The Nintendo 64 is an enigma of a console. Compared to the PlayStation it barely sold, but ask any retro gamer who held a controller in the late 90’s and they’ll tell you how much they loved the N64. Throughout its lifespan the system sold almost 33 million systems and carried some of the best known games around. Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros., Banjo-Kazooie, Goldeneye 007 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time just to name a few. It was the last home Nintendo console to use cartridges and while that put a lot of developers at a disadvantage, those who stuck with Nintendo made magic.
Sticking with cartridges was a bold move by Nintendo since SEGA and Sony were going with disc based games when the console launched. Nintendo explained that it was to combat piracy since it would be more difficult to copy games onto carts at the time. They weren’t wrong but still using cartridges still put off a lot of third party developers. Squaresoft (Square Enix now) used to only publish their famous Final Fantasy games on Nintendo consoles. It’s estimated that if Final Fantasy VII was on the N64, the whole game would need 30 cartridges to play the game properly. Comparing 30 carts to only 3 discs for the PlayStation it’s easy to see why Square went with Sony. Yet even with the limited memory of the carts developers like Hal Laboratories and Rare made games that defined a generation.
Multiplayer is a huge reason why the N64 is still so popular to this day. Having 4 controller ports out of the box and not needing a multi-tap (like SEGA and Sony) made getting your friends together all too easy. The multiple games that supported 4 players were phenomenal titles. Goldeneye 007, Super Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Party, all of which had 4 player support and offered hours of gameplay. I can only imagine the tournaments people held during house parties or in college dorm rooms when this system was in its heyday. I myself sunk hundreds of hours into games like Smash Bros and Mario Kart. Even playing single player modes on those games was fun but playing with your friends made it so much more enjoyable. Just whatever you do, when you’re playing Goldeneye, don’t pick Oddjob. Just don’t.
Not to be outdone by the multiplayer games, the games that were single player experiences were also pure gems. Topping the list of these games are Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT), and Banjo-Kazooie. While Smash, Mario Kart, and Goldeneye defined the N64 with their multiplayer prowess, these games took players on an adventure of a lifetime. I’ve written about Mario 64 so I won’t go into it deep here (but you can read what I had to say about it here) but OoT and Banjo are true classics. OoT took players on this grand story throughout time that not only had a killer soundtrack but one of the most beautiful endings in all of video games. You wanted to explore, you cheered when you solved the puzzles, you were elated when you FINALLY beat the Water Temple, and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried when the credits rolled. OoT is truly a masterpiece of gaming even with its few faults here and there. Banjo-Kazooie was the only other platformer on the system that could hold a candle to Mario 64. You explored and found puzzle pieces, music notes, all while unlocking stages the way YOU wanted. There was no set path, only the way you wanted to go and what you wanted to do in the game.
The Nintendo 64 had some amazing games yes, but like any system it also had its stinkers. Superman 64 being the blemish in the N64’s lineup of games along with some other terrible games like South Park Rally, Hey You Pikachu, and Glover. I owned all three of the latter games and I can tell you even though they are really bad games, there is some form of charm there. Glover really tries as a Mario 64 clone even though it fail spectacularly. Hey You Pikachu was a novel idea but the technology just wasn’t ready yet, and South Park Rally tried to shake things up by having unconventional tracks. Even though I doubt if the tracks were more conventional it would’ve helped save that game. Even with the bad games, some still go for a pretty penny in retro gaming circles and you can watch people play these games on YouTube. It’s always entertaining watching someone play Superman 64 for the first time and seeing why it’s been ridiculed for all these years.
Even with the good and the bad the N64 truly is a remarkable system. It had games that were different enough to bring in gamers and make life long fans out of them. This little retrospective barely scratched the surface of what made the N64 so great. The ones I’ve mentioned above are great titles, but you also have games like Starfox 64, Pokémon Stadium, Pokémon Snap, Turok Dinosaur Hunter. The list of great titles goes so far that books have been written on this subject alone. Even the system itself is fun to collect. Close to the end of its run, Nintendo put out multicolored versions of the system that were also semi-transparent. While these colored variations didn’t add anything new, they are still really cool to look at and highly collectible. One such collectible was the exclusive Gold Toys R’ Us version of the console which came with a gold controller. Due to some poor decision making I lost my N64 along with my entire collection of games. I’ve made it my personal mission to restart that collection by the end of this year. I’ve found a place with the green colored N64 I want and soon I shall have it again. When I first got my N64 it was at the end of it’s life cycle. 25 years since it’s launch the only bad memory I have of the system is when I knew I lost it for good. Other than that I have nothing but love and fond memories of playing the N64 with my friends and family.
Awesome post about the N64, I’ve loved Nintendo since I was a kid. Still love the company. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.
I’m glad you enjoyed it!
Most of my college years were spent playing Goldeneye. We had a daily competition in my dorm room, 4 player matches where the top 2 players stayed on and the bottom two cycled out. We would regularly have 10+ guys waiting for a turn to play. We once set up a tournament with the players from the “other dorm.” Something like 40 players, single elimination rounds. The greatest of times. I never found a proper adversary, because my preferred controller style was using 2 controllers. The 2 controller style required your opponent to also use 2 controllers. Never met anyone else who could play the two controller style…