Today marks 20 years since Nintendo first unleashed the N64 upon gamers in the UK, Europe and Australasia, on 1st March 1997. In a far cry from today’s release practices, the PAL N64 launched nine months behind the Japanese model, and six months behind North America’s release.
Much as it had with the SNES, Nintendo chose to enter the next generation console market late with the N64, arriving almost 18 months after its primary competitors, the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn. This gave it the most powerful machine on the market, and the machine would play host to some incredible games over the years – Super Mario 64, GoldenEye 007, The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time and more remain highly regarded games which defined their respective genres.
It was also a machine that went against the prevailing trends of the industry in many respects – in particular, the choice to stick with cartridges over moving to CDs, a decision that would ultimately lead to higher game prices and a lack of developer support. The machine’s unusual three-pronged control pad would never be replicated, but did help to establish analogue control sticks as a default control option for decades to come.
Having always been second in PAL regions, Nintendo might have hoped to capture the market for the first time given that its traditional rival Sega was faltering. However, the N64 struggled to gain a foothold early on; its £249.99 launch price was slashed to £149.99 by May of 1997, and then £99.99 by October 1997. This was in part due to the dominance of Sony, which had already established the PlayStation and was able to leverage major price advantages.
However, the system eventually gained traction and went on to sell 6.75 million units – a better performance than the machine’s dismal Japanese showing, but notably less than the 20 million units snapped up by consumers in North America. For more on the machine, check out our N64 hardware profile and top ten N64 games, and don’t forget that The N64 Book is still on sale for £9.99.