The death of Nintendo's previous console, the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, or SNES, began in September 1995 with the release of Sony's Playstation. Now with two 32-bit consoles on the market1, the days of the SNES were numbered. If any major gaming company is to survive, it needs a console on the market. In the years before the arrival of the Playstation and Saturn, Nintendo began to develop its own 64-bit console: then dubbed 'Project Reality'.
Before Its Release
Work on the console began in early 1993, and it was dubbed the 'Ultra 64' in Autumn 1994. Its first unveiling to the public was on 1 December, 1995, at the Shoshinkai Trade Show in Japan. In a brief period up to this point its name had been changed to 'Nintendo Ultra 64'. At Shoshinkai, it was given its official name, 'Nintendo 64'.
Two games were on show at Shoshinkai: Mario 64 and an unfinished 'Kirby' game. Both received warm reactions, particularly Nintendo's Mario game, which showed a level of gameplay and graphics not seen before. The Kirby game was only 20% finished, and was only released in April 2000 in Japan, with a completely different premise. Shortly before the show, a Japanese magazine, Family Computer2 Magazine, polled Japanese software licensees on their sales expectations for the N64. 63% said sales would be below three million in 12 months, and 37% said over three million. After the show, the same poll was run by Takarajimashi Publications. 65% said three million sales within 12 months.
Nintendo had hoped to release the N64 in Japan on 21 April, 1996, with a simultaneous release in the USA and UK shortly after. With an insight into potential sales, Nintendo decided to abort this slightly ludicrous idea. The Japanese date would stay the same, but American and British releases were postponed to 30 September and late Autumn respectively. Even this ended up changing. It finally arrived in Japan on 23 June, 1996, America on 30 September as planned, while Britain had to wait until 1 March, 1997.
The games available on the Japanese release were Mario 64, a 3D platformer; Pilotwings 64, an arcade flight sim; and Shogi, a popular Japanese chess game. America had only Super Mario and Pilotwings, while Britain was treated to Super Mario; Pilotwings; Shadows of the Empire, a Star Wars shoot 'em-up; and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, a shooting game marketed as a 'slaughter-fest', but the killing bits are actually quite sparse.
Over the years, the N64 has seen games which have been heralded as milestones, and also some abysmal failures. Mario 64 has become a classic, as has Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Goldeneye, the popular shooting game based on the Bond film, is still a favourite.
On release, games will cost £50-60, but older titles can be bought at £20. On release, the N64 cost £250 and came with just a controller. Now, you can get it with two controllers and a game for about £1503. There are also now coloured Nintendo 64s. Naturally, early buyers feel a bit cheated.
The recent Pokémon craze has seen the release of Pokémon Stadium in April 2000 and this will be followed up with at least two more Pokémon games. Goldeneye 007 is to be followed up with The World Is Not Enough4, which, like Goldeneye, is faithful to the film. It looks to be done in the style of Half Life on the PC. A lot of favourites in the existing games market are having sequels produced, although many believe sequels are never as good as the original game.
However, at the time of writing, the N64 is in danger, as it has been for a while. Nintendo have made the mistake of aiming their products at children. Young people today may seem to have massive disposable incomes, but it's the young adults who dominate the games market, thanks to the mainstream Playstation. The majority of adults are not interested in children's games; hence, they are not interested in most of the watered-down, non-violent children's games available for the N645. Despite the hundreds of thousands of units sold on the first day of release, these sales figures are naturally declining. With big-boy competitors like the Sega Dreamcast and Playstation 2, the N64 may not be with us for as long as we hope. Nintendo plans to release its next machine, codenamed 'Dolphin' in Japan later this year. However, considering as the Playstation 2 has already been released in Japan, and Nintendo has yet to release specs of the new machine, the Dolphin might not stick around for too long either.