Nintendo 64 was a commercial failure despite some of the most influential games of all time

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Source: Rebecca Spear / iMore

When you think of failed Nintendo consoles, you probably think of the Wii U or the Virtual Boy; you probably don’t think of the Nintendo 64. However, the N64 was a commercial failure even though its games had an incredible influence and are still revered today.

With many N64 games coming to Switch soon thanks to the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, I’m nostalgic for these classics and reflect on their everlasting influence on the gaming world. They went on to inspire not only the best Nintendo Switch games, but but also some of the greatest games of all time. At the very least, the buzz surrounding their return to Switch (whether positive or negative) proves how excited people are for them.

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Get ready. We go back to the 90s to take a look at the launch of the N64, focusing on some of the most important N64 games, and then ending with karaoke. Yes really.

Take a trip to the 90s

90s gamesSource: Rebecca Spear / iMore

Go back in time with me to June 1996. Dial-up Internet access was still common, Braveheart was the best picture, and Homestar Runner was just getting started. In the gaming world, Nintendo Power magazines were still in print, Pokémon Red and Blue had just appeared in the United States earlier that year, the Nintendo 64 system had just been released, and many series of games were released. games were taking their first steps in 3D.

For the past decade, Nintendo had dominated the gaming world with its SNES console, which had actually only seen competition from rookie Sega Genesis. However, several new consoles had entered the market two years before the N64, which would prove problematic for Nintendo: the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.

The PlayStation sold 102.49 million units, but the N64 didn’t even sell half.

While the latter wasn’t much apart from hosting truly classic games, Sony’s system grabbed everyone’s attention with its minimalist design, modern game discs, and simple controllers. The N64, on the other hand, looked relatively blocky, still used cartridges, and had those odd sai-shaped controllers that many found off-putting. Those of us who grew up using them didn’t give it a thought, although we hardly ever touched that D-pad for any game, but it became a point of contention.

With the attention of consumers divided among several gaming systems, Nintendo seemed to be lagging behind and therefore was less attractive. The PlayStation sold 102.49 million units during its lifecycle, but the N64 didn’t even sell half that at just 32.93 million units. However, that didn’t stop it from making a lasting impression on those who brought the N64 into their homes. In many ways, we have to thank the N64 for the best games available today, both inside and outside of Nintendo.

The living legacy of the N64

N64 and heroes of the gamesSource: Rebecca Spear / iMore

The 1990s were a time of change, and the N64 played a huge role in revolutionizing the gaming world forever. There are so many hits I could talk about here: Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark, Star Fox 64, Mario Party, Paper Mario … it’s a tough list to shorten. But to illustrate my point without delaying too much, I’m going to focus on a few N64 titles and their impact today.

Super Mario 64

Super Mario 3d All Stars Super Mario 64 StarsSource: Nintendo

Let’s start with Super Mario 64, which came out with the system and was the best-selling game of the N64. It’s known to be a massive experiment that allowed Shigeru Miyamoto and his development team to test the limits of the console and try new things that had never been done before. It becomes very evident as you play the game and realize how varied the tasks and worlds you come across are. Mario’s first 3D adventure showed the world what the N64 is capable of and that Nintendo would confidently enter the modern gaming world.

It went on to inspire several other 3D Mario games, including Super Mario Sunshine, the Super Mario Galaxy series, and the most recent Super Mario Odyssey. Not to mention that it has inspired countless 3D platform games on various consoles.

Mario kart 64

Mario Kart 64 Online MultiplayerSource: Nintendo

Technically, Mario Kart 64 was the second game in the series, with the first released on SNES, but it was the entry that brought the racing game into 3D space. It stood out from many similar titles at the time by offering a silly rather than serious racing experience. Playing as your favorite Mushroom Kingdom character and throwing cartoon objects to stay ahead of the game has provided entertainment worthy of sleepovers, hangouts, and parties.

