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.