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What Went Wrong With The Nintendo 64?

by Sean P. Aune | March 9, 2010March 9, 2010 8:10 am PDT

Nintendo’s third home console system was called the Nintendo 64, and while it certainly wasn’t a flop, it sticks out as one of the oddest choices in gaming history for why a company decided to stick with a dying format.

While both the original Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Nintendo consoles had been based on cartridges, it was somewhat assumed that Nintendo would switch over to optical discs for its next system due to the Saga Saturn and Sony PlayStation had gone the CD route.  While some people bemoaned the load times of CD-based media, the amount of storage and renderings the format could hold made up for it compared to the carts.  Designers found it limiting because the amount of memory it could hold, but Nintendo stuck by its guns and designed  its third console around it.

n64controllerBeyond limiting the amount of data that could be held, there was also a problem with the production costs of a ROM-based cartridge. I remember reading a newspaper story back at the time that showed carts could run as high as $15 to make, PlayStation discs cost only cents to replicate.  This pushed the cost of some cartridges into the range of $70 to $80, nearly pricing them out of the market.

Beyond the cartridge issue, there was also the controller which always got mixed reviews.  I always thought it looked like a Batarang, but all I know is it was very limited in who could comfortably hold it, and I was not one of those people.

As I said, none of this is to say that the N64 was a flop, it still sold 32.93 million units worldwide (PDF link), but seeing as the Super Nintendo sold 49.10 million, that was quite a slide in sales.  Don’t worry folks, the GameCube did even worse, because, as you know, everyone was super excited for Nintendo to make another odd format choice.

What did you think of the N64?  Did Nintendo mess up by going with carts?  Did the controller always strike you as a bit odd?

Sean P. Aune

Sean P. Aune has been a professional technology blogger since July 2007, but his love of tech dates back to at least 1976 when his parents bought...