Happy Birthday Nintendo 64!

On September 29th, 1996 Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 (N64) in North America.  While I might be a day late with this article, I felt it was important to honour the date just the same.  The N64 was originally unveiled at Nintendo’s Spaceworld event as the Ultra 64.  Anyone remember this?

Eventually Nintendo would change the name simply to Nintendo 64, but I’ve got to tell you, personally I always loved the “Ultra” and missed it when Nintendo removed it.  I had visions of Ultra Mario Kart, Ultra Donkey Kong, etc.  No one could blame me either given what Nintendo did during the Super Nintendo days with every other game being titled Super.  Instead we were left with 64. That never made much sense to me.  Super Mario 64…but wouldn’t it really be Super Mario 5?

While the N64’s history will always show Nintendo’s fall from the dominant position in the gaming industry, there’s no question that this console had some of the very best videogames ever made.  So instead of looking at the negatives, let’s focus on the positives for this birthday bash.  To start with Nintendo took a bold chance by putting four controller ports right in the system from the get-go.  Always the multiplayer proponent, the N64 took multiplayer to new heights with Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye 007.  Some of my fondest memories of the console are from multiplayer experiences only the N64 could do right out of the box…plus an additional controller or three.

The other big innovation, and the biggest to be perfectly honest, was the inclusion of an analog stick on the bizarrely shaped three-pronged controller.  I always thought the controller looked so odd when I originally saw its debut.

Take a good look at that analog stick, that’s not the same one we ended up with.  No one can question that this controller, while controversial at the time, paved the way for true 3D gaming as we know it today.  While 3D gaming was already being pioneered on the PC, we had never seen anything like Super Mario 64 before.  It really was the first true 3D experience that influenced everything that followed.

The N64 also broke new ground for Nintendo by allowing players to increase the RAM from 4MB to a whopping 8MB with an Expansion Pack.  The Expansion pack was used for such classics as Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask.

The Expansion Pack wasn’t the only hardware improvement Nintendo would make with the N64.  The controller allowed different peripherals to be plugged into the back of it.  There were memory cards, the Transfer Pak (allowed you to transfer info from GB and GBC games), and the most popular peripheral of all time, the Rumble Pak.  The Rumble Pak allowed full tactile feedback.  If your on-screen character was shot, you’d feel it in your controller.  How awesome is that?  Clearly this was a next-gen experience, made possible thanks to the power of the Nintendo 64.

There was even a Disk Drive system released over in Japan that allowed users to create their own unique game content.  It was called the Nintendo 64DD, or Disk Drive system.  The add-on was released very late in the system’s life and sadly never made it outside Japan.  The two biggest games released for it were the F-Zero track builder and Doshin the Giant.

Finally we close off by talking about the one aspect all systems should be remembered for, their games.  While third party games were few and far between, the N64 housed some of the very best Nintendo-made games ever released.  Starting with Super Mario 64, Nintendo would go on to release legendary and industry defining classics like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Super Smash Bros., Wave Race 64 and Star Fox 64. If you include Rare in the mix then suddenly you have games like Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Donkey Kong 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Jet Force Gemini.

Every now and then I break out my system to play great imports like Sin & Punishment, or just to relax with the original Ocarina of Time.  Maybe I feel like jumping back into the premiere 3D world with Super Mario 64, or just experiencing some four player madness with Super Smash Bros. the N64, even after 15 years, still has a place in my home.  Now it’s your turn to discuss what made the N64 so special to you.  Do you still have an N64?  Are there any games that allude you to this very day?  Go ahead and join the discussion in the comments section below.

Once again, happy birthday Nintendo “Ultra” 64!  You were quite the powerhouse back in the day.

15 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Nintendo 64!”

  1. Awewomse article! I do have my N64 ready to go in my place and I’m planning on playing Diddy Kong Racing next weekend. Should be a lot of fun!

  2. I do have my N64 still actually (two of them). It was a great console, but I have mixed feelings. It’s actually one of the less favorite Nintendo consoles, especially coming after the Super NES. The SNES was the first console I really connected with as a kid, and it has so many of my favorite games. Mega Man X, Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy IV and VI, Secret of Mana, Street Fighter…I loved all of these games just as much as the classic Nintendo franchises. So when the N64 had so many no-shows (no Mega Man games except a port of Legends, no Final Fantasy or any Square games, hardly any fighting games), I was really bummed. Though I have to say that prior to the system’s release and during its heyday, I was a huge fan. When it came out, it was just no contest–the PlayStation had virtually nothing that appealed to me at the time. It wasn’t until 97 that the tide started to change, but when the N64 came out with Super Mario 64, I was hooked.

