feels a little jittery, the game still plays like a dream. And, it works perfectly with the N64’s analogue controls.
Using the weight of your jetski’s rider to deal with the variety of water conditions still feels pretty unique even now, 25 years on.
The simple course design is enhanced by the water. And, while patterns can be learned, it’s still possible even for experienced jetski riders to be blindsided by a wave that’s hit just the wrong way!
Owing to the complexity of rendering the water physics, multiplayer is limited to two player splitscreen, unlike most other games on this list.
A stunt mode and charming practice area in which you learn to control your vehicle by following a playful dolphin round-up an already fantastic package.
Wave Race 64 is still hugely satisfying to play despite other jetski titles being available. As far as we’re concerned, it’s not just one of the Best N64 Racing Games, but one of the most enjoyable racing games of all time!
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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.