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Nintendo 64: The Complete History and Guide You Need

If you grew up in the 90s, chances are the Nintendo 64 holds a special place in your heart. This beloved console revolutionized gaming with its pioneering 3D graphics and iconic games.

In this guide, I‘ll walk you through everything important you need to know about the legendary Nintendo 64. From its history and technical specs, to the groundbreaking games and features that made it so impactful. Let‘s dive in!

Overview – What Was the Nintendo 64?

The Nintendo 64 (N64 for short) was Nintendo‘s third major home video game console, released in 1996 as the successor to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Here‘s a quick rundown of what made the N64 special:

  • It was the first Nintendo console capable of 3D polygon graphics, bringing immersive new gameplay experiences never before seen in home gaming.

  • The innovative controller introduced the analog stick and built-in Rumble Pak, influencing modern gamepad designs for decades to come.

  • Although cartridges limited some aspects, they enabled fast load times and saved game data.

  • The four built-in controller ports made the N64 the ultimate couch multiplayer machine for battling friends and family.

With an impressive library of over 380 games, featuring masterpieces like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Goldeneye, the N64 pushed video games forward into the 3D era.

History and Context of the Nintendo 64

Now, let‘s look at the key events surrounding the development and release of the N64:

  • Project Reality was the codename used during development before the official "Nintendo 64" branding. This reflected the goal of delivering realistic 3D worlds.

  • The N64 released in September 1996 in North America, retailing for $199.99 at launch. This followed a period of over 2 years in development.

  • Delays plagued the lead-up to launch. The N64 was originally slated for 1995 but pushed back repeatedly to polish the hardware and expand the games library.

  • Only 2 games were available at launch – Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Critics praised them but the limited selection hampered early adoption.

  • 33.25 million N64 units were sold globally by the time it was discontinued in 2002. For comparison, the rival PlayStation sold 102.5 million.

Clearly, the Nintendo 64 era represented an important crossroads as gaming transitioned into 3D. Though not the market leader, the N64 pioneered gameplay innovations that fundamentally shaped the industry.

Technical Specs and Hardware Details

The Nintendo 64 was quite an impressive technical achievement in its time. Let‘s break down the full system specifications:

  • CPU: 64-bit NEC VR4300 clocked at 93.75 MHz. Over 100x faster than the Super Nintendo‘s processor!

  • Memory: 4 MB of RDRAM, expandable to 8 MB with the Expansion Pak add-on. This was robust for the time.

  • Graphics: Custom 64-bit "Reality Co-Processor" chip rendering 3D graphics at 20 million polygons per second!

  • Resolution: From 320×240 pixels up to high-res 640×480 pixels. Most games targeted 320×240 for performance.

  • Colors: 16.8 million displayable colors with expansive color depth. This enabled rich, vibrant graphics.

  • Sound: 16-bit audio with 48 kHz stereo sound. Music and audio was CD-quality, despite using cartridges.

  • Media: Proprietary cartridges stored games up to 64 MB in capacity. Load times were fast but storage expensive.

  • Controller ports: Four built-in ports supported up to 4 controllers for awesome multiplayer potential!

As you can see, the N64 really stretched the limits of what home consoles could do in 1996, showcasing the future of 3D game experiences.

Groundbreaking Games Library

Now for the good stuff – the games! The N64 amassed a beloved library of over 380 titles across every genre, though Nintendo‘s own games understandably stood out as crown jewels.

Here are just some of the most iconic, must-play N64 games:

  • Super Mario 64 – The definitive 3D platformer that defined the genre. With open-ended exploration and buttery smooth controls, this was pure platforming bliss. Over 11 million copies sold!

  • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Widely considered the greatest game ever made. The expansive 3D world, puzzle dungeons, and lock-on targeting influenced countless action-adventure games since.

  • Mario Kart 64 – The multiplayer racing classic that friends couldn‘t stop playing. Selling over 9 million copies, the 4-player local battles were a riot of shells, bananas, and blue shells.

  • Goldeneye 007 – A revolutionary first-person shooter focused on local deathmatch multiplayer. With myriad options and modifiers, and clever level design, it was a guiding light for the FPS genre.

