[RetroConsole] Nintendo 64


n64-logo

When I think about 1996, to me it’s like talking of yesterday. Damon Hill won his 1st Formula 1 Championship, Italy did an horrible figure during the European Championship in England and Dolly became the most famous sheep in history.

But, as a matter of fact from 1996 20 years have passed even if I still can’t believe it; when somebody tell me about a friend born in 1996 I still imagine a boy/girl around 6-7 years old.

So, even if it looks young, Nintendo 64 is 20 today, having been released in North America exactly September 26th, 1996.

The story in a nutshell

In 1996 the console world was on the edge of a revolution. The fourth generation, or the 16-bit era was almost over: the fight between SEGA Mega Drive and SNES left only a small space for “the others” and among the handheld consoles, Nintendo GameBoy was a so extraordinary success that the Big N looked like she could control the market for decades.

But in 1996 the 16-bit consoles were quite old: the SNES was already 6 years old and a lot of developers started to think about new ways to power up their products. In 1993 the fifth generation officially started with the release of the first 32-bit console, the 3DO. The hardware was powerful but the extremely high price of it, 700$ was a huge deterrent for people to buy it, so the commercial operation was in the end a shipwreck.

People all around the world were waiting for the next Nintendo product and the japanese firm instead of releasing to the market a 32-bit console had the idea to bypass this format and go straight to the 64-bit.

So, after the 1994 presentation and the official japanese launch in June, on September 29th, 1996 the Nintendo 64, commonly known as N64 landed in North America at the price of 199.99$ and it was pleasure and pain. The console was a success, since it sold over 30 millions of pieces, but not enough to be considered a fully success for Nintendo.

The 64-bit hardware surely gave more power to the console and the possibility to develop fully 3D games, but Nintendo seemed to take the wrong road when they decided to release a cartridge-based console instead of an optical one. For sure the cartridge was almost impossible to clone, preventing any kind of hacking but on the other hand was very expensive to build, instead of the low price of a CD. A decision that in the long run turned against Nintendo itself, especially after seeing how many units of the rival Sony PlayStation were sold (more than 100 millions).

Even if N64 wasn’t the success Nintendo expected it was however the 2nd most selling 5th generation console. Maybe not a great award but always more than the old rival SEGA who sold only 17 milions Saturns. Despite of its almost insuccess the N64 had a long life: 7 years, until 2003. Three years after PlayStation was discontinued too, puttin the end word  on the succesful 5th generation of gaming consoles.

The heart

Looking in the heart of a console is always exciting and this is what you can see if you open the N64.

n64-cpu

Along with rivals PlayStation, PS2 and PSP, N64 had a MIPS microprocessor and a 93,75 MHz NEC-VR4300 CPU.

The hands

Even if a lot of people always says that N64 controller is one of the most awful of all time, I like the Neptune trident-like shape of it. Yes, it’s a bit too big for a young boy hands but Nintendo stated that the shape was studied to let people hold the controller in three different ways: one that we can call “traditional”, holding the left and right “horns”, one holding the left and the center and the last holding the center and the right, one of the most used, since in your left hand you can hold the analog control stick.

This was the most important ferature of the controller and, in the end a huge non-innovation. I said non-innovation because as we all know in most of the old consoles, the controller was a joystick or something related to the shape of a joystick; the control stick was the natural evolution of it: smaller, easy to use and always with 8-movement.

After years in which the stick disappeared from the consoles (we can think about the controllers of NES, SNES, Mega Drive and among the 5th generation even the hyper-ugly controller of Atari Jaguar), the new needs of the N64 with its 3D  games made unavoidable the presence of a small joystick to increase the freedom to move for the characters in the games.

It’s always present the Nintendo cross on the left and there are 4+2 other buttons on the right: four of them looks like the four on the PlayStation while the other two are called the C-buttons and they were customizable.

