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Get N or Get Out.
By 1996, The Fifth Generation of Console Video Games had already been underway for quite some time; the PlayStation and Sega Saturn had both been released in 1994 in Japan and 1995 elsewhere, yet despite their successes at home were failing to adequately crack markets abroad. Meanwhile, despite being one of the first next generation consoles to be announced, Nintendo's "Project Reality" was nowhere to be seen. This isn't to say that Nintendo had been dragging their on the whole endeavor; the fact of the matter was that Nintendo felt like they could take their sweet time. Sure, while some regions were quite partial to other consoles, PC gaming, or still valued the arcade above all else, on a global scale? Nintendo had been the dominating force in the gaming industry since 1985. The NES had no equal, the SNES had beaten the other fourth generation home consoles by a good margin despite being late to market itself, and the smash success that was the Game Boy had just gotten a much unneeded second wind thanks to a little JRPG called Pokémon Red and Blue.note  Needless to say, Nintendo was comfortable with taking a few more years to fine-tune their 64-bit console, and the Nintendo 64 saw release on June 23, 1996 in Japan and September 26, 1996 in North America, with rollouts in Europe starting in March 1997.
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The N64 has a bit of an odd legacy, but let's begin with some of the good. The system is best known for being host to some of the most groundbreaking and influential games in the industry's history, with titles such as Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time making the act of breaking through the Polygon Ceiling look like child's play and laying the foundation for countless other 3D games to follow decades after their release. The N64 also natively had four controller ports versus the competitions' two, which led to it being the go-to system for multiplayer fun; many who grew up with the system fondly remember spending hours with their friends playing games like GoldenEye (1997), Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros. 64, and the early Mario Party titles. GoldenEye is also credited as legitimizing the First-Person Shooter genre on home consoles after years of questionable Doom portsnote , setting the stage for Halo to firmly cement them as a multiplatform mainstay. It was also the first mainstream console to use an analog stick for its main controller, and have force feedback via a Rumble Pak, standardizing such features.

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Moving onto the more... shaky part of the Nintendo 64, for as much praise as the console gets, it cannot be denied that it was the beginning of Nintendo losing their undisputed dominance in the video game market. Thanks to the company's reluctance to use CDs, the high licensing fees they had for their cartridges, and years of restrictive policies that third parties were tiring of, many major developers and publishers (including Atlus, Capcom, Jaleco, Namco, Konami, Squaresoft, Sunsoft, and Tecmo) jumped ship to the PlayStation's more welcoming ecosystem of CDs, cheap licensing fees, a near-complete lack of content restrictions, and even marketing assistance; they would release few, if any, games for the N64. Naturally, the audiences that would have bought an N64 got PlayStations instead when it became clear that the games they wanted would now be over there; particularly Eastern RPGs, as Squaresoft was one of the companies that ditched Nintendo completely during this era, taking the Final Fantasy series and the rest of their output with them. Not every major third-party developer left, mind you — there were still exclusives (such as Namco Museum 64) or ports with exclusive features (such as Resident Evil 2) — but for the most part, the Nintendo 64 was treated second to the PlayStation thanks to the restrictions that cartridges had versus CDs. A deeper dive into why Nintendo decided to stick with cartridges instead of adopting CDs like everyone else, and other downsides of that decision, can be read on the Analysis page.

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With much of their third-party support gone, it set the stage for a new reality that Nintendo would have to deal with even for their future successful consoles. That being that they could no longer rely on big third-party releases to bolster their release schedule, because they could no longer ensure that those games would even be on their hardware. If they want to keep momentum going, they had to make up the difference and release first-party games on a regular schedule. Which leads to the second issue that the Nintendo 64 faced: Nintendo... wasn't able to pull that off. The N64 gained something of a reputation for releasing maybe three or four fantastic, must-have games a year, and next-to-nothing else worth playing. This is probably best exemplified by the beginning of its life in North America. The system only had two launch titles: Pilotwings 64 and Super Mario 64, nothing else released for more than a month afterwards, and only six other games would come out by January 1997 (two of which were porting disasters). To add salt to the wound, one of those porting disasters was Cruis'n USA, which was actually meant to be a Tech Demo Game.note  A fair number of Nintendo's own franchises would also fail to materialize during the console's life, including planned installments in the Fire Emblemnote , Mothernote , and Nintendo Warsnote  series.

Early on, Nintendo announced plans for a hardware add-on that, instead of CDs, would use a proprietary rewritable magnetic disk format as its high-capacity storage medium. Unfortunately, the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive (or 64DD) saw constant delays and was a commercial failure when it was finally released in Japan in December 1999, which led to Nintendo scrapping plans for a Western release. Although over sixty games were destined for the 64DD, only eightnote  would ultimately see the light of day. All of them developed by Nintendo, as every third-party developer that pledged support ended up backing out as the hardware kept getting delayed. All the other games intended for the 64DD were either reworked into regular Nintendo 64 games, ported to the PlayStation or GameCube, or cancelled entirely. Not that it would have matter too much if it was successful, as it didn't fully solve all the issues that cartridges had anyway.

