On July 14, 2016, Nintendo announced they were bringing back the Nintendo Entertainment System. It had been over three decades since the original NES was first released, and Nintendo felt it was time to see how much they could cash in on nostalgia.
The answer: a lot.
Plagued by supply shortages since its release last November, Nintendo couldn’t produce consoles fast enough to keep shelves stocked. Holiday shoppers clamoring for a taste of games of yore went home empty handed. People would go on waiting lists and wait months for the miniaturized console to arrive if it ever did at all. Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic last April after selling all 2.3 million produced.
Now, Nintendo has announced a new tiny console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System Classic Edition. Much like the NES Classic, the SNES Classic hopes to feed off older gamers’ sense of nostalgia with 21 vintage titles built-in. This time will be different, Nintendo says, stating they’ll have a larger production run and sell the console earlier in the year so Christmas shoppers have plenty of time to find one.
Some of you may have noticed a pattern here. If Nintendo keeps going through its back catalog of consoles, this means the N64 would be next in line for 2018.
The only question: was the N64 popular enough back then to bring back today?
A Tale of Sales
Compared to the previous two Nintendo consoles, the N64 was the least popular of the bunch. The NES sold a whopping total of 61.91 million units over the course of its lifetime. The SNES had a less substantial 49.10 million in total sales. The N64 had a total production run of 32.93 million units. That’s still a lot of consoles, but it’s almost half of what the NES sold.
Fewer consoles sold means fewer gamers hoping to re-experience the titles that defined their childhood. We can even put numbers to that. Using data from the classic game resale site PriceCharting, you can see that the average price of a Nintendo cartridge is around $27. The average price for a used N64 cartridge is at just over $14, nearly half the price. If price is equal to demand, then the N64 just doesn’t hold the same appeal as the older Nintendo consoles.
The case for an N64 classic gets even worse when you start looking for classic games to package up with it. While there are plenty of fantastic games to choose from - Starfox 64, Mario Kart 64, Super Smash Bros., and Ocarina of Time come to mind - the prices for these classic titles remain far lower than similarly popular titles for the NES and SNES on the used game market.
Worse still is that many of the most iconic N64 games - such as Killer Instinct Gold, Perfect Dark, and Jet Force Gemini - are no longer owned by Nintendo. Those games were made by Rare Studios, a company that was bought out by Microsoft, who now owns the intellectual property associated with these games. On top of that, the greatest N64 title of all time, GoldenEye 007, would face licensing issues if it were to ever be re-released.
How About Those Wacky Controllers?
And what about those whacky controllers? The trident-like controllers would be another disadvantage for any potential N64 Classic, for while they were certainly iconic of the console, they were never particularly good. The thumb-stick would frequently wear out from use and require constant cleaning and maintenance while the entire controller would never sit quite right in your hand. To top it off, the controller itself is more complex, and adding a rumble unit to the device would surely drive the cost of the console higher than either the NES or SNES Classic.
All in all, it’s hard to make a case for the N64 Classic. Perhaps it would be better for Nintendo to wait a few years and allow the kids that grew up with the N64 to age a little longer before trying to profit on their sentimentality. On the other hand, if Nintendo could acquire the IP rights to their more popular out-of-house games and find a way to remake the controller cheaply, the N64 Classic could turn out to be just as popular as the two mini-consoles before it.