After months of trying, I finally got one! That’s right, I’ve finally scored an official wireless Nintendo 64 controller for my Nintendo Switch. I know, impressive right?
I have been trying to get my hands on one of these things ever since N64 games were announced for Nintendo Switch Online earlier this year. True to Nintendo’s form, the release of these controllers has been random, scattered, and less than intuitive. The pattern, so far, has been for them to go on sale without warning and sell out in minutes, leaving dejected fans to choose between waiting for the next unexpected drop or buying from eBay scalpers.
But now I have one! My wife saw they were on sale, alerted me and, one mad dash to fetch my wallet later, I had a purchase confirmation email. I’m writing this in a state of nostalgic consumer bliss.
The Nintendo 64 and Me
It might seem a touch silly to put so much effort into buying a game controller, but the Nintendo 64 is something of a special item for me. Save for a brief love affair with Sonic the Hedgehog in the early 90s, I was firmly in the Nintendo camp when I was a kid. The N64, in turn, was probably the thing I wanted most for a years-long stretch of my prepubescent youth.
There was a lot that played into my obsession with the thing. Come the turn of 1996, I had never had a current console. I was a bystander for most of the 16-bit generation of video games, enjoying rare glimpses of classics like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to Past when I visited relatives or friends, but never getting one of my own. Most of the games I was playing were NES titles that were older than I was.
From the moment I learned about the Nintendo 64 (originally dubbed the “Ultra 64”) I was convinced it would be mine. For once, I would be the kid with the shiny new toy, exorbitant price tag be damned!
As much as my infatuation was fueled by “gimme-gimme-gimme” however, there was very much a side of me that was straight-up amazed by the experience that the N64 was promising. To the modern eye the Nintendo 64’s 3D graphics are about almost laughably crude. To a bored 90s nine-year old in rural Canada living off my Nintendo Power subscription? It looked like the most amazing thing that I’d ever seen.
I can still remember the first time I actually saw one in person. It was a Star Fox 64 demo kiosk at a Toys R’ Us in Valleyfield, Quebec. I didn’t get to play the game myself that day, but I’ve never lost my memory of the spectacle of seeing it.
The first level of the game opens with the eponymous Star Fox squadron approaching the battle-stricken Corneria City. The camera slowly pans around their Arwing star fighters, giving you a good close-up look at each ship. It zooms in on the pilots’ faces as they turn their heads and flap their mouths in (rough) sync with the now iconic voice track.
The original Star Fox pushed the limits of the Super Nintendo just to produce some gray polygons. The Nintendo 64, in comparison, would deliver full-fledged drama, drawn with colorful detail that was literally unimaginable to me before I saw it. It was like witnessing the future unfolding before my eyes.
It was a moment, for me, that felt like the turning of a corner. Video games, in my youthful estimation, had grown from something great and enjoyable to something truly and genuinely special.
The Legacy of the Nintendo 64
I am far from the only mid-30s person who harbors a similar fondness for the Nintendo 64. I’m also not the only gamer who would acknowledge that the N64 was also a bit of a mixed bag. The console was home to a slew of revolutionary classics. These include game changing titles like Super Mario 64, Goldeneye 007, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Smash Brothers, among others.
For all the Nintendo 64 had to offer, however, it was also the beginning of a long dark period for Nintendo, overall.
After dominating the late 1980s and early 1990s with the NES and Super Nintendo, the game maker was infamously overconfident in its position at the top. After abandoning a potentially lucrative deal with Sony, Nintendo opted to ignore advancements in CD technology and instead continue with the use of expensive-to-produce game cartridges.
The foolishness of this was multifold. While cartridges didn’t have loading times, they had far stricter memory caps than CD-based games. This forced many studios of the era to forgo game development for the N64. Most famously, Nintendo’s longtime partners at the RPG powerhouse Squaresoft moved its games over to the PlayStation, a then brand new console from Sony, who decided to enter the gaming market after Nintendo's snubbing.
As a result, the Nintendo 64 ended its lifespan with less than 400 games in its library, a mere fraction of the PlayStation’s 3,000 and change. And of the games that were released on both platforms? The N64 versions were generally considered to be lesser - altered and compromised due to lack of memory space.
While the Nintendo 64 sold well, Nintendo's position in the marketplace took a huge hit as a result of its limitations. It would continue to struggle for more than a decade, when the it eschewed direct marketplace competition altogether with the Nintendo Wii.
In the End
I know the history of the console and I’ve heard the stories. I’ve written about them professionally from time to time. Whatever faults the Nintendo 64 may have had, however, there’s no erasing the feelings I have tied to it.
There was a period of my life where I lived and breathed this silly video game system. I watched its development with wonder and that wonder didn’t go away after its release. Getting the real ending in Star Fox 64, unlocking cheats in Goldeneye 007, beating Ganon in the epic final battle of Ocarina of Time; these were moments of joy and happiness that sustained me during a time when I was really struggling with my feelings growing up.
It might not have been a perfect game console, but it was perfect to me in a time when I needed a pillar to lean on. The chance to revisit that (with the proper controller) is something I really look forward to.
This is all a long way of saying, I’m really happy to getting this new (old) controller.