In 2021, getting hold of a Switch, PS5 or Xbox Series X for Christmas might be a struggle, but back in 1996, it was the Nintendo 64 that was the must-have festive gift in North America.
The Indianapolis Star's Rory Appleton has been digging through newspaper reports from the period to shed a light on the carnage that occurred when Nintendo launched its 64-bit system in the country.
The Star's November 26th 1996 issue featured a front-cover report on what items were expected to be popular that holiday season and the N64 was listed alongside Chicken Limbo, the Barbie Fashion Designer CD-ROM video game and Star Wars action figures – but it was Sesame Street's 'Tickle Me Elmo' that was predicted to be the hottest ticket.
Even so, the newspaper said that none of these items should prove difficult to find in the run-up to Christmas – a prediction that was proven wrong by a subsequent report, just a few days later, which told of customers lining up outside of stores in order to avoid disappointment.
Jim Davis, media manager of Best Buy on West 38th Street, gave his simple Nintendo 64 prognosis to the Star in a Dec. 15 article: "If you can find one, buy it."
Davis had been handing out rain checks to customers since Nov. 29, the day after Thanksgiving, when he went to work to find 30 people lined up outside for [the] cutting edge gaming console.
"Maybe Santa can write your little darlings an I.O.U. and put Nintendo 64 game cartridges and accessories under the tree, for now," the article read.
A Target advertisement in the same issue broadsided Nintendo for the shortage: “Due to continued unprecedented demand and the manufacturer’s inability to ship sufficient product, only limited quantities of the Nintendo 64 system and games… will be available.”
Just as is the case today with sites like eBay, there were avenues for resellers back in 1996: the classified ads. Appleton continues:
As December rolled on, the Star and News' classified spaces began to fill with brief ads for the hot commodities.
The Nintendo 64, released in the United States in September at a $199.99 retail price, was offered for as much as $600 by Dec. 23.
But Elmo was the real pot of gold.
By Dec. 17, a shaking, giggling doll that was just over $30 after tax in stores was selling for as much as $400.
On Dec. 19, someone was offering a "new" Tickle Me Elmo who had somehow lost his box for $350.
The Dec. 23 edition of the News included an entire column of Tickle Me Elmo resale ads, with dozens available for as much as $700 a pop. Several intrepid sellers claimed part of the money from their Elmos would go to charity, while others held auction-style bidding wars (remember, eBay was in its infancy at this time) in print.
The N64 would go on to be one of Nintendo's more modest hits, selling only 32.93 million units worldwide (compared to the SNES, which sold 49.10 million, and the NES, which sold 61.91 million). However, the system was clearly in high demand for its first festive season, and it inspired one of the best videos in the history of YouTube to boot.
I remember that Christmas, had a heck of a time tracking down an N64. In those days you just had to call everyone and hope for the best
The nice thing about back then is that you didn't have to fight with bots. Only other people. Made the situation a lot more fair.
The start of 3d Mario. The console I’ll be playing this holiday
Give a Like if you got your’s during Christmas of 1997 instead (alongside Diddy Kong Racing)
My nieces are getting a Switch (oled). They didn't have a Switch already. They're going to be psyched.
I remember Christmas '96. I wanted Super Mario 64 and the N64, but had to "settle" for Super Mario RPG instead, because those sprites had a 3d look to them and my parents felt like it was too early for a new system. Thank god, because I ended up adoring that game and was obsessed, and I don't know if I would have touched it otherwise.
I ended up getting the N64 and Mario Kart 64 with birthday/Christmas money the following April, and man was I attached to that thing for 5 solid years.
I remember that holiday season... All the N64 kiosks had tons of kids lined up to demo SM64 lol. What a revolution that game and system was at that time. Gateway to the modern 3D era. Memories...
I got mine on Christmas Day 1997, after the price drop to £99.99 (my parents were happy) alongside Super Mario 64 and Lylat Wars (aka Star Fox 64). It had been out here since early 1997 and hadn't been a huge seller as the UK was solidly PlayStation country.
It didn't start very well as we turned on Mario 64 with the analogue stick tilted and had no idea why Mario wouldn't stop running in circles. But once we'd figured it out I played it all morning, absolutely blown away. The only console I'd played before was the NES. I don't think I need to spell out how mind-blowing the leap straight from NES to N64 was.