Of final note is the changing demographics of video game players. During the latter half of the '90s, the average gamer age started to increase in a meaningful way. While the portable gaming space would continue to be dominated by children and causal audiences, the home console space was starting become more and more the domain of teenage and young adult males. Combine this with Nintendo continuing to force developers to Bowdlerise in-game content to be more "family friendly", with even M-rated titles like Duke Nukem 3D getting told to change the names of their items to be less adult (e.g., steroids became "Vitamin X"), and you have the start of Nintendo's reputation as a "kiddy company" among gamers, with their games and consoles starting to be regarded as being strictly for children and overly-protective parents. The full effects of this wouldn't be felt until the Nintendo GameCube, but it begs mention here due to the PlayStation being successful in good part because its marketing captured this older gaming audience.

All-in-all, the Nintendo 64 ended its life with about 32 million units sold; while this is only about a third of what the PlayStation sold, it still put Nintendo comfortably in second place thanks to Sega's fumbling with the Saturn.


Specifications:

Processors

  • The CPU, a MIPS R4300i (the 64-bit version of the R3000 in the PlayStation, hence the name) runs at 93.75 MHz and has an internal 64-bit word size, but it also has a 32-bit mode. This was mainly used by the games because A) the bus is only 32 bits, B) the 64-bit mode uses twice as much memory and bandwidth, and C) 64-bit computing was largely superfluous for gaming until introduction of HD graphics; games made in that era simply didn't come anywhere near breaking the limits of 32-bit architecture, and if they did the N64 wouldn't have had the hardware to handle them anyway.note  So, in other words, the "64" in the name was mostly for marketing, even if the processor actually was technically capable of running 64-bit code (at least, it delivered more than the Atari Jaguar, which was also touted as a 64-bit console three years before the N64's launch).
  • Besides, like most systems so far, the graphics are mainly handled by the GPU, called the "Reality Co-Processor." It runs at 62.5 MHz.
    • It has a Vector Unit built into it, to handle special programming called "Microcodes."
    • These offered even more system control than vector units today, but (perhaps) fears of abuse kept Nintendo from directly sharing their codes with developers. Some had to make their own, and they often made superior codes than Nintendo's anyway. Factor 5 was such a developer.
  • The GPU can also process sound, but it took away processing power for other stuff like lighting effects, or system bottlenecks kept getting in the way.

