New to this series? Catch up with parts uno, dos, and tres!
By: Luis Flores, Assistant Graphic Designer @ Aspyr Media
To an extent, having the N64 was similar to having the Super Nintendo. We would still buy the games abroad, and every time my mom traveled to the U.S., I would ask her for one if there was a special occasion coming soon. At first not everyone in school had the N64 (mostly because of the short supply), and I remember that some kids would try to invite themselves to your house so they could play it. Super Mario 64 was the only game I had in the beginning, so if I invited a friend, we had to take turns, which was a little annoying. Every gaming aficionado knows that sharing reduces the fun factor by at least 40%.
Then games like Mario Kart 64 or GoldenEye came out, and it was definitely more fun to play them with friends, especially when you looked at their screens. In fact, I remember well that there were different schools of thought regarding the use of your opponents’ screens. Some argued that it was cheating and that the game would lose its fun if you knew where your enemies were. Others said that having the information of your opponents’ location was part of the game and that it was boring to wait until you ran into them, instead of hunting them down (Oh wait he’s hiding in the restroom, on the facility level!).
Regardless of my position in this debate, everybody agreed that the multiplayer was pure fun, especially because there wasn’t a precedent for this kind of excitement on a console. Remember that 4-player support was one of the novelties of the N64. I don’t know if another FPS supported this amount of players, but GoldenEye gave me this experience for the first time. In those years, my older sister had a boyfriend who would come to our house every weekend to take my sister out. My sister was never ready on time, so he would play GoldenEye with me and my dad while she was getting ready. I’ve always been a little indifferent about my sister’s dates, but I did like this guy more because we were gaming partners.
Aditionally, 3D graphics were another impressive quality of the N64. We were no longer constrained by the limited options of movement offered by 2D side-scrollers, now games were like real life, in 3D. Kids that grew up playing anything after the N64 wouldn’t understand how big of deal this was back in the day. Of course, the graphics were lame when compared to present games, but they were the best available in those times, and for that reason they were impressive. I wonder if there will ever be a paradigm shift in gaming so strong as the change from 2D to 3D.
Still, some retro gamers say that the N64 has low playability when compared to other consoles, mostly because of its primitive graphics and game design. Of course they are primitive—developers didn’t have much experience, and the technology for it still needed to be developed more. But I wouldn’t say N64 games are less fun, or bad games for that matter; it’s just that it may be too soon to replay them.
I think it’s like music—nobody would have ever thought that the ‘80s were going to come back, and they did. If you don’t believe me, listen to “Sprawl II
” by the Arcade Fire. Culturally speaking, I think we’re ashamed of our recent past, maybe because enough time hasn’t passed to develop some feeling of nostalgia. Maybe a rejection of the past allows us to live the present more fully.
Sometimes we just need to wait some time before things regain value in our eyes. Recently, I’ve been playing Banjo and Kazooie on Xbox Arcade, and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. Not only does it bring some nostalgia, but it also speaks of a specific time in history when characters had polygonal bodies and computer generated voices, when you had to go to your friends’ houses to play video games (rather than doing it online), or when game cartridges were still used (and consequently blown on when they didn’t work).
For me, the N64 embodies the time of my puberty in Mexico, and my game memories are always associated with something else, like the weird smell of my best friend’s house, or like going to Blockbuster with my parents to rent a game after spending all morning with them, doing boring stuff like going to the grocery store or the car wash. Now that think about it, it may have been a time of puberty for video games as well. A picture of an N64 will probably prove my point.