  • Star Fox 64 – A polished on-rails space shooter that dazzled players with its fast 3D visuals and branching paths. The acclaimed All-Range mode opened levels wide open.

And so many more, from Banjo-Kazooie and Pokémon Snap to classics like Perfect Dark, Wave Race 64, and 1080° Snowboarding. The N64 delivered genre-defining experiences across the board.

Controller and Accessories

Part of what made playing N64 games so memorable was the innovative, trident-shaped controller. It introduced several features that would shape modern controllers:

  • The analog stick delivered 360-degree movement which just felt better than clunky D-pads. This allowed precision control in 3D gameplay not possible before.

  • The Z-trigger button on the back brought your index finger into play. It enabled functions like looking up/down in games and would become a standard extra button.

  • The Rumble Pak add-on translated game vibrations into controller rumble. This "force feedback" heightened immersion across genres like racing and shooting games.

  • The Expansion Pak increased memory from 4 MB to 8 MB, enabling bigger environments and more detailed graphics in games like Perfect Dark and Donkey Kong 64.

  • The Transfer Pak let players connect the Game Boy Color to transfer Pokémon or other data between systems – an early form of cross-play functionality!

Local Multiplayer Focus

If you experienced sleepovers and parties during the N64 generation, you surely have fond memories of battling three friends in 4-player splitscreen chaos!

The N64‘s four built-in controller ports made it the ultimate local multiplayer machine of its time. Iconic examples include:

  • Playing 2v2 deathmatches in Goldeneye 007 with proximity mines and slappers only! So many dorm room memories.

  • Racing through colorful courses launching shells and bananas at each other in Mario Kart 64. Friendships were both forged and tested!

  • Trying to stay on the tiny screen in the frantic battles of Super Smash Bros. A seminal entry in the legendary fighting series.

With multiplayer focus, the N64 brought friends and family together around the TV for gaming experiences we still reminisce fondly about today.

Legacy and Impact on Gaming

It‘s incredible reflecting on how much the Nintendo 64 transformed video games and influenced the industry for decades to come.

When looking at the N64‘s legacy, here are some of its most notable marks left on gaming:

  • It brought widespread 3D gaming into reality after years of 2D focus. Super Mario 64 wrote the blueprint for 3D movement and camera controls.

  • The analog stick enabled precise 360-degree control that just felt right. It‘s no surprise every modern controller uses an analog stick instead of a D-pad now!

  • Force feedback rumble revolutionized how games feel and simulate actions. Today‘s elaborate haptic feedback tech evolved from the humble Rumble Pak.

  • Local multiplayer gameplay hit new heights that shaped party and competitive social gaming for years. This planted seeds for modern online multiplayer too.

  • It housed genre-defining masterpieces that steered 3D game design in seminal franchises like Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon.

  • Most importantly, the N64 marked a major transition into the 3D era that would come to dominate the industry. Over 32 million units sold proves its substantial impact.

Buying an N64 Today

Want to experience the magic of Nintendo 64 games yourself? Here are some options to get your hands on the classic console today:

  • Find used N64 systems on eBay or local retro game stores. Bundle deals with controllers and games provide the full experience. Expect to pay $60-$150+.

  • Nintendo refurbished N64 stock periodically appears on their website, supplies permitting. These official restored units go for around $100.

  • Alternatively, use an N64 emulator on your computer to play ROMs of N64 games. Emulators mimic original hardware through programming.

  • Some all-time classics like Super Mario 64 and Star Fox 64 have been remastered on newer Nintendo systems if you own those, though most have not.

Either way, the Nintendo 64 library offers endless hours of pure retro gaming fun that withstands the test of time. It‘s worth revisiting!

Closing Thoughts

I hope this guide has provided a comprehensive overview of Nintendo‘s beloved N64 console and the myriad ways it left a lasting impact on video games.

It was a console absolutely packed with innovations, from pioneering 3D graphics to four-player mayhem to genre-shaping masterpieces like Ocarina of Time. Even all these years later, the Nintendo 64 remains a nostalgic icon of gaming history.

So did you own an N64 back in the day? What are some of your favorite memories playing it? Let me know down below! I‘d love to hear about your experiences with this classic console.