The Nintendo 64 is 15 Years Old
Memories and some of my favorite games
Today is the 15th anniversary of the Nintendo 64 being released in the United States. It was the first console I got around launch time. My mother got me one from someone she worked with no longer than a month or so after it first came out. The N64 is a darling to Nintendo fans and to those who love games with a whimsical quality and an emphasis on multiplayer. I have a, shall we say, complicated impression of the Nintendo 64, but one that is shaped by great memories of playing great games with my friends.
My N64 came with no games, but I did have just enough allowance money to go to the local video store and rent Super Mario 64, one of the best decisions I've ever made. I remember plopping that cartridge into the console, turning it on (once we figured out how to plug it in since we were used to coaxial cables) and seeing the colorful Super Mario 64 logo careen towards me. Then I heard Mario's voice for the first time, "It's a-me! Mario!" Then his head appeared on the title screen, completely in 3D. "Hello!" Hi, Mario! It's so nice to see you in this new way! I pressed start, began a new file, and within a minute I was running around outside Princess Toadstool's castle. I noticed she called herself Peach in her letter in the beginning. I thought that was her first name; you know, Princess Peach Toadstool. I guess now it's just Peach. I remember my mother admiring the water in the game. How clear it was, how peaceful that outside area was. I'll just say it now: Super Mario 64 is my favorite Mario game ever and is my favorite Nintendo 64 game.
Banjo-Kazooie is another game that blew me away. It had colorful locales, a cartoon-like sense of humor and dialogue, and an expansiveness that was built upon Mario 64's worlds. I loved that game and although I never owned it back in the day, I would constantly rent it every week with my allowance. It was great that most of the time my save file was still there so I could continue from where I left off. Fighting Conga on the first level made me wonder how a gorilla could be beaten with only small eggs. Clanker in the third level at first scared the crap out of me and I wondered how I was going to beat that thing! The enemies that pop out of the walls would freak me out too and it wasn’t until recently that I figured out that you could defeat them. Finishing off with a great final battle and a satisfying ending wasn’t even enough for me. I collected every Jiggy, every Note, every Honeycomb, and I even found and collected all of the secret eggs and the Ice Key and completed all of Bottles’ puzzles in Banjo’s house. My OCD tendencies have never been happier.
Another game that comes to mind is Super Smash Bros. I had a friend at the time who owned a N64 and one day he brought over his console and this strange game in which you beat up Nintendo characters. It didn't take long for me and my other friend to be going at it with Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and Pikachu. We liked to have a computer opponent go against us as well. Our favorite stages were Link’s and Fox’s. Once we unlocked it, we enjoyed the Mushroom Kingdom level also. We’d set the number of lives to 10, raise the CPU character’s difficulty to nine, and every match would devolve into chaos, with the first few minutes being dedicated to taking out the computer. Then, especially on those aforementioned levels, the matches would become a game of chicken and keep away. Hiding in the tail end of the ship or the small fortress structure, we would start daring each other to come after each other while we had this strategic front. I eventually bought a copy from Funcoland and as I played the game alone, I unlocked characters my friends hadn’t yet. From what I remember, my friend had only unlocked Luigi and Jigglypuff up to that point. I found Captain Falcon and Ness. Sad to say that we didn’t know who Ness was when we unlocked him. Don’t worry, I know now.
Oddly enough, another game my friends and I used to play was Rush 2. Now we didn't race, we used to just go into Stunt mode and take turns doing crazy tricks and try to land them. Emphasis on try, as most of the time we crashed in a fiery explosion before being transported back onto our wheels for another attempt. I swear, the Rush series is a hard set of games.
Although it hasn't held up as well, I was in love with Donkey Kong 64 and I remember as a kid trying to play after my bed time by turning the volume down on my TV and being subtle with my playing because the controller made so much noise. I know that most don’t care for the game nowadays. I will be the first (not really) to say that the game has too many collectables, artificial reasons to make you go through each level five times, and no Dixie Kong (seriously, why create Tiny Kong when we have Dixie already), but it had solid platforming and controls. Also, it has probably the best port of the original Donkey Kong on a console. Of course, that also means it’s freakin’ hard! One quick memory is I remember being upset with my biological mother one afternoon and I wet her car in retaliation. As punishment she took away my N64 with Donkey Kong 64. However, when I realized what she had done, I convinced her to give it back because it was my friend’s copy, not mine. Yeah… that happened!
Another one I loved was Conker's Bad Fur Day. The story mode was great and it was strange to hear these bad words coming out of these cartoon characters on screen. However, there aren’t any collectables in this game. It was as if this title’s game design was a reaction to Donkey Kong 64. Solid platforming, great controls but with no nonsense, no artificial padding to the length of the game and the characters, story and world being the vehicle to push the appeal of the game. However, the one thing I remember the most about this game was the multiplayer mode, Heist. Get a bazooka, hear your guy say "Bad Ass Motherfu**er," then blow someone up into pieces and try to put the controller down. I used to always win because I blew up everybody else, not because I brought back five bags of money. It's a shame they took those modes out of the Xbox remake.
Finally, as a lapse in judgment on my part, I remember costing my mothers $60 when I decided to keep my rented Blockbuster copy of Dark Rift. WTF was I thinking? Maybe I was just hungry for a good fighting game on the N64, but I digress…
Cheers to you, Nintendo 64. Thank you for giving us rumble support, a capable analog stick, great multiplayer as well as single player experiences, and awesome wrestling games! Sure you had some quirks, like the controller design and not too many third-party games worth playing, but the older you get, the more I've come to love you. And now to end things is a quick list of 10 of my favorite N64 games in no particular order (except for Super Mario 64, that's number one):
- Donkey Kong 64
- Star Fox 64
- Mario Kart 64
- Super Mario 64
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
- Super Smash Bros.
- Conker's Bad Fur Day
- Paper Mario