Nintendo 64 Turns 25

A quarter century has passed since Nintendo revolutionized the video game industry… for a second time!

By Robert Marrujo. Posted 06/23/2021 23:35 Comment on this     ShareThis

While a 25th anniversary is always worthy of some recognition, in the case of Nintendo 64 it’s especially notable. A quarter century ago, Nintendo 64 debuted and the video game world would never be the same. Sony’s PlayStation had launched in 1994 and was certainly capable of producing 3D, polygonal games.  When Nintendo 64 launched alongside Super Mario 64, however, it heralded the rise of the modern 3D game as fans know it. Mario 64 wasn’t just an extrapolation of Mario’s 2D adventures into the third-dimension—it was the reinvention of games as a whole.

By today’s standards, Mario 64 is still a fun game, but in some ways arguably feels relatively straightforward compared to what would come after. That’s because when Mario 64 was developed, Nintendo was writing the rulebook for 3D games while simultaneously producing one that would also be fun, memorable, and easy to play. No small feat for even an experienced game dev in 2021 working with a premade game engine like Unreal; imagine, then, the challenge of making every bit of the framework while also having to figure out what the framework should even look like in the first place.

A great example of this can be found when designer Shigeru Miyamoto has talked about the process of figuring out the in-game camera in Mario 64 and the logistical issues involved. Manifesting it in the design team’s minds eye as an actual, physical camera held by the affable Lakitu helped them to resolve positioning questions. More importantly, however, it allowed the player to more readily grapple with how to manipulate it for a better view of Mario, as well as better understand what its limitations might be. The lessons gained from Mario 64’s successes and failures would go on to inspire designers all around the world. While the industry has evolved quite a bit from those early days of Nintendo 64, it nonetheless set the course that is still being charted to this day.

Sadly, but for the occasional oddball port Nintendo 64 games are in the ether. Resigned to physical cartridges and the bygone days of Wii’s Virtual Console, there are generations of gamers that have yet to experience these games. While NES, which resuscitated the industry after it crashed in the ’80s and revolutionized 2D gaming, remains the apple of Nintendo’s eye, its third generation console remains MIA. One can only hope that Nintendo eventually, finally brings the Nintendo 64 catalogue out of mothballs. In the meanwhile, we doff our hats to this giant and give our respects to the immense legacy it has.

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