The Nintendo 64 (or N64 to its friends) is now 20 years old. Let that sink in for a moment.
Still, rather than bash our heads against the walls as we screech about the cruel and unrelenting mistress that is time, why don’t we use this occasion to celebrate what made the N64 such an amazing console?
I mean, we’re doing that whether you’re into it or not, so you’d best strap in for the ride. Alternatively, you can find our article on the ten best N64 games here.
Four Player Fun
The N64 was the ultimate and undisputed king of local multiplayer. Four controller ports for massive multiplayer? This shit was unheard of on consoles back in the day.
And boy, did Nintendo make the best of the four player functionality. So many N64 games feel like they were crafted specifically around creating unforgettable multiplayer experiences with a bunch of friends.
Whether you were blasting across Rainbow Road in Mario Kart 64, getting blisters and destroying friendships in Mario Party, or bashing your mate’s head in on WrestleMania 2000, I can’t imagine there’s anyone who owned an N64 that didn’t come away with at least a few fond memories of afternoons wasted in front of the telly with mates.
Of course, it’d be wrong of me to not give a special mention Super Smash Bros. Nintendo’s first ever mascot brawler set the standard for each game in the franchise to follow, and in the years before an intense pro scene sprang up around the series, it really was the perfect formula of fast, accessible fun with friends.
The Golden(eye) Age Of Rare
“How can you talk about N64 multiplayer and not mention Goldeneye, you fucking plum?” – I imagine that’s what you were thinking (maybe not in those exact words). Well just calm yourself, because I’m getting to it.
The developer Rare are still great, but they’re a far cry from the company they were back in the days of the N64 – it honestly seemed like everything the studio churned out for Nintendo was absolute gold.
You want awesome 3D platformers? Rare had Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 for you to try. Want a racing game? Diddy Kong Racing and Mickey’s Speedway USA were the dog’s bollocks, my friend.
But many would argue that Goldeneye was Rare’s pièce de résistance for the N64. Not only was it an incredibly rewarding and intuitive FPS, it was a fantastic multiplayer experience – some would say it’s the definitive N64 title, and I’d be hard pressed to argue.
The Rumble Pak
Obviously it doesn’t seem like much now, but a rumbling controller was pretty damn novel in the day.
Sony actually backed away from the idea of including a rumble motor in their original Dual Analog Controller, but once the Rumble Pak came into play, Sony soon changed their minds and came out with the DualShock controller.
As you probably know (since rumbling controllers are standard now), the Rumble Pak was a pretty simple attachment that shook at certain moments to simulate everything from damage, impact, extreme noise, and anything else you might care to think of. A simple idea, maybe, but an entirely immersive one.
Like the D-Pad, the internal battery, shoulder buttons, and multiplayer ports, Nintendo once again managed to change up gaming with an idea that seems insultingly obvious in hindsight.
The Leap To 3D
One of the most impressive things about the N64 was the way that it handled the transition from 2D to 3D for Nintendo’s two biggest franchises.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64 are still considered among some of the greatest games ever made for a very good reason, and that’s because of the way they threw themselves into the third dimension with near flawless style.
Both titles are key adventures full of awesome memories that many gamers still hold close to their hearts. Stepping out into a fully realised Hyrule Field for the first time. Uncovering all the secret stars in Peach’s Castle. Beating down Ganon with the Master Sword and throwing Bowser by the tail to his doom, in glorious 3D, no less.
In short, the N64 took two of the best and brightest worlds in gaming, and made them feel more alive and vibrant than ever before. I don’t know if any subsequent Zelda or Mario will ever have quite the same impact as their first N64 outings had.
Oh dear God, the games. I’ve already mentioned a ton of incredible N64 exclusives; Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, Goldeneye, Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros – there were so many incredible titles for the console.
It definitely helped that this was back in the day when Nintendo were aware of the importance of third party support.
On top of a load of classic Ninty titles, we also got the likes of Resident Evil 2, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater, Star Wars Rogue Squadron, South Park, Spider-Man, Turok, and so many more.
What made the N64 so awesome was the sheer variety of titles on offer. Pretty much any genre you might care to name had a title on the N64, and it was usually fucking great. Horror, action, platformers, adventures, RPGs and FPS games – it was all there for you to play.
Then there are the titles you might have missed, but that were no less deserving of your time. Paper Mario was a genuinely innovative RPG, while Majora’s Mask was a dark and often overlooked Zelda title. Conker’s Bad Fur Day was another hilariously insane gem from Rare, and Pokemon Snap? Motherfucker, you need Pokemon Snap in your life.
It’s no secret that Nintendo have been lagging in the home console market since bringing out the Wii U.
While we still have no idea what to expect from the NX, let’s hope it takes its cues from the N64 – a console that took risks, worked well with other developers, and put creating fun videogame experiences above all else.
Ewan Moore is a journalist at UNILAD Gaming who still quite hasn’t gotten out of his mid 00’s emo phase. After graduating from the University of Portsmouth in 2015 with a BA in Journalism & Media Studies (thanks for asking), he went on to do some freelance words for various places, including Kotaku, Den of Geek, and TheSixthAxis, before landing a full time gig at UNILAD in 2016.