The N64 turns 25 today: Here’s Nintendo console’s biggest innovations

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On June 23 1996 the Nintendo 64 hit shelves for the first time. The N64 launched in Japan before heading to North America a few months later (September 29 1996) and then UK and Europe the following March. The first 3D Nintendo console, the N64 is home to some of the most iconic and beloved video games of all time – Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time and Goldeneye, to name a few.

It’s also the console that arguably changed the video games market forever.

Until that point, Nintendo had been the leading name in the world of gaming – with the SNES and NES the best selling home consoles of their generation.

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Going into the fifth console gen, Nintendo held all the cards.

But the failed SNES CD project, which led to Sony creating the PlayStation, coupled with the N64 opting for cartridges instead of compact discs ended up creating the perfect storm.

Games such as Final Fantasy 7, which were pencilled in for the N64, ended up shifting to the PlayStation as Sony’s first entry into the console market was a huge success.

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The PS1 ended up selling over 100million consoles, compared to the N64’s 32.93million.

And it wasn’t till the Wii, which released 10 years after the N64, that Nintendo regained its position as having the most successful home console on the market.

Despite not being as commercially successful as the PS1, the N64 was home to a number of gaming innovations that changed the industry forever.

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Express.co.uk looks back at a few of these game-changing additions…

N64 INNOVATIONS – THE ANALOGUE STICK

Nintendo changed video game controllers forever when Gunpei Yokoi (the influential creator of the Game Boy) designed the modern D-Pad. This released on the 1982 Game & Watch version of Donkey Kong and since the NES and Famicom days has appeared on virtually every single major controller, bar a few notable exceptions (we’re looking at you Steam Controller).

So it seems only fitting that Nintendo would once again change video game controllers forever with the joypad’s next evolution.

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That’s thanks to the N64’s controller, which was the first console joypad to feature an analogue thumbstick.

With the shift to 3D spaces from the SNES and Mega Drive’s 2D games it seems only natural a new type of controller was needed.

And the N64’s analogue stick did just that, giving players complete 360 degree control of a character.

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The game-changing nature of this was perfectly demonstrated in Super Mario 64, one of the N64’s launch games.

From simply using the analogue stick to send Mario off exploring in any direction, to spinning it round and round to send Bowser flying off face first into a bomb during the memorable boss battles – Mario 64 was the perfect demonstration of how revolutionary the analogue stick is.

Sony ended up using analogue sticks with its DualShock controller a year later, and it has since gone on to become an essential part of any modern day controller.

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Which, brings us on nicely to our next point.

N64 INNOVATIONS – THE RUMBLE PAK

In April 1997 Nintendo once again changed the destiny of video game controllers with the release of the Rumble Pak in Japan.

The Rumble Pak was an additional accessory that offered force feedback for the first time.

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Vibrations were felt in context specific situations – such as when firing a weapon, to help immerse gamers into the experience more.

The Rumble Pak was a bit of a bulk accessory, that required two AAA batteries to power it.

But its influential on gaming is undeniable.

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With the DualShock, Sony once again took a leaf out of Nintendo’s book and introduced force feedback to its controllers following the release of the Rumble Pak.

And, like with the N64’s analogue stick, force feedback is now a feature you just expect to come with any modern day joypad as standard.

Nintendo went on to take force feedback to another level decades later with the Switch’s HD Rumble.

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While Sony have also gone on to change what we expect of rumble tech, thanks to the revolutionary haptic feedback seen in the PS5’s DualSense controller.

N64 INNOVATIONS – 3D GAMES

The 90s was a defining time for 3D games, with franchises that are household names now such as Resident Evil, Tomb Raider all launching for the first time.

But arguably some of the most influential 3D games launched on the N64.

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There’s a reason Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are not only critically acclaimed hits but timeless classics beloved by Nintendo fans around the world.

Mario and Link’s first 3D adventures were truly groundbreaking games – offering never before seen experiences that laid the blueprint for what legions of gamers would come to expect from 3D platforming and adventure games for decades to come.

Countless games that came afterwards owe a debt to the 3D controls and mechanics introduced in Mario 64 and Ocarina.

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And for that reason, and many others, the N64 will always have a special place in gaming’s history.

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