The Nintendo 64 is Nintendo's third home video game console.
Named for its 64-bit central processing unit (CPU), it was the last major home
console to use the cartridge as its primary storage format until Nintendo's
seventh console, the Nintendo Switch, released in 2017. While the Nintendo 64
was succeeded by Nintendo's MiniDVD-based GameCube in September 2001, the
consoles remained available until the system was retired in late 2003.
Codenamed "Project Reality", the N64 design was mostly
complete by mid-1995, but its launch was delayed until 1996, when Time named it
Machine of the Year. It launched in North America with two games: Super Mario 64
and Pilotwings 64. As part of the fifth generation of gaming, the system
competed primarily with the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn. The suggested
retail price at its United States launch was $199.99, and it sold 32.93 million
units worldwide. The console was released in a range of colors and designs over
its lifetime. In 2015, IGN named it the 9th greatest video game console of all
The console was originally slated for release by Christmas of
1995, but was first sold in North America on September 26, 1996. The prospect of
a release the following year at a lower price than the competition lowered sales
of competing Sega and Sony consoles during the important Christmas shopping
season. Electronic Gaming Monthly editor Ed Semrad even suggested that Nintendo
may have announced the original release date with this end in mind, knowing in
advance that the system would not be ready by that date.
In its explanation of the delay, Nintendo claimed it needed
more time for Nintendo 64 software to mature, and for third-party developers to
produce games. Adrian Sfarti, a former engineer for SGI, attributed the delay to
hardware problems; he claimed that the chips underperformed in testing and were
To counter the possibility that gamers would grow impatient
with the wait for the Nintendo 64 and purchase one of the several competing
consoles already on the market, Nintendo ran ads for the system well in advance
of its announced release dates, with slogans like "Wait for it..." and "Is it
worth the wait? Only if you want the best!"
Popular Electronics called the launch a "much hyped,
long-anticipated moment". Several months before the launch, GamePro reported
that many gamers, including a large percentage of their own editorial staff,
were already saying they favored the Nintendo 64 over the Saturn and
Originally intended to be priced at $250, the console was
ultimately launched at $199.99 to make it competitive with Sony and Sega
offerings, as both the Saturn and PlayStation had been lowered to $199.99
earlier that summer. Nintendo priced the console as an impulse purchase, a
strategy from the toy industry. The price of the console in the United States
was further reduced in August 1998.
The Nintendo 64 received generally positive reviews from
critics. Reviewers praised the console's advanced 3D graphics and gameplay,
while criticizing the lack of games. On G4's show Filter, the Nintendo 64 was
voted up to No. 1 by registered users.
In February 1996, Next Generation magazine called the
Nintendo 64 the "best kept secret in videogames" and the "world's most powerful
game machine". It called the system's November 24, 1995 unveiling "the most
anticipated videogaming event of the 1990s, possibly of all time". Previewing
the Nintendo 64 shortly prior to its launch, Time magazine praised the realistic
movement and gameplay provided by the combination of fast graphics processing,
pressure-sensitive controller, and the Super Mario 64 game. The review praised
the "fastest, smoothest game action yet attainable via joystick at the service
of equally virtuoso motion", where "for once, the movement on the screen feels
At launch, the Los Angeles Times called the system "quite
simply, the fastest, most graceful game machine on the market". Its form factor
was described as small, light, and "built for heavy play by kids" unlike the
"relatively fragile Sega Saturn". Showing concern for a major console product
launch during a sharp, several-year long, decline in the game console market,
the review said that the long-delayed Nintendo 64 was "worth the wait" in the
company's pursuit of quality. Nintendo's "penchant for perfection" in game
quality control was praised, though with concerns about having only two launch
titles at retail and twelve expected by Christmas. Describing the quality
control incentives associated with cartridge-based development, the Times cited
Nintendo's position that cartridge game developers tend to "place a premium on
substance over flash", and noted that the launch titles lack the "poorly acted
live-action sequences or half-baked musical overtures" which it says tend to be
found on CD-ROM games. Praising Nintendo's controversial choice of the cartridge
medium with its "nonexistent" load times and "continuous, fast-paced action
CD-ROMs simply cannot deliver", the review concluded that "the cartridge-based
Nintendo 64 delivers blistering speed and tack-sharp graphics that are unheard
of on personal computers and make competing 32-bit, disc-based consoles from
Sega and Sony seem downright sluggish".
Time named it their 1996 Machine of the Year, saying the
machine had "done to video-gaming what the 707 did to air travel". The magazine
said the console achieved "the most realistic and compelling three-dimensional
experience ever presented by a computer". Time credited the Nintendo 64 with
revitalizing the video game market, "rescuing this industry from the dustbin of
entertainment history". The magazine suggested that the Nintendo 64 would play a
major role in introducing children to digital technology in the final years of
the 20th century. The article concluded by saying the console had already
provided "the first glimpse of a future where immensely powerful computing will
be as common and easy to use as our televisions".
Popular Electronics complimented the system's hardware,
calling its specifications "quite impressive". It found the controller
"comfortable to hold, and the controls to be accurate and responsive".
The Nintendo 64 was in heavy demand upon its release. David
Cole, industry analyst, said "You have people fighting to get it from stores."
Time called the purchasing interest "that rare and glorious middle-class Cabbage
Patch-doll frenzy". The magazine said celebrities Matthew Perry, Steven
Spielberg's office, and some Chicago Bulls players called Nintendo to ask for
special treatment to get their hands on the console.
During the system's first three days on the market, retailers
sold 350,000 of 500,000 available console units. During its first four months,
the console yielded 500,000 unit sales in North America. Nintendo successfully
outsold Sony and Sega early in 1997 in the United States; and by the end of its
first full year, 3.6 million units were sold in the U.S. BusinessWire reported
that the Nintendo 64 was responsible for Nintendo's sales having increased by
156% by 1997.
After a strong launch year, the decision to use the cartridge
format is said to have contributed to the diminished release pace and higher
price of games compared to the competition, and thus Nintendo was unable to
maintain their lead in America. The company would continue to outsell the Sega
Saturn throughout the generation, but would trail behind the PlayStation.
Nintendo reported that the system's vintage hardware and
software sales had ceased by 2004, three years after the GameCube's launch; as
of December 31, 2009, the Nintendo 64 had yielded a lifetime total of 20.63
million in the Americas, and a total of 32.93 million units worldwide.
The Nintendo 64 remains one of the most recognized video game
systems in history and its games still have impact on the games industry.
Designed in tandem with the controller, Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda:
Ocarina of Time are widely considered by critics and the public to be some of
the greatest and most influential games of all time. GoldenEye 007 is one of the
most influential games for the shooter genre.
Information and text adapted from Wikipedia