A Brief History Of The Nintendo 64 In 1997

1997 was a pivotal year in games history as it saw Nintendo fall from the dominant console to second place. 1997 also had the arrival of one of the most influential console shooters of all time in the form of Rare’s GoldenEye 007. This is part 3 of an ongoing history series so I you missed parts 1 or 2 catch up with the provided links!

Lack of Games January - March 1997

The lack of games would come to define the life of the Nintendo 64. Despite two amazing launches in Japan and North America, games for the console just took too long to release. After the release of Shadows of the Empire on December 3, 1996, a new game, NBA Hang Time, wouldn’t be released until January 17, 1997. Following NBA Hang Time, nearly another month passed before the next game, Mario Kart 64, released on February 10, 1997. Things would start to look brighter at the end of February when three games released on the 28. Unfortunately, it would be another month before another new game would be released. The game situation over in Japan was even bleaker, as no new games would release in 1997 until March!

PAL Region Launch March 1, 1997

3.jpg

March finally saw the release of the Nintendo 64 in PAL regions including the U.K., Australia and a majority of Europe. PAL regions were also treated to a launch deserving the system with a total of 7 games including Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, Cruis’n USA, Shadows of the Empire, Fifa 64 and Turok Dinosaur Hunter! It is worth noting here that the N64 would be further delayed in France until September 1997. Due to French TV standards the system had to be slightly redesigned to accommodate. In the end, the French system would go on to use the PAL standard, but due to the redesign, French N64’s are able to output native RGB video which requires a semi costly mod for the rest of us.

High Sales, Price Cuts and Debacles March - May 1997

4.jpg

With the success of the PAL launch and a Japanese price cut of ¥8,200, Nintendo was riding high on the success of their newest console. By the end of Nintendo’s fiscal year ending in March, Nintendo had sold 5.8 million units worldwide! A feat made more impressive considering that in the first 16 months the PlayStation had been on the market, it had only sold 4.3 million units! Sony’s console had 2 distinct advantages however, price and game releases. By March 1997 the PlayStation was already selling for $149.99. To remain competitive Nintendo also dropped the price of the N64 in North America to $149.99. A price cut so soon after the systems launch left a bad taste for many early adopters who felt cheated by the lower price point. In May 1997, the N64 received a price cut in the U.K. from £250 to £150. Just 2 months after the systems launch in the region! Backlash to this price cut was so high from early adopters that Nintendo sent out compensation in the form of either Star Fox 64 or Mario Kart 64.

E3 June 1997

5.jpg

With the N64 finally available to most of the world, everyone wanted to know when they would finally get more games. Nintendo used E3 as an opportunity to promote numerous second and third-party games, like GoldenEye 007 whose multiplayer mode was finally shown in full 4 player split screen glory! Also on display by Rare were Banjo-Kazooie and an early version of Conker’s Quest which would later be reworked into Conker’s Bad Fur Day. Other notable games shown included Star Fox 64, Tetrisphere, F-Zero X, Ocarina of Time and Super Man 64. Nintendo Chairman Howard Lincoln also used E3 as an opportunity to let the press know that the 64DD expansion was finished, but until more software was complete, it wouldn’t receive a U.S. release date.

Sporadic Releases and a Genre Defining Game June – September 1997

6.jpg

Game releases after E3 were still as sparse as before, but a couple major titles and accessories did hit the market to help boost the N64 game library in the right direction. First up was the North American release of Star Fox 64. With this, Star Fox series fans were finally treated to a fully 3D Star Fox game and initial sales were great! The best part of this new Star Fox journey was being able to feel every hit and bomb blast with the new Rumble Pak accessory that was packaged with each copy of the game. While many believed the Rumble Pak was just another gimmick, its impact is still felt in the industry today. Force feedback has become so synonymous with console gaming that even when Sony tried to get rid of it with the launch of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, fan demand brought about a new controller revision in 2008 to bring it back.

The biggest release of 1997, and arguably one of the most important game releases of all time, came a month and a half after Star Fox 64 in the form of GoldenEye 007. GoldenEye was not the first FPS game ever brought to consoles, but it was the one to prove once and for all that not only could shooters be done on a console, it could still provide a gameplay and multiplayer experience to rival that of most anything on PC at the time. GoldenEye would go on to top the best-selling games lists for months after release and helped further drive N64 console sales as a result.