Memory

  • Memory is where the N64 runs into trouble. Just about everything about the system's memory tends to have some limitation on performance, called a "bottleneck."
    • Chris Sutherland of Rare gave an example of the headaches the N64 memory handicaps gave in an interview discussing the original Banjo-Kazooie;
    "From a software perspective, we pushed the memory of the system very hard. As you move the camera around the map in Banjo-Kazooie, the machine is constantly throwing out of memory things you can't see and pulling in the scenery that appears into view. This gave us major memory fragmentation issues. We used a proprietary system that "reshuffled" memory continuously as you played to eliminate the fragmentation. I'd doubt many N64 games of the time did anything like that—overall it meant we could dedicate a higher number of polygons to the characters and backgrounds than many other games at the time managed."
    • Super Mario 64 is a classic example of how N64 games were able to use programming tricks to work around limitations on graphic memory, sometimes obviously, sometimes discreetly—things such as trees or the body of a Bob-omb are square polygons with a flat sprite/texture applied to them that is always fixed and rotating with the camera (a technique called "billboarding"). If Mario is walking around the Castle Hub, the other rooms will only load when Mario is absolutely near them and the door (and they load almost instantly). If Mario runs into the distance far enough with a fixed camera, his model will automatically switch to a lower polygon modelnote  (Mario has 752 polygons in his default model). Levels gradually load things in and out discreetly (e.g. Dire, Dire Docks disables the background textures once it loads the inner level up ahead, the trees and chain chomp in Bob-omb Battlefield vanish when you're up on the mountain), and sometimes it uses downright ingenious, subtle tricks, such as disabling collision detection on objects Mario isn't near (i.e. the spinning rock platforms in Bowser in the Sky). The game also had an object limit per level (c. 230-240 objects), crashing the game if it ever exceeded that limit by even one number (even if it's a small effects object like the dust from Mario running or a Bob-omb fuse) and the game would drastically slow down if it would even get close to that limit.
    • Doom 64 was able to work with the system's memory limitations thanks to the game being based on the 2½D id Tech 1 Game Engine. The enemies are actually prerendered 3D models converted into sprites with viewing angles limited to the eight directions of the compass, helping free up resources to render the levels with hardware-filtered textures at reasonable quality. The enhanced 2.5D engine has tricks that give the illusion of 3D such as 3D bridge effects that are actually generated by invisible sectors lowering and raising depending on if the player is going under or over the bridge respectively.
  • There are 4 MB (expandable to 8 MB via the Expansion Pak) of RAM, which is "unified." The system can use any amount it wants for main, video, and audio. Unfortunately, Nintendo chose Rambus DRAM for the system. It has a high clock speed and well over twice the bandwidth of the PlayStation memory, but the latency is so high those advantages are negated.
    • Ironically, RDRAM is great for playing FMV, and the one game that used those (a port of Resident Evil 2) showed them pretty well despite the heavy compression.
  • The CPU also doesn't have direct access to the memory. Not that the bus went through the GPU, as a lot of systems do that, but those systems use direct memory access to allow smooth access through processors, and the N64 doesn't allow the CPU to do that.
  • Just as bad, the system can hold as many textures as it needs in the RAM, but the buffer for textures to pass though during rendering is just 4 KB. Not only did that mean no single texture could be larger than that, if they were all that large, they would have to go through one at a time. Combined with the slow latency of the RAM, and this would slow the system to molasses if there wasn't some sort of compromise.
    • Nintendo's method was to use textures only for objects that were the least animated, which included backgrounds. Anything more complex, like the player character, was instead detailed by gouraud shading, which is basically filling in a single color over one or more polygons. The blade of the Master Sword in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a good example — it is not textured, but is colored in with a bright silver color and a reflection effect. This does lose some detail up close, but it allows complex animations without clogging the texture buffer.
    • Rare came up with a clever solution for the texture issues for the first Banjo-Kazooie; the backgrounds had a very large number of textures, but in many cases they were actually very big textures cut into several 64*64 pieces (the largest texture size the N64 could draw) which allowed them to avoid tiling textures everywhere. They also had a decal technique that allowed them to blend areas of textures into one another.
    • Another solution was to limit the polygon count in order to have complex textures over every object, for example GoldenEye — the textures are over almost every object, but the draw distance suffers and characters look goofy up close.
    • A third solution was to use greyscale textures. GoldenEye used this, and only added colour through vertex painting. This doubles the potential resolution, but also doesn't allow for more than one colour per texture.
    • The best method took a few years to develop. It was to program the textures to steadily stream through the buffer. It wasn't as easy as it sounds, but developers like Rare and Factor 5 got the most advanced graphics from the N64 through this method.
  • The frame buffer had a problem in that the default Z-buffering, which told the system which texel is supposed to be in front of the other, would slow down the fill rate, which is how fast the frame buffer can draw the graphics on the screen. Custom z-buffering through the microcodes did get around this.
  • Cartridges sizes ranged from 4MB (Dr. Mario 64, Charlie Blast's Territory) to 64MB (Resident Evil 2, Pokémon Stadium 2 and Conker's Bad Fur Day). 64DD disks were fixed at a constant 64MB.
  • Once through all that, the system supported a maximum cartridge capacity of 64 MB. At first glace, this doesn't seem so bad, as games on the PlayStation like Ridge Racer would load all of its contents into RAM and run solely on it, but the reality was that larger capacity carts cost more to produce (and indeed so, as carts are composed of complex circuitry which would be expensive to produce anyway), so most developers had to make do with smaller sizes. When developers did opt for these larger carts, they passed the increased cost onto consumers, resulting in games that were often $20-30 more expensive than those on competing systems. Also, as Flash Memory wasn't nearly as advanced as it would become when USB flash drives hit the scene, 64 MB was once a very expensive quantity of solid-state memory unlike the modestly-priced multi-gigabyte flash drives that became popular a decade later.

Graphics

  • Typical graphical output was 240p, which was standard in previous generations and in this one. However, certain games could use the RAM Expansion Pak to display in 480i, which was the standard resolution for NTSC monitors but wouldn't become standard among game consoles until the next generation.
  • The system came with standard composite cables, but it also supported S-Video (which looked better) and RF Coaxial (which looked worse). However, the Coaxial port was omitted from Nintendo's consoles starting with the SNES Mini. If you were one of the three people in 1996 without a TV that didn't at least have composite inputs, you had to buy an RF Modulator which converted the Multi Out port into an RF Out port. The RF Modulator is forwards and backwards compatible with the GameCube and SNES Mini respectively (and in the former's case, the GameCube RF Modulator is just the Nintendo 64's RF Modulator in GameCube packaging).
  • For reasons only known to Nintendo, they decided not to implement RGB SCART or even S-video output on PAL region N64 consoles. European gamers were stuck with composite cables which gave a poorer, fuzzier picture. This is insane marketing when you realize that the superior RGB video standard was being supported heavily in Europe; even the PAL SNES supported RGB SCART. Even more maddening is that NTSC machines have S-video support and can be easily modded to support RGB.
  • Although the system would have poorer performance if not coded properly, it did have a few features built in that worked no matter the coding.
    • It was the first major home console to have anti-aliasing.
    • It was also the first to have tri-linear filtering, which removes the blocky look of textures. Unfortunately, a side effect of it was that textures tended to have a smeary look.
    • Another feature used was dithering, which was used to mask the consoles' lack of color depth. It was surprisingly effective in titles like Super Mario 64.
  • The system can actually push 500,000 polygons in real time, five times what the PlayStation and Saturn can do... yet that required a code that was never released before the system was discontinued. Some codes could still push the system up to 180,000 polygons, but only one or two games went that far. Most N64 games just pushed 100,000 polygons or slightly lower.
  • In addition to the above effects, the N64 did have probably the best effects of the fifth generation, including real-time lighting in a few games.
  • A common misconception is that the N64 was incapable of running full motion video like the PlayStation or Sega Saturn. This is actually false, as Pokémon Puzzle League and the N64 port of Resident Evil 2 both have fully voiced FMV cutscenes. While the latter is admittedly heavily compressed, Pokémon Puzzle League's cutscenes look like they came straight from Pokémon: The Original Series, with no compression in the audio or visuals.

