The Nintendo 64 was released in Europe in September 1997 and was the last of the fifth generation consoles to be made. It was also to be Nintendo’s last cartridge based console due to the close competition being CD based such as Sony’s PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.
In Europe the system was released with two launch games Super Mario 64 and Pilot Wings 64 and a third in Japan called Saikyō Habu Shōgi. The Nintendo 64 also came in several different colours with the standard and most common Nintendo 64 being dark grey with a light grey controller.
The system was also available in a range of transparent colours such as Green, Blue and a Fire Orange and later releases in America included a bonus second controller in Atomic Purple. I think the most collectable and sort after has to be the Pokémon Nintendo 64 which is a solid blue colour featuring a yellow Pikachu character on the right hand side of the console, the controller is also blue and yellow.
The Nintendo’s game cartridges also came in an assortment of colours. The most popular were gray in colour, fourteen games had black cartridges, while other colours (such as green, blue, red, yellow and gold) were each used for six or fewer games. Several games, such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, were released both in standard gray and in coloured, limited edition versions.
It was quite a rocky start for the N64. A fully playable version was unveiled at the annual Shoshinkai Software Exhibition in Japan on the 24th November 1995 where there were rumours of it being called the Ultra 64. Despite this the system wasn’t released for the Christmas sales as expected due to Adrian Sfarti, a former engineer for SGI, claiming that the console was underperformed in testing, and integral chips were being reworked to overcome this problem. It was then announced that the N64 was to only be released in April 1996.
This was a clever sales pitch on Nintendo’s behalf as when it was to be released the following year it would then be cheaper that its rivals and this lowered the sales of Sony’s Play station and Sega’s Saturn consoles over the Christmas period.
Initially Nintendo sought to develop a console with high-quality, 3-dimensional graphics and a 64-bit processor. Atari claimed they had already achieved this with the Jaguar console but the Jaguar only used a 64-bit architecture in conjunction with two 32-bit RISC processors and a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000. Because of the limitations of using cartridges, the Graphic capabilities of the N64 were somewhat mixed.
As fifth generation games became more complex in content, sound and graphics, it pushed cartridges to the limits of their storage capacity. The N64 cartridges had a maximum of 64 MB of data, whereas CDs held over 650 MB. Games ported from other media had to use data compression or reduced content to be released on the N64. Due to the cartridge’s space limitations, full motion video was not usually feasible for use in cut scenes.
Although the graphics chip of the Nintendo 64 was quite capable of trilinear filtering, which allowed textures to look very smooth during game play, this contrasted with the Saturn and PlayStation, which used nearest-neighbour interpolation that was able to produce more pixelated textures, creating more detailed, smoother graphics. However because of the smaller storage size of ROM cartridges limited the number of available textures, resulting in games that had blurry graphics.
Some games, such as Mario Party 2, use a large amount of Gouraud shading like image. This fit the themes of many games, and allowed this style of imagery a sharp look. Cartridges for some later games, such as Resident Evil 2, Sin and Punishment: Successor of the Earth, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, featured more ROM space, allowing for more detailed graphics.
A major let down for the N64 was with its late release of an add-on called the Nintendo 64 DD (Disk Drive). Despite the add-on being released when the sales of the console were at its peak the disk drive failed quite miserably.
This was mainly because of its rivals having an established and vast library of games already at their disposal where the N64 only had nine games among them the four Mario Artist games (Paint Studio, Talent Studio, Communication Kit, and Polygon Studio), were released for the Nintendo 64DD.
Because of this the Nintendo 64DD was only ever released in Japan.
The Nintendo 64 has many classic and very playable games today but myself as well as many of you thought that the game Goldeneye was quite ground breaking upon its release. It wasn’t just the graphics but the gameplay, even today when I play it, it still has that strong 007 feel that sucks you in to give that real sense of espionage and drama.
Other titles out of its library of 387 games that the console is widely remembered for are Super Mario 64 that sold over 11 million copies, need I say any more. Donkey Kong 64, a fantastic game and one that used Nintendo’s Expansion Pak to give the game an extra 4MB of RAM. The game received highly positive reviews, with an average of 86.74% on review aggregate site GameRankings. And don’t forget The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, this set the standard for future 3D action-adventure games.
Despite all the Nintendo 64 flaws as many gaming consoles do, from its release to today the system still has a following that will live on. On its release, its demand was so great that David Cole, industry analyst, said “You have people fighting to get it from stores.” The magazine said celebrities Matthew Perry, Steven Spielberg‘s office, and some Chicago Bulls players called Nintendo to ask for special treatment to get their hands on the console.
Nintendo sold 350,000 of 500,000 available units during its first three days on sale. Longer term, the console sold 500,000 units in North America during its first four months. George Harrison, vice president of marketing at Nintendo, expected sales of 5 million consoles by Christmas 1997.
As of December 31, 2009, the N64 had sold 5.54 million units in Japan, 20.63 million in the Americas, and 6.75 million in other regions, for a total of 32.93 million units. Benimaru Itō, a developer for EarthBound 64 and friend of Shigeru Miyamoto, speculated in 1997 that the N64’s lower popularity in Japan was due to the lack of role-playing video games.
The Nintendo 64 remains one of the best known video game systems in the world. On the top ten best game consoles episode of G4techTV‘s (now G4‘s) Filter, the Nintendo 64 was voted up to #1 by registered users.