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Feature: Nintendo 64 Let-Downs, Head Scratchers and Conundrums

Posted by Zach Kaplan

Analogue stick scars and unrealised Crystal Dreams

When the Nintendo 64 entered our living rooms for the first time, most of us couldn't help but marvel at its power and dream of the possibilities. But with great power comes great responsibility, and not all of those dreams ended up coming true. We already explored the system's most memorable games; now, we'll take a look at some things we'd rather forget.

Control Yourself

The Nintendo 64 controller was a big innovation, including for basically the first time items such as an analogue stick, the backside trigger and vibration via the Rumble Pak peripheral. But the design was far from flawless, including an entire left-side 1/3 portion that proved basically useless, thanks in no small part to the system's sidescroller dearth and thus little opportunity to utilise the d-pad.

But the real trauma came with a little game called Mario Party and its emphasis on quick stick spinning for some of its mini-games. Still today, some palms wear the circular scars of an analogue stick impression while the sticks themselves lie forgotten in piles of plastic dust. Oh, the humanity...

Out of the Night, the Fog Rolled In

The N64 was a powerful machine, but not every developer knew how to harness its strengths. One way that developer Rare earned our respect was by allowing players to view distances previously unimaginable in Banjo-Kazooie; before that, the fog trick was our near-constant companion and worst enemy. When a game included an open area just too deep to view on-screen without slowdown, a thick mist would obscure whatever the processor couldn't handle. Take a look at Turok: Dinosaur Hunter to the left for one notorious example.

Herrings as Red as Mario's Cap

Oh Nintendo, you tease. It's so coy of you to place a Triforce in the menu screen of Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that we can never complete, yet try for countless hours to figure out because "Why would they include it in the menu if you can't complete it?" Oh, and what could be at the top of Peach's castle in Super Mario 64? Well, two disappointing options would be a Yoshi you can't ride and a very large amount of lives that are no longer of any use as you obtain them, because you'll have completed the entire game already. Surely it's neither of those, right Nintendo?

Faster than a Speeding Building

The Nintendo 64 allowed players to perform feats previously unreachable. It gave us the powers of flight, super strength and agility and more, and the capability to realise these to their fullest. What better match for that most amazing of super systems than that most amazing of superheroes, Superman?

And the mist was back in full force, this time in the guise of poisonous Kryptonite Fog (sure, Titus, we'll play along...)

Of course, we all know how that went down. But we couldn't have possibly predicted such a vile outcome at the time, making Superman not only one of the system's worst games but one of its biggest disappointments. Horrible graphics and nightmarish controls compounded the most unheroic storyline of the Man of Steel's career – he’s not out on the streets but instead navigating Lex Luthor's virtual world – and the most tedious gameplay of all-time, seeing you fly through rings, then more rings, and even more rings, broken up by confusing, poorly designed car-throwing sequences. There’s more later on but it’s just as poorly executed, and you’ll have to conquer the control scheme well enough to get through the first part within a time limit or you’ll have to start over, going on to fly through the same rings all over again. And the mist was back in full force, this time in the guise of poisonous Kryptonite Fog (sure, Titus, we'll play along...) proving that the developers couldn’t even figure out how to program the game’s limited engine to run well on the system’s hardware.

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Genre Madness!

The Wii may have introduced the Balance Board, but the Nintendo 64 was known for lack of balance... in genres, that is. Despite a plethora of fighting games (not all of them fondly remembered) and quite a few 3D platformers and racers, other genres did not see the same abundance; puzzlers are more of a handheld affair, so it's not surprising that the console only featured around ten, but place even that number next to the dearth of RPGs and it becomes a lot more impressive. If you were a role-playing fan with a Nintendo 64, you were limited to just four games.

The Wii may have introduced the Balance Board, but the Nintendo 64 was known for lack of balance... in genres, that is.

Thankfully, Paper Mario was one of these, taking the gameplay of Super Mario RPG and giving it that pop-out look we've come to love. The other three titles were far less impressive: Konami's Hybrid Heaven divided opinions while players largely agreed on the mediocrity of Quest 64 and subpar quality of Aidyn Chronicles: The First Mage. Thankfully there were action-RPGs to take up some of the slack, including two incredible entries from the Zelda series as well as a pair of quirky Japanese Goemon games and a few other worthwhile experiences, but for a traditional RPG fan, this is little recompense. Chalk it up to the small cartridge size or developers' reliance on expansive cutscenes that needed a CD to hold them, but at the end of the day, this was just not a console for RPG fans.