Audio

  • As stated above, the Reality Co-Processor processes the audio. The RSP can produce a maximum of 100 channels of PCM at a time, but only in a case where all system resources are devoted to audio and nothing else. It has a maximum sampling rate of 48 kHz with 16-bit audio.
  • Music was composed in two ways on the N64:
    • Games that were PlayStation/Saturn ports featured pre-composed soundtracks, and/or games with licensed music used compressed audio, usually MP3 or PCM. This allowed for licensed and/or real music on the N64 in expense for obvious lower sound quality, although one notable aversion was Resident Evil 2, where the music was upsampled and actually sounded even better than the PlayStation version!
    • The other way was composing via MIDI or MOD, with the developers creating the soundbank to use or directly using the N64's built-in synthesizer. This gave music that took up way less memory and had higher quality samples, but the music tended to sound a bit artificial and a soundbank with extremely compressed sound samples made some game soundtracks on the N64 sound even worse than the Super Nintendo, with Mortal Kombat Trilogy and Crusin' USA'' being some of the worst offenders.

Add-Ons and Expansions

  • Nintendo and other companies released several expansion modules that could be plugged straight into the system's controller.
    • The Controller Pak, a removable storage medium which could be used to save in-game progress that could officially hold up to 123 pages (256 kilobits, or 32 KB) of memory and 16 notes (save files) at a time. It was largely redundant since many games saved data to the cart. Its most notable uses were saving ghost data for Time Trials in Mario Kart 64 (there wasn't enough space in the cart to store it locally) and being required for a handful of third-party games that cut out their local save capabilities to reduce costs.
    • The Rumble Pak which, packaged with Star Fox 64, made the N64 the first home system on the market to support force feedback, a feature which Sony would eventually incorporate into their own DualShock controllers.
    • The Transfer Pak lets players plug in their Game Boy cartridges for gameplay benefits, such as being able to use Pokémon caught in the Game Boy titles in Pokémon Stadium.
    • The Bio Sensor made by SETA, for use with Tetris 64's Bio Tetris mode, where the pace of the game increases to the beat of your heart.
    • The microphone and Voice Recognition Unit (VRU). The microphone proper plugged into the controller, while the VRU (the device that handled translating the audio data into data the game could read) plugged into one of the controller ports. It provided speech recognition capabilities, but only got utilized in two games, Hey You, Pikachu! (the only one of the two to leave Japan) and Densha de Go! 64.
  • The Expansion Pak, which added an extra 4 megabytes of RDRAM in addition to the internally included 4MB. Unfortunately, since this was still the Rambus DRAM it still had the tiny texture buffer. So it could have increased texture detail, but not by much. Its main use was increasing the screen resolution and draw distance. Notably, two N64 games absolutely required it to be played (The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, presumably due to its origins as a 64DD title and requiring the extra memory, and Donkey Kong 64, which was pitched as a Tech Demo Game for the Pak), and another two were massively cut down without it (Perfect Dark requires it to access the campaign, co-op modes, or any multiplayer features other than a stripped-down deathmatch, and StarCraft 64 needs it to play the Brood Wars missions or a new co-op mode), and the 64DD needed it to work as well. There are 62 N64 games total that, while not requiring the Pak, could still use it to optimize their graphics. Unfortunately, in at least one isolated case, it caused issues note , so the old RAM pack had to be swapped back in.
  • The Mouse, bundled with Mario Artist: Paint Studio, usable with the entire Mario Artist series and StarCraft 64 (although the mouse actually just sends the same signals as the joystick does when it's moved, and the left and right click act as buttons A and B respectively, so technically the mouse is actually usable with any game...with varying degrees of usability).
  • The 64DD, a disk drive that could be attached to an N64, allowed players to play games off of larger magnetic disks, access the RANDnet service and also increased the system's memory capacity.
    • The Modem Cartridge, the Phone Cable and the RANDnet Browser Disc, used for browsing the internet.
    • The Keyboard, usable only with the RANDnet software, for browsing the net and typing messages.
    • The Capture Cartridge, bundled with Mario Artist: Talent Studio and used as input method for pictures, video and audio.

