Objection! – The N64’s Legacy

Silverwolf: Hello everyone! Silverwolf here for another awesome edition of Objection! Today, the wily Kaushik and I will debate the merits and shortcomings of the Nintendo 64, one of the most popular gaming consoles of the mid-90s through early 2000s. Nostalgia aside, I’m still of the opinion that the N64 is one of the best consoles ever made.

Kaushik: Kaushik here, and I will defend to the death that the N64 is Nintendo’s worst home console.

Silverwolf: Well, Kaushik, why do you think it’s the worst of Nintendo’s consoles?

Kaushik: For starters, it encapsulates all the design issues that plagued the gaming world just as videogames were going 3d. This issue is shared by the PS1, but the N64 gets the short end of the stick primarily because its software library was by and large worse and had little to no third party support. So let’s start with the software.

Silverwolf: Honestly, I think the software is some of the best out there, or at the very least of that gaming generation. Banjo Kazooie, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Starfox 64, and Mario Party are just a few of the library of amazing games that brought lots of new concepts to the game world that many gamers of today take for granted.

Kaushik: I’m not going to argue that every game on the n64 is bad. In fact, a few of my favorite games (OoT, MM, Super Mario 64) are on the N64. My problem is the number of the good games, compared to other consoles, is so very low. Moreover, there is very very little third party support for the console. Almost all of the best games on the N64 are Nintendo titles.

Silverwolf: I don’t see why lack of third party support is enough to demean a console. Shouldn’t a console be judged by how good its library is and nothing else? I mean, if, for instance, every single Mario, Zelda, and Metroid game was absolutely perfect, would anyone fault Nintendo for ONLY putting such games on their system? Sure, variety might suffer, but if we’re just talking good games vs. bad games I don’t really care what developer makes them, just if I enjoy the game.

Kaushik:  That’s a good point. However, the problem that arises (and you touched on this a little bit) is that the variety of games suffer. I don’t want to say that Nintendo makes all the same types of games, they don’t. But one company can’t really cover every genre. For example, my favorite genre of game is the RPG. That entire genre got more or less no support on the N64.

One more thing I’d like to note, Nintendo only makes so many games. Going back to my earlier point, I would argue that the number of good games, more than just how good they are, are part of what determines a console’s worth. For example, if my favorite game of all time were Soul Calibur for the Dreamcast, and I tried to argue that the Dreamcast was one of the best consoles of all time… Well, people would laugh at me. More than being a commercial failure, the Dreamcast (along with the PS2) more or less killed Sega’s console hardware division. While a lot pf people would agree with me that Soul Calibur was a good game, and maybe that there were other good games on the Dreamcast, not many people would agree that the Dreamcast was the best console ever made.

Silverwolf: Well, I agree with you that the number of good games is just as important as how good the games are. That said, I could rattle off a list of all the great games on the N64, though doing so would be a waste of time (and is also open to interpretation). Your point about RPGs, however, is valid, but I’d argue that there’s never been a system that can incorporate good games of every genre.

For instance, I LOVE platforming games (I did mention Banjo Kazooie earlier, after all) but I feel like there hasn’t been a truly good platforming game since Banjo Tooie (Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy were both OK, but not amazing, and I can’t even name a Sony or Microsoft platformer that’s ever caught my eye). In that case, it’s a matter of taste: you’re let down because there weren’t RPGs, but that still doesn’t account for the myriad of other amazing games of multiple genres the N64 featured.

Pictured: Silverwolf’s childhood

Kaushik: I’ll grant you the argument that maybe software is a matter of taste. As a parting argument, I will offer that the most objective measure I can use to determine a game’s worth would be an aggregate of reviews, (such as metacritic or gamerankings), and I believe by that metric the Nintendo 64 does not do well on the software side. But, you’re right. It’s up to the individual to determine what they like or dislike, and I just happened to find the N64’s software pickings quite slim, and fairly limited to boot.

But let’s move on to another issue the N64 had. The hardware. Particularly, the controller, that abomination of a thing. Can you offer any defense for its wacky and unorthodox design?… And I won’t take “I have 3 hands” for an answer.

Silverwolf: Ah yes, the controller, I had a feeling we’d arrive at this before our discussion ended. All right I’m just going to say it: I like the N64 controller and never, in all my experiences with the system, did I ever have trouble with it. The design, while maybe not the best looking, most ergonomic thing, was intended to allow games to have multiple play styles.

While most games used the central and right handles, there were a number of notable games that utilized the left and right handles, and even a few that used the left and central handles. There never was, to my knowledge, a game which required players to move their hands from one handle to another, and so I never understood the gripe people have with it in that regard. It always felt fine in my hands. I will admit that the control stick did tend to wear out if overused (especially if you are a Mario Party fiend like me…) but that’s a complaint I feel could be leveled against a lot of earlier systems.

Kaushik: You’re right. I can’t think of any game that required you to use all 3 prongs of the controller simultaneously. I actually don’t have a problem with how games implemented the controller, but my main issue is how unintuitive and ridiculous the thing looked. The most telling example I can give (forgive me for the anecdote) is that I gave my friend’s 6 year old nephew an N64 controller once, so he could play Super Mario 64. He spent about five minutes puzzling over how to hold the thing, before he decided to hold the left and right prongs.

