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Happy Birthday Nintendo 64! Remembering the last great cartridge-based console

By Shawn Knight ยท 17 replies
Jun 24, 2016
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  1. Nintendo’s iconic 64-bit game console system recently eclipsed the 20-year-old mark, having first been released in Japan on June 23, 1996. Of all the console releases in my day, this is the one I remember most fondly.

    The Nintendo 64 wouldn’t arrive in the states until a few months later on September 29, 1996. As a die-hard 14-year-old console gamer (this was a few years before the PC took over my life), I had saved all summer for the N64. Without a computer, the only way for me to keep current on gaming news was through magazine subscriptions. At this point, I had more than half a dozen different magazines showing up at my door each month.

    Nevertheless, with my pre-order in place, I had just one key decision to make: which game to get on launch day? There were only two to choose from – Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 (virtually every game for the console carried the suffix “64”) – and I only had enough money for one. Come launch day, I was still undecided. I went to the local mall and immediately had trouble finding either. It was at my last stop – Sears, of all places – that I found a copy of Pilotwings 64.

    I quickly realized through talking with a friend that I had made the wrong choice as Super Mario 64 was a far superior title but eh, what choice did I have?

    The Nintendo 64 was arguably the biggest jump in performance from console to console that I can remember. The 16-bit Super Nintendo arrived in 1990 followed by Sony’s groundbreaking PlayStation in late 1994 (a year later in North America). Nintendo technically released a 32-bit console, the disastrous Virtual Boy in 1995, but that really doesn’t count. As you can imagine, going from the 16-bit SNES to the 64-bit N64 was like night and day with Super Mario 64 highlighting the console’s early potential perfectly.

    Nintendo ultimately released 388 games for the N64, several of which became instant classics / favorites of mine including Wave Race 64, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, GoldenEye 007, Donkey Kong 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, just to name a few.

    The competing consoles of that era from Sony and Sega were using optical discs but Nintendo critically elected to stick with its cartridge-based system. Games on carts loaded much faster, were more durable, could save progress internally and were more difficult to pirate. Conversely, cartridges cost more money (and time) to manufacture and ultimately, storage space proved to be a limitation with a maximum of just 64MB of space versus more than 650MB for a disc.

    Nintendo planned to address some of these shortcomings with an add-on accessory called the Nintendo 64 DD (disk drive) which used proprietary 64MB magnetic rewritable disks for expansion. The accessory was met with multiple delays and although it did finally come to market in Japan in late 1998 via mail-order, it was discontinued shortly after and never made it to North America.

    All things considered, some say Nintendo’s decision to stick with cartridges was a key factor in the company losing its dominant position in the industry. Unsurprisingly, Nintendo switched to optical discs with its sixth-generation system, the GameCube.

    Permalink to story.

  2. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,512   +900

    I loved Perfect Dark. My buddies and would team up against 8 Dark Ais that were only allowed to attack melee. We'd try to setup a secure area but they would always break through and slaughter us! LOL it was such a blast....
    Hexic likes this.
  3. mcborge

    mcborge TS Maniac Posts: 394   +249

    I still own an N64 but I haven't used it in years as I no longer have a tv with an rgb or scart input. I played a lot of turok 1 and 2, quake, doom 64, shadows of the empire and shadow man... Those were the days.
    Hexic likes this.
  4. amstech

    amstech IT Overlord Posts: 1,708   +868

  5. TomSEA

    TomSEA TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,631   +688

    Great article - thanks! Can't believe it's been 20 years.

    I played the hell out of my N64 - along with my friends who couldn't get enough of Turok.

    Super Mario 64 was a superior game to PilotWings, but I still enjoyed that game a lot.

    True story: I won not one, but two N64's with a few bundled games at the same time in a charity raffle. It was two weeks before Christmas and you couldn't find a N64 in the stores anywhere, so parents were scrambling to get units. As soon as I picked up my two N64's and games, some guy walked up with five 100-dollar bills and said, "I'll buy the second one from you right now so I can have it for Christmas for my kids." So my $20 raffle investment (two $10 tickets) got me the N64 and games plus an additional 500 bucks. Felt like I'd won the lottery!
    BlueDrake likes this.
  6. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,512   +900

    I was going to say get the RetroN 5, but it doesn't do N64 :(
  7. mcborge

    mcborge TS Maniac Posts: 394   +249

    I might just get an old tv just for some retro fun.
  8. darkzelda

    darkzelda TS Addict Posts: 287   +97

    This console was the greatest I've ever owned. Starting for The Legend Of Zelda Ocarina Of Time (The greatest game ever made), Mario 64, Goldeneye, Mario Kart, Perfect Dark!!, Get Force Gemini (Another really awesome masterpiece), Castlevania, and really more games, this console was simply amazing!
    Hexic likes this.
  9. Theinsanegamer

    Theinsanegamer TS Evangelist Posts: 629   +599

    FWIW, I've found emulators to be more fun then the original console (which I still own, and own every game I emulate).

    The emulators really clear up the picture, since you are not putting an analog signal onto a digital display. They can do higher resolution, keep better framerates, anti aliasing, and the best part, get away from those terrible joysticks. Mario party is much more fun with an xbox 360 controller then a n64 controller. No more blisters or broken joysticks from the minigames.
  10. Hexic

    Hexic TS Maniac Posts: 310   +151

    Force Gemini! Someone else on this planet still remembers that game! I loved that game, along with Turok, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, Donkey Kong 64, Ocarina of Time, 007 GoldenEye, and Perfect Dark.

    Good times. So much nostalgia.
    darkzelda likes this.
  11. mcborge

    mcborge TS Maniac Posts: 394   +249

    I used to use project 64, it worked on win7 but I don't know if it runs on win 10, I will have to dig it up and give it a test.
  12. Chesterfried

    Chesterfried TS Enthusiast Posts: 28

  13. mattiadebiaggi

    mattiadebiaggi TS Rookie

    Best console ever made, imo. Zelda Ocarina of Time, Super Mario 64, Shadow Man, Mario Kart 64, Duke Nukem 64 were amazing. Sometimes I play them via emulator, using a USBtoN64controller device.
  14. mbalensiefer

    mbalensiefer TS Enthusiast Posts: 30   +14

    I won the Golden Controller for a Mario Kart Best Time.
    I then went on to get listed in a U.K. mag for best score in Bond Goldeneye at 007 level for each level but two.
  15. Mugsy

    Mugsy TS Guru Posts: 394   +15

    I guess it depends on your definition of "great", but the "Atari Jaguar" was also cartridge-based and came out *after* the N64.
  16. Mugsy

    Mugsy TS Guru Posts: 394   +15

    If you can find an old Analog TV tuner card for your PC (check eBay), you can connect your console to your PC.
  17. mcborge

    mcborge TS Maniac Posts: 394   +249

    Sounds like a good idea, I will have to look out for one of those.
  18. Lionvibez

    Lionvibez TS Evangelist Posts: 1,215   +398

    My favourite console!

    I remember getting all the cheats in goldeneye without cheating to get them took me months!

    Loved Killer Instinct and those crazy combo's with Jago.

    I do wish larger memory sizes for the cartridges was available that held back the system quite abit in the long run.

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