“In everybody’s life there’s a point of no return. And in a very few cases, a point where you can’t go forward anymore. And when we reach that point, all we can do is quietly accept the fact. That’s how we survive.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
The N64 may have been Nintendo’s first step toward irrelevance. Certainly that didn’t mean it was a terrible system. It’s remembered fondly as the console of many of our childhoods, and with good reason. It had some stellar games like Super Mario 64, the first Super Smash Bros., and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask.
But the fact of the matter is, the N64 was the first time that Nintendo dropped from their place as champions of the console wars. They’d revived the industry with the NES and fought down a dirty battle against Sega with the SNES but with the advent of Sony’s first PlayStation, everything changed. The company that once was synonymous with gaming was now second-fiddle. People used to say when I was a kid: “I’m going to go play Nintendo” when they actually just meant “video games”. Not anymore.
Stubbornly sticking with cartridges, losing out on FFVII being developed for their system, largely putting for the first time emphasis on graphics over gameplay, featuring a ridiculous controller, overstating their importance and moving toward exclusivity… all of these things and more contributed to a console that has a lot of games which aged badly, with first-party games that remain definitive and a bunch of third-party games which seem like throwaways.
The N64 contributed for the first time to the image of Nintendo as “out of touch”. They’ve never truly caught up since (though an arguable case can be made for their share of the handheld market).
Again, I’m not saying the N64 was rubbish, so please don’t leave me the comment equivalents of atom bombs. It was a good system with some neat ideas but which ultimately couldn’t compete with the paradigm shift, a system which didn’t live up to Nintendo’s earlier success. That’s that.
Nintendo has seen their first weekend since the Switch’s launch and things seem to still be largely positive. But look at any list of the best N64 games and you’ll undoubtedly see it’s mostly first-party titles. So here is a list of strictly third-party games from this console. Here’s what Nintendo can learn from the third-party situation of the N64, making these kind of games a priority rather than an afterthought and avoiding the same mistakes.
#20. Superman 64 (1999)
Speaking of mistakes… it’s actually saying something about the lack of notable third-party games on the N64 when Superman 64, one of the biggest butts of all jokes of all time, appears on such a list as this. So many things went wrong with this game. What could they have done different? Well, never fear, The Well-Red Mage is here. I wrote a post a while back entitled “Rocksteady’s Superman Game”, so read it for truth, justice, and the American way, and dream on about such a game on the Switch.
#19. Earthworm Jim 3D (1999)
VIS Entertainment/Rockstar Games
What went wrong here? Developers should understand when a franchise is done. End on a high note. Go out with a bang not a whimper. Never set a bag of dog crap on fire. Other adages. What can the Switch learn from the failed and far less funny that its predecessors EWJ 3D? Don’t over-rely on sequels and don’t milk tired IPs. Nintendo.
#18. Namco Museum 64 (1999)
You can get a lot of these games on nearly any platform, so why are these on this list? Because Virtual Console. We’ve been told it’s coming in some way, shape or form but Nintendo really should have had this up and running for launch. Who knows how it may have affected the Switch’s sales? Nintendo has some of the longest running and most successful franchises in gaming, and they really need to capitalize on that with a bombastic VC.
#17. Nightmare Creatures (1998)
A survival horror game? On a Nintendo console? They’re out there. Nintendo has a pretty dedicated ideology toward being “family friendly”, so the odd rated-M title is a rarity but titles like Nightmare Creatures prove it has been done and can be done. So far what’s the scariest title announced for the Switch? Flippin’ Dead? Don’t forget about variety, Nintendo.
#16. Quest 64 (1998)
One of the reasons why the N64 seemed lackluster was because of a lack of RPGs. How many were there? Quest 64 and Paper Mario? Also, this one didn’t exactly satisfy the yearning for deep, in-depth role-playing nurtured in us by years of playing great JRPGs on the Super Nintendo. By comparison with the SNES, the N64 was severely lacking in RPGs, probably most likely due to Square and Nintendo parting ways. Failing to accomodate Final Fantasy VII was the final nail in their fifth generation coffin. As for the Switch, may it have many an RPG and many a great RPG. Several titles look like they’ll scratch this itch and fill this nitch, including the launch port of I Am Setsuna, which I do recommend.