With the control stick, Nintendo showed it still had the power to reinvent and show the path to the other: the Sony rivals quickly modified their immortal controller adding the two analog controllers that remained in their place in all the consoles published until the latest PS4.

But there’s another surprise in the N64, this time a Nintendo invention that created a trend: the Z-trigger and the expansion port that can be seen in the back of the controller. The Z-trigger overall is the most interesting feature, and it’s like a “father” or maybe “brother” of the L and R button in the PlayStation.

So in the end, I keep thinking the threehorn it’s a wonderful controller!

The eyes

The first thing everybody remembers about N64 is the 3D graphic of the games. the 64-bit core of the console made possible a large use of polygon to create the images on screen but the limited amount of storage size in the cartridge sometimes stretched a bit the graphics.

The games

Even if 338 looks like a great number of games, we have to think that PlayStation had more than 1100 titles and NES and SNES released more than 700 games. Even the average Sega Saturn had a library of 600 games more or less.

In Nintendo partial defense we have to remember that most of the games released for their consoles came directly from the manufacturer, a strategy that “saved” the market after 1983 video games crash (remeber the Nintendo “Seal of Quality“?) but in the long run was a limitation for the distribution of new titles.

We already told about the debatable choice of Nintendo to base its console on the old cartridge technology (but at least prevent the piracy, while for example ALL the PlayStation or at least all of my friends PlayStation where hacked and ran with non original games) but we have to admit that inserting the cartridge in its slot has something poetic.

n64-super-mario-mario-64-cartridge

Among all the games is impossible not to cite the best selling Super Mario 64 (11 millions copies) that beat also PlayStation’s Gran Turismo and Final Fantasy VII (>9 millions copies), but we can even revember GoldenEye 007 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. During the first year were released 15 titles and the last ever released, in 2002, was Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3.

The legacy

Even if it sold way less that forecast, N64 was an important console in the gaming world. A huge number of special editions or special colors has been released during its life until the production was discontinued in 2002 in Japan and the year after in the rest of the world.

n64-orange

I counted 19 different colors for the console and the same number of different controllers. My favourite is the Funtastic Colors Fire, in traslucent orange and the Gold one and among the “standard” controllers the yellow is the best one.

n64-yellow-controller

N64 is maybe one of the best designed console ever made and started the 64-bit fight until more modern system were released years later. After the discontinuation of N64, Nintendo lost the bet with the Gamecube (2000-2009) that sold roughly 21 millions of units until the worldwide success of Nintendo Wii, released in 2006 that put the Big N again on the top with more than 100 millions of units sold.

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21 Comments Add yours

  1. hungrygoriya says:

    It must have been so exciting to have had one of these new. I remember playing Mario kart 64 at a friend’s house every time I went over and desperately wanted my own console. I didn’t actually own an N64 until a few years ago, but am I ever glad I picked it up! Mine is just a regular grey one with good old grey controllers (and maybe a couple of purple see-through ones.)

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Mr. Wapojif says:

      As a teenager it was incredible as it was such an exciting era of change – you don’t really get this anymore. But Mario 64, Goldeneye, and Ocarina of Time were landmarks titles and you could feel the gaming world change as you played them. Many happy memories 20 years later!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. benez256 says:

        Who knows if in 2036 we’ll still talk about N64 40 anniversary…

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Mr. Wapojif says:

        It’s my plan to, that’s for sure!

        Liked by 2 people

    2. benez256 says:

      I’m working to buy a good N64. Looks like I found a good deal…let’s cross the fingers…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. hungrygoriya says:

        All my fingers are crossed (and my toes too!)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mr. Wapojif says:

    I don’t quite understand people’s problem with the N64 controller. I remember at the time how perfect it was and how N64 Magazine ranting about how amazing it was/is.

    I think a lot of people (somewhat idiotically) used their left hand on the outer prong and right on the other outer prong, rather than with their left hand in the middle. That setup just worked wonders on so many games. I can’t believe people say this is bad and then they have no qualms with the disastrous Dreamcast and PlayStation controllers. Oh well, there you go.

