EDIT!!! Things That Really Matter #8: Analyzing the Nintendo 64 and its competitors

Games currently playing: Metal Gear Solid (Game Boy Color), Mario Kart Wii (Wii, duh!), Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (DS)


The Nintendo 64.  “The house that Rare built” as I call it.  Certainly a machine that inspires mixed feelings.  Do you remember the articles I wrote about the NES and SNES?  Remember how Nintendo squeezed out SEGA?  Remember how Nintendo bullied around the third party publishers?  Well, this was the machine where all that bad karma caught up to them.  Nintendo had to rely almost solely on their own games to keep the N64 afloat.  Amazingly, they somewhat succeeded.


You would think that the 3rd party publishers would have started jumping ship en masse to SEGA machines when the Genesis blew up.  Perhaps because it wasn’t that big in Japan, the big publishers of the time only conservatively tested the SEGA market.  Konami jumped right in, releasing Genesis-exclusive Castlevania and Contra games but publishers like Squaresoft wouldn’t go anywhere near the Genesis no matter how much they hated Nintendo.

THEN CAME THE PLAYSTATION.  Sony’s PlayStation and the SEGA Saturn debuted in 1994, a whole two years before the N64.  The Saturn was a slow starter but the PlayStation exploded and the 3rd party publishers jumped ship almost immediately.  Suddenly series that were synonymous with Nintendo systems like Final Fantasy, Contra and Mega Man started to be released for anything BUT Nintendo systems’. 

When the N64 hit the market it certainly had the greatest graphical capability but many, many gamers had made the switch and the commitment to the PlayStation.  The Saturn and PlayStation used CDs as their media but Nintendo stuck with cartridges.  This decision had a two huge ramifications.  First, cartridges were much more expensive to produce than CDs, an expense that HAD to be passed onto consumers.  Second, the audio in N64 games was completely limited compared to the other systems.  Good graphics are great but the audio is half of the battle when it comes to creating atmosphere. 

So without the big Japanese publishers in their corner, Nintendo was forced to plow ahead on the strength of their own games.  In many ways the studios within Nintendo truly delivered with many incredible games.  British-based but Nintendo-owned developer Rare came through with 11 games, most of them best sellers.  Nintendo recruited external studios to create successful Mario spin-offs like the Mario Party series.

In spite of all of this doom and gloom, Nintendo made out all right with the N64, selling 33 million units worldwide.  The majority of those units were sold in the US, where enthusiasm for Nintendo’s system was relatively high compared to Japan and Europe.  By Nintendo’s standards of the time, the N64 was only a mild success but it still outsold machines from previous generations that were considered hits, such as the Atari 2600 or the Genesis and Microsoft’s last-generation console, the Xbox.



The PlayStation was a huge hit and kicked Nintendo’s and SEGA’s asses all over the place.  It had all the big series (Final Fantasy, Castlevania, Dragon Warrior) plus many new or refurbished series (Tomb Raider, Metal Gear, Crash Bandicoot).  This machine sold A HUNDRED MILLION UNITS.  Unlike Nintendo and SEGA, Sony did not and, in my opinion, still has not created a very clear or discernible continuing identity for their systems.  Sure, some of the games Sony creates are huge sellers but there’s no such thing as “the Sony feel”.  Rather, they seem to primarily let 3rd party games define their systems.


Poor SEGA.  After the Genesis, SEGA must have thought they had a chance to take things over in the next generation.  Instead, Sony came from out of nowhere and even downtrodden Nintendo still had their wicked way with SEGA.  The Saturn moved a disappointing total of 9 million units.  With this generation, the home consoles began to catch up with the power of the arcade units and the Saturn was largely a home arcade machine and could handle 2D graphics much better than the PlayStation.


3DO Interactive Multiplayer

The founder of EA left to start his own little company, 3DO, to launch a new console.  It received quite a bit of hubbub upon release but didn’t really do much business, moving about 2 million units.  An interesting but possibly damaging aspect of the 3DO IM was that they released their specs to licensed companies, who then made their own models.  Supposedly they were all supposed to be similar but some manufacturers made betters versions than others.  The system’s library isn’t that great but basically it’s level of power is similar to PlayStation and Saturn.


Atari barely moved any of these lumps, released in 1993.  They had all the power you could want for the time but the system’s library was just garbage.  After the failures of the 5200, 7800, Lynx and Jaguar, Atari finally got the fucking hint and stopped releasing consoles.  GOD.


2 responses to “EDIT!!! Things That Really Matter #8: Analyzing the Nintendo 64 and its competitors

  1. i remember seeing brand new saturns for $20 somewhere.

  2. nataliebeth

    yeah i just bought a saturn for $20000

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