Console variations (in order of release)

  • Charcoal (1996)
  • Gold (1997) (Toys R Us exclusive)
  • Daiei Hawks (1999) (only released in Japan)
  • Clear (1999) (only released in Japan)
    • Blue/White (also available in Europe)
    • Red/White
    • Atomic Purple (unreleased)
    • Ocean Blue (unreleased)
    • Deep Red (unreleased)
    • Milky Blue (unreleased)
  • JUSCO 30 (1999) (only released in Japan)
  • ANA (1999) (only released in Japan)
  • Funtastic (2000)
    • Smoke Black (known as Clear Black in Japan)
    • Ice Blue (only released outside of Japan)
    • Watermelon Red (only released in Europe and the Americas)
    • Jungle Green (only released outside of Japan)
    • Grape Purple (known as Midnight Blue in Japan)
    • Fire Orange (only released outside of Japan)
    • Atomic Purple (known as Clear Purple in Japan) (unreleased)
    • Extreme Green (unreleased)
    • Grass Green (unreleased)
    • Glacier White (unreleased)
    • Ocean Blue (unreleased)
    • Deep Red (unreleased)
    • Milky Blue (unreleased)
  • Pokémon Stadium Battle Set (2000) (only released in Australia, the UK, and Scandinavia)
  • Pikachu Edition (2000)
    • Blue/Yellow (international)
    • Blue/Yellow (Japan)
    • Orange/Yellow (Japan)

Controller variations (in order of release)

  • Solid (1996)
    • Gray
    • Black
    • Yellow
    • Green
    • Dark blue (unreleased, only shown at Shoshinkai '95)
    • Blue
    • Red
  • Black/Gray (1996) (only released in Japan)
  • Gold (1997) (released in the USA, the UK, and Japan)
  • E3 Golden N (1997) (promotional)
  • Hello Mac (1997) (only released in Japan)
  • Geoffrey (1997) (only released in Japan)
  • Nintendo Power 100 (1997) (promotional)
  • Extreme Green (1998) (Toys R Us exclusive)
  • Atomic Purple (1998) (known as Clear Purple in Japan)
  • Daiei Hawks (1999) (only released in Japan)
  • Clear (1999) (only released in Japan)
    • Blue/White (also available in Europe)
    • Red/White
    • Ocean Blue (unreleased)
  • DK Banana (1999) (only released in North America)
  • JUSCO 30 (1999) (only released in Japan)
  • Millennium 2000 (1999) (promotional)
  • Funtastic (2000)
    • Smoke Black (known as Clear Black in Japan) (only released outside of Australia)
    • Ice Blue (only released outside of Japan)
    • Watermelon Red (only released in Europe and the Americas)
    • Jungle Green (only released outside of Japan)
    • Grape Purple (known as Midnight Blue in Japan)
    • Fire Orange (only released outside of Japan)
    • Grass Green (unreleased)
    • Glacier White (unreleased)
    • Ocean Blue (unreleased)
    • Deep Red (unreleased)
    • Milky Blue (unreleased)
    • Colorless (unreleased)
  • Pokémon Stadium Battle Set (2000) (only released in Australia, the UK, and Scandinavia)
  • Pikachu Edition (2000)
    • Blue/Yellow (international)
    • Blue/Yellow (Japan)
    • Orange/Yellow (Japan)

Available cartridge colors (in order of appearance)

  • Gray (standard)
  • Gold (first seen on The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
  • Black (first seen on Turok 2: Seeds of Evil)
  • Green (first seen on BattleTanx: Global Assault)
  • Red (first seen on Rocket: Robot on Wheels)
  • Yellow (first seen on Earthworm Jim 3D)
  • Blue (first seen on Bass Masters 2000)
  • Silver (only seen on Pokémon Stadium 2)
  • Emerald Green (unused, appeared on a Game Boy Pocket model sold at Toys R Us locations in Japan)
  • Pink (unused, appeared on a few rare Game Boy variations)
  • Beige (unused)
  • Dark Gray (unused)
  • Medium Gray (unused)

Unofficial cartridge colors which saw official use


Games/Series:

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64DD Games:

  • Doshin the Giant
    • Doshin the Giant: Rescue from the Front by the Toddlers that Tinkle at the Large Meeting Hall
  • F-Zero X Expansion Kit (The final 64DD release, and if not the most sought after, definitely the most famous)
  • Japan Pro Golf Tour 64
  • Mario Artist
    • Communication Kit
    • Paint Studio
    • Polygon Studio
    • Talent Studio
  • SimCity 64

Unreleased Games:

  • 64 Wars (cancelled)
  • 1080° Snowboarding 2 (eventually released for GameCube as 1080° Avalanche)
  • Ace Driver (cancelled)
  • Alien Trilogy (cancelled)
  • Bio Tetris (cancelled)
  • Bloodmaster (cancelled)
  • Buggie Boogie (cancelled)
  • Cabbage (cancelled)
  • Catroots (cancelled)
  • Dinosaur Planet (eventually released for GameCube as Star Fox Adventures)
  • Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest (released for Super NES due to hardware delays)
  • Dragon Quest VII (eventually released for PlayStation)
  • Emperor of the Jungle (cancelled)
  • Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem (eventually released for GameCube)
  • Famicom Classics Vol. 1 (cancelled)
  • Final Fantasy VII (eventually released for PlayStation)
  • Fire Emblem: Ankoku no Miko (cancelled; was revived and heavily reworked to be released as Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade for Game Boy Advance)
  • Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball (cancelled)
  • Freak Boy (cancelled)
  • Gendai Dai-Senryaku: Ultimate War (cancelled)
  • Ghosts 'n Goblins 64 (cancelled)
  • Grand Theft Auto (cancelled)
  • Grand Theft Auto 2 (cancelled)
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (cancelled)
  • Kameo: Elements of Power (eventually released for Xbox 360)
  • Killer Instinct (released for Super NES due to hardware delays)
  • Kirby Air Ride (eventually released for Gamecube)
  • Klepto (cancelled)
  • Mega Man Legends 2 (cancelled)
  • Metroid 64 (cancelled)
  • Monster Dunk (cancelled)
  • EarthBound 64 (cancelled, eventually released as Mother 3 for Game Boy Advance)
  • Mystics (cancelled)
  • Pilotwings 64 2 (cancelled)
  • Pokémon RPG (cancelled)
  • Red Baron (cancelled)
  • Ridge Racer V (cancelled)
  • Riqa (cancelled)
  • Robotech: Crystal Dreams (cancelled)
  • Sailor Moon World (eventually released for PlayStation)
  • SoulStorm (cancelled)
  • Street Fighter EX (cancelled)
  • Super Mario 64 2 (cancelled)
  • Super Street Fighter II Turbo (cancelled)
  • Top Gun: A New Adventure (cancelled)
  • Velvet Dark (cancelled)
  • VX Vampire XDV-7 (cancelled)
  • Wall Street (cancelled)
  • Waterworld (released for Virtual Boy due to hardware delays)
  • Zenith (cancelled)

