The Nintendo 64 was officially launched in North America this week 20 years ago. The console was advertised as being available for sale on September 29, 1996, but was actually available on September 26th, and launched with two games: Pilotwings 64 and Mario 64.
I honestly don’t remember exactly when my brothers and I received our Nintendo 64 from our parents, but I’m pretty sure they somehow managed to track one down to give us on Christmas of 1996. Back in those days it was nearly impossible to get one of these “hot” items for Christmas, due to the supply and demand of the products. You either had to pre-order it, pay a ridiculous amount of money for it, get extremely lucky, or know someone that sold them and could hold one for you. It was the same way with actual games too. Video games would actually sell out for months if they were popular enough and you didn’t pre-order the game, that’s just the way it was. But this post isn’t about pre-ordering, we can talk about that another time, this post is to explain why the N64 was one of the greatest systems over produced.
What made the Nintendo 64 so great?
The N64 system was the first console that had four controller ports on it… that’s the simple answer, that’s what made this console so amazing for me. The ability to plug 4 controllers into the system meant that you and three other friends could all play together in some of the greatest couch co-op battles of all time.
Sure the 64-bit architecture was great, and the 3D graphics were pretty good, and the controller introduced us to the analog stick, but I truly believe that creating games that allowed more than just one of your friends to play along with you, was the greatest thing about the N64.
We used to spend countless hours huddled around the TV in my parents family room playing intense games of WWF (all versions), Mario Kart, NFL Blitz, NHL, and of course, the game we spent the most time with, Goldeneye 007.
Goldeneye 007 was the game that introduced most people to the world of multiplayer first person shooters. Sure, some of us had played dial-up games of Doom/Doom II, but those were a bit more complex to setup than plugging in a couple more controllers and inviting some friends over.
I will never forget the arguments we’d have over whether or not we would allow someone to be Odd Job, or if we were going to mess with the new guy and make them be Jaws. [for those unfamiliar, Odd Job was extremely short and a lot harder to aim at with the N64 controller, thus giving him a slight advantage. On the other end of the spectrum, Jaws was taller and a much easier target.] I remember trekking through the snow during winter break from school to our friend’s houses to play the new games they got. We were in awe of the rumble pack when it was first made available, but be pissed off that it was another thing you had to buy unless you bought a game it came with. We were annoyed when you needed an Expansion Pack to play certain games (it added a whopping 4MB of RAM to the console and was required for some games to function). But we experienced a lot of these things together, in the same house, playing on the same TV.
The Death of Couch Co-op
Video game developers these days don’t even bother with making split-screen co-op games most of the time because they know that the majority of people are just going to play with their friends online. Which is sad, but I get it. As I mentioned above, there was no real “online gaming” outside of dial-up modems when I was growing up, so there really were no easy options for kids to play games with their friends outside of being in the same room. When I got to college, broadband internet was still something that not everyone had in their homes. Cable and DSL had been around for a few years at that point, but it was still fairly expensive and new to a lot of people, and because of that, online gaming wasn’t a booming market.
Even when I got to college and we had our OC-3 connection running through all of the dorms that provided us with broadband internet, none of the consoles out at the time allowed for online play…. The dreamcast did have a dial-up modem in it, but it never seemed to work right. And the Playstation 2 allowed you to play games over broadband, but it was up to the game publisher to handle all the servers and setup, there was no Playstation Network or Xbox Live (there actually wasn’t even an Xbox).
Despite none of our consoles being capable of properly handling online gameplay, we did manage to get some intense games of Rainbow Six Rogue Spear going on our computers between the guys on our floor. And since there was no teamspeak or microphone communication online yet, we would just conference everyone together from our phones and communicate that way, but it worked.
Obviously with the launch of Xbox Live on the original Xbox, and even more so once the Xbox 360 was released, online multiplayer became the norm and people stopped going over to friend’s houses to play games because they didn’t have to. No longer was there a need to freeze your ass off to walk over to Mike’s house in the dead of winter to play some NHL, when you could both just fire up your Xbox 360’s from home and play each other.
It’s a great advancement in technology, and today I love being able to play online games on my Xbox One with my friends from college that no longer live near me, but it’s sad in that kids these days will never know the fun of all hanging out in the same place playing on the same TV. And even if developers suddenly decided to start reviving the 4-player split screen modes for their games, the damage is already done. None of these kids are going to take advantage of it, and it’s just going to be us old guys using it for nostalgias sake…. or for drinking games. [Mario Kart Drunk Driver is one of the greatest drinking games ever. It’s simple, you can’t drive your kart while you’re drinking, first one to finish the race and their beer wins. So you either chug your beer at the start and race as normal, you race to just before the finish line and chug your beer, or you drive a little – stop – take a few sips and repeat.]
Happy Birthday Nintendo 64
The N64 will always have a special place in my heart for its ability to bring friends together and give them something to do when the weather outside is shitty. Goldeneye 007 will always be remembered as the game that got me into multiplayer FPS games (although Call of Duty 2 would bring me back into it during the modern age of online gaming). And NHL will always be the game that I could never get through a full game of if I was playing my friend Mike, and he was losing. Apparently if the system shuts off before the game ends, I didn’t actually win…
That’s the type of stuff I will always remember, and It’s all because of the N64 and it’s four controller ports.
Unfortunately I think my brothers and I sold our N64 to get a Playstation 2, and I can’t bring myself to buy another one because of the price and how little I’d probably play it now, but at least I can always fire up an old rom or two on the Retro Pie setup and play. [This statement is now false as I traded a bunch of old random gaming crap I had for another N64 and Goldeneye… I even got it hooked up and working on my HDTV’s with this adapter.]
Let’s talk N64! What were your favorite games or memories of the system? Leave us a comment below so we can all get nostalgic on the 20th anniversary of the launch!