Feature: Taking A Look Back At The Nintendo 64 Rumble Pak
Posted by Martin Watts
The little peripheral that shook things up in a big way
Nintendo has always been a video game manufacturer renowned for innovation. From revitalising the video game console industry with the NES back in 1985 right through to opening it up to the mainstream with its Wii and DS systems in the mid-2000s, the Japanese company has continued to have a major impact as a result of its never-ending creativity.
However, it was one of Nintendo's smallest innovations that arguably had the biggest impact of all (and quite literally, too). The Rumble Pak — which was released across the world in 1997 for the Nintendo 64 — may be a small device that clips into the bottom of everyone's favourite three-pronged controller, but the role it played in shaping the industry was considerable. What was at the time a novel and perhaps gimmicky force-feedback add-on for the system soon became an industry-wide standard.
Fast-forward to the present day and every major video game console manufacturer offers force feedback functionality as standard. It's a feature that is now expected by consumers. In fact, Sony found this out all too painfully when it launched the PlayStation 3 in 2006 without a force-feedback controller (although this later changed with the release of the DualShock 3 pad). Rumble may seem like a minor additional feature, but it's something us gamers have grown to love and — strangely enough — our game pads just don't feel the same without it.
The Rumble Pak wasn't perfect, but it was a first great step. Moreover, its flaws were excusable given that it was released over 16 years ago. The biggest issue was that Nintendo's official Rumble Pak required 2 AAA batteries (some third-party packs used the system's power, but they never quite provided the same kick). This made the Rumble Pak more expensive to use, especially because the battery life wasn't very long. Otherwise, adding a big chunk of plastic with two batteries in it into the bottom of the controller made the whole pad feel heavier. The weight isn't uncomfortable by any means, but it's certainly noticeable. Needless to say, these very minor flaws didn't hinder most players from enjoying the peripheral. It was hugely supported by both Nintendo and third-party developers, meaning that unlike some other add-ons for the system, it was much easier to justify laying down your hard-earned cash for one.
The Rumble Pak may now be a relic of the past that has been superseded by far superior vibration-feedback controllers, but it deserves an honourable mention. Just like the system it was designed for, the peripheral brought us an exciting new experience, and one which – incredibly — has remained a core part of gaming even to this day.
Our Favourite Rumble Pak Moments
Star Fox 64 — or Lylat Wars as it was known in Europe — was the first game to use the Rumble Pak and was clearly designed with the peripheral in mind. As you zip across the Lylat system in your Arwing, you can feel every hit, collision and crash along the way (although you are meant to prevent such things from happening!). For a game that was so cinematic at the time, the rumble effect really helped with the immersion. It's a bit like one of those 4D rides you get at theme parks and attractions, albeit with a less cheesy setting.
Firing a gun in GoldenEye 007 was a glorious experience as a result of the Z-button, which oddly enough was also pretty ahead of its time. Adding a Rumble Pak to the mix made such moments even more epic. Whether it was the sudden recoil after firing your PP7 or the continuous judder of an RCP-90, firing a virtual gun had never felt so good up until this point in time.
Unfortunately, most gamers in the West never got to experience the Japanese exclusive, Wave Race 64 Rumble Version. Released in July 1997, it's surprising how much of a difference the Rumble Pak made to the experience. Even without the Rumble Pak, Wave Race 64’s physics are so impressive that they inexplicably make you feel every single wave you come up against. But when you also throw in the vibrating peripheral, the whole experience gets even more realistic, and it's fair to say that this is without a doubt the definitive version of the popular Jet Ski racing game.
While getting punched or kicked in real life isn't usually the nicest experience, it's simply awesome in Super Smash Bros.; every blow sends your controller into an absolute frenzy. If anything, having the Rumble Pak in is advantageous, because in this frantic game the force feedback acts as a great indicator for when you've been sent flying! Of course, the most satisfying moment is when you win a match and your controller rumbles just a split-second before all is revealed on-screen. Feeling that controller shake is relieving, probably because it’s also gently massaging your fingers and thumbs after an intense battle.
What are your fondest force feedback memories? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.