Tropes:

  • Acclaimed Flop: Widely considered one of the most innovative and important systems of all time for Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and GoldenEye 007 alone, but the system absolutely cratered in Europe and Japan. Downplayed in North America - it wasn't an outright failure by any means, but was down on the SNES and no match for the newcomer PlayStation. Averted by many of the games themselves though, which actually sold really well relative to the system itself. The N64 had numerous million-sellers, with Super Mario 64 doing over 10 million and Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye only a little below.
  • Bookends:
    • Super Mario 64, the first game for the console, begins (at least gameplay-wise) with Mario coming out of a pipe in the front lawn of Peach's castle... and in Mario Party 3, the last major game for the console, after the end credits, Mario and the other playable characters are seen relaxing in the front lawn of Peach's castle.
    • The first and last boss fight of Super Mario 64 involves you chasing down and grabbing Bowser's tail so you can swing him like an Olympic hammer to his doom. In one of the very last games released for the console, Conker's Bad Fur Day homages Mario 64 by having the final boss being defeated with the exact same technique!
  • Bowdlerize: As the ESRB rating system was firmly in place, this only happened in certain exceptional cases, such as the aformentioned Duke Nukem 3D. Nintendo also insisted that Rare town down some of the blood and violence in ''GoldenEye'
  • Christmas Rushed:
  • Darker and Edgier: When compared to the Super NES years. Nintendo's censorship policies lightened up considerably for the Nintendo 64, with edits mostly reserved for minor aspects of the games, such as the aforementioned steroid power ups in Duke Nukem 3D. A lot of teen and adult oriented games got released for the 64 that would have never gotten the greenlight in their older days—Conker's Bad Fur Day, which features a superficially cutesy looking platformer game loaded with shamelessly comedic gore, heavy swearing and scatological humor, is probably the most notorious example of this. Downplayed in the sense that the console as a whole was still considered by both teenage and young adult gamers, as well as third-party developers, as a console primarly focused on children, especially when compared to the PlayStation.
  • Development Hell:
    • A lot of what didn't help the N64's software droughts was the fact that so many of its biggest games had much longer-than-expected development cycles. By the time most of the games were finally ready, 1998 being the first year with a truly solid first-party software lineup, it was too late, because the PS1 and Saturn had already more than established themselves and the Dreamcast and PS2 were looming over the horizon.
    • The 64DD is one of the most infamous examples. It was supposed to release not long after the N64 proper in late 1996, and be a key pillar that was critical to many of Nintendo's hardware and software plans. After several missed release dates, it finally ended up releasing in late 1999, exclusive to Japan with only a few supported games, and was discontinued not long after.
    • Several games originally planned for 64DD were either moved to cartridge form (e.g. Kirby 64, Ocarina of Time, Paper Mario, and Pokémon Snap) or different consoles entirely (Resident Evil 0 on GameCube, Dragon Quest VII on PlayStation), which often extended their development time.
    • During the Iwata Asks interview for the game's sequel, Iwata himself actually grilled Treasure a little over the fact that Sin and Punishment started in 1997 and ended up being one of the very last games on the system, which was unusual even for the time. Justified though, as the game only started out with a small staff size and slowly became the biggest Treasure had put on a project.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: The Nintendo 64 is collateral damage in the war against piracy, as Nintendo's choice of lower capacity but harder-to-copy cartridges over CDs limited game development, resulting in a dearth of third-party games as opposed to the CD-based PlayStation and consequently lower sales of Nintendo's console.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: 66% of the consoles sales were from the American market. A lot of North American gamers were actually surprised to find out just how irrelevant it was Europe and Japan, because while it still was behind the PlayStation, it actually managed to be decently competitive with that system over there and had excellent software sales. The heavy push for cutting-edge 3D graphics over in the west, alongside the existing momentum that Nintendo had built up with its previous systems in North America explain the success of the N64 in that region.
  • It Will Never Catch On: Shockingly, Nintendo themselves were guilty of this when designing the controller. The inclusion of an analog joystick was a bold move at the time and Nintendo themselves were clearly banking on it since the two launch titles made heavy use of it, but they also figured developers would more commonly stick to the familiar d-pad with most games, the exact reason the joystick is in the middle prong instead of on the more natural left prong. They ended up missing the mark on that big time; the joystick became the exact innovation developers needed when making the Video Game 3D Leap, and the d-pad was hardly ever used in any of the games for the system.
