Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Nintendo 64 in North America. A chiefly innovative console as games made the jump between 2-D and 3-D, the Nintendo 64's release was one of the most important gaming moments of all time.
The Nintendo 64 was originally released on June 23, 1996 in Japan before seeing a limited release on September 26th in North America and a full release three days later. And it was freakin’ awesome!
I remember the first time I played a Nintendo 64 game. I was seven years old and received a N64 as a Christmas gift from my father. Excitedly, I started up Super Mario 64. It was a total revelation. Mario could move anywhere he wanted; he didn’t just go from left to right. This was a huge deal at the time. It was so hard to initially adjust to 3-D that I found myself bonking into walls and having so much trouble walking diagonally that my sister couldn’t stop laughing.
One of the best things about the Nintendo 64 is just how much it truly defined the industry’s approach to various genres. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time helped solidify camera controls for 3-D and brought concepts of open world adventuring to an audience outside the PC. Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark irrevocably shifted the first person shooter genre towards a focus on objectives. Super Smash Bros. offered an entirely different approach to fighting games.
The Nintendo 64 is a curious stepping stone in gaming history. Unlike the Sony Playstation, it refused to embrace emerging technology like discs and opted to remain with cartridges. The controller was a haphazard and confusing beast that grew only more complicated as modular add ons like the Rumble Pak and Transfer Pak were introduced. The console was a mix of ambitious hardware ideas with less than elegant implementation. This lack of elegance and hesitance to use newer tech would eventually end up costing Nintendo their dominance in the console market.
Still, the N64 became the little console that could. From oddball games like Mischief Makers to experimental titles like the mic reliant Hey You, Pikachu! there was always something strange happening on the Nintendo 64 to counterbalance traditional hits like Shadows of the Empire or the beautiful Wave Race 64. It was also a great console for playing with friends with no end of kart racers, shooters, or puzzle games at hand for some good competitive couch time. As long as you weren’t the unlucky sap who had to use that one Mad Catz controller.
After 20 years, I think it’s safe to say that while the N64 might not have been as lasting as the competition, there was a wonderful joy surrounding the console. Creatives like Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma explore new dimensions and laid a groundwork for the future of gaming as a whole. Their exploration was curious, playful, and charming. And it left us with some of the greatest games ever made.
Good work, Nintendo 64. Here’s to you!