I've said it before in previous articles, but let me make this point clear to you readers before starting this article proper. I did not own a Nintendo 64 in its heyday. I did play a lot of it at friend's houses though and even borrowed it, or more like traded it, to play some games for a spell. It was not my first priority though let's say. After being a Nintendo household for two generations my family instead went the way of the PlayStation. This was my brother's doing. It just sort of appeared out if the blue and the rest was history I guess. However, he got it, thank goodness because I would have been bored out of my mind with the N64. Why?
There are a lot of reasons, which is the point of this article. I wanted to take a critical look at a few things in the system's history to sort of determine what went wrong and why. You could point to the fact that it was delayed repeatedly, or that it sort of bit itself in the behind by destroying their deal with Sony. They really mucked it up with that one. It goes beyond business deals though. Games are where it really counts and the N64 just simply does not have a good library compared to its predecessors, successors, and competitors. It was a mess all around. I'll go more into these examples and more with the twenty-five entries below. Let's look back without nostalgia.
25 What A Terrible Controller
I mean come on, seriously. Look at this thing! How do you even hold it? What's more is this is what Nintendo thought kids would want. While the analog stick was good for controlling Mario, who was something advanced before the PS1's DualShock controller, everything else about it is a mess. I recently discovered that HORI, a company that specializes in third-party controllers, made a more ergo dynamic version. The catch is, it was only in Japan. What an absolute blunder.
24 Cartridges Are So 80s
Let's face it. By 1996, cartridges were lame. Who wanted something so bulky for their sleek new system when CDs were all the rage in the 90s? There was the Sega Saturn, PS1, and not to mention music CDs. It was cheap to produce and cheap to market. So why did Nintendo stick with cartridges? It's simple. So they could make a buck. That's right, since no one else was producing cartridges they controlled the market. It's probably one of the things that kept the console afloat.
23 Super Expensive Games
So what did I mean by Nintendo controlling the market with cartridges? Well as I said, CDs were cheap to produce at this point, but because Nintendo was the only one left making cartridges, they were more expensive to make. That meant games had to cost more for consumers.
A smart, but cruel strategy.
A typical PS1 game at that point sold for about $40-50 whereas a Nintendo 64 game's price could be almost $70, or $80. It was a madhouse. Thank your lucky stars we've been safe at $60 for two generations now.
22 Pretty Dismal Library
It's kind of hard to pinpoint how many games there are in a system's library. That said, researchers have made a rough estimate that is close enough for most consoles. For example, the Super Nintendo is thought to have 721 games for it across all regions. The N64 only has about 296. Consider this: the SNES launched in 1990 in the West and was readily available until 2003 whereas the N64 was only around from 1996 to 2002. Basically what I'm getting at is the N64 library is sparse overall, as it wasn't supported as well as its predecessor.
21 Long Wait Between Games
If you were a kid that could only have one console and you chose the N64 over the PlayStation, then I feel sorry for you. I don't mean that as a blanket statement that the PS1 was better; because when the N64 was firing on all cylinders it was great. The thing is there was a colossally long wait between Nintendo developed games that were worth a darn. The only reason it stayed afloat was Rare and other third-party support. Two subjects I'll get into later.
20 Delayed Console
The games weren't the only thing that took forever to come out. The console itself was plagued by delays. It was supposed to release by Christmas 1995, but got delayed into April 1996. They didn't meet that date either.
The wait was not worth it.
It was delayed a third time into June where it finally released in Japan followed by a Western launch that September. The delay probably hurt its overall sales numbers, but they did try to convince consumers to wait for it with a bunch of ads.
19 No RPGs
If there was one thing that hit me hard this generation it was RPGs. Final Fantasy VII was my first and retroactively I went back and played some SNES RPGs that I missed like Chrono Trigger. Both the PS1 and SNES were full of great RPGs, but the N64 barely had a handful. Is Pokémon Stadium an RPG? I guess so, but that has problems too. Paper Mario has RPG elements, but it's barebones compared to Super Mario RPG. Need I go on?
18 No CG Cutscenes
Let's talk about the thing that really grabbed us as a collective people concerning Final Fantasy VII. It was the CG cutscenes, right? They looked so real! The marketing teams were geniuses when they spliced those into commercials. It may have been a bit misleading, but it worked. The N64 has nothing like this. If they somehow managed to get a CG cutscene into a game, it would have been horribly truncated. Cartridges just couldn't handle that type of content well.
17 Graphics Don’t Hold Up
On the subject of CG cutscenes, the graphics overall are nothing to write home about. This generation, including the PS1, of early polygonal games, is on the scale of Atari.
Thank goodness there wasn’t an E.T. 64.
Yes, it was groundbreaking and magical at the time to see Mario in 3D, but boy oh boy does it look rough now. I'd have a hard time really looking at a 3D game on either system and saying, yep, this visually still holds up. It was something of its time.
16 Super Smash Woes
"Everyone is here!" That's the slogan for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and it's a great one. What isn't great is looking back and realizing how crazy small the roster was for the original game. Including unlocks, there were only 12 characters. Nintendo didn't even pick a character from every one of their franchises. It was still fun even with this small roster, but looking back at it now with this new game on the horizon, well, it just makes me see clearly now I guess.
15 The Space Race
One of the reasons why the N64 couldn't handle CG cutscenes isn't really hardware related. It was space. There simply wasn't as much room on a N64 cartridge compared to a PS1 disc. That's just a fact. Sure they modified some cartridges to be bigger, but guess what that did. Yep, it increased the price of the game. Final Fantasy VII was three discs. Do you think it cost more at retail because of this fact? Not even in the slightest.
14 Sony’s Counterattack
It should come as no surprise by now that Sony and Nintendo were once in talks to make a console together. Originally Sony was going to basically make a CD peripheral for the SNES, but Nintendo backed out at the last minute, creating some bad blood in the process. What did they care?
