By the end of the 90s a new generation of home consoles had arrived and current giant Nintendo wasn't going to get left behind. After outstanding success with the SNES, Nintendo decided it was time to move on to the next generation. They accomplished this by releasing the Nintendo 64 (or N64). The console debuted in Japan on June 23, 1996, North America in September 29, 1996, and in Europe and Australia on March 1, 1997.
The console was a big leap from Nintendo's previous consoles as it had a 64-bit processor (hence the name). The NES and SNES had 8-bit and 16-bit processors respectively. The console shipped with Nintendo's flag ship titles: Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64, for the first time in history gamers were able to see how Mario looked in 3-D. Like previous consoles ( NES, SNES) the N64 used a cartridge system as opposed to that of its main competitors; the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn, which used CDs. This decision to use a cartridge system severely hampered the system's ability to compete with the PlayStation, resulting in a severe loss of market share, and the loss of partner Square-Enix to Sony, which was a large blow to the Nintendo catalog.
The Nintendo 64 marked the first time a computer graphics manufacturer Silicon Graphics Inc. (SGI) developed game hardware technology.
Although it didn't sell as well as Nintendo's earlier machines, it marked a history in video games as it was the console that showed gamers how 2D play styles could be adapted into a 3D world with the analog stick, rumble, and built-in 4 player support.
The Nintendo 64 featured a unique controller that could be held multiple ways. The three-pronged controller had a center-mounted analog stick, something its competitors Sony and Sega had not implemented yet (though Sega introduced the Sega Saturn's 3-D Controller with an analog stick by the time the N64 hit the market). There was also a traditional directional pad on the left side, and and a set of six face buttons ("A", "B", and the four"C-Buttons") on the right.
The game's center handle also featured a trigger on the back, "The Z Button". This button was used instead of the "L" button in games which used the analog stick.
The underside of the controller featured an expansion slot where various accessories could be inserted to enhance gameplay. This trait was replicated on the controllers for Microsoft's Xbox and Sega's Dreamcast.
The N64 is famous for having the least amount of games for the launch of any Nintendo console, with three games in Japan and Europe at launch and only two games at launch in the USA. Each launch included the critically acclaimed Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64 so most gamers were still happy to buy the console.
During the lifespan of the N64, Nintendo released various "Paks" used to enhance the console in some way or give it extra functionality.
- The "Transfer Pak" allowed you to transfer data between the Game Boy and the N64. The Pak plugged into the controller, and the Game Boy game cartridge was inserted into the top of the Pak. The games Pokemon Stadium and Pokemon Stadium 2 relied heavily on this pak, allowing you to transfer Pokemon between games for use in battle.
- The "Jumper Pak" served no real purpose other to eliminate the RAMBUS bus in absence of the expansion pak.
- The "Controller Pak" was a memory card that plugged into the rear of the N64 controller. It was used for game save and option data. N64 games could include a battery save in the cartridge that eliminated the need for a controller pack, but this increased cartridge production costs. As a result, many third-party games did not support cartridge saves and required that players use a Controller Pak to save data.
- The 'Rumble Pak' was a removable device which went into the back of the N64 controller and which provided force feedback while playing games. Games that supported the ‘Rumble Pak’ vibrated in select situations, such as when shooting weapons or taking damage. It was bundled with Star Fox 64 when it was first released in 1997. Some games that supported the ‘Rumble Pak’ include: Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye and Paper Mario. Since the Rumble Pak, force feedback has become an industry standard, and the functionality is now built into current controllers.
The Nintendo 64 Disk Drive was an add-on to the N64 console designed to keep third party developers from making games for a CD based system. It allowed the reading of magnetic disks that were larger in capacity to cartridges and allowed for saving data in them.
Although it was heavily hyped even before the system was released, Over time however hype for the add-on signigicly tapered with consumers wondering why to play some hotly hyped games they would have to shell out money for it. Several games intially planned for the 64DD such as Mario RPG 2 (later renamed to Paper Mario) and Zelda Gaiden (Later renamed to Majora's Mask) were instead released on N64 cartridges as opposed to 64DD disks primarily due to the add on being significantly delay.
The 64DD was eventually released in Japan in December of 1999, a North American release was planned for 200 however the idea was ultimately canned. Even in Japan it was only sold through Nintendo's subscription based service RANDnet, and not through ordinary stores. The accessory was a commercial failure and only nine games were ever released: F-Zero X Expansion Kit, Pro Golf Tour 64, Kyojin no Doshin, Kyojin no Doshin Kaihou Sensen Chibikko Chikko Daishuugou, Mario Artist: Communication Kit, Mario Artist: Paint Studio, Mario Artist: Polygon Studio, Mario Artist: Talent, SimCity 64.
Nintendo released a controller similar to the Power Glove, however this controller could be used for any game, as it had buttons on the top.
Although the Nintendo 64 was a commercial success and had some of the most innovative and critically acclaimed games of the time, it could not gain popularity as widespread as the Playstation (especially in Japan) nor did it have a vast array of third-party titles. Thanks to the analog stick on the controller, it brought a new way to play 3D videogames. Many of the games on the console (like Super Mario 64, Golden Eye, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time) innovated their genre and brought it over to the 3D world.
Thanks to Super Mario 64's 3D gameplay, it started a new trend for free-roaming gameplay and has influenced many series to go in that direction ( Grand Theft Auto, for example). Golden Eye arguably presented the first compelling argument for First Person Shooters on consoles, and was widely lauded for its multiplayer. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is considered by many as one of the best games of that generation (getting perfect 10 scores from many reviewers like IGN and Gamespot). Its 3D free-roaming gameplay revolutionized the adventure genre.
The system also introduced several new ideas to the gaming industry. The Nintendo 64 was the first console to introduce a rumble feature to their controller. The Rumble Pak was packaged with Star Fox 64 in 1997. It was a huge leap into getting the player involved in the experience and the feature has been implemented in every controller since then (most notably the DualShock lineup for the Playstation).
It also helped a trend to transfer data from handhelds. Although the Super Game Boy was the first accessory to play Game Boy games on the TV, the Transfer Pak was the first to use data from the games and use them in games. Many games like Pokemon Stadium (in which the Transfer Pak was packaged in with) and Pokemon Stadium 2 used the Pokemon games for the Game Boy to transfer your Pokemon over from the game and use them to fight on their console counterparts (you were also able to play the Pokemon games on your TV). This idea was used for many other systems to come like the Gamecube, Wii, Playstation 2, and Playstation 3.
Best Selling Games
The following are the top 10 best selling games for the Nintendo 64. In brackets is the total worldwide sales for the game stated.
- Super Mario 64 - (11 million)
- Mario Kart 64 - (8.47 million approx.)
- GoldenEye 007 - (8 million)
- Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - (7.6 million)
- Super Smash Bros. - (4.9 million approx.)
- Diddy Kong Racing - (4.43 million approx.)
- Pokemon Stadium - (3.87 million approx.)
- Donkey Kong 64 - (3.77 million approx.)
- Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - (3.36 million)
- Star Fox 64 - (3.32 million approx.)