It’s crazy to think that the Nintendo 64 was released 20 years ago today. 20 YEARS!?! The system may be a bygone memory for some, but for many people, this console isn’t gathering dust. To this day, cartridges are loaded and controllers plugged in. Any given weekend, I’m sure you’ll see Mario Kart enthusiasts firing up a round or two. There’s a good chance that friendships are being tested right now, somewhere, over a GoldenEye match. And while many games have been ported and remastered since they were originally released for the console, there is something to be said of playing these games on the original system. From it’s one-of-a-kind controller, Rumble Packs, and mid-life Expansion Pak, the Nintendo 64 did things its own way, and it will always hold a place in the hearts of gamers who experienced all it had to offer.
Many gamers got their start with the Nintendo 64, and funnily enough, there may be many gamers today who have never even touched one. In this piece, several of our staff reflect on their favorite game for the system; some are well-known favorites, while others are lesser-remembered. Regardless of how high-profile, it’s undeniable: many memories were made playing the Nintendo 64, and many more could still be made today. So, grab yours out of the closet, and hook it up; you won’t regret it! Now, enjoy our trips down memory lane.
When I think about gaming as a child, my mind drifts to memories of slaying Meat Sims through walls in Perfect Dark with my sisters for hours and hours. But I recall, with great anguish, when I was grounded for spitting water all over my sister, and forced to write 5000 sentences, reading “I will not spit water on my sister.” Arguments with my mother added another 3000 to the total, and aside from the waste of paper and pencil shavings, I cruelly remember my dad bringing home the greatest gift I ever imagined: a transparent, jungle-green, expansion-laden N64 with Donkey Kong 64 shoved into the cartridge holder. Please think of my terror as I had 2,500 more sentences to write before finally getting to play on my own N64. I would sit at the table in our school room, occasionally switching over to the computer to see if I could get away with typing out my sentences, not knowing about the copy + paste feature.
All the while, I was forced to listen to my idiot sisters laughing and yelling at the TV, not understanding how to play games like I did. If only I could play, I would gather all the bananas, unlock special abilities, and defeat K-Rool. Finally, I decided to risk it all. I typically stayed up until 2 or 3 nightly to watch G.I Joe or Toonami on Cartoon Network, so one evening I sneaked down at 3 AM to finally get my mitts on that weird, three-pronged banana controller. Oh, the joy. I’m not sure if my parents ever found out about my betrayal because I was sneaky enough to only log onto my sisters’ worthless save files. Imagine my joy at finally hearing the “DK Rap” for myself, watching the odd banana transitions, and trying to climb the island, hoping every location would be unlocked for me to explore. I think those of us with fond N64 memories could probably pull out four or five truly memorable moments that defined our childhood. While many other games on the console set the gaming foundation for me, I’ll never forget my intrigue and excitement at playing Donkey Kong 64 for the first time.
When I moved to Oregon, I was once again reduced to the role of being the new kid. At this point in my life, I had gone to a new school every year that I wasn’t homeschooled, I had no friends, and I had absolutely no social skills to my name. I often sat in the back of the classroom, buried in my sketchbooks, creating new worlds and heroes to live within them. That same year, the first Pokemon games, Red and Blue, were released. My family was in a hard way at the time, so getting the funds to get the games was difficult. I ended up dumpster-diving around town to collect soda bottles and cans. After a few months, I was running home with a new copy of Blue. Pokemon was my foot in the door when it came to gaining a social life. Suddenly, I had something I could talk about with the other kids. I went from being the “weird girl that draws” to being one of the most competitive battlers in the school.
When Pokemon Stadium was released, it was just about the only thing that I played. I was able to use the transfer pack (which came with every new copy of the game) to play my Pokemon games on the big screen–in super speed! I would spend hours battling my siblings and friends on the TV, and we’d start cheering and screaming as if we were watching the Super Bowl. After the battles were over, there were a ton of amazing mini-games that we could play. Even alone, I could challenge the NPCs and gain rewards within the game. Pokemon Stadium was the game that brought friends over to my house, that turned “hanging out” into an absolute party. It helped me step away from the back of the classroom and learn how to be social and competitive. To this day, the original Pokemon Stadium has never been topped in quality, entertainment, and nostalgic value.