I had to explain to him that Super Mario 64 only used the central and right parts of the controller, but he kept asking me why he couldn’t use the left side, and what it did. It quite frankly gave me a headache. So, I ended up buying the game on Wii Virtual Console and gave him the more intuitive Gamecube controller to play with. So, you’re right. Maybe the software was effective in using the controller as it was, and there weren’t any major issues with how games controlled (well, some of them). But a controller being so unintuitive and quite frankly bizarre-looking is not a selling point for a console, by any means.

Silverwolf: Even so, I don’t think strange controller design is enough reason to discount the entire system. Not knowing how to use it right off the bat is understandable, but that’s why games come with manuals. Even so, I really don’t think a weird looking controller is a true detriment to the N64. If anything, it adds to the system’s charm. I really feel like your complaints all stem from personal preferences rather than looking at the broader implications of the system. Looked at perfectly neutrally, I thought the Gamecube and XBox controller were rather stupid.

It won’t be remembered as the world’s most intuitive controller, but it’s still unique

Kaushik: Haha, I’ll agree the xbox controller isn’t the most comfortable. I have small hands and it’s not exactly easy for me to use. I have some complaints with the gamecube controller as well, but my point is that intuitiveness is important for marketing and selling a console. Ridiculous designs aren’t generally seen by the public at large as “charming” and is more seen as “weird”. That’s primarily why the original design for the PS3 controller, that stupid-looking boomerang design, was scrapped. It simply wasn’t a good look for the console. Similarly I feel the same way about the N64 controller.

But if you want something a bit more objective, I think the control stick on the N64 controller is of relatively poor quality. And considering how one of the more popular games on the console had you abusing the poor thing horribly, that doesn’t really help things. My last complaint with the controller would be that the N64 controller is kind of a relic of past design, and wouldn’t work as well for modern 3D games. It goes back to my point of the growing pains of the 3D game genre.

For example, the N64’s competition the PS1 introduced a Dualshock controller to rise to and meet the demands of new console games, which necessitated two analog sticks. The N64 didn’t really introduce anything like that, and camera control (one of the primary functions of the second analog stick) came out to be quite awkward in some games. While I don’t think the controller itself led to any major problems in terms of controlling software, but I do think it limited what kind of software was possible on the console.

Silverwolf: All right, that’s a fair point regarding camera angles. There were a number of N64 games where camera control was a real pain and usually the “solution” only amounted to refocusing the camera behind your character, which (usually) fixed the problem. Ultimately, I still can’t really think of any games that were truly hampered by the controller’s design, and looked at in that regard while I can’t call the controller a success it certainly wasn’t a failure or a stumbling block for the average person.

Kaushik: The major point I’m trying to make isn’t what the controller didn’t work for, but instead what wasn’t easily possible for the controller. I think the most notable example of this genre that comes to mind is the FPS. I know a lot of people love love loved Goldeneye (I’m more of a Perfect Dark person myself) and I think the layout of the N64 controller made games like that a real pain to play. Console FPSes aren’t easily controllable without 2 analog sticks (one for movement and one for camera control).

I think it reflects on what kind of console the N64 ended up being, an awkward relic of the past in an era of change. Another point I’d bring up on the hardware front is the Nintendo’s reluctance to switch to a proper disc-based format, a problem that kind of plagued Nintendo until fairly recently.

Silverwolf: Ah, if we’re going to touch on the cartridge vs. disc debate we could be here for quite awhile, so I’ll just say this: Nintendo actually debated switching to disks with the N64, but ultimately chose cartridges to A. Avoid annoying load times (which, regrettably, the PS1 had a lot of…) and B. To help prevent and discourage piracy which had been an issue for the industry since the beginning. When it comes to FPSes you’re absolutely right: I’ve never been the camp of some people who argue that Goldeneye 64 is an amazing game; I think it’s a good game and had fun multiplayer, but ultimately it’s really remembered for helping popularize console shooters rather than being a stellar console shooter.

Gone the way of video tapes, audio casettes, and decent episodes of Family Guy…

Kaushik: Well, I think I’ve reached the end of problems I had with the N64. As a closing argument, I’d like to argue that insofar as the N64’s legacy is concerned, it seemed more like a testing ground for 3d games than anything else, and to me that made the quality of the console and its overall impact in terms of quality and quantity of software choices suffer as a result.

Silverwolf: I think your problems bring up some interesting points, but ultimately I think the amazing innovation the N64 brought to several genres including adventure games (Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask), platforming (Super Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie), racing (Mario Kart 64 and Cruisin’ USA), sports (the actually decent NHL and NFL titles), and even shooters to a degree (Goldeneye and Perfect Dark) catapulted us into a new era of awesome video games from then into the future. Without the N64 who knows if and when these transitions could’ve occurred.

Anyway, that’s all for today! Get pumped next time when two more writers debate in the Objection arena!

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Kaushik

I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.

Kaushik

I write about anime and stuff. Giant robots are pretty cool, too.

3 Comments:

  1. The best fucking console ever! 😀

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