The N64 at 25 Years Old

Published: 1 Mar 2022

March 1st 2022 marks an astonishing 25 years since the N64 was launched in Europe. The N64 was the console that changed everything for the world of videogames. The innovation was a giant leap over the SNES, with 3D graphics now becoming the standard. The console hit the UK shops 6 months after it was launched in the Japanese market, which meant the hype for this console hitting the UK shores was huge.

The N64’s first six months in Europe were plagued by a number of problems. The lack of software was the biggest one, with only 13 games released in the UK by September, although it was definitely quality over quantity as 8 of these were awarded Star Game status (over 85%) by N64 Magazine. Games also ran slower than the US and Japanese versions, and often had borders at the top and bottom. It was also rather expensive (for the time) to get hold of an N64 with the console costing £249.99 at launch and games retailing for between £50 and £70.

Things were looking up by the end of 1997, with plenty of top quality games hitting our shores, Goldeneye, Starfox 64 (ahem - Lylat Wars) and Diddy Kong Racing were the stars, with the promise of Zelda, Banjo and loads more just a few tantalising months away. The N64 had also dropped in price to £100 by the Christmas period, putting it right there to compete with the Playstation. PAL conversions were also getting much better and Lylat Wars completely dispensed with the borders that had become so common.

The N64 became host to a number of obscure games, both from Nintendo and other developers. Games like Mischief Makers, Snowboard Kids and Spacestation Silicon Valley were instant classics on the console, and really kept the system going as Nintendo took their time to perfect their releases.

Many Nintendo published titles were delayed throughout 1998, with Zelda and Banjo being the big culprits - however Nintendo’s releases in this time are often considered to be some of the games that defined their genres . Banjo-Kazooie was certainly one of these, with its release in the summer of 1998 really helping to bolster the console. It was also one of N64 Magazine’s favourite titles, with massive features exploring the entire game from top-to-bottom and even a competition to prove readers were the best at Banjo.

As popularity for the N64 grew, so did the magazine, with it stretching to 132 and even 148 pages for some issues in early 1999. There was also plenty of attention given to free gifts, with often two or three packaged in with the magazine - including gifts to customise your N64 like sticker sets and the N64 Cart Rack. It was truly a golden age for magazines as they took up quite a bit of newsagents shelf space.

The N64 Magazine Cart Rack (free with issues 23 and 28).

By the end of 1998, N64 magazine had truly established itself as the best of the Independent Nintendo Magazines, and their Ocarina of Time review would become one of the defining moments in their history, choosing to spread it over two issues, rather than trying to complete the game in a rush. Ocarina of Time was the game to buy in the Christmas of 1998 and is widely regarded as one of the best videogames of all time.

1999 was the year that the N64 really hit its stride with a star game getting reviewed most months. Rogue Squadron, Mario Party and Star Wars Episode 1 Racer were amongst the countless examples of these star games.

The year culminated in the Christmas of all Christmasses, with a massive 22 games reviewed in N64 Magazine’s Xmas issue. With no less than 6 star games and 11 games scoring over 80%! The Christmas period saw classic games like Rare’s Donkey Kong 64 and Jet Force Gemini and Smash Brothers all released. New innovations like the expansion pack also beefed up the console’s capabilities, whilst the transfer pack gave some N64 games compatibility with Game Boy games.

1999 was the peak however, and 2000 saw sales begin to dwindle, with the threat of the next-gen systems from SEGA and Sony becoming very real. The Dreamcast launched in 1999 and the PS2 was hotly anticipated for a November release - dragging gamers away from their N64s. 2000 did provide some of the best games on the console, as Nintendo and Rare got the best out of the console and the expansion pack. Perfect Dark and Majora’s Mask both gained 96%.

Alas 2000 also saw the announcement of the N64’s replacement, with the Gamecube launching in Japan in the September of 2001, and most developers committing to Gamecube fairly early on. The last official game published for the N64 in the UK was Tony Hawk’s 2, which was released in October 2001.

Since the N64’s demise, the N64’s reputation has grown and grown. As the last cartridge based home console (until the Switch), it was more difficult than it’s CD based rivals to develop for because of the limited capacity of cartridges - and therefore third party games were normally on Playstation only. However the N64 did manage plenty of top-notch releases in it’s time, with almost half of all UK games scoring over 80%. Not many other consoles can come up with stats that good!

The legacy of the N64 is also very strong, with many of the titles being re-released on the DS and 3DS, including a heavily expanded Mario 64 DS and a pretty much rebuilt Ocarina of Time 3D launching with the 3DS in 2011. In fact it is a great testament to OOT’s popularity that it has been re-released on all of Nintendo’s home consoles since the N64, either through bonus discs or as part of their digital offerings.

So there you have it, somehow 25 years have passed since the N64’s launch, one of the most influential and fondly-remembered consoles, and a hotbed for many original concepts for games, something that seemed to stop for a while (at least outside of Nintendo), but now is back in full force with the ability to release almost everything as a digital game.