There are many games that I can remember playing on my family’s N64, but Star Wars: Rogue Squadron stands out above the rest as one of my favorite games of all-time. When I first popped this game cartridge into the console, I was captivated to say the least. From Luke’s home planet of Tatooine, to the potato-shaped planet of Kessel, and even through the frustration of the “Escape from Fest” mission, I was hooked. I remember the days when my brother and I would take turns. I would play until I either completed or failed a level, hand the controller to him for his turn, and the process would repeat. I have fond memories of celebrating with high fives when we completed missions, and now that I’m older I can see the silliness in getting so worked up and frustrated when I failed a mission. Those were some good times.
Before I played Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, I hadn’t even heard of Star Wars. I would fly in the X-Wings, fighting against the Empire who I quickly realized were the bad guys, but I had no idea just how popular Star Wars really was (at the time, it was just three movies). Once I realized that it was a trilogy, and I watched the movies, I was in complete awe. This game that I had been playing and had fallen in love with was part of something much greater. While the movies were captivating, what really got me into the Star Wars fandom was Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. I owe a lot of my geekiness to this console and this game in particular. While my first gaming experience was on the NES, the N64 is the console that introduced me to Star Wars, and it’s where my love of gaming really took off.
I want to take you back to a time when video games and generosity walked hand-in-hand. Today, video games are only plentiful and abundant after you have signed in, shared your account, or paid with in-game currency. But at one time, the N64 was pumping out games that would last forever. WCW was a wrestling company that was known for bonehead decisions, cutting corners, and lazy writing, but they were the closest company to rivaling WWE. I was an avid WCW fan because I fell in love with Sting, luchadores, and Goldberg. Every Monday I would watch WCW try their best to represent pro wrestling. When WCW died to the hands of Vince McMahon, all memories of the rival were eradicated. The WCW you see now is a shell. WWE did not want any remnant to exist outside of their company.
While, the promotion deserved to die because of horrible choices, one game will always represent the glory that was once WCW. Revenge had a full roster of WCW wrestlers and a slew of independent wrestlers. The developers took extra care to make sure everyone’s moveset, taunts, and ring style were replicated. The game had a paper-thin campaign mode, but, back in those days, your friends just wanted to beat each other up with couch multiplayer. There were over 300 moves to grapple with, and they all looked amazing. WCW came out with over seven video games, but this one is by far the truest to the brand and to the spirit of wrestling.
Best of all, this game reminds me of a time when healthy competition existed within companies. To win over their customers, the companies would make the best games filled with the greatest content. The N64 was famous for taking a franchise and bringing it to its full potential. WCW/NWO Revenge was no exception. I miss those days.
For many reasons, the N64 one of my favorite consoles, but one of the main reasons is the many memories I have of the games we played as a family. GoldenEye is one of those games, and also where I was first introduced to the character and universe of James Bond. I was still very young at the time, so there were only a handful of levels that I would replay and complete over and over again, but I ended up learning how to complete more from watching my Dad and brother play this game. As a kid, I always loved the cheat codes, and, of course, this game had plenty of them. My two favorite cheats were the paintball mode and DK mode. The paintball mode would basically change the bullets into paintballs. I remember just shooting up a wall, admiring the paintball effects and creating my own little work of art. DK mode or “Donkey Kong” mode was always fun to look at; it would give all character models giant heads and long arms which made them resemble the character.
When one of us wasn’t replaying one of the many missions, we were all in the family room playing the multiplayer mode together. This is one of the first FPS games to ever do a local multiplayer mode such as this, and most anyone you talk to about GoldenEye will mention it. A truly amazing fact is that this mode was only put into the game about six weeks before release. Rare and Nintendo did not realize this was even a thing until the developers presented it to them. Some of my fondest memories of the N64 come from this game. If I were to go back and look at what games spent the most time locked into our console, GoldenEye would have almost as much as gameplay time logged as Ocarina of Time.
