Last summer I saved an N64 from an unwarranted death sentence. Its previous owner, with his newborn in his arms, was about to drop the console in the recycling bin. “Are you throwing that out?… Can I have it?” I asked. I could see the dilemma in his eyes. He was throwing away part of his youth. No doubt memories of he and his friends playing GoldenEye into the night entered his mind. He didn’t truly want to part ways with this classic machine, this purveyor of joy. He had to move on though. His life has new priorities and there will no more nights spent gathered around this nearly twenty year old piece of hardware. So he had let it go and just before it was about disappear into the abyss of recyclables I stepped in. He handed over what he now perceived as clutter and I clutched it to my chest and took it to its new home, along with the few games he was also about to destroy. I saw that little twinkle in his eye. He questioned his choice. He knew he couldn’t go back home with it. He knew it would just wind up in a box in the attic, slowly gathering dust. But when he saw how eager I was to take he wondered for a moment if maybe it wasn’t garbage, maybe it still had life, maybe it could still entertain.
This was not the first N64 I have saved from destruction and nor was it the last. After my obtaining my most recent one I took it home and saw that I now had what could be called a collection of N64s. This didn’t feel right. I had saved them from destruction, but not from the inevitable fate of being forever confined to the attic, or basement, or closet. I couldn’t care for all these systems. Sure, I could protect them from an unfitting demise, but they’re meant to be played with. They should be plugged in to a TV and be ready to play at a moments notice. I decided that my home was not where this newly acquired N64 belonged. So it went into my backpack, along with a selection of some of my favorite games, and we went to another’s home. When I arrived I handed it over to a friend of mine and saw that twinkle in his eye. Minutes later the console was sitting at the center of his coffee table, wires connecting us to it and it to the TV. The N64 was alive again.
This was months ago and that N64 still gets fired up every time I visit. It also gets a fair bit of use when I’m not there. The games show their age, most are a little clunky and blurry, but they are still a blast. We started with one of my most played games of its generation: Mario Kart 64. While the newest iteration of the franchise on the Wii U is arguably the best when it comes to racing no other Mario Kart has been able to match the battle mode of Mario Kart 64. We have spent numerous evenings firing shells, dropping banana peels and smashing into each other.
We have also played numerous rounds of Bomberman 64. When it was new I only had one friend who loved it as much as I did so it was always a struggle to get people to play. They didn’t like how far it strayed from the traditional 2D Bomberman formula. Perhaps 20 years of 3D gaming has changed expectations as now it’s one of the go to games. Despite our varied skill levels Bomberman 64 appeals to everyone. Its somewhat chaotic nature ensures there’s a few laughs every round and the controls hold up surprisingly well.
Rounds of Mario Golf, Starfox 64, GoldenEye, and numerous other games have become frequent. N64 was the first Nintendo console to have four controller ports so most multiplayer games support four players. The unexpected standout in this collection of forgotten classics is Dr. Mario 64. While Nintendo has released versions of the game on most consoles that have come since this is, to my knowledge, the only version that supports four players locally. This is absolutely baffling as each release is very similar. Apart from the visuals and a few gimmicks the game has not significantly changed since it was first released on the NES. Nintendo already knows how to implement a four player mode, yet every version that is currently available only supports two. Thus the N64 version remains the best way to enjoy the game with friends.
I have no shortage of modern hardware. I have current gen games on the shelves and hard drives just waiting to be played. In spite of this the pull of a system released in the mid nineties remains overwhelmingly strong.
Sometimes I get lost in nostalgia. I long for times gone by. While there are no shortage of moments I have no desire to revisit there were plenty of wondrous times spent with a few friends. I can’t go back to them and all things considered I don’t wish to, but those moments of joy hold a special place in my memory. These were some of the defining moments that shaped who I would become. The N64 is forever tied to my adolescence. It was a welcome distraction from the stresses of that time and a bonding experience with my friends. It helped to further cement my love of video games.
As a adult there are no shortage of challenges, but always a shortage of time. Finding a balance of work and play can seem nearly impossible. There is a never ending flow of new games and new forms of entertainment. With such a small amount of spare time to enjoy them how can one justify playing such an old system? For the man who let his go and gave it to me it is now forever part of his past. He will see it as a fond memory of his youth. He knew exactly what he had, but time and necessity had separated it from him. He thought that the joy it could bring existed only in the past. He was wrong.