Why the Nintendo 64 is the Best Classic Console



The iconic box art of the Nintendo 64. Photo Courtesy of retrojunk.com

For years, Nintendo was a household name after dominating the 1980s and early 90s market with their NES and Super NES consoles, but that completely changed once they made one of the worst business decisions in history. In 1991, they turned down Sony on a lucrative collaboration deal that would have combined Sony’s new CD disc format with Nintendo’s Super Nintendo console. They went from the biggest name in the industry, to a laughing stock.

This accidentally created Nintendo’s greatest enemy, and for years they would be dwarfed by the power of the Playstation, the titan born from the ashes of the failed deal. Nintendo, while also focusing on 3D games, made yet another mistake deciding to use cartridges instead of the new disc format. Although cartridges have seen a resurgence today in the Nintendo Switch, back in the late ‘90s, discs were far superior in that they could hold much more data, with the only trade-off being longer load times. In fact, the decision made by Nintendo to use cartridges caused their up and coming 3D console, the Nintendo 64 (N64), to take several years longer to release. Most studios turned to Sony, and the ones that decided to develop games for the Nintendo 64 had a much harder time doing so for its cartridge system. This caused the Nintendo 64 to fall to a distant second place in sales, a good 70 million units behind those of the Playstation. 

This debacle has happened three separate times to three different consoles in Nintendo’s history, each time being more and more dwarfed by the competition. The Gamecube was doomed from the very start, with its miniCDs that were far behind the discs of the Playstation 2 and the Wii U being the result of a terrible marketing campaign that confused consumers more than it interested them. However, these consoles also share one thing in common; the games that have come out for them have frequently topped ranking charts as some of the greatest games ever made, and have received incredibly high review scores by critics and fans alike.

The Nintendo 64 is one of the best examples of consoles that didn’t sell too well, but had amazing games. In fact, the highest-rated game of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which has a 99 on Metacritic, was released on the Nintendo 64. Although this console has a small library, it arguably has one of the most iconic ones as well. The first-party games that are most well known are probably The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64, Mario Party 1-3, and a few others. All of these games either invented a genre or ventured where no other games had gone before. 

Ocarina of Time basically invented the 3D adventure game genre, and in my opinion, Majora’s Mask improved even more on that design, making it one of my favorite games. While Ocarina of Time is closest to A Link to the Past,which came out on the previous Super Nintendo console, in terms of its dungeon placement, design, and the use of two worlds you can travel between to solve puzzles, Majora’s Mask is a game like no other, in its use of time management and the deeper thinking required to solve its puzzles, which are considerably harder compared to the other game. If Ocarina of Time is the perfect introduction to Zelda games, Majora’s Mask is the evolution of that, refining and tweaking it to make a truly divisive, yet incredible game. 

Another influential game was Super Mario 64, which created the 3D platformer genre as we know today. In Mario 64, you collect Power Stars that appear after collecting lots of coins, traveling through obstacle courses, and defeating bosses. Mario feels wonderful to control in this game, although the movement can be a little dated at parts. However, once you get used to all the little quirks associated with how he moves, it becomes addictive. Super Mario 64 is a game everyone should try. 

Rare, a game developer well known for their popular Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo took notice of Super Mario 64 and started a boom in the 3D platformer genre, or more specifically, the collectathon games, which are3D platformers that involve collecting lots of items by completing missions in big, open-world areas. Banjo Kazooie is their most popular collectathon, featuring a bear and a bird that must collect items in strange worlds in order to recover Banjo’s sister from the evil witch Gruntilda. The game overall is very similar to Super Mario 64, except it has more things to collect. Banjo can also pull off a much wider range of moves compared to Mario, but some of them don’t feel quite as useful. Overall, I would recommend both, but although Mario may be more beginner-friendly, it gets much harder later in the game compared to Banjo.

Of course, you can’t pull off moves or control anything in a game for that matter, without a good controller. Unfortunately, this is one of the few shortcomings of the Nintendo 64 as it has an awful controller. While most buttons are nice, and work well, the overall shape is hard to get used to, and the analog stick is certainly a product of its time. It’s uncomfortable and wears down incredibly quickly due to the outdated plastic grinding against plastic design. This means if you ever get a used N64 controller, which is far more likely than finding a completely new, unused one, you have to check the stick to make sure it isn’t broken or falling apart. When it is new, it is easier to adjust to, but when it’s broken, it is one of the worst control options I have ever used. I recommend one of the Hori-Pad 64 controllers. While they can be quite expensive, they also are amazing. The layout and controller design is more in line with the modern controllers of today, plus the terrible stick has been replaced with a nice feeling, rubber one. Of course, there are always cheaper options, and even recent remakes of the Hori Pad, which can help you out if you own an N64 and are looking for a fix. 

The Nintendo 64’s biggest selling point, besides its superior processor, was its four controller ports, making it the first great multiplayer console. Games like Mario Kart 64 are still widely popular in college dorms today, and Mario Party was the first great multiplayer board game on a console. Another great multiplayer genre of this console was the first-person shooter, which is interesting because the controller of the Nintendo 64 had only one analog stick for control. In contrast, most modern shooters use two control sticks, one to move, and one to aim. Some of the most popular shooter games were Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark, which were also made by Rare. While they are hard to get into today because of the limited controls and clunky analog stick, they are still great games, but compared to the rest of the N64’s library, they could have aged better.

All of this goes to show that even though the N64 wasn’t nearly as popular as the Playstation, it innovated in the new industry of 3d games just as much, if not more. While I can appreciate other consoles, I will always have fun playing those masterpieces on my old TV. After all, even though it might have been second place, the games on a console define it, and the Nintendo 64 has the greatest games ever made.