N64 – The Backstory

Get ready to go Ultra!

Cast your minds back. It’s the summer of 1996. Gamers everywhere are exploring new, exciting 3D worlds. Sega Saturn owners (like me) are soaring through the skies with Panzer Dragoon Zwei, while the millions of Sony Playstation owners are getting their first taste of the Resident Evil mansion. The console wars are alive and well, with fanboys everywhere claiming their console is better than the other. There’s one big name missing from the list however, and it’s ready to crash the party in a big, big way.

Nintendo hadn’t released a console since the SNES. They’d skipped the 32-bit generation completely believing that their console was strong enough to stand the test of time, and they were – for the most part – correct. Amazing titles like Castlevania IV, Super Metroid and Super Mario Kart had fans hooked, while innovations like the super FX Chip pushed games as far as they could possibly go on the console. The SNES had done well for itself, but with games coming out for other systems, like the two I mentioned above… It was time for Nintendo to jump into the next dimension!

The N64 (formerly known as Project Reality, and the Ultra 64) had been in development since early 1993. Nintendo really wanted to get the design right, and they weren’t afraid to delay the console’s launch (or alter the launch strategy) when needed. The hardware went through several revisions, keeping everyone guessing as to what the final product would look like. Nintendo fans’ anticipation would reach boiling point when the console was unveiled at the annual trade show Shoshinkai, in late ’95.

On the 23rd of June, the wait was over. Players could finally get their hands on the ’64, which was released with the incredible Mario 64, as well as Pilotwings and Saikyō Habu Shōgi (a digital Japanese board game.) However, the USA would have to wait until September, and we wouldn’t see the console here in Europe until the following March!

The ’64 had some weird and wonderful features. It used cartridges for it’s games while everyone else had upgraded to CD media, Nintendo claiming the cartridges were more durable and had faster load times. It featured four controller ports, allowing four people to play at once (establishing it as a real party console!) And had a brand new controller, which was a sight to behold and featured the first analogue stick in modern gaming history!

Violet Berlin showing off the controller at the trade show before the console’s release.  Still as baffled as the rest of us!

Fans loved the console. It was a breath of fresh air, the 3D visuals made it comparable to the opposition, but it’s new features I’ve described above made it stand out from the crowd. Old SNES favourites found new life on the ’64, with F-Zero, Zelda, and Mario Kart getting sequels that didn’t just match the originals in terms of quality – they surpassed them! There were brand new characters to meet, like Banjo Kazooie, and the multiplayer madness of Smash Bros and Goldeneye had people crowding around the console in living rooms all over the world!

The reception was fantastic, but could Nintendo keep the momentum up?

Thanks for reading. More to follow!

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