7 tech score Overall the Nintendo 64 has probably the best catalogue of games out of any console ever made, which in reality should make it the best console ever made, however I couldn't call it as such. The controller simply isn't as good as modern controllers, and in reality wasn't even as good as the controllers out at the time (PlayStation original as well as the Original Dualshock). In the list of of "WOW!" moments when it comes to gaming, Super Mario 64 was definitely a big one for me (with the Psycho Mantis battle being the only one that blew my mind even more). Overall this is a Nintendo console, and realistically you don't need to read a review to know like with almost all Nintendo consoles, the games catalogue is filled with amazing exclusives, however the console itself is somewhat sub-par. In reference to the functionality category, I am talking more so about the fact that it's function is to play games, and it not only did that, but had some of the best games ever made available to play, thus the 10/10.
In the March of 1997 (June and September of 1996 if you live in Japan or America respectively) Nintendo released what is one of the most beloved consoles ever released, the Nintendo 64. The Nintendo 64 is often a console looked back on as the golden age of gaming, however, are we looking at this through rose tinted glasses or were ‘classic’ consoles genuinely more fun?
Succeeding the Super NES (or Super Famicom) was never going to be an easy job, with smash-hits such as Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country and the console release of Street Fighter II being released on the console, as well as my personal favourite Mother 2 (or Earthbound as it was called for its western release). And everyone, including Nintendo knew they would have to step up to keep hold of their massive market share, so much so that they cut development of the Virtual Boy short, as to have more time to focus on the N64 (then the Ultra64), and in many ways it paid off.
Nintendo somehow managed to not only replicate the magic they had previously for the N64, they improved upon the solid grounds its predecessors had set. They built on their existing franchises, following up on what was one of the most highly rated SNES games, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, with, what are considered by many, two of the best games ever made: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, followed by The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. They followed up the bestselling game to release on the SNES, Super Mario World, with what is almost universally accepted as the greatest platformer ever made, Super Mario 64; as well as giving one of my all-time favourites, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars a spiritual successor in Paper Mario, which was on-par if not better than Mario RPG.
Another massive bonus for the N64 was Nintendo’s partnership with the game studio, Rare. During the years of the SNES Rare had become one of Nintendo’s most important studios with the release of the smash-hit Donkey Kong Country, along with the sequels that followed, proving they knew how to make great games. The biggest issue with Rare during the SNES was that they specialised in 3D graphics and although this still looks great in games like DK country, in which the models are pre-rendered and loaded onto the SNES cartridge as flat animation rather than a character model, it still wasn’t using the studio to their full potential. To say the N64 allowed Rare to meet that potential would be a dire understatement. Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo Tooie, Perfect Dark, Goldeneye 007, Donkey Kong 64, Diddy Kong Racing as well as what was by far my favourite non-Nintendo N64 game, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, all developed by Rareware. To say this was golden age for Rare is an understatement, with them unable to replicate this prolific run of form on other platforms. For example, I loved Conker, whereas Grabbed by the Ghoulies felt identical to the mass of poor platform/shooter/beat ‘em up of the early 2000’s. I loved Banjo-kazooie (and Banjo-Tooie even more) whereas Banjo-Kazooie Nut’s ‘N’ Bolt’s is a drastically unfinished game. I won’t go into the travesties Rare committed in the name of Microsoft, as their upcoming title ‘sea of thieves’ actually looks rather impressive, and it would be unfair to call them a dead in the water just yet.
Now that we have software out of the way, what did the N64 have to offer? The original PlayStation pre-dates the N64 by a good year, with both Twisted Metal and Twisted Metal 2 pre-dating Super Mario 64, so it’s not as if the console offered mind-blowing graphical capabilities, with the PlayStation consistently improving to have more graphically impressive content, for example the first Metal Gear Solid (Sept. 1998) and Banjo-Kazooie (June 1998) were only months apart and although Metal Gear Solid was maybe not as much of an aesthetically pleasing game as Banjo-Kazooie, it is certainly more visually impressive. Another example of this is the fact that Tomb Raider 1-3 (1996,1997,1998) all pre-date the original Rainbow Six game for the N64 (Aug. 1998).
Another area where the Nintendo 64 fell down was the poor design of the controller. The N64’s gamepad felt as if it was hardware designed to fit around software, rather than hardware designed to be usable for a range of software. What I mean by this is shown well by the 4 arrow buttons on the gamepad. These work well in a few Nintendo made games such as The Legend of Zelda, as it complements the inventory system well, however in most other games, these buttons were used for less important/frequent task or in some cases not used at all. The same goes for the C-stick in most case, with there being no real rules, a lot of developers used it to control the camera assuming you held the pad like a normal gamepad, whereas a few games used it for movement assuming you held the second and third handle. Although this is a bit of a non-issue I am more of a fan of uniformity, so I can jump into a game and know the basics rather than having to learn new controls for each game I play. The lack of native forced feedback from the bad is also quite poor, however this wasn’t a standard at the time and the release of the Rumble Paks makes this practically a non-issue.
The last aspect of hardware, would be the game cartridges. Cartridge v disk is something that is likely to split opinion, however I would stick my neck out and say cartridge is the superior format. Of course cartridge has its downsides, for example because of their size they had to be sold in cardboard boxes rather than the more durable and sleek plastic cases we have today, meaning (for my experience) cartridges ended up not being looked after as well as they should have, and often end up loose. And although this is a small negative it also highlights a massive positive in that you could literally leave an N64 cartridge on the floor for a month and when you come back to it it will still almost definitely work, possibly needing a good blow, and the same simply can’t be said for Compact Disk. Another huge benefit of cartridge (which is one of the reasons I still to this day prefer cartridge) is that your save data is saved onto the cartridge itself, meaning even if there is an issue that causes your console’s HDD to corrupt/break, your save data will be intact. Not only this but the lack of on-board storage on console stops companies price gouging for more storage space (i.e. Microsoft selling external hard drives to be used with the XBOX ONE).
Overall the conclusion is practically the same as it would be for most Nintendo consoles. Although the Nintendo 64 hardware was impressive, there was still something more impressive (PS1) and this is a running pattern, with the GameCube/PlayStation 2 or the Nintendo Wii/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3. Yet, like most generations, if I was able to pick only one console it would almost definitely be whatever Nintendo released, and that’s simply for the software. Very few companies (if any) come close to Nintendo when it comes to making games that stick with you, that genuinely make you smile whilst playing them, and I feel this is usually a case alone for buying each of their consoles, none more than the N64.