#15. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (2000)
Edge of Reality/Activision
If you weren’t self-aware at the time, then you have no idea how popular Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater and its sequels were. This game was the after school time killer of choice. It even was for me, a non-skater. What can the Switch learn about this? I think keeping up with popular games would be the superficial application when there’s a deeper truth that Nintendo should latch on to, namely that ports will not ultimately satisfy in place of exclusive third-party titles. THPS was just more fun to play on the PlayStation. Nobody will pretend that the Switch, though lightning fast, has better capabilities than the PS4 Pro, so that means the Switch’s ports will ultimately be somewhat milquetoast if not downright poor. This is especially true for the baffling ports the Switch is receiving such as those for games that are already years out of date and out of style. Ports are great filler and they can be a great chance for gamers to play titles they missed out on. I for one am hoping for ports from the Wii U, since I purposefully missed that console. But the point is, at the end of the day, ports aren’t stand ins for what the Switch largely needs.
#14. Spider-Man 64 (2000)
Quite a lot of Activision titles on this list. I guess they stuck with Nintendo through the thick and thin. In the entry above, I mentioned that following popular trends isn’t really the thing that Nintendo needs to do but hey, it couldn’t hurt. The Marvel movieverse is at a height of delirious popularity, so why not figure out a way to capitalize on that? Just ensure it possesses higher quality than Spider-Man 64 did.
#13. Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (1999)
Red Storm Entertainment
Not every adult feels comfortable running around in colorful worlds with Super Mario or searching the vast wilds in the new Zelda. Some older gamers prefer serious experiences. Cue Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six. Now call to mind all of the announced games for the Switch coming this year and next. How many fit the bill of a game like this? Exactly. And that’s the problem: a lack of diversity. With the NES and SNES, we saw Nintendo’s successes. With the N64, we reflect on the possibility of the Switch repeating some old failures.
#12. Gauntlet Legends (1999)
Atari Games/Midway Games
How about something a little more optimistic? The N64 was awesome because it had the built-in capacity for four-player games with four controller ports. Now that controllers have become largely wireless, this innovation is obsolete. Despite the Switch having extremely expensive Joy-Cons, we have to admit that it has the capacity for some mondo multiplayer, especially local multiplayer, so bring on more games like Bomberman R and Gauntlet Legends that let you play with a bunch of friends all at once. I’ve got a green friend who’s hopefully going to be getting her own Switch soon. Once that happens, it’s on like a giant, angry gorilla with a red neck tie.
#11. The New Tetris (1999)
H2O Entertainment/Blue Planet Software
Okay, okay, this game was published by Nintendo making it technically not a third-party game, truly. But hey, I’ll break my own rule for the sake of Tetris because it illustrates a point. Nintendo built the handheld gaming industry. They’ve never been dethroned in that arena. Since the GameBoy, they’ve reigned as kings and nothing, not the Game Gear, not the Vita, could overtake their lead. That’s thanks in large part to Tetris. It’s great to see Puyo Puyo Tetris on its way to Nintendo’s newest pseudo-handheld and I think it’ll find a great home with gamers who use their Switch’s mobility to its fullest.
#10. StarCraft 64 (2000)
Blizzard Entertainment/Mass Media Inc.
Yep, there was a version of StarCraft on the N64. Home console versions of stellar PC real-time strategy games were often a hit or miss. This one, as I remember rightly, was a miss. But that’s because I think the N64 was woefully ill-equipped to feature a PC RTS. Now the Switch on the other hand, with its touchscreen and handheld-only style future projects, could possibly be a candidate for an interesting home console/handheld RTS.