I don’t mean this to be a sob story. I don’t like to use the phrase “poor” to describe my family growing up, because I know many, many people had far less than me. As a child, I never lacked for needs, but the whole notion of getting a console at launch or even early in its life cycle was something unknown to me. I played the new systems of friends, but my gaming heritage was based on NES, SEGA Genesis, and SNES, even beyond their relevancy. My dad has always been a “jack of all trades” and did side-work in addition to being a firefighter. He repaired guns for local pawn shops, and, one day, he brought home a Nintendo 64 as payment for several jobs. It wasn’t for my birthday; it was just because, and it took me by surprise. It had two controllers and one game, Knockout Kings 2000. The image of Muhammad Ali graced the front of the cartridge, yelling out, as if to challenge me.
We hooked it up that night, and it was the only game I needed for as long as I can remember. I was a voracious player of PunchOut on the NES, but here I was, able to “experiment” with the “sweet science” in a 3D ring. I crafted fighters for every person I could think of, and we’d duke it out in the ring. While the mechanics and physics seem dated now, it was revelatory to me back in the day. Different fighters handled differently; not only did I have to figure out my opponent, but I also had to understand myself.
I got close to wearing out both controllers, just with that game. Even when my dad got other games later, I kept going back to it. My familiarity with the fighters in-game bled over into my following their exploits in real life. Boxing is still, to this day, one of the few sports I’ll watch out of enjoyment. Was it the finest game ever made? Surely not, but I loved it! The series went forward as Fight Night in the systems after that, and I played them just as much in the years to come. Still, Knockout Kings 2000 held my heart. My father worked to gift me that game and system just because he wanted to, and I love it to this day.
I was ten years old. I was hanging out at my cousins’ house, watching them play video games, when they popped Ocarina of Time into the cartridge slot on their N64. The first thing my eager young eyes beheld was a vast, pixelated field of greenery and a young man on a horse. Then came a series of images—a forest of mystical beings, a castle inhabited by happy residents and a powerful princess, a temple of stained glass that echoed with ancient choir, a volcanic mountain, a peaceful fishing pond, and a ranch where playing a magical melody attracted the nearby horses. I recall holding my breath at times, mesmerized by the fantastical world within this game and the soothing, powerful music and sound effects that accompanied it.
Most of all, though, I remember being fascinated by the young hero in green. He never said a word, but he seemed incredibly brave and adventurous, and he was always helping to defend the weak and save the innocent. Watching him transform from a boy into a young adult with the use of a magical sword was something I’d never encountered in a video game (or story) before. Link—as I came to find out he was called—attracted me, not just physically (yes, I had a fictional man-crush), but also because I admired his character. I remember, as a young girl, consciously striving to be more like him.
Having only watched only about thirty minutes of the game at my cousins’ house, I set my mind to purchase and play it for myself. The next day, I asked my dad to drive me to a little, second-hand, hole-in-the-wall gaming store (it was torn down just a few months later), where I purchased a golden Ocarina of Time cartridge without a second thought.
This game has been a catalyst for growth in my life. I began playing it when I was about ten years old, but didn’t beat it until I was around seventeen. That’s because, about 60 hours in, I started to encounter some spiritual and religious themes that made me (a newly-saved Christian at the time) a bit uncomfortable, so I reluctantly chose to stop playing for a couple of years. Looking back, I see that I owe a lot of my media-centric spiritual discernment to Ocarina of Time, and realize that it taught me the balance between gaming and God (and how even secular entertainment can hold immense Christian truth). I spent a large portion of my life growing with this game, exploring it, learning all its secrets, challenging myself to think about the messages at its heart. Outside of the Bible itself, I’d say Ocarina of Time has been perhaps the largest literary influence on my life. I know Link, for many years, became my role model—one that I, my parents, and even my faith, could easily get behind.
I connected with Link’s silence, not just because I was very introverted myself, but because I admired it. He was a character who never spoke a word (outside of his combative foreign language), yet ten-year-old me was convinced he was the most noble, humble, and brave individual I’d ever connected with through a controller. That’s partially because his selfless and heroic actions made words meaningless, but more-so because, through his silence, I felt Link’s humility—his willingness to carry the weight of Hyrule on his back, his temperance not to lash back at others who mocked him, and his determination to make good on others’ vested faith in him.
He was a hero who mourned, served, and triumphed without words. Maybe that’s because words could not describe him. Needless to say, my first experience (and subsequent playthrough) of Ocarina of Time was one of spellbinding fascination.