Another genre that was simply out of style at the time was the sidescroller, which just looked like yesterday's news until gamers re-embraced it in future generations. This was half of the reason why we never saw a Metroid 64, another great let-down of the day; besides its creators inability to visualise how Samus could move about in a 3D space, doing so in a 2D space didn't even seem to be an option, as you can read in our feature on the subject.

And finally, it's worth mentioning one more genre that was just out of style at the time: the puzzle-based adventure game. The console's sole entry didn't do much to help that, either, but we're sure that there are some fans of Shadowgate 64: Trial of the Four Towers out there.

Now you see it...

What outshone some of the let-downs that made it to the Nintendo 64, however, were those that were just as disappointing for failing to do so. Sin and Punishment is perhaps the most egregious – released near the end of the console’s lifespan, Nintendo chose not to localise the extremely highly rated and much anticipated title until its Virtual Console appearance many years later.

Another game that never saw the light of day was the cancelled Caesar’s Palace 64, which sounds like your average gambling simulator but was to include adventure game-esque puzzles and RPG elements, as well as some adult content on a system notorious for its lack thereof (see: blood replaced with zombie slime in Carmageddon 64, for one example). There’s also the ill-fated 64DD, which was to allow players to create art in a Mario Paint-esque series of games and edit tracks in F-Zero X-Pansion Pack, among other things, but never made it outside of Japan, leaving as its only relic four mysterious holes on the console’s underside. And the simple mention of Earthbound 64 is enough to bring tears to some fans' eyes; after an announced Western release with tantalising screen shots to boot, the game was pulled thanks to reliance on the failed 64DD and a faulty 3D engine, and was re-formatted as the GBA's Mother 3 – never to see localisation outside of Japan.

One more cancellation that also merits attention is that of Robotech: Crystal Dreams. Scheduled to release at the system’s launch, it featured a universe so expansive and realistic it was said to require six months in real time to traverse the entire thing. This would help accommodate the ambitious open-ended gameplay, which saw you both take on missions and navigate space until you found a disturbance, not unlike the Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption titles of today. But after multiple delays, the fate of the game seemed more and more uncertain. Developer Gametek was suffering from financial woes; it attempted to help remedy these by extending its Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! licenses to N64 games, but the poorly handled rushed releases ended up as some of the console’s worst. Doubt fell over the prospect of the small three-person studio’s ability to execute such a lofty project, and its original publisher pulled out. Soon after its showing at E3 ’98, Gametek cancelled the title and the company afterwards went defunct. The team generously released the unfinished rom image to the internet shortly thereafter, however, and you can still find it without much trouble.

Those are some of our least fondly recalled moments from the Nintendo 64, but perhaps something affected you just as much that we’ve left out here – say, the underwater-blurry graphics of NBA In the Zone ‘98, the AI of Dual Heroes that was so bad it sent opponents hurling themselves over stage edges, or the non-localisation of Tamagotchi 64 (ok, probably not that one). Let the world know your frustrations in the comments below!

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User Comments (54)



cheetahman91 said:

Back then there wasn't really anything that bothered me about the N64 but nowadays its the graphics. That's a problem with that generation of gaming in general. The graphics have aged poorly (unless the games use sprites and stuff like that). For the N64, it's the fact that all the textures are so blurry.



Omenapoika said:

I was puzzled about the controller the first time I used it. I remember reaching over from the left side to the stick to play Mario 64, it took me a day or two realize I can place my hand on the middle shaft (yup, I was young and too immersed in the actual game to think about the controller... I wonder if anyone else did this...)



JonWahlgren said:

@Omenapoika: You're definitely not the only one. While I didn't do it myself (I had seen others playing at demo kiosks before I got to try) I had to explain to quite a few people that not only was it OK to hold it there but the button below was important.

Sometimes we have people over for Mario Party who are new to games and they still get it wrong. Not the most intuitive controller!



Expa0 said:

The controllers truly are awful I have four and all of them have their control stick broken.

Really? I think N64 graphics have actually aged fairly well, much better than other consoles in that gen at least. Blurriness > Jagginess.

I was actually quite impressed by the graphics when I tried some N64 games few days ago. Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon and DK64 still look quite nice.