#9. Rampage 2: Universal Tour (1999)
I remember spending a Friday night playing through this game when in college with a friend and it made for some great memories. That’s the kind of fun and personable experience that I think Nintendo is always trying to get back to. They just gotta figure out how.
#8. Castlevania 64 (1999)
Before Konami went off the deep end, they made a lot of Castlevania games which featured heavily on Nintendo’s platforms. Imagine waking up tomorrow to the breaking news that a new Castlevania title was going to be coming to the Switch. This long-time Nintendo fan would be ecstatic. Castlevania 64 may not be the best in the franchise, but was one Castlevania better than none?
#7. ClayFighter 63⅓ (1997)
The Switch could use more original, exclusive fighters. Beyond that, I don’t know what to say. I’m glad we’ve moved beyond the weird-for-weirdness-sake, gross-out type humor of the 90’s. No wonder a franchise like this didn’t exactly catch on.
#6. Perfect Dark (2000)
I remember Perfect Dark only mistily but I do remember it being well-respected. Quickly surveying its critical responses since its inception has solidified this impression. Perfect Dark seems to be a game that in so many ways is anti-Nintendo, yet there it is: an N64 exclusive. Again, the point of bringing up games like this is not just so Nintendo makes a clone or a remake of Perfect Dark. Rather it’s to hope beyond hope that they create something for the Switch that fills its shoes, so to speak: an involved, adult, thematic, engaging game for adults. This will not hurt your kiddie image, Nintendo. It will merely emphasize it.
#5. Doom 64 (1997)
And now we’re thoroughly out of kiddie game territory. Slaughtering the demons of Hell is absolutely non-Nintendo but again, lads and lasses, Nintendo did once break down and allow a Doom sequel on their console. I appreciate Nintendo’s adherence to being family friendly, since I’m a family man with very young children, but I can also appreciate a gaming library that would appeal to a wider audience, something which I anticipate the Switch will need to develop.
#4. Conker’s Bad Fur Day (2001)
The ultimate example of an adult game, Bad Fur Day was made even worse because it used a facade of friendly forest animals anthropomorphized into boozers and whores. It even came complete with an advisory printed on its cover. This is one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played, made even stranger because it was a game that was so well put together with some of the N64’s best graphics. I’m not sure how many people want another Bad Fur Day on the Switch but given the acclaim this game received, there’s room for some rated-M on Nintendo’s latest hardware.
#3. Harvest Moon 64 (1999)
Toy Box Creative/Natsume
The farming sim will never die. It just keeps getting bigger. Compare the original Harvest Moon to HM 64, and then again to Stardew Valley and its future multiplayer on the Switch. Fans of the farming life always have something to look forward to. Given how popular the Harvest Moon franchise and Stardew Valley have been, I’m sure this will be at least a small boon to the Switch’s sales.
#2. Mega Man 64 (2000)
I loved Mega Man Legends. The 64 version was clumsier than its PlayStation counterpart and on top of that it was 3 years behind the original release in Legends, but it was still a measure of the presence of Mega Man, a star nearly as iconic as Mario himself. We haven’t seen much of the Blue Bomber lately and Mighty No.9 helped deflate some of the lingering excitement surrounding him, but hey, a mage can dream, can’t he? Perhaps some day we’ll get a brand new spin-off franchise for Mega Man on the Switch.
#1. GoldenEye 007 (1997)
Also published by Nintendo (we’re breaking all kinds of rules for the 64) but still developed by Rare, and it’s based on a movie franchise, so I’m counting it as third-party since it’s obviously not a cookie cutter first-party Nintendo game. The ironic thing is, I don’t even particularly like this game. At least I didn’t. I used to vastly prefer playing Super Smash Bros. instead of GoldenEye in the afternoons, which is at the heart of the problem with the N64, but let’s not forget that this game meant Nintendo used to win the Game of the Year. I can respect this one and it’s clearly one of the best third-party(ish) titles on a system that sorely lacked them.
This was a tough list to put together and I had to bend some restrictions as to what a third-party title really is. What are some we may have missed from the N64?
-The Well-Red Mage