The Nintendo 64 may just have some of the best racing games a console can offer. Yes, we said it. The N64 racing games is worth a lengthy review.
The N64 housed plenty of great games, across multiple different genres, but racing was one of its biggest draws. The definitive party console, at the time, no one loved anything more than hunkering down for the night with some friends and a racing cartridge.
But which ones to choose?
That was the question many players often had to ask themselves. Having such a robust library can, sometimes, lead to these first-world type problems, but it also is a blessing. Not every console is gifted quality games like the N64, especially in the racing genre.
Top 7 N64 Racing Games : Comparison Table
Hot Wheels Turbo Racing
Top Gear Rally
Beetle Adventure Racing!
Wave Race 64
Mickey's Speedway USA
All N64 Racing Games are Not Created Equal
Before we start the list, it’s worth noting that there are going to be a few different-styled racers on board. For us, a racing game is defined as grabbing a cart, truck, or even jet ski, and taking it through the turns. Be it by land, or by sea, if you’re racing a clock, A.I., or other players, we consider it a bona fide racer.
Our list will include some of the most popular games for the console, as well as titles that you may not have heard of. That’s fine, as there are always games that may have missed your radar, but hopefully shining some light on them can help you if you’re ever looking to revisit the N64.
What are some of our favorite N64 racing games? Let’s take a look.
Mario Kart 64 is the best-selling games on this list, but is it the best racer?
The uber-popular racer defines what the N64 could do and was the cog in plenty of Saturday night sessions. More than likely everyone has played a round or two in their lifetime.
You know you have a special game when everyone recognizes the title.
What made Mario Kart 64 so special though?
For starters, you could thank the roster Nintendo put into the game. Having yet another title that features plenty of different characters from their growing franchises, racing as Peach, Toad, or Yoshi. The characters, this time around in the racers second installment, had weight classes which affected their on-track performance.
The tracks all presented a good overall variety in the game, and it still features the series’ longest track to date, Rainbow Road. This is a racing game, and to keep players interested, the courses needed to stay fresh. There were also three different modes, and a secret goodie for fans, to compete in: Time Trial, Grand Prix, and Battle. The secret mode is Mirror Mode, adding some difficulty for more experienced racers in the later game stages.
Overall though, Mario Kart 64 brought hectic, item-based cart-racing to the system in a way that was addictive and enjoyable for all skill levels. Mario Kart 64 really put the Mario Kart franchise on the map and played a pivotal role in shaping the series today.
- Well-designed tracks
- Simple controls
- Strong multiplayer appeal
- Computerized opponents sometimes pull off questionable feats
Even though Mario Kart 64 is often credited with some of the best racing action on the N64, Diddy Kong Racing wasn’t far behind.
This race was interesting because it was released nine months after Mario Kart 64, and the game actually started as an RTS. The only reason Rare started development on it was because Banjo-Kazooie was delayed, and they needed a title out for Christmas.
What came about was the eventual eighth-best selling Nintendo 64 game of all time, and a great racer at that.
Receiving critical acclaim on its release, Diddy Kong Racing featured stunning graphics, solid audio design, and gameplay that rivaled most racers. Many thought the game was a Mario Kart 64 clone, and that’s true, but the new kid on the block improved the old racer and had its own charm.
With an overall cute charm, the game had 30 tracks that were all connected within a giant Overworld. The gameplay was all about strategic and planned racing, with the players having to race against boss characters. These characters were integral in the story and added a new dynamic and modes to play. The penultimate Trophy Race is a string of races against the all the bosses. It’s a challenge, but a solid one at that.
With three vehicles, eight characters, and plenty of bananas to go around, Diddy Kong Racing stands the test of time as one of the best racers on the N64.
- plenty of racing content in the main story line to keep you busy for hours
- tons of bonus material
- multiplayer mode in which you and up to three of your friends can play every race in the main story line as well as battle in the bonus maps
- Some players finds it a bit too cutesy, referring to the characters’ voices
A game about racing jet skis? Yes, it happened, and it was a blast to play. Wave Race 64 makes the list of this best N64 racing games.
In racer was simple, as the gameplay was all about getting to the finish line first all while going through slalom-style cones. The cones provided boost, but if you missed five in a row then you were disqualified from finishing the race. The coolest part though was that the game had some of the best water physics around, and boy did they shine.
Through the nine different tracks, the dynamic wave and tidal settings proved to keep the dynamism prevalent and changed the way you would have to maneuver your ride throughout the race. There were five modes to toy with: Warm Up, Time Trials, Stunt, Versus, and Championship. Even though the Versus mode could only be played by two people at a time, including its help with the replay ability.
All in all, the game still holds up today. It’s a marvel that something 21 years old still has water physics that look good. Of course, Nintendo takes care of its game, so maybe it’s not.
- Virtual console port is done in high quality
- Easy to understand
- High quality graphics
- The cartridge quality can be improved. A customer review stated that it was delivered in a poor condition. However nothing that can be solved by cleaning it up.
Yet another game with 64 in its name, and another long wait for a sequel, but no matter–Excitebike 64 was still a dominant racing game.
