The N64 released in Japan almost 25 years ago, in June 1996. It was a staple of many childhoods, bringing 3D worlds to life in bedrooms and lounges the world over. For many, their first gaming experience would be holding that awkward tri-pronged controller and wondering what the hell to do with it.
We hear the phrase “next-gen” so much that it’s hard to keep track of what gen it actually is. Well, the N64 was generation five of the home consoles. By now, everyone has fond memories of its great cartridge classics, but what were the first ones to ever be released?
Super Mario 64 – June 23rd, 1996
This game really needs no introduction. An absolute classic game, Super Mario 64 was sold at launch, alongside Pilotwings 64 and Saikyō Habu Shōgi. These three games were made to kickstart the launch of the console.
Super Mario 64 has been played ever since its launch, still being a big hit in the speedrunning community. It’s a great game for kids, adults, anyone. It was truly revolutionary for its time, with an open world and full 3D characters and spaces. Definitely one for the gaming history books.
Wave Race 64 – September 27th, 1996
Gamers would have to wait three whole months before they got a new game, not like today’s hectic and never-ending release schedule. The game had players racing around buoys on jet skis and even featured a competitive multiplayer that allowed two players to race against each other.
Jet skis have been inspiring people for years, so it’s no surprise they featured so soon in the N64’s life cycle. The game was praised by critics for its fluid controls and great looking water. Seriously, good water is hard to get right in games, even now.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy – November 11th, 1996
Another game series that needs no introduction, Mortal Kombat has been horrifying parents since 1992. Everyone thought these games marked the end of human decency and the degeneration of the youth due to the violent gameplay.
Well, the Mortal Kombat Trilogy doubled down on the violence by adding the Aggressor bar, which lets characters fight more furiously when filled, and Brutality finishers, 11 button combos that saw characters beat each other until one of them exploded.
Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey – November 11th, 1996
Expanding on the N64’s multiplayer capabilities, this game was the console’s first-ever four-player game. Unlike EA’s down-to-Earth NHL games, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey featured arcade-style gameplay such as power saves, which transform the goalie into a brick wall, power shots that set the net on fire, and power checks which send ambulances flying across the screen. The game allowed players to keep track of their stats through the use of profile creation, very important when you need to back up your braggadocious claims.
Wonder Project J2 – November 22nd, 1996
Wonder Project J2, only released in Japan, sees the player take indirect control of a robot girl named Josette. It’s an interesting setup, where you communicate with her through her bird, never directly. She can’t see or hear you, but she does learn about you and your choices, talking about them in later stages of the game, pretty cool. It’s marketed as a life simulation game but looks similar to Moneky Island, featuring both 2D sections and 3D cutscenes.
Killer Instinct Gold – November 25th, 1996
Killer Instinct Gold is an N64 port of the arcade game Killer Instinct 2, released as a competitor to Mortal Kombat, The game features similar mechanics, a 2D fighting game set against a 3D background with finisher moves.
Killer Instinct Gold was originally planned as a launch title for the N64, but was pushed back to align with the console’s release in North America. Fans of the series can currently play Gold and 29 other games by the developer, Rare, as part of the Xbox One’s Rare Replay.
Eikou No Saint Andrews – November 29th, 1996
There is very little information to be found online about Eikou No Saint Andrews. It’s a golf game, the N64’s very first. There are two known cheat codes that players can use to change characters’ size and costumes. Amazingly, there is actually an hour-long video of it on Twitch at the moment, so anyone interested in retro gold games can go and check that out.
Cruis’n USA – December 3rd, 1996
An arcade game originally released in 1994, the N64 saw a port shortly after the console’s launch. While reviewed poorly by critics, the game was a commercial success. It features several locations based in the USA and allows players to change the colour of the cars they use. The game required players to finish a race in first place to progress to the next track, which seems pretty harsh by today’s arcade racing standards.
Star Wars: Shadows Of The Empire – December 3rd, 1996
Shadows Of The Empire has impressive scope for an N64 game. It’s a third-person shooter with several vehicle and space combat segments. The game features Dash Rendar, the protagonist with possibly the coolest name of any Star Wars game, as he aids Luke Skywalker in saving Princess Leia from Prince Xizor, another fantastic name. Unfortunately, the scope of the game wasn’t well-received, with many critics saying beyond the first level on Hoth, the game was mediocre and offered nothing new or excellent.
Mario Kart 64 – December 14th, 1996
Finally, another game that needs absolutely no introduction, though you may not have noticed these creepy Mario facts. Featuring true 3D tracks, the game added elevation changes, bridges, walls, and pits to make tracks more engaging and exciting. The hectic multiplayer battle-royale style racing was back, with items players could use as power-ups or weapons. With four different game modes, the replayability was huge with Mario Kart 64. The game still has a vibrant speedrunning community, all jostling to be the fastest. It’s great to see a piece of gaming history being kept alive and well by fans and players. Some say it’s the best Mario Kart game, others disagree.
Next: Super Mario: 10 Ways The Games Have Changed Over The Years
- Nintendo 64
Issy is an avid film lover, writer, and game-player based in Leamington Spa, England. He combines his love of film and games in his writing, trying to find as many connections between the two mediums as possible. When he’s not writing, playing, or watching, Issy loves to DJ and look after his growing collection of houseplants, as they make him feel more adult.
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