    Love the games console, although many of the games have aged hideously.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. benez256 says:

      Another good thing about the N64 treehorn is that came out in different colors and I think it was the first famous console to release such a variety of joypads. One day I will have all of them!

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Agreed. Not sure where the criticism of the N64 controller came from.

      It was truly amazing, and changed the industry totally. I suspect that some folks were, as you say, holding it wrong. The analog stick, the curved prong with the Z-trigger underneath – it was something special.

      Nintendo built its biggest games around the controller and the new analog stick (remember circling the stick to spin Bowser around and throw him off the arena in Mario 64?). It was superb.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. benez256 says:

        I agree. Especially the yellow and orage controllers are great!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Mr. Panda says:

    Beautiful retrospective on the legacy of the N64! Its my favorite system for nostalgic reasons, and because it’s home to some of my favorite games ever. Seriously, this system put out Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time AND Majora’s Mask, Mario Kart 64, Paper Mario, Super Smash Bros., and a bunch of overlooked gems that I’ve always enjoyed. I played the system at a pivotal part of my gaming career and can safely say that N64 led me to be the big Nintendo fan that I am today. Excellent post and Happy 20th Birthday to the N64!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. steviegill (cakeisaliegaming) says:

    Nice retrospective, it was a very interesting in the history of gaming, the balance of power changing between the console manufacturers, the demise of the 16-bit home computers like the Amiga and St, the emergence of the PC as a viable and affordable games platform, and the move towards 3D and much larger games. Never owned a N64 but I always wanted one for Golden Eye and Mario Kart 64. I did end owning its successor the GameCube for a while, but I was never that impressed by its games library.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I remember this console. Before the Nintendo 64, I was mostly used to the Mega Drive and the Game Boy, so using the control stick was new, as well as the different sized buttons and the Z button. I remember there were also shoulder buttons as well, but I cannot remember any game which used the L button (few used the cross either). I also remember having to purchase the expanded memory and rumble paks. I liked the way the games were developed by Nintendo (even if it limited the amount of games released) as it meant I had some expectation of what the games would be like, unlike some consoles where the games seemed to random (I have always wondered how many adult games were released on the console as most games seemed to be targeted towards kids). I also remember the special editions, with transparent controllers, themed controllers etc.
    I enjoyed the history of the console, which finally explained why games were released on CDs, instead of the more robust cartridges. What were your favourite games from this console? Where the themed controllers any good? Do you know of any game which used the L button?

    Like

  6. allendemir says:

    One thing I miss about systems like this is how durable they were. They were clearly meant to be child-proof. Compare that to something like a PS4, and how easily it can be broken.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. benez256 says:

      That’s right. But now we are in the era of scheduled obsolescence so we have things that are useless after a few years…while my NES still works after 25 years…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Great post, really detailed and thorough. I love all the colours – I have a translucent purple console and each of my four controllers is a different colour.

    You mentioned all the different control configurations and, while I have a few games that used the D-pad and buttons exclusively (Mischief Makers, Fighters Destiny), I never came across any game that used the analog stick and the D-pad exclusively. Was that ever a thing as far as you know? Sin and Punishment comes to mind as a possibility but I’ve really not got a clue.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. benez256 says:

      Actually I don’t know if there’s a game studied specifically for the D-pad and analog stick. Maybe there were some players that tried to use this configuration even if I think it’s a useless combo…

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Nice write up i’m not into Nintendo and only tried the N64 a few years back and sadly found it unplayable. The murky textures were just too much combined with the smeary effect.
    Perhaps if i’d had it when it was current it would resonate more with me.
    I did pick an import Gamecube on Japanese launch and found it to be an excellent machine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. benez256 says:

      Yes, playing now on an N64 could be a bit depressing since the console world has improved a lot, but it was a good machine. And so it was GameCube!

      Like

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