5 Awesome Things I Forgot About the N64
Loath as I am to admit it, I cannot sustain my family's livelihood on just the money I make writing about Doctor Who and video games and Doctor Who video games. I have a day job, and last week my boss decided that everything that was on the left side of the store needed to be on the right side, possibly to appease some sort of managerial chaos demon. Since we sell books, this was a lot of labor, and my wife decided that I deserved a reward for it. Thus we went down to Game Over and I bought myself a Nintendo 64 and three games for $80.
Released in 1996, the N64 was Nintendo's last cartridge-based system, stubbornly holding out the trend that Sony and Sega embraced with the PlayStation and Saturn. Despite the old technology, the N64 was actually the most powerful fifth-generation system. The problem was lack of storage capacity and higher production costs, which is the reason companies like Square abandoned Nintendo to release on the PS1.
Still, it was a great system. Games like Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time completely changed adventure gaming forever. First-person shooters finally gained a console audience after Goldeneye and Turok introduced those of us who hate playing on a keyboard to the genre. Fighting games and RPGs? Well, no one can do it all.
Playing the old-school system not only brought back a wave of nostalgia, it reminded me of some things I forgot were awesome.
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5. Games Are Simpler
Pilotwings... Still fun as balls. Still not available in the Wii store.
I can enjoy a massive, immersive existence. For instance, I'm more than 100 game hours into Xenoblade Chronicles and I'm nowhere near done, not to mention I'm pretty sure I've devoted a full year of my life to various Final Fantasies. One of the most amazing aspects about modern gaming is the fact that you can create worlds that are, say, meant to represent the entire landmass of Japan and that feature a cast of characters that would fill a fair sized real-world city.
That being said, I honestly feel that the N64 was the last system made with the idea that games could be beaten in one sitting. Not all of them, of course. Majora's Mask alone is proof of that, but as I've started playing, I notice that the amount of hours spent is spent practicing at getting good, not indulging in a million fetch quests or delving into a story that has gotten way too complicated. Final Fantasy XII, I'm looking at you.
When you play an N64, it's meant to be a diversion. It's literally meant to be played. In other words, it was the last system for kids who just wanted to plug right in and out whenever they felt like it. The only game I can think of that even compares to that elegant simplicity in modern gaming is Portal.
4. I Never Have to Install Anything
Without even realizing it, I developed a new ritual when getting ready to play. I turn on the system, then walk away to get a drink or take the dog out or something, then periodically check on it until it's ready for me. If I'm playing a new game, I'll put it in and let it get on with installing while I do more chores or eat. God help me if I have to download assets. When that happens, I go read a book or re-enact Dune with sock puppets or something.
When I want to play my N64, though, I plug in a game, hit the button and that bastard is up and running, ready to go! It doesn't ask me if I want to update the system, it doesn't have a fancy graphic to sit through, it just is. Even with my new ritual of swabbing each game with alcohol before playing, getting into the experience is much faster.
Studies show you're a lot less likely to insult someone's mother when they're within striking distance.
I understand the appeal of online play, and even occasionally indulge in it via my 3DS with Heroes of Ruin or Tekken, but for the most part video gaming is a solitary experience for me. I'm not alone, either. Even with MMORPGs, 70 percent of new World of Warcraft players stay out of modes that involve interaction, at least in the beginning, mostly so they don't have to deal with being called a gaylord by some 12-year-old amped up on energy drinks and barely repressed racism.
Since the N64 existed before consoles were regularly hooked up to the Internet, the games all assume I'm playing alone, or that I'm having up to three friends over to join in a game party. Which means they're in your house. Let me ask you a question. Go look at the comments under any YouTube video. Would you randomly invite any of those people over for Mario kart and full use of your bathroom? Exactly. You had to behave if you want to multiplay, something that is still a work in progress on PC and seventh-gen consoles.
2. Custom Built Content
Just because it sucks doesn't mean it's not unique!
The N64 was one of the few times in gaming history that content between systems was so obviously different. Not just in terms of game selection, but in the way those games were made. You simply could not make the same kind of Castlevania you had on the PlayStation into the same kind you had on the N64. Granted, that's a bad example because Symphony of the Night is one of the best games ever while Castlevania 64 is definitely not, but the point is you got a completely unique experience.
Obviously you could say the same for PlayStation at that time, but here's the thing. Game content and building style developed from the PlayStation model into what we play now, even for new Nintendo consoles like the Wii. The N64 is like the last in an evolutionary line, which means playing the games feels very different from any modern games. It's not like simply seeing the difference in processing power between a PS3 and a PS1, it's seeing an entirely different approach to processing period.
1. No Load Times...God in Heaven, NONE
When the N64 came out, this was literally the argument every Nintendo player used. No more load times. No long, boring door sequences to sit through like in Resident Evil, no awkward hesitancy between stages, just immediate fun.
Even though load times have gotten much better in the modern disc-based systems, it's still there, and it still makes playing a game just a little bit more annoying. Need to look at your map on Arkham City? Hold on a minute while the screen goes black and the drives make a noise like a pissy barista. Want to look at a map in Ocarina of Ti... Oh, I didn't even have time to finish my sentence.
Just to finish up, I am not in any way saying that the N64 is better than my PS3 or my Wii or any other gaming platform. No medium responsible for Superman 64 can ever claim to be best at anything, but there are aspects of cartridge, pre-connectivity gaming that I can't help but miss when I fire up my little wayback machine. It's like the satisfaction you got fixing a cassette tape with a pencil. Would you want to give up an iPod for that satisfaction? Nope, but you do miss it all the same.
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