ThomasBW84 said:

A valuable reminder that the N64 venture into 3D graphics and controller had some serious growing pains! I remember Mission: Impossible as a pretty bad game, yet I loved the film so much I sunk a ridiculous number of hours into it

The analogue sticks on my controllers are on their last legs, they always felt a bit vulnerable. Thankfully I never had Mario Party, so don't have any lasting scars!



Ryno said:

Reading these articles makes me wish I didn't miss out on the N64.



Link79 said:

I never was crazy about the N64 controller.
The control stick would really hurt my thumbs after long gaming sessions.
Not enough padding and too small I guess.
Plus that almost pointless D-pad.
Hardly any games used it. Out of habit I tried using the D-pad for Mario 64 the first time I played and couldn't figure why Mario wouldn't move.
Then the lightbulb in my head came on and I figured it out.



Mr_Reece said:

Lex Luthor: "SOLVE MY MAZE!!!"

It's amazing how one game has kept the entire games journalism business fully stocked in "crap game jokes" for well over a decade



LordTendoboy said:

I played my N64 for years and years until I finally got bored with it and gave it to my sister.

The controller was decent, but the analog stick was truly god-awful. Sony got their analog sticks right the first time with the original DualShock.

Sony should be the one who is credited for reinventing controller designs. They invented the dual-analog setup that both Nintendo and Microsoft copied. But then you could say that without the N64, there probably wouldn't be a DualShock in the first place.



DiggerandIndy said:

My biggest complaint is the controller; the analog stick has a bad habit of wearing out after hard use. I wish somebody, somewhere, invented an adapter that lets you use controllers from other systems (i.e. the GameCube controller) into the 64-bit powerhouse, but to no avail. The closest thing I've seen is a controller from Hori, but it's only for Japan.



TKOWL said:

Yeah, the N64 had issues. That controller is awful, I have to admit it.



CapedGodot said:

The only Zelda game that is an RPG of any kind is Zelda II. Zelda II wasn't on the N64. Therefore, your statement is invalid.



StreetRat said:

You guys forgot about Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber in the RPG section.



ToneDeath said:

I remember N64 Magazine had Carmageddon 64 as their lowest rated game, with a score of 8%!

I found this quote from their review: "take it off the shelves, rip up the box and throw the cart repeatedly at the wall until it breaks"



Gamesake said:

@tendoboy1984 You forgot to mention the greatest PSX game to ever use the dual analogs, Ape Escape. The runaway smash hit platformer that redefined 3d gaming as we know it!

I never knew how much fun rewriting Sony's history could be until this moment.



Gamesake said:

@Mickeymac You're being sarcastic too aren't you? It's hard to tell sometimes online. I mean, the only thing Ape Escape redefined was sucking out loud.



CanisWolfred said:

^It wasn't sarcasm, just hyperbole. It didn't redefine anything, but it's still a great platformer.



Mr_Reece said:

@dimlylitmonkey N64 Magazine was class. No magazine nowadays mixes information with laugh-out-loud humour like they did back in the day. I genuinely miss going to the newsagents every 4 weeks to pick that up



FonistofCruxis said:

I agree with @Godot, I've never thought of Zelda games as action-rpgs and always referred to them as adventure games and most of the time when I see the genre that a Zelda game is listed as on a website, its adventure or action-adventure.



Punny said:

Like any other system, the Nintendo 64 wasn't perfect. Just look at the mess known as Superman. Hilariously awful. Still, the N64 was a great console.



Morpheel said:

>shows palms, the Mario Party mark is visible on both hands.

Can I enter the club?



komicturtle said:

I was still playing SNES since it was the only home console I owned up until 1999 when I got Sega Dreamcast. My brother got the N64 for christmas in 1996, just as I did SNES. Hated how I shared my Snes but he never shared his N64- had to ask my mom

My first game for that system was actually Smash Bros (the first I owned). I got my own N64 in very late 2000 where I got Hey You Pikachu!, then followed by Paper Mario, Mario Party 3, Mario Tennis and Pokemon Stadium 2.

Always gamed on my Gameboy mostly, which is why I have a strong pref for handhelds. I miss the days of playing with my brother, nieces and cousins those days. Now, my brother only likes playing games online instead of splitscreen- we played on a smaller screen that what he games on now. This generation of games kinda ruined local-same room gaming. Hopefully with the WiiU, it's revived and comes back strong. Because there's lots of games that have online multiplayer but questionably, no local.



tanookisuit said:

Somehow ownership of Robotech reverted to the primary coder of the game. Back in the mid-90s I found the guy online and he had a website up, used the name Opus after that penguin in the comic strips. Anyway on his website he released the best/last known beta copy of the game, it's an early beta with various stages there bound by a menu, lots of areas don't do much, but you can do some that are enormous and pop off shots on pods and cruisers. I'm sure you could google it up, there's a doc file with it and tells you all the controls. I remember having some good fun with Robotech Crystal Dreams, biggest let down loss of the N64.



