The 64 is 20!
On June 23, 1996, a whopping twenty years ago, the Nintendo 64 officially launched in Japan. It would make its way to American store shelves a few months later, but I'll get to that in a moment.

I was a Nintendo kid growing up. I was too poor to really enjoy the NES much beyond the Super Mario Bros. trilogy, but the SNES was my jam through high school. That system introduced me to my first taste of fighting games, RPGs, action platformers, and even space shooters. Some of my best memories involve renting games from Blockbuster Video and trying to beat them before I had to return them; I marathoned through Super Mario RPG and Donkey Kong Country 2 in just this fashion. The point is that I was hyped beyond hype for the system when I first read about "Project Reality" in GamePro magazine. Nintendo's going up to SIXTY-FOUR bits, take that PlayStation and Saturn! I got even more excited playing Crusin' USA and Killer Instinct in the local arcade, both games proudly blasting that "ULTRA 64" logo in their attract loops.

Then September rolls around. There's a Nintendo 64 demo unit in a Toys-R-Us with Super Mario 64 in the cartridge slot. I picked up the controller, and my mind was blown in a way that I have not experienced with any video game ever since. I decided right there that I had to have this game and this machine, no matter the cost.

The cost was about $300, and to be honest I can't remember where I got it from; I was a year out of high school, unemployed and basically doing nothing meaningful with my life at all. Yet on September 29 I was in a crowd of about seven people when Target opened that morning at 9 AM, all of us making a rapid beeline for the electronics section to pick up our Nintendo consoles.

Hours, days, weeks, and months passed by with me enraptured by Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Starfox 64, and even Shadows of the Empire. By late next year I would be on to the world of PlayStation thanks to Final Fantasy VII, but for a while everything was awesome when I held that batarang-shaped controller in my hands.

The Nintendo 64 would eventually die a slow death due to lack of content; no one apparently wanted to work with the limitations of cartridges when they could put full-motion video on a disc for absolutely no reason. As I said earlier, I had already moved on to the PlayStation world by the time the Rumble Pak and 64 DD were a thing, and I only experienced games like Perfect Dark and Banjo-Kazooie through brief rentals. The whole "fog" thing because of the sad draw distance also became a legendary source of mockery.

Still, what I'll always remember the most about the Nintendo 64 was that first impression. To date the N64 is the only game console that I've bought on launch day. To date Super Mario 64 is still the only game that left me with the impression that I must own it. I've been waiting my entire adult life for another game to wow me like that one did. Maybe one of those fancy VR headsets will do the trick? Who knows.

Happy birthday, Ultra 64.
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