@Rosalinho lol i did the same, got it in 1997 when they lowered the price because it became painfully apparent to them during that first year that the PS1 was going to annihilate the N64 in sales figures.
When Nintendo realised that, any planned price wars went well and truly out the window
I don't remember Christmas 1996 as well as 1998...Ocarina Of Time, what a game, what a Christmas...
And my 10 year old self spent that Christmas playing Mario 64 in much awe.
Ahh yes, i remember my Cousin being brutally upset because there was nearly no Launch Titel and the Price for the Console was to high for what it delivered.
I got my N64 near 2000 and Playstation about 2001, i was never a big fan of the early 3D Titles and stayed with my Super Nintendo... And i had a PC
Had much more Games to choose from then and a much bigger Market for used Games.
@MeloMan Wow, I haven't thought of seeing those kiosk lines in years. I was hypnotized by that demo, as were so many other kids at the time! Thanks for reminding me of that great memory.
Time to crack open the seal on Mario All-Stars to relive the excellence and nostalgia of good ol' Mario 64!!
Mine was an IOU from my bday… still the best holiday season I’ve ever had. Fell asleep on the floor playing Mario 64. I thought it was the coolest thing that he slept as his idle animation. Played that game every day for a year and a half. Mostly just exploring the (at the time) amazing graphics and expansive world.
Got my N64 that year, but I did not get Mario 64 (It was the one I wanted most though) and got Mortal Kombat Trilogy instead. My sister told my mom to get me that instead because she wanted to play it. My dad got me Tetrisphere, which was a horrible game. This may have contributed to me thinking the N64 is my least favorite Nintendo Console.
I didnt end up getting a copy of Mario 64 till the 2000's when I traded with my cousin for a copy of Legacy of Kain: Soulreaver for PS1.
I do sort of recall when I got the N64, it came with a dumb N64 themed ballcap which was so small that even as a 5-6 year old it was too small for me, it had like no depth to it whatsoever. It wasn't christmas when I got it though that's for sure, donno if it released here in europe later or w/e, I definitely do recall playing Mario 64, I guess at the time I was too young to really grasp the prospect of 3D in itself as anything special, it was just another new game which at the time of course in itself was always a special moment.
I had just started my first year of college and barely scraped the funds together for one (luckily my birthday is in late November).
I didn't get mine for Christmas, for I had bought it with lunch money I had saved up by starving myself. I did get Killer Instinct Gold for Christmas though, which was awesome.
@Arckadius I liked Tetrisphere, but wasn't as into the game as much as I was the soundtrack. If you haven't given it a second glance since you were young, go revisit that soundtrack. Hallucid, Learn, Azure Lux, Compliant Confuse.. all great songs!
@Lordplops Oh heck yes. I can't imagine how many people were exploring the Deku Tree at the same time on 25/12/1998. I remember Channel 4 was screening the Super Mario Bros. movie on the day and my parents kept asking me why I was still playing Ocarina instead of watching it. Yeah, I think I made the right choice.
1998 was the N64's best year. So many great games and still plenty of first flush titles that many of us got round to playing around then. What a year, what a console.
I got mine on 1st March 1997.
Haven’t played an N64 game since last week.
You were lucky - in the UK we had to wait until March 97 and then it was £250! (equivalent to £477.87 in 2021!)
Ahh memories, I was 13 going on 14. I used my small allowance to buy any magazine that information on the new system and anytime we went to Target I would just hang out by the demo hoping I would get a turn to try Mario 64. The system was expensive and had no idea if I would actually get one from my parents having 3 brothers in a lower middle class family. When I opened that big present Christmas morning and found the words Nintendo 64 on it - I lost my mind similarly to that kid in the video. The fact that they also got me Mario 64, Killer Instinct Gold, and Green controller was just too amazing for words. My Teenage years will always be tied to games like Mario, OoT, 007 and Perfect Dark and scraping up money to rent games from the local movie rental stores in those first couple years before having a job. Thanks for the Memories Nintendo (my parents).
I have a n64 i bought a few years ago set up on an old TV in my bedroom.
Traded my original n64 in for a Pikachu one back when that came out. Ex kept it though, which is a shame for me. Hey You Pikachu should get a 2nd shot with how popular Nintendogs was.