Doma said:

"Oh, and what could be at the top of Peach's castle in Super Mario 64? Well, two disappointing options would be a Yoshi you can't ride and a very large amount of lives that are no longer of any use as you obtain them"

Don't forget the flashy new triple jump, capable of absorbing damage. At least that was kinda cool.

If the controller had a GC/Wii quality stick, it'd be perfect. That was its only issue in my view.



NintyMan said:

It's funny how I didn't think much of the d-pad and the fog as a kid, but now I think the d-pad was an odd placement and the fog a strange graphical limitation. Oh, and that Bowser minigame was definitely the reason why Nintendo didn't put Mario Party on the Wii's Virtual Console. A minigame by Bowser was actually evil and cruel! It was always best to be in a team instead of the lone, Bowser-Suit-wearing character anyway.



Ren said:

I remember being really amazed by the controller at the time for the innovations. Really a bold move to bring back the analog (from the Atari days) and essentially re-imagine it as a single finger tool rather than a fist, plus the triggers. It would have been hard to foresee how much it was used, and that it should have just been the entire left side. I remember also thinking that the d-pad had to be there just in case for everything else, though it ended up hardly being used.
Ouch that fog in Turok, and the choppy aiming pissed me off so much. The great games made up for all this though. I remember my first week with Mario64 and marvelling how it would change video games forever; it waaay did.



MetroidMasher17 said:

I honestly didn't even have an N64 until about last year when I found a complete one and a bunch of games (including SSB) for like $30. Since then I have expanded my collection some, but I do have to say that the controllers don't work as well as they should and that the graphics have aged horribly. I hate complaining about graphics, but I can't help but think, "This looks so bad compared to today's graphics." I know it isn't fair, because the systems are a decade or so apart, but it just bugs me.

Oh, well. The N64 had its epic games and its laughably bad ones cough Superman64 cough.



pureval said:

Am I the only one who actually liked the N64 controller? I took to it instantly and never had a problem holding it. Maybe my hands are more flexible than other peoples or something. I know several people who love the Gamecube controller but I never saw the appeal of that thing, I still have trouble remember where all the buttons are on the thing today. I did not get into Mario Party on the N64 so maybe that has something to do with not hating the controller.



Waxxy said:

@pureval: You're definitely not the only one. The only flaw I see in the controller was the inferior construction (by today's standards, remember!) of the analog stick. I've long been wishing that Nintendo would release an N64 classic controller for the Wii that has the same layout with +/-/Home buttons and a more robust analog stick. To me that would make it one of the best controllers ever.

To those people who hate on it, look at the facts. You have a controller with a FULL-size D-pad (The gamecube one is a joke), standard (for the time) L/R buttons, SIX face buttons including 4 that are small enough to act as a second D-pad in a pinch, an analog stick and a trigger button which also doubles as a replacement L-button when using the controller in that mode. While games sadly didn't utilize the controller to its fullest, it was versatile enough to give you three distinct configurations: two directional controls (D-pad + analog) at a time when the Dual Shock was a gleam in Sony's eye; a standard D-pad plus eight buttons well before anyone had added a second set of shoulder buttons; or Analog-plus-eight buttons when controllers had generally only had D-pads up to that point. And let's not forget the revolutionary controller expansion port that paved the way to adding the force feedback feature that is now a standard part of most console controllers.

I personally think the Gamecube controller and the classic controller are both steps down from the design of the N64 controller.



Teh-Ray said:

I too loved the N64 controller, but.....all of my controllers are way worn down from long, hard plays of Super Smash Bros. My Gamecube controllers didn't fare well against the might of Melee, either.

Thank god the Classic Controller's sticks are fine, even after all the Brawling I do!



grumblebuzzz said:

I think the graphics for the N64 have aged badly because that era was really the first one to attempt realism in games. What once looked realistic now just looks jagged and rough in comparison to what we have now. NES and SNES games aged well because they were more pixelated art than attempts at realism.

