Before I say anything, I admit I may be a bit biased, because the Nintendo 64 was the first gaming console I ever owned. I remember playing Super Mario 64 and Super Smash Bros. with my sister in the 90s and early 2000s. As children of the 90s, we were fortunate to enjoy gaming before high-speed internet existed in every home. But setting aside my nostalgia for one of Nintendo’s greatest consoles, there are several reasons that the Nintendo 64 is objectively one of the greatest consoles of all time.
The Nintendo 64 ushered in a new era of gaming, one that still influences the field today. Before the Nintendo 64 (N64 for short) there were almost no high-quality 3D games on the market. The graphics, while dated by today’s standards, were new and fresh. This innovation was one of the things that made the N64 so special. Today, innovation comes primarily through improvements to graphics. Therefore, the N64 created the standard upon which other games have been built. Nintendo has always had a reputation as an innovative company. It was founded in 1889 as a playing card company and has developed a culture of innovation as a means of survival through several difficult periods. This innovation mindset is among the many reasons it continues to be successful to this day.
Among the recognizable franchises that were elevated to new heights during the N64 era were Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong, Mario Party, The Legend of Zelda, Pokémon, Mario Kart, Star Fox and F-Zero. The quality of games that came out during the N64 era contributed to the sky-high rate of gaming participation that exists today. According to the Entertainment Software Association, two-thirds of all Americans play video games regularly. Many people have continued to play Nintendo games because it is a familiar brand known for high quality products. Had Nintendo not been so successful throughout history, it is entirely possible that gaming would not exist in the form it does today.
The N64 also represented the last generation of gaming that was completely offline. As the Nintendo GameCube was released, online gaming communities became more common and the ability to learn hidden secrets was just the click of a mouse away. While the GameCube did not have the same functionality as modern online gaming, it did benefit from accessible online information. The N64 had so many exciting secrets to find out. Rumors were spread on the school bus on the way to elementary school about different secrets hidden within games. I still remember the excitement that came with unlocking a new character in Super Smash Bros., mostly because I never knew how I did it. The culture around gaming was different, and it existed because no one knew for sure what existed within these digital worlds. Playing a video game felt more like exploring a cave. Today, many games released are unfinished or require endless paid DLC to enjoy. The world building that used to exist has been replaced by focus-group-tested gameplay loops and leaks that expose secrets weeks before a game is even released.
Above all, the N64 was a social console. With its four controller ports, sleepovers and hangouts with large groups of friends became more fun. Previous gaming consoles only had two controller ports. The ability to play games with larger groups of people allowed for truly social gaming experiences. It was quite common to go over to a friend’s house, knock on their door and see if they wanted to come over to play Mario Party. Today, gaming has become a mostly online experience with players preferring to interact with friends online. While there is definitely a place for this type of interaction, it is disappointing that in-person co-op gaming has slowly been removed from many modern gaming franchises. In some cases, the only way to play a game with your friend is for each of you to purchase it yourselves and play it in your separate homes.
My interest in gaming decreased substantially after I graduated from high school. College and work became bigger priorities, but to this day I still enjoy playing N64 games. The Nintendo Switch eShop released digital versions of their best N64 titles at the end of 2021. Last month I revisited Super Mario 64, and for the first time in my life defeated Bowser in the final battle. The Nintendo 64 has had a tremendous influence on the lives of people around the world. It walked, so that others could run. The N64 deserves its place in history as one of the greatest gaming consoles created.