Watching the tides turn from Tickle Me Elmo to Furby, and the Black Friday chaos that ensued, was when I finally began to understand that most of my childhood was one big marketing ploy.
As I look over to my collection of 30+ Amiibos, I realize that I have not yet been able to break the cycle.
Yes those early 80s, the 8 Bits ruled. I was in the Speccy camp and enjoyed Outrun I remember,you had to put the music cassettee on a tape deck and play it seperatly as the speccy couldnt' handle the game and the music. I used to put the music on my Brothers Marantz HI-FI and turn up the volume while playing.And yes Operation Wolf and Chase HQ where stellar to. And like some one else mentioned here the games where affordable for for kids most of the time. Though I was working and would purchase three to four games a week.
When the Mario 64 came out i REMEMBER SEEING IT ON IMPORT at CEX in London. It was the same time Nights came out for the Saturn. Unfortunalty Playstation had upset the apple cart for both Nintendo and Sega. I managed to grasp a Second Hand N64 unboxed mind, for £50 less then a year after release in the UK, and Ocarina of time was one of those games that I played the hell out of on it, I never did buy Mario 64.
It seems the early years of the charts showcased varied entires at Xmas but the likes of Fifa and COD have made it stale in the later years. But maybe thats becuase game devs in the early years had a better imagination and released of the wall games as well. Now most big studios are to scared to try anything different and its rehash after rehash.
My mom managed to snag an N64 for Christmas, and she could have scalped it for a ridiculous amount, but she gave it to me andy brother for Christmas. I would have had a very different childhood if she had sold it!
I didn't get my N64 until spring of '97. My grandmother just surprised me with it one day after school. I didn't get a copy of Mario 64 until later. i did end up borrowing a friend's copy when he was done with it. But for a while, NBA Hangtime was my only game.
I also remember the Tickle Me Elmo craze. Its crazy thinking about it because my oldest daughter ended up getting Tickle Me, Elmo from someone as a gift (she was probably 2, 3. She's now 8). So it's been kinda kicking around the house. My youngest daughter plays with it every now and then. But not too long ago, the whole hysteria behind it back in '96 came to mind and we were watching the movie Jingle All the Way recently. I tried to convey to them the craziness that was Tickle Me, Elmo, and people trying to buy them. You really had to be there to understand how insane it was. I know folks have been known to go wacky during Black Friday sales. But for one specific product, I can't think of any moment like the Tickle Me Elmo craze.
My first experience with an N64 was renting an import before it released in the US. Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64.
The push-the-stick-towards-where-you-wanted-Mario-to-move relative to you instead of relative to Mario's direction, combined with a game that was full of creativity and exploration really set the direction for all 3rd person 3D games after it. The fact that Mario just seemed to enjoy performing all his acrobatics thanks to his voice really hit this chord of pure fun. (only the tricky camera manipulation got in the way)
I do remember it slowly dawning on me how the N64 had significant tech issues. It started by noticing that the trees were 2D cutouts, as were the "Sphere"-based enemies. The low-res textures too. It just did not age well as things tried to look more realistic.
Amazing burst of great games though that stayed the best in their franchises for a long time in the minds of many Nintendo fans.
Ocarina, Star Fox 64, Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, and Diddy Kong Racing (and for some, the vastly inferior but much more popular Mario Kart 64), make it an important milestone in gaming history and the source of some of my best video game memories.
I didn't get mine until '98, the atomic purple controller set and a copy of Rogue Squadron. By then I didn't even want Mario 64 after having to listen to other kids talk about it for two years. And with Ocarina out by then Mario seemed like child's play by comparison.
Not in the U.K. it wasn’t, what with it not being available. I was working at Toys R Us in Manchester and the hot Console was the PlayStation. In toys generally it was Buzz Lightyear. Getting told you’ve ruined Christmas by angry parents gets old really quickly.
I rented an N64 from Blockbuster for the launch weekend and ended up purchasing one that week. Wasnt hard to find in October, but games....HA! I was on a waiting list with Babbages for months to get Cruis'n USA.
Super Mario 64, Cruis'n, and Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey was all we had for months. You bet your ass we found every secret!
I was 10 and been saving up for it all year and my parents would pay the difference and all of a sudden - it was delayed in Europe! My world shattered, didn’t know what to do. Ended up getting the PS1 that christmas instead and the rest is history.