Backstabbed by a plumber.
They were Nintendo and on top of the mountain. However, that hubris did them in. Not only did Sony create a rival console, releasing it before Nintendo's, but they also stole once exclusive third-party developers like Squaresoft. You done goofed Nintendo.
13 The Numbers Have It
I recently wrote an article ranking the twenty-five big consoles by sales numbers. This includes everything Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and Microsoft put out. Seeing the gaps was a great learning experience and really solidified how much stronger the PS1 was compared to the N64. The latter console sold about 32M units while the former sold about 102M units. That is a staggering gap in sales. Yes, it had a two-year lead globally, but even that shouldn't account for how far behind Nintendo was.
12 Cancelation Station
The N64 could have been better for a number of reasons. I mean that's sort of the point of this article. I wanted to look at its flaws to determine where and how Nintendo fell. Even with the bad blood with Sony they could have come out on top if they just stuck to their guns. That is to say, Nintendo canceled a lot of games. Would EarthBound 64 and Metroid 64 be strong enough to save it? Maybe yes, but probably no.
11 Japan’s Best Stayed There
If Nintendo wanted to cancel games then they should have at least made a conscious decision to bring every weapon to the table that they could. That is to say, there were excellent games that were never localized outside of Japan.
Let the secrets out.
Sin and Punishment for example. They didn't even have a lot to translate if they did it. There was also Custom Robo and the original Animal Crossing. Two games that would have been big hits, I think, with fans.
10 Where Was The N64 DD?
Games weren't the only thing neglected by the Western branch of Nintendo. We also didn't get the N64 disc drive add-on. This bulky piece of plastic acted as a second processor of sorts and also let players download games. It was a way to make content closer to the PlayStation. Nintendo had a lot of plans, but due to poor sales they canceled a lot of projects in Japan and scrapped the idea of even bringing it over here.
9 Rare Was A Beacon Of Hope
There's been a lot of rumors and speculation concerning the whereabouts of an N64 classic. While sure, it would be cool, there's always a question close behind. Are there enough games, that are still good, to justify a purchase? If you were to make a wish list, chances are half of it would be Rare games. In the times where Nintendo didn't put out anything first party, Rare was there to step in. They relied on them. If not for Rare, the N64 would have failed more than it already did.
8 Pokémon Stadium Was A Farce
As I hinted at earlier, Pokémon Stadium wasn't much of a game. The collective fans should have known better I guess with a name like that. Still, seeing 3D models of Pokémon for the first time was awe-inspiring.
Could this be any slower?
It could have been a console version of the Game Boy originals, but it was sadly just a vapid time waster. You didn't catch Pokémon. You instead rented them. "Gotta rent 'em all" just doesn't have the same ring to it.
7 Squaresoft Doomed Mario RPG
Paper Mario is good, but they canceled Super Mario RPG 2 for it, which makes it "less good." I remember seeing a screenshot of it in my cousin's Nintendo Power and was overjoyed. A new Super Mario RPG? Awesome! Well, thanks to Sony sealing the deal with Squaresoft, Nintendo couldn't use the name and they obviously didn't get assistance from Squaresoft. They instead made a valiant effort in a spiritual successor themselves, but as I said earlier, it's a barebones RPG at best.
6 Compromised Third Party Ports
There were more games than just titles from Rare, or Nintendo on the N64 of course. Some of the exclusives were pretty good too like Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. There were also games that came out on both the N64 and PS1. If you were hoping to get similar experiences to the PlayStation, like Resident Evil 2, well, you had a rude surprise. These third-party ports were lesser in value. They were fine, yes, but they were comprised. That's the best way of putting it.
5 Star Fox 64 Was Fun, But Too Short
Star Fox 64 made a speed runner out of all who played it. It was, what, maybe an hour long? Sure it had a lot of branching paths and thus had some replay value, but even after all of that, it couldn't be more than a few more hours.
Do a rip-off roll, Fox!
It was a great hour of course, but can you imagine paying $60 for a similar experience now? The backlash online would be visceral. I can see it now.
4 Superman 64, Enough Said
I think I got it all out in the title, right? I guess I should talk about the game a little even though it's been eviscerated online and in print since the day it launched in 1999. I guess it's not really Titus Interactive's fault. No one has made a good Superman game before this, or since. That is, unless you want to count Injustice, which is good, yes, but it's not mutually exclusive as a true Superman game. Will we ever get one?
3 Castlevania’s Lament
What do I even call this game? Castlevania like it says on the box, or Castlevania 64, which sounds less confusing? That's not really the point here I guess. Look, 3D was new for every company back then and making a 2D franchise 3D is no easy task. So again, I get it. Some series made it into the new era with flying colors like Super Mario 64 while others weren't so lucky. At an approximation, this is a typical Castlevania game, but one that was clunky and cut short due to time constraints.
2 No Backwards Compatibility
This is a tricky subject to tackle for various reasons. One, at this time, backward compatibility just wasn't a thing. Companies put out a new console and you, or more likely your parents, bought it knowing full well that your games from the previous generation wouldn't work.
The cycle continues.
Unless you bought some sort of third-party peripheral, which sort of existed for a few consoles. Do you know what home console broke this cycle? The PS2. Technically the Game Boy Color did this for handhelds, but you get the idea.
1 Couldn’t Play Music
This may be a cheap shot, but I'm going to take it anyway. The N64 could not play music CDs like the PS1 could. I never used it much for that, but my brother sure did especially when he threw parties, which were more frequent than not, let's say. Again, I realize this is almost a moot point and I could just as easily point out that the N64 didn't have Metal Gear Solid, or Tekken, but I'll draw the line here at CDs.