Nintendo has been consistent, coming up with Classic mini editions of their most beloved and popular consoles and games from the past. Just recently, it was announced that a limited edition Game & Watch version of the Legend of Zelda would be coming out later this year.
The past few years saw the Famicom/NES and SNES Classic Mini editions too. It stands to reason that the next in line to receive the Classic Mini treatment would be the Nintendo 64 (or N64, as it is fondly referred to).
However, as late as 2019, Nintendo of America President Doug Bowser implied that there are no plans for an N64 Classic Mini in the works. There were no announcements from Nintendo's E3 2021 slate either. But Nintendo of Japan may have something to say about that. Read on to find out more!
The Nintendo 64: A flawed classic
Released on June 23, 1996 in Japan and on September 29, 1996 in North America, the Nintendo 64 was the Fifth Generation game console produced as the successor to the Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The Super Nintendo or SNES was the flagship Nintendo console of the early to mid-1990s. It arguably won the 16-bit console wars against its then-rival Sega Genesis.
But the 16-bit era was coming to a close and more powerful consoles were arriving to the scene. Although the early 32-bit consoles like the Panasonic 3DO and Sega’s own Sega 32X/Sega CD were subpar, the Sony Playstation 1 (aka Sony PSX or PS1) began to dominate the industry. Sega was also coming out with the Sega Saturn. Players and retailers were anticipating that Nintendo would follow suit. But apparently, Nintendo was taking a different, and more ambitious, approach.
This is what would become the Nintendo 64. Attempting a 64 bit console was not unheard of. In fact, the Atari Jaguar came out as early as 1993 (though this was not a true 64 bit system). But it was surprising that Nintendo would try to jump so far ahead, instead of simply joining the 32-bit generation. The buzz was certainly high once Nintendo announced the future with the Ultra 64 (as the console was previously named).
Cartridge and controller conundrums
But there was one caveat: the N64 would be releasing and licensing games in the form of cartridges.
This was controversial, as the standard being followed at the time for console games after the 16-bit era was CDs. The medium provided advantages for game developers as it was cheaper to produce than cartridges and could store huge amounts of data, allowing for bigger and more graphically impressive games to be produced.
But Nintendo (specifically Nintendo of Japan) insisted in keeping with cartridge games, as it made it difficult to pirate but also because the company wanted to maintain its ability to control the market, as it did with the NES and SNES games prior.
This did not sit well with the third-party developers, as the cartridge based games were costly and required more work. Furthermore, the storage capacity of cartridges of the time could simply not match the optical disc storage that CDs could provide. As a result, the N64 library has one of the lowest third-party developer games in terms of sheer number.
Another issue was the unconventional design of the N64 controller. The SNES controller was considered one of the best and most elegant designs for gaming ever made. The N64 controller, on the other hand, received mixed reactions. It was intended to cover all types of different games, from platforming, to shooting games. However, many found the controller to be too bulky and awkward to use.
But Nintendo still produced some of the greatest games of all time on the system. Beginning with the launch title, Super Mario 64, other N64 games that became undeniable classics include The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye 64, Mario Kart 64, Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros. Although the N64 remained a distant second to the Sony Playstation 1, many gamers have fond memories of the console and the best games in its roster.
News from Nintendo of Japan
In a Nintendo investor Q&A, current Nintendo of Japan President Shuntaro Furukawa implied an interest in continuing the Classics Mini line of consoles. According to Furukawa’s response, continuing the Classics Mini line is consistent with Nintendo’s drive of having products that appeal to different age groups, both young and old.
Note that while Furukawa’s statement is the most promising indicator in recent years and provides hope of the N64 joining its brethren being given a second life as a Classic Mini, it is not a guarantee. Although Nintendo has seen much success with the previous NES and SNES Classic Mini, the company is moving forward with further developing the Nintendo Switch Online library as its primary focus. A few N64 titles have already been ported such as the Turok games, Doom 64, and Super Mario 64, but most are still missing.
Another factor to consider is the selection of games that might be included in a potential N64 Classic Mini. Although most of the best games were developed by Nintendo, there are a few by third party developers such as Rare’s Killer Instinct Gold and Perfect Dark that would qualify. But Rare is now under Microsoft under the Xbox Game Studios, which will likely present difficult licensing issues.
Currently, there are no definite plans for an N64 Classic Mini and no projected date for its release. But if Nintendo of Japan President Furukawa’s statement is any indication, it is only a matter of time and demand before the N64 gets its due treatment.