  • Lighter and Softer: The console has an unfair reputation as being kiddy, mainly because of Nintendo's emphasis on first and second party developed games to compensate for the lack of third party devs, which led to the console's headlining hits (i.e. Mario and co., Banjo-Kazooie) being the family-friendly titles. However, there were also plenty of games aimed at the older crowd, most notably GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and Conker's Bad Fur Day. And while Nintendo occasionally forced censorship on a handful of games, the edits were nowhere near as drastic as what they did in their NES and Super NES years.
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition:
    • The console had a "Limited Edition" only for sale in Daiei Hawks stores in Japan with a transparent orange top and a transparent black bottom. The controller with a transparent orange top and a black bottom that came with the console was also sold separately.
    • The console had a "Jusco 30th Anniversary Edition" only for sale in Jusco stores in Japan to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Jusco chain of stores with a transparent light gray top and a transparent white bottom. The controller with a transparent light gray top and a transparent white bottom that came with the console was also sold separately.
    • The controller with a black top and a gray bottom had two variants:
      • One sold only in Hello Mac stores in Japan with a lion emblem on top.
      • One sold only in Toys Я Us stores in Japan with a Geoffrey the Giraffe emblem on top.
    • 64 Professional Sumo Wrestling came with a Controller Pak.
    • Choro Q 64 came with an assemblable toy car.
    • Disney's Tarzan came with a Tarzan figurine.
    • Densha de Go! 64 has a "Driver Pack"that came with a Voice Recognition Unit microphone.
    • Extreme-G has a "Special Edition" in Germany that came with a music CD.
    • Gauntlet Legends came with a Warrior miniature.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
      • It has a "Collector's Edition" in America and Australia that came with a Gold Cartridge.
      • It has a "Limited Edition" in Germany that came with a Strategy Guide and a shirt (possibly unlicensed).
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask
      • It has a "Collector’s Edition" in America that came with a cartridge that had a holografic label.
      • It has a "Limited Edition Adventure Set" in Europe limited to 1000 pieces that came with a shirt, a watch, a 2 CD soundtrack, a poster, a sticker and 2 pin badges.
    • The New Superman Aventures has a "Collector's Edition" that came with a tie-in comic book.
    • Pokémon Stadium has a "Battle Set" in Europe that came with a Nintendo 64 with a blue top with yellow Reset button, Power button, dust tray and bottom
    • Rampage 2: Universal Tour came with a Rampage Baby, one of three possible plush keychains of George, Lizzie, and Ralph, and a shirt.
    • World Driver Championship came with a shirt.
  • Loads and Loads of Loading: Defied, as Nintendo cited the long load times of CDs as one of the reasons for the cartridge medium. Unfortunately, CDs' loading times were a small problem compared to the painfully restrictive amounts of storage offered by carts. Curiously, some games did end up having some noticeable loading times, though these were typically nowhere near as long or frequent as on CD based consoles. This was due to them using advanced compression techniques to compensate for the lack of space on the cartridges, which then required the CPU to spend some time decompressing the data before it could be used.
  • Made of Indestructium:
    • Nintendo 64s are built like tanks, and are guaranteed to last you for decades. One TV show even tried to destroy one, and it took two whacks from a large mallet before any visible cracks appeared!
    • Averted with the Nintendo 64 joystick. It was built in such a way that the plastic quickly wore itself down from the rotation, resulting in a stick with excessive center play. By contrast, it uses optical encoders instead of the potentiometers that later Nintendo controllers use, which are more durable and precise due to their contactless nature. Too bad the gimbal/pivot parts of the joystick can't hold up compared to the sensors.
  • Market-Based Title:
    • Averted for the first time for a Nintendo console, with the system keeping the same name in all regions.
    • The Smoke Black and Grape Purple consoles were released in Japan as Clear Black and Midnight Blue.
    • The Atomic Purple controller was released in Australia as Clear Purple.
  • Never Live It Down: One thing the Nintendo 64 is remembered for among hardcore gamers is the distinct lack of RPG games compared to the PlayStation on account of the issue of storage space. Square burned bridges with Nintendo for this very reason, jumping to Sony with Final Fantasy VII and - driving the knife further - ignoring the Game Boy Color wholesale in favor of Bandai's WonderSwan Color.note 
  • No Export for You
    • The 64DD and all of its games were never released outside Japan.
    • Custom Robo 1 and 2, Sin and Punishmentnote , and Animal Forest are the most famous Japan exclusive base N64 games. The latter two later showed up respectively on Wii Virtual Console and GameCube (as Animal Crossing), but Custom Robo wasn't so lucky. The original Pokémon Stadium wasn't localized either, but international players didn't miss much because it's an Obvious Beta for Pokémon Stadium 2 (which was released as simply Pokémon Stadium).
    • On the flipside, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Pokémon Puzzle League, and Dr. Mario 64 in its original form were never released in Japan. Japan would later get a GameCube port of Dr. Mario 64 in Nintendo Puzzle Collection, which never saw international release. Europe didn't get Dr. Mario 64 either.