    I remember that during the N64’s day, I would spend time going back and forth between N64 and PS1. N64 had Mario, but then PS1 had Final Fantasy VII, Mega Man X4, Catlevania: Symphony of the Night, and other third party hits. But then Ocarina of Time came out on 64, and I ignored my PlayStation. Certain key games kept me coming back to the N64 and they had amazing appeal: Super Smash Bros., Goldeneye, Mario Kart 64, Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64, and Majora’s Mask especially ate up a lot of my game time after I got home from school (and finished my homework, after school activities, and after I played outside, lol).

    When I look back at the N64, I do feel a hint of regret, I guess because Nintendo had begun to lose its dominance in my eyes and in hindsight, the system didn’t have the amazing library the SNES had. But that was a tough act to follow, and the N64 had plenty of gems that really kept my attention. I still remember renting Super Smash Bros. from the store and spending a whole weekend plowing through the game, trying to uncover all of its secrets. My brother also fibbed to me and told me that Mega Man was a playable fighter, and told me I had to beat the game on Very Hard without dying once–so I practiced and practiced and practiced until my thumbs hurt. Man was I mad when I found out he was lying!

  3. That’s a pretty funny story there Tim. You sure love your Mega Man. Sad you weren’t into the heyday of the NES. Few people remember just how big Mega Man was back then. He was original, he was cool, and his original game featured some of the worst North American box art in history. The thing is, when the sequel was announced people were actually excited for it. It was like hearing about Super Mario Bros. 2 or Castlevania 2. People were talking about it all the time at school. Then when Mega Man 2 actually hit, it was a huge success. If there had been a world wide web back then it would have been the talk of the Net I’m telling you. It remains one of the very best NES games ever created. One day, very soon in fact, I plan to deal with more retro gaming. More info on that will follow shortly, I promise.

  4. Yes i have two N64 in my house an it is played regulary games like ogreebattle 64, mario kart, banjo kazzoie, conquer goldeneye, perfect dark, yoshi story, mario 64, etc all the great games, for me it was a great nintendo console that define 3D gaming, but i know with this console nintendo started to loss third party support that will carry on till this day and age, and for the cartridge reason ,and to think that now sony is implementing this on Vita and maybe on the next ps home console too, i think it was not understood the benefits from cartridge but piracy played a greater toll on this issue, well i will not say piracy, scratch that i will said instead a very friendly user format.

  5. The big mistake Nintendo made was being omega greedy. They can claim they used carts for piracy all they want, but other systems like the Sega CD, TurboGrafx-CD had little problems with piracy. Heck even the Saturn was released before the N64, and so, too was the PS1. The thing is that Nintendo was making a fortune off selling carts to licensees. They would lose all that money if they went to CDs. They also had the ridiculous “Play Station” CD add-on for the SNES that caused them nothing but trouble in the planning phases so they were reluctant to use CDs head-on. They also saw the high costs associated with the hardware a la Sega CD. So the bottom line was this, why lose any money? Sure games could feature CD-quality sound, have full motion video and store far more information, but money is money.

    Had Sega not completely botched the North American launch of the Saturn I truly wonder what would have happened. 2D fighters and shooters were of Dreamcast and PS2 quality, and even the 3D titles weren’t too bad if you knew what you were doing. People don’t even realize this but Shenmue originated as a Sega Saturn release, but because the system was such a failure in North America Sega stopped development on it really early, which caused third parties to only create certain games for it and release them exclusively in Japan. Had that not happened, Nintendo may have been demoted all the way to third place and the GameCube could have actually forced Nintendo to become a third party. Imagine that!

  6. That’s fantastic. Me and my siblings have a Nintendo 64 and we still play it, my favorite game we have is Super Mario 64. We had 4 working controllers (2 grey, 1 yellow, and 1 blue), but we ended up breaking them as the years went by. So, my siblings and I were down to only one working N64 controller and it’s the blue one, though the analog stick messes up sometimes.

  7. I still play my N64 regularly. No matter how many times I play through Jet Force Gemini, Goldeneye 007, or the Zelda games they still remain just as fun. There’s one problem though, the analog stick on my controller has gone almost completely slack as they all eventually do. Pretty soon I won’t be able to play any of my games! Currently I’m frantically searching the web for a replacement analog stick that won’t go slack, like the ones on the gamecube or PS(1,2,3). I KNOW they’re out there, i’ve seen them on youtube and various other sites. I just can’t seem to find out where to get them. Please Reply If You Know Where. HELP!

  8. I got the replacement today and it’s excellent. I recommend this to anyone in a similar scenario. If you’re used to playing with a slacked analog stick, playing with the upgrade will take some getting used to.

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