Yesterday was the 20th birthday (Japan release) of a very beloved piece of gaming that helped pave the way to where we are now; 64 bit graphics, 4 MB of RAM, and running at a native 240p, this was the cream of the crop if you wanted the best home gaming experience in 1996. Let’s put on our rose coloured glasses and take a look at just how awesome this thing was, along with some trivia tidbits (Chandler’s laptop is an incredibly close second, though).
First off, let’s take a look at one of the most interesting controllers almost anybody could use:
Sure, the thing looks like it was made for people with three hands, but it got the job done. Really, really well. While the L button was always a little hard to get to, along with the D-pad, most games didn’t make use of them aside from menu navigation and taunting in Super Smash Bros. The c-buttons, while a little oddly placed as well, were easy to hit, and helped give birth to one of the grandfathers of the console first person shooter, Goldeneye. The analog stick was a first on a main console since the early days of gaming, when all anybody had was a joystick and a button or two (unless you played an arcade machine). The only downside to this, while allowing full 360 degree rotation for 3D gaming, was that it had a tendency to loosen up a little bit after a lot of use, making movements a little imprecise at times in the later years of ownership (Here’s looking at you, Mario Party. Ruining friendships and analog sticks since 1998!)
While rumble motors weren’t commonly used in controllers at that point in time, Nintendo still had great foresight. The N64 Rumble Pak was released alongside Star Fox 64 in 1997, and fit inside of the very smart built-in memory cartridge port on the back of the controller. Soon after, rumble motors were a commonplace item within most gaming controllers. Even with the controller, it’s pretty obvious that this system had a lot of influence on how mainstream gaming peripherals have evolved over the years!
Here’s the birthday console! Before receiving its well-known name of Nintendo 64, Nintendo wanted to use the name Ultra 64. Konami wasn’t having that since they copyrighted the word “ultra.” The emphasis was supposed to be on the console’s 64-bit capabilities, so the name is very fitting. The logo is also 3D, keeping in trend.
Before its release in 1996, there was one other console to feature four controller ports built into it, and that was the Atari 5200. While the games were fun, they couldn’t hold a candle to the multiplayer games that would release in the coming years to the delight of children everywhere; Super Smash Bros, Goldeneye, Mario Party, and Mario Kart 64 to name a few. Brothers, sisters, and friendships were able to blossom in 4 player jolly cooperation or friendly competition once again!
As the last console to feature a cartridge loading system, it only seems fair that it would have the occasional hiccup when it came to starting up a game, but that issue was surprisingly small. through my days of playing N64 games, I’ve only run into a couple of games that have had trouble starting, but that’s because they were communal copies in a community centre that weren’t handled well.
In 1999, Nintendo teamed up with Alps Electric to create the 64DD, a disc drive that ultimately failed after selling only and estimated 15,000 units. It was very unique because it allowed the N64 to use 64 MB discs as expanded rewritable memory storage, had a real-time clock for persistent game world design like Minecraft, and featured programs that allowed the user to create movies, characters, and animations. On top of that, they were planning on using an internet service called “e-commerce” for online gaming and media sharing. Unfortunately, it didn’t see a release anywhere but Japan, although I’m sure you can find them kicking around in many places now, albeit for a hefty price.
Does everybody remember the first game they played on the N64? Mine was Super Smash Bros. Being able to see Pikachu and play as him in 3D was mind blowing for my child self. Apart from Smash Bros, the lineup of games for the Nintendo 64 was stellar; Super Mario 64 was the best-selling game, Pokemon Stadium, Pokemon Snap, Excitebike, Waverace 64, Banjo Kazooie. I could sit here for days and list all of the great games, but I’ll save it (Here’s a full list anyways! close to 75% of them are amazing!). A lot of the games had 64 in their name to showcase, once again, the 64-bit capabilities of the console, but that’s okay. It sounded pretty cool.
One very interesting situation that prompted the abundance of another peripheral of the Nintendo 64, the memory expansion pack, was the release of Donkey Kong 64. In it, there was a game breaking glitch that slid by developers, freezing the game and leaving gamers unable to finish the game. To fix this, a memory expansion pack was packaged in with every subsequent Donkey Kong 64 release.
But can we all agree on one thing? Superman 64 was clearly the greatest thing to come out of that generation of gaming. (Because it gave us standards!)
Happy birthday, Nintendo 64. Your existence will always be cherished.
What’s your most favourite memory of the N64?
Let us know in the comments below, or on our subreddit!