N64 imports guide: the best Japanese games to play
The Nintendo 64 is a beloved platform for players who grew up with it, serving as a pure nostalgia piece for many while perhaps being overtaken in lasting appeal by both its predecessors and successors. Still, it was a quirky era for games, and the platform’s import-only library certainly shows that with some fun, weird releases!
Before we continue, here’s what you need to know about Nintendo 64 importing:
The system’s… kind of region-free? Like with the Super Famicom, North American systems play Japanese games (but not PAL ones), and the only thing stopping that from happening is some tabs. There are adapters and you could modify the console itself with some effort, but the easiest way is to get a “gamebit” screwdriver, remove the back of the cartridge and replace it with an American one. (Those special screwdrivers are generally helpful to have around in this hobby.)
The N64 doesn’t have a huge library. Since the system only found middling success and the games were very expensive to develop and produce, most big games were released everywhere and most small import-only projects moved to cheaper platforms like PlayStation and Saturn. There are gems, but you have to dig to find them! Thankfully we did the digging already.
Some tolerance for kitsch is recommended. N64 games didn’t exactly age well, and that’s especially true for these niche releases. If you’re looking for timeless classics and not just fascinating time capsules, maybe check out our other platform guides?
We’re not including the 64DD. These are all reasonable to find and play. As good as some N64 Disk Drive games are… if you’ve invested in that hardware, you’re probably in too deep to need our help.
Now, to the games!
SD Hiryu no Ken Densetsu
N64 cult favorite Flying Dragon consisted of two separate experiences: a bland Virtua Fighter clone and a super-deformed twist that amps up the quirks and adds a full customizable equipment system and story mode. This Japan-only sequel doubles down on the good half, adding more characters and items and making the release the first one should have been if its publisher had been more confident. There’s a bit of a language barrier to the items, but the fighting itself is easy to pick up.
Super Mario 64: Rumble Version
This one’s fairly straightforward: it’s Super Mario 64 with support for the Rumble Pak! That’s perhaps a small change, but if you’re a fan of the N64, you’d probably enjoy replaying through an all-time classic and having a good reason to do it.
On the other hand, if you’d like an entirely new adventure and don’t mind a drop-off from Nintendo levels of polish and quality, you may enjoy Epoch’s trilogy of licensed platforming adventures. While the jumping and level design is so-so, the games offer multiple playable characters with different strengths, and each successive entry does improve the formula somewhat. These are definitely for players looking not to return to an old favorite but to once again experience the joy of exploring a N64 world for the first time.
“But wait!,” you say. “Bomberman 64 was released over here!” Yep, this is another instance of games releasing under different names in different territories. The Japanese Bomberman 64 was a late-life, more pixel-driven release from Hudson Soft and Racjin that has aged phenomenally well and includes some fun minigames to boot. It’s a bit hard to find, but if you do, it’s very import-friendly!
Ucchan Nanchan no Hono no Challenge
Hudson Soft is a big part of this list, and for three good reasons: it was a big supporter of the N64, it had a knack for delivering quality on a budget and it sometimes sought out niche properties only viable in Japan. This game’s a prime example of all three: a challenging dexterity game based on a television show that lacks in sheer content but makes for a great cheap pickup today. It’s like a very hard game of Operation: you must guide a bar through a course without touching the sides of an increasingly narrow and winding path. Just be warned: if your controllers’ analog sticks are worn out or finicky, this may be more of a frustrating experience than a fun one.
Super B-Daman: Fighting Phoenix 64
Another Hudson joint, this one’s for people who wanted the company to take its expertise in building fun into one game like Bomberman and applied it to the sort of 3D arena game that was commonly the base of the best Mario Party challenges. Based on the B-Daman line of toys, it’s basically a fancy version of Combat, with players moving around arenas and shooting projectiles at each other. The solo mode is a bit difficult at times to get through without translation help, but the multiplayer arena delivers what it promises: a few minutes of frantic action. (Of course, because it’s Hudson, there are also minigames.)
While there are lots of Japan-only console game creation tools, Dezaemon 3D stands out for a few reasons. First: it makes scrolling shooters, and fans of that sort of game are always looking for new platforms and experiences and more than willing to import to find them. Dezaemon can create both horizontal and vertical shooters, and the N64 edition specializes in, well, ones with polygonal effects. Second: it’s very usable despite the language barrier, which makes sense for its genre. You can absolutely make your own game with a reasonable amount of effort, and even compose some backing tracks with the built-in music editor. Third: even if you don’t make things, there are two built-in games made in-engine by the dev team. Solid Gear is a more serious military shooter, while Usagi-San follows in the whimsical footsteps of games like Parodius.
If you’d like a shooter that’s crafted by a designer with more expertise than, well, you, there’s no better option on the platform than Bangai-O. While the later Dreamcast port did make an appearance in the West, Treasure’s N64 original offers perhaps a pure version of the experience. The game’s small characters and big worlds make for a multidirectional 2D shooter that feels very different from its would-be peers, and it justifies its cult status. (And decade-late DS sequel.)
Virtual Pro Wrestling 2
Made by the studio behind N64 wrestling hits like Wrestlemania 2000 (and also the Style Savvy series, because the world is strange), Virtual Pro Wrestling 2 is considered by fans to be the peak of the company’s N64 output. It may not have officially licensed fighters you know, but it does have a robust character editor, the return of some features from earlier games and a presentation that focuses more on gameplay and less on the sorts of Western conventions that give those games more downtime.
Puyo Puyo-n Party
Susume! Taisen Puzzle-Dama
While both of these puzzle franchises can be found on other platforms, the N64 versions of Puzzle-Dama and Puyo Puyo are both solid releases and totally ready for you to jump in and play with friends. Perhaps most interesting is Puyo Puyo-n Party, which is an N64 game released after Puyo had become a Sega-owned property. It’s weird to see Sega’s name on an N64 cartridge!
Also released in PAL region
One of the most promising N64 games to never make it to America did make it to Europe, and that’s Rakugakids, a fighting game that takes full advantage of the system’s capability for a really quirky, one-of-a-kind fighting experience. Both versions are generally playable, so opting for the Japanese cart may make sense for you, but you can have fun discovering the over-the-top special moves of each fighter either way.
For more helpful advice for budding importers, check out our Guides section.
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