Games Finally Start to Arrive October 1997

Unfortunately, after the release of GoldenEye, games would continue to release about a month apart. The End of October finally saw the end of this trend when games finally started to release at regular weekly intervals. Sadly, most of these games are largely forgettable outside of a few hits like Extreme-G and Diddy Kong Racing.

Space World 1997

7.jpg

Nintendo still had their annual Space World trade show, renamed from Shoshinkai, to further show attendees the commitment the company had for the Nintendo 64’s lacking library. The main attraction this year was the 64DD! Mario Artist was on full display and the ability to draw, create game models and edit textures was outstanding! Another surprise was the revelation that the N64 would be getting a modem adapter to use in conjunction with the 64DD. The final highlight of the show was demos of what would become the Transfer Pak, showing connectivity between the Gameboy and N64.

Coming in Second 1997

8.jpg

Despite the early success of the N64 launch, the systems fate for second place had been sealed by the end of 1997. Due to the lack of releases and a library consisting of only a few hits and mostly forgettable games, Nintendo could not compete against the constant releases the PlayStation saw. To further hurt the situation, games like Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero instead helped push the “Nintendo has no good games” argument that would follow the system for the rest of its life.

Game Releases 1997

January

North America: NBA Hangtime

February

North America: Mario Kart 64, Blast Corps, FIFA Soccer 64, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

March

North America: Doom 64

Japan: Jikkyou Powerful Pro Yakyuu 4, Blast Corps, Doraemon: Nobita to 3 Tsu no Seireiseki, F1 Pole Position 64, J-League Live 64

PAL: Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, Cruis'n USA, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, FIFA Soccer 64, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Mortal Kombat Trilogy

April

Japan: Mahjong 64, Star Fox 64

PAL: Wave Race 64

May

North America: War Gods, Hexen

Japan: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

PAL: Hexen

June

North America: Dark Rift

Japan: Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Mischief Makers

PAL: International Superstar Soccer 64, Mario Kart 64

July

North America: Star Fox 64, International Superstar Soccer 64

Japan: MRC: Multi-Racing Championship, Jangou Simulation Mahjong Michi 64

PAL: Killer Instinct Gold, Dark Rift

August

North America: Tetrisphere, GoldenEye 007, MRC: Multi-Racing Championship

Japan: Doom 64, Mahjong Hourouki Classic, Mystical Ninja Starring Goemon, Power League 64, GoldenEye 007

PAL: GoldenEye 007

September

North America: Clayfighter 63 1/3, Extreme-G, F1 Pole Position 64

Japan: J-League Dynamite Soccer 64, International Superstar Soccer 64, Bomberman 64

PAL: NBA Hangtime, Blast Corps, Mission: Impossible

October

North America: Top Gear Rally, Mace: The Dark Age, Mischief Makers, NFL Quarterback Club 98, Aero Fighters Assault, Duke Nukem 64, Madden Football 64

Japan: J-League Eleven Beat 1997, Puyo Puyo Sun 64

PAL: F1 Pole Position 64, Star Fox 64, MRC: Multi-Racing Championship

November

North America: San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing, Diddy Kong Racing, Automobili Lamborghini, Bomberman 64, Chameleon Twist, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98, WCW vs. NWO: World Tour

Japan: Diddy Kong Racing, Pro Mahjong Kiwame 64, 64 Oozumou, Famista 64, Heiwa Pachinko World 64, Chopper Attack

PAL: Bomberman 64, Clayfighter 63 1/3, Duke Nukem 64, Diddy Kong Racing, War Gods, Top Gear Rally

December

North America: Wheel of Fortune, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey '98, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero

Japan: Top Gear Rally, Dual Heroes, Chameleon Twist, Snowboard Kids, Hexen, Nagano Winter Olympics '98, 64 de Hakken! Tamagotchi Minna de Tamagotchi World, Flying Dragon, Uchhannanchan no Honoo no Challenger: Denryuu IraIra Bou, AeroGauge, Virtual Pro Wrestling 64, Yoshi's Story, Harukanaru Augusta Masters '98

PAL: Automobili Lamborghini, Mischief Makers, Chameleon Twist, Doom 64, Extreme-G, Mace: The Dark Age, NFL Quarterback Club 98, Madden Football 64, San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing, FIFA: Road to World Cup 98

34 North America

41 Japan

37 PAL