The Nintendo 64 was not the first handheld or console I ever owned. I probably, albeit unconsciously, competed for the longest GameBoy gaming session marathon on the planet. Pokémon Red and Blue dominated my younger years, but then the N64 happened.
Breathtaking graphics, intriguing storylines and, not to forget, a bigger screen. I fell in love playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time at a friend’s house, and shortly after I just had to get my own console. Father Christmas dropped a spectacular piece of Christmas loot, a Pikachu edition, but that was just the beginning…
Can you actually believe that Nintendo’s third home video game console celebrates its twentieth birthday today? I vividly remember the Super Mario 64 television ad as if it was yesterday. Zoomable 3D worlds, an innovative controller and a completely new way of exploring worlds you’ve perhaps visited before. Lots of existing franchises received the 64-bit treatment, including Super Mario, Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda, Star Fox and more. These were all exclusive games, no surprise there, but back in the nineties third-party developers truly embraced Nintendo’s hardware as an AAA-platform they wanted to develop games for. One of the most remarkable exclusives was GoldenEye 007.
Rare only published this game on the N64, making an important statement along the way. The first-person shooter introduced 3D pistol action to home consoles rather than computers only, and it was a great incentive for gamers to purchase a N64 so they could actually play this extraordinary piece of craftsmanship.
When looking back at that wonderful time, I can’t decide what mattered most; Winning a competitive real life football game, or beating my best friend in a Golden Gun duel. Even in 2017 Pikachu’s cheeks light up regularly just to play a few rounds of GoldenEye. Despite these glorious yet unnerving evenings, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is what really shaped the gamer I am today.
Do you know there was an actual Nintendo help line you could call to get hints for every dungeon in the game? Internet was not yet widely spread – and slow as hell – so calling was actually faster. It cost me quite a lot, but I couldn’t care less after being stuck for hours. I need to add that OoT was my first Zelda game, because now I realise these puzzles would be piss-easy to solve if I had played previous Zelda iterations before.
New ways to enjoy video games
The magic quickly unfolded when I reached the first boss inside the Great Deku Tree. As I said before, this was my friend’s game, but he was so bad at playing so I promised him we’d reach the end boss sooner or later. We’d only play together, both of us watching excitingly, but I’d take over whenever we encountered difficult bosses. The excitement and adrenaline we experienced back then has not been reproduced by any other game ever since.
If you look at it now, those bosses weren’t so hard at all, but we were young, inexperienced, and easily amazed. That’s probably also why I’m still in love with this console; partly for its great games, but it’s more likely an adoration caused by a non-dissolving nostalgia cloud. Luckily nostalgia is no longer categorised as a disease (trust me, in the 17th century it was), or I would have been inside a madhouse for a while now.
The N64 was not only bringing 3D graphics to everyone’s living room, it also offered some unseen features and possibilities to developers. The m-shaped controller had its downsides. Think of the calibration problems: if you didn’t centre the analogue stick while booting a game, movement would be hilariously difficult. The long grips on both sides turned it into a quite user-friendly controller so even though it had its flaws, it was generally well-received. You could also plug a Controller Pak into the back of the controller to save content. The original models offered 256 kilobits (LOL); luckily most developers coded their games to save data onto the game cartridge itself.
Nintendo the innovator
Another interesting design was called the Expansion Pak. It upgraded the console’s 4 megabyte random access memory and actually doubled it to 8 MB. Only three games were truly developed to take advantage of the increased memory. Donkey Kong 64, Perfect Dark, and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask all had a greater visual appeal thanks to this feature. The Expansion Pak was widely celebrated, because it doubled the developer’s possibilities while keeping it optional for everyone. Loads of games were created with the Expansion Pak in mind, but could also run without it, albeit without a ‘hi-res’ resolution.
Then there’s the Rumble Pak of course. Today every current or previous generation controller has a haptic feedback feature, but Nintendo offered this as an optional upgrade. If you wanted vibration, you could get vibration. Last but not least I spent hundreds of hours playing Pokémon on my television screen thanks to the Transfer Pak bundled with Pokémon Stadium.
I shouldn’t start digging up memories of these adventures, because then I’d have to add a TL;DR section too, but god, I miss the Nintendo 64 for sure!