From creating your own tracks with the Track Editor, to playing through the 20 tracks in Season mode, Excitebike 64 gave you options to compete in. Included in these was Special Tracks, a small but needed addition to the lasting appeal of the title. It featured six mini-game styled events, among them the original NES Excitebike for fans to play.
You could also play with four people at a time in Exhibition, having six riders to choose from, which gave a boost to it becoming the Saturday night with friend’s game of choice.
Even more impressive was that the N64 was rounding down its lifecycle at this point, yet Nintendo was still producing high-quality games for their system. The graphics looked splendid, and controls were tight–a word not often thrown around back then–making for consistent gameplay race to race. Definitely worthy of getting into our list of the best N64 racing games.
- High resolution graphics
- Controls are tight
- As an added bonus, the original NES version is hidden inside this game
- Lets you create your own custom track
- May not be fun for the slowest player because they'll never win
- Realistic controls may take a while to get used to
Before they were a part of massive auto industry defying scandals, Volkswagen was experiencing a Beetle revival in the 90’s. When you start to get popular, chances are a video game developer will approach you with a game idea. In this case, Paradigm Entertainment crafted Beetle Adventure Racing! which is still one of the most underrated racing titles in existence.
Being published by EA, the game seemingly borrows mechanics, and its sense of speed, from their Need for Speed series. The six tracks featured in the game are massive and are peppered with shortcuts to learn and utilize. Seriously, you can play a track more than a few times and still not find all the hidden places to shave time off your time.
Along with its Championship event, there were battle stage events. These new modes, having to be unlocked by bonus points from the Championship races, allowed players to play capture the flag with weapons. Most racers have extra modes, but these were unique in adding value to the game itself.
- Runs smoothly and maintains a good frame rate
- Features a Beetle Battle mode for multiplayers
- The only available cars in the game are Volkswagen Beetles, no surprises there, but once you get past that it’s a stellar racer with a decent amount of content to offer. If you haven’t already, check it out.
- Track selection is limited to 6 courses only
Another sequel that was long-awaited by fans of the original F-Zero, F-Zero X made it possible for high-octane, futuristic racing to happen on your TV.
You’re tasked with racing at speeds of 1000 km/h against 29 other machines, all without weapons or items. The only features at your disposal were accelerating, braking, and boosting. That’s it. This might make it sound tough, but in typical Nintendo fashion, the game played easy but was hard to master.
The title was packed with content, having 30 individual vehicles and 30 normal tracks, along with a X-Cup mode variant that would randomly generate tracks for you to race on. Yeah, that’s pretty cool. The game also had your standard Versus, Time Attack, Practice, and GP modes, but the new inclusion of Death Race added some nice flavor to the recipe. To be crowned the victor in said event, you must destroy all the other racers.
If you and some friends wanted a thrill ride of a racer, F-Zero X presented just that. The sound design wasn’t blowing people away, but with so much to do and see, nobody really cared.
- Fast paced and challenging racing games
- The game moves along quickly and smoothly
- Some players may find that there seems to be very little in the game to keep you coming back
- Low resolution textures
Ending this list of the best N64 racing games is the Star Wars Racer. While fans and the general public may debate the nature of the Star Wars prequel trilogy, no one can deny that Star Wars Episode I: Racer was a genuinely fun and inventive game. Set in the middle of the pod races on Tatooine, the game gave you a chance to become a champion in your own pod and expands the mythology of the races.
In one of the more intriguing racers ever released, racing a giant machine put together by aliens in a different universe, there was plenty of content. The fact, too, that you could go into Sebulba’s shop and buy upgrades, racers, and more was just so interesting. Having new characters to unlock in the Tournament mode and featuring more depth than was found in the movie, it both paid homage to fans and functioned as an engaging game.
Another neat tidbit that made this game so special on the Nintendo 64 was that it came out as an exclusive to the console, and Windows. The game was just rereleased for the first time ever. It still holds up very well to this day and blazing around in the desert as the once-prodigal son Anakin has never been more fun.
- Not too violent to be played by children under 10 years old
- Menu screen features unique 3D environments
- Recreates the feeling that the Star Wars film gives to its fans
- Impressive visuals
- Limited to 2-player option
- Can be a rather challenging game for some
Best N64 Racing Games: Final Thoughts
While Nintendo was home to some amazing games during its time, the genre of racing found a unique home on the console. They totally stepped up to having the best N64 racing games.
In an era where graphics and gameplay were becoming king, the N64 developers found a way to crank the most out of the system, all while producing quality racing games that were fresh. Between the combination of sequels and new, challenging games, the racing category was squarely in Nintendo’s court.
Finding your favorite racing game also wasn’t too hard, as plenty of people valued different styles of gameplay. This meant that even if you weren’t a fan of Excitebike 64 or the elegance of Ridge Racer, there was something for you. That makes a console special, and racing with the N64 controller never gets old.
Get out there and throw some bananas.
More on finding the best video games not just from Nintendo: The 10 Best SNES RPGs of All Time | The 17 Best Atari 2600 Games | Best Dreamcast Games | Console Spotlight: Intellivision Flashback: Rare Video Game (Review)