I never got it on launch but I did end up getting the Goldeneye bundle with the gold controller, the Pikachu edition as well as one of the coloured see through ones.
Just goes to show scalping has always been a thing except it's so much easier nowadays.
Somehow this newest generation will hopefully be only one where over a year later they're still pretty much sold out due to a pandemic and scalpers.
N64 was one of the best gaming system ever! ...and I've owed pretty much every system.
I wish Nintendo still made low poly games N64 style.
Still play my launch console today
Bought a complete in box brand new one a few years ago as back up.
My all time favourite console.
Ended up buying every game released for it in Australia all complete I love it that much.
The games were also in demand. I remember Shadows of the Empire selling out at launch. I had to drive all over town, and my friend and I finally found 2 copies at a Toys R Us in some armpit of Minneapolis.
@BigBluePanda We got one in 1997, but the person who gave it to us didn't know it didn't come with a game. I used my Christmas money to buy Shadows of the Empire, because I was a HUGE Star Wars nerd at the time (I say at the time, because the prequels combined with the Yuuzhan Vong invasion cured me).
I remember it very differently. I actually wanted a Playstation because I was buying all the FFVII hype, but my cousins kept trying to tell me to get an N64.
On my 17th birthday I finally had the money to get a PSX and the next day my mom and I went to the closest Walmart, but they were sold out. The lady working in electronics was nice enough to call over to the other Walmart and she asked if they had any, but they were sold out, too.
I started looking around and saw a bunch of N64's sitting on the shelves, so I decided to get one of them. I didn't have enough money to get a game to go with it, but my mom bought WCW/NWO World Tour for me and over time I collected games such as WWF No Mercy, Diddy Kong Racing, Perfect Dark, and one of my all time favorites: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
I've collected other consoles since then, like my Sega Dreamcast Sports Package, my 32GB Wii U, my PS2, and a couple of others that I no longer have. Eventually, I did get to try a PSX and FFVII and I realized that I didn't like it. The controlls felt too small and I don't like turn-based gameplay.
Dear Santa/Nintendo/Rare/Or Whoever Owns Rights to 007 Goldeneye
Please Bring Goldeneye to Nintendo Switch Via Nintendo Switch Online (N64)! Please and Thank You Nintendo.
NSO + Expansion Pack Subscriber
@SnesSwitch I Second That!
Goldeneye with Online multiplayer for Nintendo Switch would be Incredible! It would be BETTER THAN 1996!
Whenever I’m feeling down, I remind myself that at least I’m not the weirdo that stabbed someone over an Elmo doll.
Got mine from a junk shop in 1998 for £45 with Diddy Kong Racing. Loved it & played for years then saw the two-tone models in ToysRUs for £15 in around 2000 so grabbed (only) one & replaced my old battered model. Still have it & use an Everdrive with a wireless Retrobit controller. I think this was my "golden age" of gaming as my all time favourite game is Perfect Dark followed by Conker's & Goldeneye. Still play all 3 to this day. Love N64!
I had it pre-ordered since 1995... didn't release in my country, the UK, til March 97. I was soooo jealous of Aemricans getting it for Christmas 96. I got no big presents that year as I chose to wait through the delays. Finally picking it up on launch day was pretty great though!
Got mine about a week before Christmas of ‘96.
Didn’t get an N64 until 2001. It was easy to find at that point, and came with Podracer. That, and Zelda OoT floored me after having only the Genesis and Saturn til that point.
I had like almost no money back then, and my parents wouldn't buy me anything related to games under any circumstances. I was still plugging away at my Mega Drive II with the pack-in 6-in-1 cartridge.
My rich friend rented an N64 and Mario 64, we played it together and we were absolutely blown away. Pretty much the next day he got one of his own, and convinced the video shop owner to sell us the Mario 64 cartridge so that we wouldn't lose our save.
I still remember the TV ads for Banjo Kazooie which sent shivers up my spine, I wished that I could dive right into the screen.
I think in the end it was the release of Zelda OOT which got me to save up and take the plunge. I'd never played Zelda before at all and I've never been the same since. Games were a fun diversion for me before the N64 - after that polygons became a way of life.
I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure in 1996, Christmas time was all about that Turbo Man action figure. There's just no way an N64, or a Tickle Me Elmo can even compete with that.
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