Soapbox features enable our individual writers to voice their own opinions on hot topics, opinions that may not necessarily be the voice of the site. In this piece, our 'Man in Japan' Jon explains why Nintendo continuing the ‘classic mini’ line of retro consoles with the N64 may be one step too far...
First things first, I loved the N64. It was the first console that I bought games for with my own money. I pre-ordered The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time with a coupon from the back of a magazine and paid for it by post with a cheque. Whether it be single or multiplayer, some of my fondest and most beloved gaming memories come from playing on the N64, whether it be messing around outside Princess Peach's castle for two hours before realising the first level was actually inside, to doing loops to avoid a pair of incoming laser beams in Star Fox 64, to hating the one random guy at a party who'd always pick OddJob in GoldenEye 007.
Many of the games on the N64 were a revolution in some way, shape or form, so the news that Nintendo has applied for fresh trademarks covering the system is naturally cause for excitement. In the last couple of years, Nintendo has officially brought retro back in the form of micro-consoles, but not without a few teething problems. The NES and SNES Classic Editions have been ludicrously popular, to the point where in the early days, scalpers exploited the low supply and high demand, much to the annoyance of loyal Nintendo fans.
While the idea of an N64 Classic Edition seems like a no-brainer financially and would no doubt be sought after by many a nostalgic fan and collector alike, I feel that there are a few issues with following the trend of the NES and SNES versions that would prevent the unit from fulfilling its true potential. Stick with me on this one.
There were some really interesting and fun games on the N64. Unfortunately, many of these were made by studios that simply don't exist anymore, or the rights to the IP are caught up in a maze of red tape. Nintendo would have to seek permission to include such games on the N64 Classic Edition, and the amount of effort required to secure this might mean the company simply doesn't bother. The NES and SNES Classic Editions didn't rely all that heavily on third-party games to bolster their respective libraries (helped by the fact that Nintendo still holds publishing rights to some third-party games on those consoles), but the N64 is a different story. Games such as Space Station Silicon Valley and Body Harvest, from Scottish developer DMA Design (now part of Rockstar), were important third party titles and one would hope they would be included. Even games such as Turok - which is an active IP even today - could present problems, and the legendary WWF and WCW series of wrestling games may well be off the table due to the tangled web of licensing agreements and dead publishers. If you create your dream list of N64 games, it's amazing how many of them could be off-limits for this rumoured new console, which begs the question: would it even be worth buying if it didn't come with the cream of the N64 library?
A Rare Breed
This kind of ties in with the previous point, but is worth a little more focus. A lot of things have happened since Bond sold millions of copies on the N64 back in the '90s. The licence has passed from Nintendo to EA and now to Activision, and Rare was purchased by Microsoft in 2002, a move which cut its ties with Nintendo. It's undeniable that Rare's catalogue of N64 smash hits were the only ones to come anywhere near what Nintendo was producing for the system in terms of pure quality; whether it was the brace of seminal shooters GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, 3D platformers like Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie or even something more unconventional like Blast Corps, Rare was more important to the N64 than any other developer outside of Nintendo itself, and the system just wouldn't be complete without its titles. Overall, of all the games made by Rare during the N64 period, only two could possibly be considered for the N64 Classic Edition, as they feature Donkey and Diddy Kong, who are Nintendo-owned characters. As for the others, it remains to be seen if Nintendo and Microsoft can work together on some kind of agreement. Xbox chief Phil Spencer has always insisted that he's open to a partnership between the two firms, and it's worth remembering that back in the GBA and DS eras, Rare continued to produce software for Nintendo consoles, despite being owned by Microsoft.
3DS Remakes Vs. Nostalgia
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and Star Fox 64 (Lylat Wars in Europe) are three of the N64's best games. They were also lovingly remastered for the 3DS by Grezzo (in the case of the Zelda titles) and Q-Games respectively, showing off what they could look like on modern technology. This brings up two issues. If Nintendo were to make an N64 Classic Edition, should it bring these superior versions to the console (which would create a gulf in graphical fidelity against games like Super Mario 64), or should each title on the system get similar remastering treatment - something which would be time-consuming and would rather go against the whole point of retro gaming nostalgia? The third (and most likely) option would be to use the original versions, which after seeing the 3DS versions, might be somewhat jarring. Let's be honest, the N64's visuals haven't stood the test of time in the same way as the timeless pixel art aesthetic of the NES and SNES. As much as I loved Mario Kart 64, the jarring difference between the pre-rendered sprites and polygonal tracks just doesn't hold up today, even compared to Mario Kart 7 on the 3DS.
Virtual Console (Or Lack Of)
The fate of the Switch Virtual Console is all but sealed, and could these micro-consoles be partly to blame? Yes, the Classic Editions have a different audience, but for the die-hard Nintendo fans, the conundrum of having the same games available to play on the go or in a nice neat little box of nostalgia really starts to damage both wallets and tolerance. Nintendo may decide that bringing N64 games to Switch isn't good business when you have a micro-console on the shelf, and 3DS remakes notwithstanding, the N64 Classic could potentially be the only place to play these games, which feels like a wasted opportunity.
It was a great move for the SNES Classic to have two controllers packaged in the box. With the N64 Classic Edition however, packing in four controllers (the number required for maximum multiplayer enjoyment) is impractical. Selling them separately is going to bring the cost of ownership up, and while it was revolutionary for the time, the controller itself is bulky and rather antiquated by modern standards. Perhaps Nintendo will redesign a smaller version for the Classic Edition or improve the design in some way?
There will be many game-related announcements from Nintendo before we even know if the N64 Classic exists, but as the Switch becomes my main gaming system, I wonder if an N64 Mini is one step too far - not because I don't want to play the games again, but because I’d always hoped that they would be brought up to date graphically and on modern hardware. Out of all the ’Mini’ consoles, I feel like time will be most unkind to the N64, and I just hope whatever it is planning, Nintendo makes the games stand out as they did 20 years ago.
That's Jon’s take on The N64 Classic Edition, now it's over to you. Let us know your thoughts on the idea - would you pick one up, or would you rather see these games on Switch? Go on, drop us a comment or two...