Originally developed under the names “Project Reality” and “Ultra 64”, it’s final name by launch was the Nintendo 64 and this June it hits it’s 20th birthday.
Nintendo had been riding high off the success of the original NES and Super Nintendo but things were brewing on the gaming scene, Sony was coming out with their gaming system the Playstation and it was promising big things. Nintendo is never one to be left out or sweat too much when it comes to console development as through the NES and SNES generation Nintendo proved itself to be the quality platform for gaming that was accessible and family friendly.
Any kid who had a subscription will remember seeing the sneak previews of this new Nintendo system that was talking about true 3-D graphics and it almost seemed too good to be true. As development continued screenshots would make their way into the magazine and with each one you would be more tantalized with the prospect of this new gaming development.
When September of 1996 rolled around everyone and their grandma were wanting to be first in line to scoop up what was now known as the Nintendo 64, it had a sleek design, a strange looking controller and wait for it ….2 launch games…that’s right Pilotwings 64 and Mario 64. Ok so that wasn’t that awesome or was it?
Both of the launch titles were fun and definitely showed off what the Nintendo 64 was capable of, but Mario 64 blew the roof off of anything you knew about games until that point. Mario 64 had everything you had dreamed of since hearing about “Project reality”, slick graphics, cool 3-D design and great controls that allowed you to quickly grasp the new gameplay concept and get right to the fun.
Mario 64 wasn’t the only titles to really light people up, games like wave race 64 showed some really great water physics, Mario Kart 64 brought the SNES classic to the next level, Zelda gave Link a huge world to explore, pokemon stadium was like nothing Pokémon fans had seen previously on the Gameboy but there’s one game nobody can deny blew the rest away if only for being such a time hog:
That’s right, GOLDENEYE!!! When Goldeneye came out everyone dropped what they were doing to play it. You had a main story which allowed you to unlock levels and cheats for the game which also came in handy for the best part of all…the multiplayer.
I remember spending countless nights with friends playing the multiplayer, a friend’s church would often let us use their projection screen which was like everyone having their own 32″ tv to play on for your section of the screen. Much like Mario Kart this was a game that could damage friendships but everyone lined up to play. Everyone had a favourite character or weapons set up and one jerk would always be odd job but you just went out of your way to beat on them first.
The Nintendo 64 sold over 20 million units in North America had a library of around 388 games, much less than the NES, SNES, Playstation and Sega Saturn but the library had many impressive games in it and to its credit many are best selling and highly acclaimed games for that game generation such as Mario 64 being the best selling game even against Gran Turismo and Final Fantasy 7.
The N64 Also came out with some interesting accessories and add ons just as it had for previous consoles. They released a memory card that fit into the controller to allow saving data from games, the rumble pak that although required batteries gave you some interaction with various games, the failed 64DD disk drive that only saw 9 games released it for it and the expansion pak that allowed certain games to access extra ram for bigger games like Donkey Kong 64.
The 64 was also released in a myriad of colors and designs aside from the original charcoal grey system, the most common ones people know are the colored units that were orange, blue, smoke, grape, red, jungle green and the Pokémon themed unit. The controllers came out with several colors as well but in the later units the 2nd controller would be atomic purple instead of the standard grey.
The N64 is a system that has stood up well over time provided you have a CRT tv or an upscaler as on new tvs the graphics tend to look washed out or fuzzy. As far as the games go many people still look back on Goldeneye as one of the best first person shooters of the time even if now the graphics look a little rough and Ocarina of time consistently makes it on to the top lists of all time best Zelda games. Some games have been left in the dust for not holding up well but the ones that do are still fun and still look great today.
It was a different looking system with a strange shaped controller with an odd button layout but it provided a ton of fun and outlived it’s competitors in the collectors market. Playstation and the Saturn were good but not often looked back upon as fondly as the Nintendo 64 and the prices of 64 games reflects this is comparison to the other 2 major systems of the time with the exceptions of some great games on the other 2 platforms. Once again Nintendo knocked one out of the park and continued to keep themselves on part with their competitors as the console market kept moving forward into the next generation of systems.
So if you have a Nintendo 64 sitting in a closet somewhere, bust it out and toss in some Mario 64, Goldeneye, Crusin’ USA or any of the other great games you loved and take a trip down memory lane with what was one of the best systems of that console generation.
I’ve got mine set up and I think I hear some Goldeneye calling name.
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