    • Because of the difficulty involved in translating a device that's based on human speech, Hey You, Pikachu! took two years to come out in North America and was never bothered with in Europe.
  • Older Than They Think: The Ice Blue color didn't originate with the Funtastic generation; its first appearance was over a decade before, on the Japanese Famicom cartridge Salamander.
  • Quality over Quantity: For a short while, Nintendo tried to excuse the dearth of N64 games being released by saying that they "believed in quality over quantity." While the N64 had plenty of (mostly first and second party) Killer App games like Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye 007, this justification proved to ultimately be fruitless. The system's game library was quite slim compared to the PlayStation's, and third parties made it less of a priority due to the cartridge unit.
  • Release Date Change
    • The N64 itself was actually delayed, which got things off on a bad foot since it meant the PS1 and Saturn both had a year and a half's head start. It was supposed to be out in fall 1995, but first hit Japan in June 1996. Nintendo of America waited a little longer (until September 1996) to take advantage of the holiday rush. In fact, the first ads for the system actually played up the long wait, hyping up the suspense to build anticipation.
    • Banjo-Kazooie and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were both slated for 1997, but ended up slipping to the following year, which crippled their plans for the system's second year lineup.
    • Nintendo of America helped to pad out the N64's lineup during its last couple years by strategically holding back localized games. Nintendo had more or less wrapped up N64 development by the end of 2000 in order to shift gears towards the GameCube, so in 2001, Animal Forest was the sole first-party N64 game in Japan. NOA and NOE filled in the void with Paper Mario, Mario Party 3, and Pokémon Stadium 2 (all 2000 releases in Japan), plus Dr. Mario 64 and Conker's Bad Fur Day (which Japan didn't get). Unfortunately, it led to games like Sin and Punishment and yes, Animal Forest getting lost in the shuffle.
    • While Ocarina of Time was a simultaneous worldwide launch, Nintendo of America sat on Majora's Mask to be their big holiday 2000 game. They actually ended up moving the release date up a month to October 26th in order to compete with the PS2 launch date... to mixed results, saleswise.
  • Sleeper Hit: One of the N64's greatest legacies is the original Super Smash Bros. 64, which was a low-budget project that many of Nintendo's higherups were nervous about. It ended up not only becoming one of the system's best-selling games, but launching one of Nintendo's biggest, most important franchises ever and the best-selling Fighting Game series of all time.
  • Sprite/Polygon Mix: Many N64 games made strategic use of 2D objects to help cut rendering costs, but Yoshi's Story, Mario Kart 64, Mischief Makers, and Paper Mario all turn it into an art form.
  • Super Title 64 Advance: One of the Trope Namers.
  • Trope Codifier: Many N64 entries in established series became the barometer that defined their respective series going forth, like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Star Fox 64, Paper Mario, Mario Tennis, Mario Golf and Rayman 2. To this day, fans, critics, and developers alike still compare subsequent entries in those series to their N64 installments.
  • Ur-Example: One of the N64's most significant legacies is as the birthplace for three of Nintendo's biggest, most enduring franchises ever: Animal Crossing, Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros..
  • Vaporware: The N64 is unusual among Nintendo systems for just how many high-profile cancelled and rebooted first-party games it has. A big part of this has to do with the troubled development of the 64DD, which screwed over a LOT of developers' plans. Some games resurfaced on later systems like the GameCube (Kirby Air Ride, Eternal Darkness, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest) and even the Game Boy Advance (Mother 3, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade). Miyamoto also spoke freely and candidly about a sequel to Super Mario 64 in numerous interviews, which he later admitted would probably not be actually released on N64.
  • What Could Have Been:
    • It was originally called the Nintendo Ultra 64 (carrying on the naming scheme of the Super NES/Famicom); the prototype controller had a larger thumbstick and a round-shaped "Z" button. The arcade version of Killer Instinct referenced this, claiming it would be available for "your Nintendo Ultra 64!"
    • At Shoshinkai '95, in addition to the six solid controller colors that were released, a seventh controller was on display that was dark blue.
    • There were over sixty games planned for the Nintendo 64DD. When it finally came out, only eight stand-alone titles were released.
    • At least 12 Funtastic or Clear variants were planned that didn't make the cut.
    • Cruis'n USA, Body Harvest, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Tetrisphere, and Wave Race 64 were originally supposed to be part of the console's launch lineup in the United States. The former two were delayed due to content issues, but the reasons for the others being delayed are still not known.
  • The Wiki Rule: The 64DD Wiki.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: The iQue Player, a plug-and-play variant released in China. Its purpose was to run through the holes in China's anti-console policy, and it was also meant to curb piracy. It was a brilliant idea, but never released anywhere else, ironically.

"Thank you for playing Nintendo 64!"
Charles Martinet, in the kiosk demo

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