Welcome back to part 2 of our Nintendo 64 history series! This time I will be covering the year of 1996, the year the N64 launched in Japan and North America. If you missed part one, that covers the systems pre-launch history, go check it out!
With doubts cast on its game line-up, E3 was the time Nintendo needed to show once and for all what it was bringing to the table. Unlike its showing at Shoshinkai which only included half-complete demos of Super Mario 64 and Kirby Ball 64, E3 finally brought the games. On the floor, players could finally try out not only Super Mario 64, but also Pilotwings 64, Star Wars Shadows of the Empire and finally, the actual console versions of Cruis’n USA and Killer Instinct Gold. Nintendo representatives were also on hand to highlight key features of the system to attendees like the controller’s analog sticks. The final price for the system was also revealed to be $249.99. After E3, excitement for the upcoming system was once again high!
Japanese Launch: June 23, 1996
After the numerous delays that setback the launch of the N64 by almost a year, the fabled day had arrived, the N64 was finally here! For the Japanese launch 300,000 units were available and by the end of June 23rd all had been sold. The games available for the N64 at launch were Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64 and Saikyou Habu Shogi. Not surprising, Super Mario 64 was the big hit for the systems launch with an attach rate nearly as high as the number of systems sold.
Even with the lack of an abundant number of games available at launch, the N64 would have no trouble selling. After the immediate sell out of launch units, Nintendo was quick to get an additional 200,000 units to the Japanese markets. These restocks would also quickly sell out prompting another restock of 200,000 units. In the end the N64 had sold through 700,000 units within a week! Sadly, this quick success would stall as new games for the system wouldn’t release until the North American launch of the system 3 months later.
North American Launch: September 29, 1996
With the initial success the N64 had in Japan, expectations were set high for the North American launch. A month before the release Nintendo even announced that due to the systems success in Japan the price would be cut from $249.99 to 199.99. Unfortunately, the lack of launch titles was still present with the only two games available being once again, Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Despite this, the system would once again sell out 300,000 units in a day setting the system up to be a true success! But, like in Japan, games would once again come out in a trickle instead of a wave.
Shoshinkai November 1996
Nintendo’s annual trade show in 1996 really held little for the N64, which had roughly 7 games available at the time worldwide. Demos shown were mostly games that had been seen in other events like Star Fox and Mario Kart. New demos included some of the first footage of Blast Corps and Goldeneye 007 from Rare. A new concept of Zelda 64 was also shown, featuring a Link that looked more like his Link to the Past incarnation. The 64DD would once again make an appearance, but this time its specs had been solidified and was shown running a conversion of Super Mario 64.
Despite the limited number of games, N64 sales continued to climb. With the approaching holiday season Nintendo would do what seems to be a tradition, and warn the public about shortages on their newest system. Despite this, the N64 would go on to sell 1.5 million units in the United States by the end of December. A feat that took the SNES 7 months to accomplish!
By the end of 1996 Nintendo found themselves in a position where they could once again reign supreme as console leader. With a launch in both Japan and North America that beat Sega and Sony, Nintendo was quickly regaining lost ground. The problem Nintendo would face going into 1997 that it still had to overcome: where are the games?
Game Releases 1996
Launch Games Japan June 23, 1996
Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64, Saikyou Habu Shogi
Launch Games North America September 29, 1996
Super Mario 64, Pilotwings 64
Japan: Wave Race 64
North America: Mortal Kombat Trilogy
Japan: Wonder Project J2, Eikou no St Andrews
North America: Wave Race 64, Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey, Killer Instinct Gold
Japan: Mario Kart 64, Jikkyou J-League Perfect Striker, Chou-Kuukan Night Pro Yakyuu King, Mahjong Master
North America: Cruis'n USA, Star Wars Shadows of the Empire
Accessories Available in 1996
N64 Controller available in Grey, Black, Red, Green, Blue, Yellow
N64 Controller Pak
N64 RF Adapter
N64 Cleaning Kit
Interact Shark Pad Pro Controller