The Nintendo 64 is Still the Best Family Video Game Console Of All Time

Though various platforms have tried, Nintendo perfected a great system way back in 1996. Here’s why this home video game experience endures.

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Illustration of a stack of old video game consoles

In 2010, way before I was married and had a family of my own, my roommates in Brooklyn and I became an instant family after pooling our cash to buy an old N64 on eBay. Men in their early-to-late thirties can instantly picture what happened here: Dudes who were previously just acquittances became brothers overnight thanks to shouting at-each-other over tense games of Mario Kart 64, GoldenEye, Star Wars: Racer, Wave Race, and StarFox. This past year, rumors circulated that a classic edition of the N64 would be released in stores. It never happened. Which is tragic, because the N64 still represents the best family-oriented video game platform ever.

The obvious reason why the N64 is so good for families is that it was the first of the big consoles to create four-player games which meant more people could play at the same time. And yet, some of the greatest games — like Wave Race — had multiplayer modes with were only for two players. This is true of Star Wars: Racer, too, a game based on the podracing in Episode I: The Phantom Menace that might be the greatest Star Wars game of all time because it is legitimately equal parts fun and difficult. Still, the fact that those two racing games had two-player features and Starfox, Mario Kart and GoldenEye had four players isn’t actually the reason why the console and its games were so great.

Instead, it’s all about the accessibility of the games themselves. With maybe the exception of Starfox, none of the games have complicated preambles or hyper-involved stories. And really, even in the case of Starfox, you’re dealing with talking animals in space, a kind of interactive Wes Anderson-meets-Atari situation. With GoldenEye, it’s not like you had to see the 1995 Pierce Brosnan James Bond film of the same name, because the point of the game was pretty obvious: follow your friends around easy-to-memorize locations and blow each other up. Did GoldenEye glorify gun violence? That kind of depends on how you feel about James Bond movies in the first place, but there’s enough silliness in GoldenEye to divorce it from any kind of real-world scenarios. Remember the “Slappers only!” mode? What about paintball mode? Or the giant heads? The comedy of these features alone pretty much proves this game, and the platform was about fun, first.

One of the common concerns about kids playing video games is the isolating nature of some gameplay. Though contemporary craze of Fortnite might encourage online cooperation, kids probably aren’t all playing that game in the same room. The reason why the N64 was — and still is — so great is that the video game experience happens in a festive atmosphere, in real time and in real life.

As of late 2018, Nintendo has officially gone on record saying they have no immediate plans to release a new miniaturized version of the console or any of the N64 games. This surprised many fans and video game pundits since Nintendo saw such success in 2016 and 2017 with the re-releases of the NES min and the SNES mini. Essentially, everyone wants an N64 release, but until that happens, smart families will have to do what I did years ago and buy a used one online. One word of warning though. The really good games — like Mario Kart 64 — are still a little pricey, running you anywhere from 20 to 40 bucks. Meanwhile, a refurbished original N64 is anywhere from $80 to $140 bucks. But, all of that is simply because, even after more than twenty years, the literal value of those games and the console hasn’t depreciated at all.

This, if nothing else should be profound proof of why the N64 is perfect. After all, who would shell out $100 bucks for a used Wii or a Gamecube? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

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