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1. Time’s Machine of the Year
How do you measure the legacy of a game console? Sometimes, it’s as simple as seeing what other people are saying about it.
In 1996, Time Magazine dubbed the Nintendo 64 as “Machine of the Year.” They were most impressed by the graphics on the system. This is surprising in retrospect because, to put it mildly, these graphics have not aged very well.
2. The Failed 64DD
You might think you own all of the accessories for the Nintendo 64. But we’ll be really damn impressed if you have a 64DD.
After countless delays, this disc drive add-on was released exclusively in Japan in 1999. It actually gave the system more space (64 MB to be precise) and, with a special Randnet kit, gamers could even go online. Gamers could browse the internet, check out digital magazines, buy merch, and even message game programmers.
This accessory was discontinued after about a year, and before Nintendo could implement online features such as downloadable NES games and online multiplayer. However, it’s wild to think how Nintendo (a company that would shy away from many online features for the next two decades after this) was developing a virtual console and online multiplayer options back in 1999!
3. Controller Designed for Mario 64
Generally speaking, we tell people not to put all their eggs in one basket. But Nintendo found a way to make it succeed.
In this case, they designed an unconventional controller around one game: Super Mario 64. This is one of the reasons that it feels so weird to use it with other types of games. But Nintendo successfully gambled that gamers would fall in love with Super Mario 64 and then, by extension, fall in love with the new controller!
4. The Analog Stick Makes History
Nowadays, we look back on the Nintendo 64 controller as a bizarre design decision. At the time, though, this stick helped make history!
The analog stick gave us a brand new way to explore 3D spaces. And while it would eventually be outclassed by Sony’s Dual Shock design, Nintendo helped pioneer this stick design that changed the face of gaming.
5. Many Different Versions
How successful was the N64? Eventually, Nintendo took a page from their own book and released the system in many different colors and variations.
There were many colorful systems, transparent systems, and even a Pikachu system. Riding the hype of the Nintendo name, gamers were all-too-happy to find the system that best matched their own personality.
6. The System Sold Out
When the Nintendo 64 launched, it was later than originally intended. But this didn’t make much of a difference: it sold out right away!
Even though there were only a handful of games, the Nintendo brand and marketing were stronger than ever. And though Nintendo would ultimately lose this generation’s console war to Sony, they came out of the gates with great speed.
7. The Dream Team
Despite all the development difficulties, Nintendo was fairly confident the system would succeed. After all, they had the “Dream Team” behind them!
This was the nickname given to the team made of companies like Rare, Time Warner, SGI, and many more. Up to 20 corporations helped with everything from system and controller design to helping developers like Lucasarts make some killer games.
8. Hardware Difficulties
The third-party development difficulties for the N64 are pretty well-known. But the system also suffered from some hardware difficulties early on.
Allegedly, those initial chips just weren’t performing as promised. Eventually, the system’s software development kit got an entire makeover courtesy of Kyoto Microcomputer, Co. Ltd. Meanwhile, Nintendo had the unenviable task of convincing gamers the wait was worth it.
9. Software Difficulties
Whether or not the delay was planned in advance, the truth is that Nintendo really did need more time to focus on software development. Because this system was so different than either PC or other home consoles, it was difficult to get third parties to develop for Nintendo.
While the delay helped the system launch with more third-party games than they might have had, Nintendo never did secure enough third-party support to really keep up with the competition.
10. Strategic Delay
When is a delay more than a delay? When it’s used to screw over the competition, of course!
Originally, the N64 was set to launch in time for Christmas of 1995. However, Nintendo ultimately delayed the release until April of 1996. The company claimed they needed more time to get everything right, but many critics and journalists speculated that Nintendo deliberately delayed their launch to lower holiday sales of competing Sega and Sony consoles!
11. The Arcade Connection
When the Nintendo 64 made its debut, arcades were still a popular place to find the latest and greatest games. So Nintendo developed a way to turn arcades into marketing venues for the Nintendo 64.
There was a special arcade version of the N64 that was very different from the home version. And this arcade version was used to power two great games: Cruisn’n USA and Killer Instinct. Nintendo promised players great home adaptations of these arcade games, though the home versions didn’t fully live up to the arcade versions.
12. First 64-Bit System?
Part of the marketing for the N64 was that it was the world’s first 64-bit game system. Is that actually true? The answer is both “yes” and “no.”
The Atari Jaguar was already out when the N64 debuted, and Atari claimed their console was a 64-bit game system. But under the hood, the Jaguar had a 64-bit architecture, two 32-bit RISC processors, and (finally) a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000.
Gamers have spent years debating whether all of that added up to a 64-bit system with the Jaguar. But we can all agree those debates are more fun than actually playing the damn thing!
13. Planned CD System
Nintendo famously (or should that be infamously?) went with cartridges for the N64. This was a surprise at a time when the rest of the industry was leaning into CD-based games.
But cartridges weren’t always Nintendo’s plan. They originally considered using CDs, but they had concerns about the medium. They ultimately went with cartridges that delivered better speed but were very limited in space, which frustrated many third-party developers.
14. Sega Nearly Scooped Them
We wouldn’t have the Nintendo 64 without Silicon Graphics, Inc. They created the CPU that powered the system. But it very nearly powered a Nintendo competitor instead!
Before Silicon Graphics went with Nintendo, they were negotiating with Sega of America. Sega ultimately turned their noses up at SGI due to concerns about the hardware. If not, we might very well have had an N64-style console from Sega!
Would that have been better or worse than the Sega Saturn? Tough to say.
15. Weird Codename https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/86590/10-game-changing-facts-about-nintendo-64 “Nintendo 64” is a pretty straightforward name for a 64-bit Nintendo system. But the codename for this console was much stranger! During development, it was codenamed “Project Reality.” And for the longest time, it looked like the system would be named the “Ultra 64.” All things considered, we ended up with the blandest possible name!