Also I agree with a lot of you guys — the N64 controller was borderline awful, but again we didn't know it so much at the time because it was the hot new commodity. I wonder what gripes and complaints we'll have at the Wii's 15th anniversary?

PS: Oh! And how about the cancelled Metroid 64? How's that for disappointment?!



StarDust4Ever said:

Don't forget the awesome "Conker's Bad Fur Day", perhaps the most platforming game ever made!

All the greatest games in the N64 library were made either by Nintendo or RARE. Most of the other 3rd party games were crap, but there are always a few exceptions. Some of the best 3D platformers ever made were for the N64 system, and I love platformers, both the 2D and 3D variety. It's amazing how large and expansive many of the games were with such limited storage space. The games looked revolutionary for their time, but I do admit, the graphics for many of the games look far superior in 480p on Wii Virtual Console than on the original hardware.

Also, if your N64 control stick is busted, there are replacement units available. There's also dozens of cheap 3rd party replacement controllers out there you can still buy new which have decent analog control sticks. Most have turbo function as well.



StuffyStuff said:

Mega Man Legends came out, but there wasn't an exclusive N64 release of a Mega Man game, which really upset me. The lack of 2D side scrollers is a head scratcher. I know 3D was the next big thing, but why not have some 2D games?



IronMan28 said:

Looking back on it, the N64 didn't have ANY noteworthy RPGs, GCN had a few and Wii hasn't really had too many either....hopefully this gets corrected on Wii U (more variety in games is better, so don't act like this isn't important).
But yeah, I loved my N64 when I was 8. I still love Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time (I haven't played any of the Rare classics).
Man I feel old lol...



Skogur said:

I liked the controller.
The only issue was that the analog stick could get bad after playing games like Mario Party.
Ive replaced my stick since then and stayed away from those spinning games, still the N64 controller is awesome.



timp29 said:

Ahh the analogue stick.... they used to go kinda chunky and unresponsive.
Every controller has its weak points though. Any SF2 player of note from the SNES days would have broken some shoulder pad buttons.



LordTendoboy said:

@Komicz (30)
Nintendo has always done local same-room multiplayer. It's what makes the Wii unique compared to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

@StuffyStuff (44)
Yoshi's Story was a 2d sidescroller, though it was aimed at kiddies.

@Daisaku36 (45)
The last Nintendo console to have a good library of RPGs was the Super NES. The decline of RPGs on Nintendo systems has a lot to do with the success of the PlayStation and the CD format for gaming. Cartridges had very limited memory, so developers chose the PlayStation since CDs could hold much more data (all those computer animated cutscenes took up a lot of space).



Pj1 said:

I'm pleased we didn't get Superman 64....

I wish we could get Donkey Kong 64....



Grackler said:

UK prices, stock numbers and release dates were my biggest N64 problems. THE Games (or whatever they were called) at the time were a nightmare. I would have been miffed about the expensive expansion pak if it wasn't neatly packed into DK64 too. The console I had no real issues with though, the game selection blew the PS1 away for me.



SPEtheridge said:

The only real issue i had with the 64 was just how fast the sticks would get Battered they didn't last long, don't think the graphics have aged as bad as everyone says the frame rate on the other had whoa its bad lol but still my fave Nintendo console



brandonbwii said:

I'd have to say Dinosaur Planet's original form being cancelled was a disappointment. I was also looking forward to Konami's Survivor sci-fi game. Another let down was not seeing RIQA (later redone as Rogue Ops for PS2/XBOX/GC) for the platform. Oh and can't forget the lack of Mini Racers and Echo Delta.



Supervada said:

Hm? Oh yeah! The control stick did hurt me alittle in the Shy Guy toy spinning game in Mario Party but I can take a hit of it. lol What about Fighting Force? Well the game got good reviews but I want it to be Streets of Rage 4/Bare Knuckles 4 but Sega dropped the join with Core and just cancelled it. Should it be up there? :I



NeoShinobi said:

The N64 controller was difinitely a little awkward. Thankfully I managed to find some good 3rd party controllers with decent control sticks.
lol, I once tried to mod an N64 controller by replacing the control stick with a PSX duelshock thumb stick, it actually worked out pretty well. That's one thing I liked about N64 controllers, they were fragile but so easy to fix, compared to the duelshock controllers.
Also, the old Turok games were brilliant, I wouldn't change a thing about them, and that includes the foggy environment. To me, they were just a part of the game's atmosphere.

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