How time flies. At one moment you're sprawled out on the living room floor, eating sweets and trying to tackle Ganon, and the next you're queuing up in a sandwich bar trying to quickly buy food to rush back, eat and then finally enthuse over the magic that is the N64, possibly Nintendo's most magical console.
This year sees the Nintendo 64 celebrate the 20th anniversary of its release in Japan. And this date is a monumental one due to the importance of the console to our favorite art form. 3D graphics, the redefinition of FPS', that damn controller and the best Mario Kart till 8 came and trounced everyone. The N64 is magical.
But, industry waffle and statistics aside, the N64 is important to me, because it ushered in a wave of firsts. Mind-blowing occurrences that managed to change my perception of the world around and myself. Want to know more, well join me as I give my:
8 Reasons Why The N64 Was My Most Magical Console
1. Playing An N64 For The First Time
I was fresh into adolescence when I first got my hands on the '64's sai-like controller at a booth in a popular department store. Being an avid Nintendo fan; reading all of the weekly magazines and thoroughly enjoying my SNES, I was all too aware of the potential the N64 had to offer. And, man, did it blow me away!
The sensation of playing Super Mario 64 for the first time was akin to time-traveling, or learning of a secret that you know would change the world. It was insane, and I had no idea how to handle the 3D stick, as you can imagine. Going from a D-pad to analogue input was a huge and mind-blowing change.
2. Finally Owning An N64
After a year of much mother-nagging, who was insistent that my SNES was "more than enough fun" to not get an N64, she caved and Christmas '98 saw an N64 come bounding into my possession. It was an Ocarina of Time & Goldeneye 007 bundle, and as we all know by now these two games need no introduction.
Coincidentally my bedroom was being redecorated at the time too, so you can imagine there was much excitement in the McDonald household. Well, in my little slice of it anyway. Owning this console made me feel grown up, in a sense. I'd left behind the rudimentary visage of cute, 16 bit games and headed into fully realized 3D worlds.
3. First Kid On The Block To Have An N64
All of my childhood friends were still having great times with their SNES', Mega Drives and PCs whilst I was on the road to the World Cup with Fifa 98, blowing shit up in Blast Corps and running away from giant bugs in Body Harvest. So after-school and school holiday sessions at my house became regular fixtures in our years of adolescence.
I saved up and got a crystal green, see-through 3rd party pad by Competition Pro, that had all of the turbo and rapid fire functions that were indicative of the time, and suddenly the N64 went from expansive single-player funs to the best social motivator since Pogs.
As the months rolled on my friends got themselves N64s, which lead into us having more controllers and experimenting with other iconic titles like Extreme G, Mario Kart 64, Mario Party, Smash Bros and the like. They were some of the greatest summers, man.
4. Ocarina of Time
There can be no denying that The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a masterpiece of storytelling through gameplay. I've tipped my hat to its brilliance before. The game moved me more than anything I had ever experienced up to that point, and I had never really jumped on the JRPG bandwagon until I played Final Fantasy 7 round at a friend's house, so I never knew games had the ability to make me anything other than excitable/angry to the point of tears.
Going on the Hero of Time's journey taught me that the world is a huge and lumbering place filled with oddities, strange characters and obstacles that can be overcome with lateral thinking and patience, and for that I will always be grateful. It was also the first game I finished. Had to throw that one in there.
5. Barter Systems
My love of the N64 even taught me how to save money, and how to hunt down a bargain in second-hand video game stores. One summer I managed to save enough pocket money to get my hands on an 'expansion pak' and Perfect Dark, the immense second offering from Goldeneye devs, Rareware (as they were called way back when).
I traded in a few games that I was loath to play at the time, and came home with the much discussed RAM boosting peripheral that gave us the opportunity to play more graphically demanding games like Donkey Kong 64 & Majora's Mask. More importantly though, remember the Temple multiplayer map in Goldeneye? Well it returned in Perfect Dark and allowed you to jump down the hole in the main space.
I can't begin to describe to you how f**king awesome that was!
6. Pokémon Stadium
The last Pokémon game I played was Silver on my beatdown ol' brick of a Game Boy classic, and I still hold that period of fevered Poké-madness very dearly in my heart. But I think my over-consumption of the franchise hit fever pitch when my neighbor first booted up Pokémon Stadium in my presence.
I had already finished Blue a few times and boasted quite the team of 'mons, of which Mewtwo and Zapdos were both my pride and joy. Naturally. But, man I tell you, seeing your very own Pokémon, ones cultivated by sugary fingers and so much free time, appear in beautiful 3D in battle with a buddy's Poké-brawlers was like learning Vader was Luke's dad for the first time: Holy. Shit.
Only Nintendo and Pokémon could make something as silly as the Transfer Pak look cool.
7. Star Wars: A Fandom Awakens
So, yeah, I like Star Wars. I really do, but I never appreciated the franchise, or, rather, the scope of the franchise as much as I do now until Star Wars: Rogue Squadron came into my possession. Lightsabers and Jedis are cool and all that, but for me the stars of the universe are its vehicles and starfighters.
Having never played the seminal SNES and PC titles, Super Star Wars, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, et al, till I was much older, Rogue Squadron allowed me to play out my most immersive daydream: piloting an A-Wing. Man those things are so cool, and it wasn't until DICE'S Star Wars: Battlefront did these things become as teeth-grindingly jarring to dogfight as they should be.
The game's story was vivid and deep, which is surprising for a game whose mechanic is fly around a lot and pew-pew, and getting gold medals on each mission was damn tough, I tell you. Which, I believe, was the first time I actually started caring about achievement hunting. That last level though was the icing on a cake of tension...
8. The Death Of Childhood
After about 4 years of enjoying the N64, and amassing a nice, varied collection of games including, of course, the seminal WWF No Mercy, which is some of the most fun you could have with 4 controllers, I traded in my N64, Expansion Pak, 2 controllers and 12 games for a Dreamcast with one controller and 2 games, which were Power Stone and Jet Set Radio.
I don't regret a thing, because the Dreamcast was a fine and misunderstood console, full of gems and personality. But I felt my eventual move away from the safety of the hallowed halls of the big N was one of the signs of my growing up.
Not only did I want blood and gore, I wanted stories akin to those told in Shenmue. I wanted the neon-punk "zero fucks given" attitude of Jet Set Radio. I wanted to indulge in the arcade funs of Crazy Taxi. And most of all I wanted to see wtf all the fuss was regarding Seaman.
The N64 was one of the most magical moments of my childhood, because it book-ended it perfectly. I grew with the console kind of how Harry Potter fans grew with the titular, beleaguered wizard. It taught me lessons of the world, taught me critical lessons about myself, taught me how to be sporting, how to be patient and, most of all, how to appreciate art at a young age.
Here's to you, N64. You're some lad, I tell you.