23 June 1996 (Japan), 29 Sep 1996 (USA), 1 Mar 1997 (RoW)
What's it like today?
The Nintendo 64 was initially scheduled for release by Christmas 1995, but didn't arrive until June 1996 for Japan, and September 1996 for North America, with a price tag of $199.99, which was deliberately marketed to be cheaper than rival consoles from Sony and Sega.
Technically, aspects of the N64 were ahead of its time, whilst architectural oversights ended up crippling an otherwise excellent console. Its graphics chip was capable of trilinear filtering which allowed textures to look very smooth compared to the Sega Saturn or Sony Playstation, which both used interpolation to determine changes in texture colour, ultimately making them looking more blocky. Unfortunately, due to Nintendo keeping with the cartridge-based ROM system for games, capacity on these cartridges became a limiting factor to the number of textures a game supported. Furthermore, the texture cache was only 4KB in size, which made it difficult to load anything but small, low colour-depth textures into the rendering engine.
Sales, however, were buoyant with 500,000 units being shipped in the first four months of its Japan release. Europe didn't get the N64 until March 1997.
As fifth generation games became more complex in content, sound and graphics, it pushed cartridges to the limits of their storage capacity. With N64 cartridges reaching a maximum size of 64MB compared to the Sony Playstation which used CD-ROMs that could store 650 MB. As a result, games ported from other consoles had to use data compression techniques or reduce their content to be released on the N64. Furthermore, it was much more cost-effective to use CD-ROMs than cartridges, with typical manufacturing costs at around ~$3.50 USD for an N64 cartridge versus $0.35 USD for a Playstation disc.
By 1998 most third-party developers switched to the Playstation, such as Square and Enix whose Final Fantasy VII and Dragon Warrior VII were initially pre-planned for the N64, while some who remained released fewer games to the Nintendo 64. Konami was the biggest example of this, releasing only thirteen N64 games but over fifty on the PlayStation. New Nintendo 64 game releases were infrequent while new games were coming out rapidly for the PlayStation. Most of the N64's biggest successes were developed by either Nintendo itself or by second-parties of Nintendo, such as Rare.
At this time, Nintendo finally released the 64DD ("Disk Drive" or "Dynamic Drive") as a peripheral for the Nintendo 64 game console. It plugged into the N64 through the EXTension Port on the Nintendo 64's underside, and allowed the N64 to use proprietary 64 MB magneto-optical disks for expanded data storage. Although it had been announced before the launch of the N64, the 64DD's development was lengthy. It was eventually released in Japan when the console was in its twilight years. Scheduled for North American release in 2000, it was a commercial failure, and was never released outside of Japan.
In 2000, Nintendo unveiled the "Funtastic" series in the USA, which consisted of a line of different colored N64s and lots of different controllers to go with them. What made these colored N64s neat was they were all transparent. Colors like red, green, blue and orange were available, as well as a transparent version of the standard dark gray N64. Even more funtastic flavors were released internationally as well - in Europe these were called "Colour Edition" models. Then, Nintendo went a step further. To cash in on the Pokemon craze, they released a special version of the N64 adorned with Pikachu on it. There was a pokeball to turn the console on, Pikachu's foot to reset it and Pikachu's cheeks would even light up while the console was powered up. This system was different enough from the standard N64 to be given a new model number, NUS-101. Strangely though, unlike most redesigned Nintendo systems, the Pikachu system is larger than the original N64. A special gold Zelda edition was also released, along with matching gold controller.
Despite the difficulties with third-parties, the N64 still managed to support popular games such as GoldenEye 007, giving it a long shelf-life. Much of this success was credited to Nintendo's strong first-party franchises, such as Mario, which had strong name brand appeal.
A total of 387 titles were released for the N64 during its lifetime.
Original Launch Titles:
Super Mario 64 and Pilot Wings 64 (Japan and US launches)
Saikyō Habu Shōgi (Japan launch only)