Review by The Vic Viper

Reviewed: 04/15/04 | Updated: 09/26/05

Great 1st & 2nd party games but nearly nonexistent 3rd party support

The Nintendo 64 was the third release in Nintendo’s line of consoles, and did not do well against competition from Sony’s PlayStation. The 64 had a lot of potential, however a number of bad decisions by Nintendo and good decisions by Sony made the PlayStation much better for third party developers, and many gamers followed the developers.

For the most part the physical design of the system was quite good. First, the system had four controller ports, which meant that unlike the PlayStation, you would not have to buy a multitap to play games with three other people. The fact that four controller ports was standard, not optional, meant that developers were more likely to create games that supported up to four players. This is because developers generally do not develop games to use optional hardware since a relatively small percent of the console owners will get the addons.

Other hardware components were optional, such as the rumble pack and the memory expansion. The rumble pack was best left optional, since it was not necessary for any game and not every player wanted one. The memory expansion was required for some of the best games on the Nintendo 64 like Zelda: Majora's Mask, and it was a fairly expensive add-on for an already expensive console. The system design was modeled almost directly after the Super Nintendo, with cartridges loading into a slot on the top of the flat, boxy system and power and reset buttons along the top. As with all of Nintendo's console and handheld systems, it was made of a very durable plastic that could survive a lot of abuse.

The controller on the other hand, was absolutely horrible and in my opinion the worst controller on any system made so far. Most of the really good 64 games were built around the controller, so the design didn’t cripple any games, however it did leave a lot to be desired. In an attempt to move away from the flat, almost two dimensional controllers of the past two generations, Nintendo attempted to mold the controller in a way that could be comfortably gripped. However the layout of the buttons made it hard to press all of the necessary buttons, especially the directional pad, which could not be reached easily since it was to the left and you grabbed the controller in the middle with your right hand. While the implementation was bad, Nintendo did at least help start the new standard of ergonomic controllers with analog control stick(s) and rumble features.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the hardware, as well as one of the causes of other problems, is Nintendo's decision to continue using cartridges instead of CDs. While cartridge based games had certain advantages, developers tended to see more potential from CD based games, and as a result they began to develop for the PlayStation.

For the most part, in game graphics were about on par or better than the PlayStation, however the Nintendo 64 cartridges were not large enough to handle FMVs. While the Nintendo 64 games did not have impressive movie sequences in between gameplay sections, all of the games fit onto one cartridge instead of spanning multiple CDs, and loaded almost instantly. The N64 had a lot of potential in terms of in game graphics which some developers, especially Nintendo, made excellent use of. The graphic processor could handle anti-aliasing (which the PS1 lacked), transparencies and fog, ray tracing, and environment mapping as well as the PlayStation could. All of the graphical effects could be processed fast enough to maintain a very solid framerate.

With CD based games, the majority of space goes towards storing the FMVs with the audio soundtrack taking almost as much space. Because the cartridges could not hold very much data, it was impossible for games to have CD quality music. While the audio does not make or break a game, a high quality soundtrack can add a lot to how immersive a game is. The audio capabilities are by no means bad, and a top of the line Nintendo 64 games sounded better than a bad PlayStation or Saturn game, however no Nintendo soundtracks are memorable. While the music was less than spectacular, sound effects were high quality. With multiple channel audio and a huge range of pitches the Nintendo 64 could produce effects much better than in the previous generation and equal to the current competition. Very few games used any form of voices, but the ones that did limited it to a catch phrase or two, such as Mario's or Navi's (from Zelda).

As a result of using cartridges games were rather expensive, especially compared to the PlayStation. While games on the PlayStation generally cost between twenty and forty dollars, many of the best games on the Nintendo 64 could run around fifty dollars, with a few making it as high as seventy just as they had during the Super Nintendo generation. This killed the Nintendo 64, since the games just weren't worth that much money, especially since you could find games on other systems that were just as good, but cost half as much. This is not to say that there were no good games on the Nintendo 64, just that the competition had the same quality at a much more affordable price.

A few of the best games from the previous generation were on the Nintendo 64, however just not enough to make the system worth purchasing exclusively. Games such as Super Mario 64, the two Legend of Zeldas, Perfect Dark, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Star Fox 64, and Goldeneye were some of the best games of the last generation, and are still considered great today. Another problem was that most of the really good games came from either Nintendo or one of their 2nd party developers. Most of the big name companies such as Capcom, Squaresoft, Konami, Enix, etc. went on to develop some of their best games exclusively for the PlayStation. While Nintendo and Rare created a number of different games, they did not cover a very broad range of genres, nor was there a wide selection of worthwhile games within each genre. In most genres there were less than three games that could be considered excellent, a few more average games, and a ton of mediocre games.

Shooters – Perfect Dark, Golden Eye, StarFox 64
Adventure – Zelda Ocarina of Time, Zelda Majora’s Mask
Platformers – Super Mario 64, Conker’s Bad Fur Day
Sports – Mario Tennis, Diddy Kong Racing
RPG – Paper Mario
Sim – Harvest Moon 64
Puzzle – Mario Party 1 through 3
Fighting – Super Smash Brothers

While you can have a game in almost every genre, it really isn’t enough. Quality is defiantly more important than quantity, but eventually you will finish all of the games and need something new. The Nintendo 64 just did not have enough games to last for the entire lifespan of the console. Most of the appeal of the games came from them being the next game in a franchise that had been around since the days of the old NES. While it was great to continue playing the established Nintendo franchises, eventually seeing Mario in every game you play gets old.

The Nintendo 64 had good hardware, so it could have been a great console. Unfortunately good hardware and a poor game selection make a bad gaming experience. Had Nintendo moved to CDs along with Sony and Sega, the graphics and audio would have been amazing for the time. The use of cartridges deterred developers by limiting the size of games and deterred consumers by making the system a much more expensive investment than the rest. A console cannot survive on first party games alone, no matter how good they are, and the Nintendo 64 proved this.

The few games that are excellent are still excellent today and worth playing. Fortunately the system is outdated enough that you can pick up a working Nintendo 64 for around $30 and get most of the games for $20, though some of the rarer games can run up to $40, which is still cheaper than the typical next-gen game. Some of the games have been ported to the GameCube (Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask) or have sequels (Super Smash Brothers, Mario Party, and Harvest Moon).

For the extremely cheap gamer, it is also possible to emulate almost all of the games on either the PC or Xbox using a program called Project64. However ROMs can be a pain to download (compared to how easy it was five years ago) and even the best emulators cannot run all games perfectly.

A lot of people went over to the PlayStation because it had a more diverse library of high quality games. However those people missed out on a couple of excellent games, which should be experienced by everyone. While the console was still being developed for it was not worth owning exclusively, but good for a multiconsole owner. The same applies now, plus the reduced price of the system and games make it a good deal for anyone looking to expand their gaming library without having to buy an expensive next-gen console.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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