The much-delayed third home console from Nintendo saw numerous name changes along its way to finally reaching store shelves in mid-1996. Code-named “Project Reality” early on in its development and announcement phase, the machine would be well known for a brief span by another name that’s been all but forgotten today: The Nintendo Ultra 64.
It made sense, in following the line of succession from the original Nintendo Entertainment System to a more “Super” powered variety, to the point that there had even been talk of it being called the “Ultra Famicom” in Japan (at least, according to Electronic Gaming Monthly‘s rumor-monger Quartermann), where it would of course have likewise followed the Famicom and Super Famicom. But before release, Nintendo decided to drop the “Ultra” from the name altogether, and globally brand it as the Nintendo 64 in all regions, beginning a tradition of platform naming which continues (for good or ill) to this day.
But why the switch? Perhaps the most fascinating and amusing rumor is that Nintendo’s own business tactics from previous generations had come back to haunt them.
During the NES era, Nintendo of America kept a tight leash on third-parties, allowing each of them to only release five games per year — a measure designed to force them to choose which titles to release carefully, so as to avoid the deluge of lower-quality games that had helped to doom the market previously. However, some companies got around this limitation by forming secondary companies or brands, allowing them to double their output.
In the case of Konami, their secondary company was called “Ultra Games.”
Though never proven, some suspect it was Konami’s trademark on Ultra Games — a move which was effectively forced by Nintendo themselves — which forced them to abandon part of the name for their new console. Of course, the name had already fallen out of use by Konami at this point, and regardless, Nintendo denies that had anything to do with it. Rather, the official story is that Nintendo did indeed want to establish a worldwide brand and logo for the console.
Suffice to say, though they may never admit it, one can be sure that any potential problems posed by Konami’s trademark would only have made the decision easier.