The series continued to be a hit on all Nintendo consoles. In fact, today Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is by far the best-selling Switch game, with 37.08 million copies sold and has inspired a number of imitators like Nickelodeon Kart Racers and Chocobo GP.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Zelda Ocarina Of Time ShiekSource: iMore

After some delays, the N64 magnum opus was released in 1998 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (OoT). The game certainly had its flaws, but it also introduced so many firsts that have become commonplace. It’s no wonder it has been repeatedly named as the most influential game or best game ever in various lists. Over time, its influence has spread throughout the gaming industry to the point that it’s impossible to notice a game that hasn’t been affected in some way.

So what was it that made OoT so special anyway? Where Mario 64 had been a lighter experience that was important for understanding technology at the time, OoT was a much more polished action RPG, one of the first to really take advantage of all this new space. Upon entering the Hyrule grounds for the first time, the world felt huge and filled with endless possibilities. Instead of just mashing buttons, Link uses his gadgets and weapons strategically to make his way through the game’s nine main dungeons and bosses. As part of this, the Zelda team has put together an elaborate locking mechanic, like we had never seen before. If you’ve ever used a targeting mechanic in a game, you have to thank OoT. Plus, you could even ride a horse in this big space, which hadn’t really been done yet.

The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild Blood Moon on HorsebackSource: iMore

The Zelda team has put together a refined locking mechanism unlike anything seen before.

OoT goes from being a relatively simple game to a complex story that requires skill to take on more intense puzzles and bosses. Even tie transitions from child to adult in the process, pushing this point even further. OoT has set the standard by which other games measure themselves despite having ended up on a “failed” system.

Then, two years later, the Zelda team released the even more ambitious Majora’s Mask, a complex title focused on time travel and setting chains of events in motion. He was definitely ahead of his time, but he wouldn’t have existed without the success of OoT. For decades after, Nintendo seemed determined to try to recapture the magic of OoT and created other classics like Wind Waker and Twilight Princess. However, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild most closely resembles the spirit of OoT, as it completely revamped the series and set new standards for open-world gaming, just as OoT did to its. era.

Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros.  UltimateSource: Nintendo

The N64 was also the first console to feature Masahiro Sakurai’s both crazy and awesome concept for a crossover fighting game. The idea of ​​seeing Mario take on Pikachu, Link, Star Fox, and other major Nintendo characters from other games was so new at the time and caught everyone’s attention. Since then, the Smash games have been among the most anticipated and best-selling titles on all Nintendo consoles, allowing it to become one of the greatest series in Nintendo history.

Nowadays, it’s gotten to the point where outside game companies like Capcom, Square Enix, and Microsoft wanted their characters to be involved in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate from Switch. Now we have Smash fighters that we never would have dreamed of having before, like Sora from Kingdom Hearts, Sephiroth from Final Fantasy, and Steve from Minecraft. And all because of that crazy first N64 game that captured gamers’ imaginations.

Now time for a song break

N64 Titanic Nintendo SwitchSource: iMore

There are so many other N64 games that I could talk about, but we’ll end there. I was so touched by this journey through time that I couldn’t help but think of the perfect way to express my enthusiasm for the N64 and its eternal legacy in song. I added a few trendy phrases from the time for good measure. Read it on the tune of that epic late ’90s ballad, My Heart Will Go On.

N64 games live

(To the tune of My Heart Will Go On)

Every day in the 90s
I will see you, I will play you
Never really knowing that you bombed

Far through the decades
and systems by then
You proved that you are actually the bomb

These carts and these “trollers”
So contained in these polygons
Now they’re coming back one more time
They are here on my Switch
These games never really went away

Zelda made a strong impression
it lasted a long time
influence many games

Titanic N64 SwitchSource: iMore

Banjo and Kazooie,
Smash Bros., Majora’s Mask.
So many classics of the time

These carts and these “trollers”
So contained in these polygons
Now they’re coming back one more time
They are here on my Switch
These games never really went away

i will play all day
Beat my absolute favorites again
Other games are still in progress
If you haven’t played them yet
You should give them a shot

You’re never gonna hold me back

The N64 may not have done as well as its contemporary consoles in the ’90s, but these classics had a cult power that has kept them relevant for the past three decades. Many modern successes have these bulky polygons to thank for the mechanics and styles of play discovered during this time. Thank goodness we can replay them on Switch.


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