The Nintendo 64 was the very first certifiable party game console. In the west, Nintendo's little black box started out with that familiar cute yet cool vibe that Nintendo consoles traditionally touted, but within a year on the market, the N64 took on a hard edge of badass marketing and college dorm party game cred that no Nintendo console to date has ever even attempted to match.
Here's a little fact that most people don't know. The Nintendo 64 was a dud in Japan. Even the biggest N64 titles didn't manage to often break two million sales in Japan. Super Mario 64 sold barely over 1.8 millions units in Japan. In North America it pushed nearly ten million. The N64 may not have dethroned the PlayStation empire here in the US, but it was very successful. Much of that success came from the N64′s legacy as the "Party Machine." Many people chose a PlayStation as their home console of choice thanks to its staggering amount of single player classics, but when you wanted to party, you grabbed a Nintendo 64 controller – be it yours or a friend's. N64 was the party machine of the decade.
The N64′s western popularity revolved around its multiplayer library. It was the first console to include four controller ports without the need for an adapter. Multi-controller adapters (or "multi-tap") were a hurdle that always stood in the way of competitive games taking on a more communal aspect. There's a strong subconscious difference between a 2-player game and a 4-player game. Two-player games tend to take on a more head-to-head approach, while games that offer fun for four players and up often transform into team games, party games, or outright brawls. In the pre-online era, the Nintendo broke that social wall and transformed home console games into communal events. Let's take a look at some of the Nintendo 64′s most vital assets that made it the console of choice for party players of the 90s…
Mario Kart 64 & Diddy Kong Racing
These two party games both landed at opposite ends of 1997. The N64 was the console that made kart racers a permanent part of the gaming landscape, but no two ever had a stronger impact than Diddy Kong Racing and Mario Kart 64. The thing that made these two kart racers penultimate party games were their battle modes. While Mario Kart's balloon popping battle mode has deteriorated with age, 1997 was the feature's banner year. Mario Kart 64 had the immortal Block Fort (which returned in Mario Kart DS), and Diddy Kong Racing had the chilling Icicle Pyramid. Each game offered unique handling, weapons, style, and content. The better game is decided best by the individual, but no one can argue that there was any better year to date for kart racing than 1997.
N64 Wrestling Games:
One of Nintendo's biggest assets in the West during the late 90s was the feud between Vince McMahon's WWF and Ted Turner's WCW. Each wrestling federation had originally aligned themselves with a different video game publisher. The WWF had Acclaim and the WCW had THQ. For a brief time, THQ wound up producing games for both series in 1999 until the WWF consumed WCW not long after. While there were PlayStation versions of most of these games, most of those versions lacked 4-player support. Tag-Team matches on N64 were the center of many a drunken night of cursing, drinking, and yelling in the homes of people throughout the late 90s. No console had ever captured that style of insanity until the Nintendo 64.
Nintendo unveiled their sadistic side with F-Zero X. Nintendo's sci-fi thriller had a lot in common with professional wrestling culture in its presentation. The driver attitude and crazy costumes were over the top, the soundtrack was screaming metal driving music, and the action was deadly. The biggest complaint about the original F-Zero for Super Nintendo was that being a launch title, it lacked a multiplayer mode. Nobody got dual Mode 7 working on the SNES until Super Mario Kart, so F-Zero missed out. Boy, did F-Zero X make up for that omission. Very rarely did anybody actually cross the finish line in an F-Zero X multiplayer bash. Most multiplayer races ended in a fiery ball of explosions, smoke, and rampant cursing. People flying off tracks, buddies getting smacked for revenge, and the almighty slot machine revenge gimmick (where K.O.'d racers could run a slot machine to bestow all kinds of misfortune on their remaining combatants) resulted in a fire bomb of multiplayer insanity. Combine that with one of the 32/64-bit generation's only games to maintain 60fps in multiplayer mode. F-Zero X is a hard racing game to beat.
Many simply acknowledge GoldenEye's success as only being due to its status as the fist "good" console FPS, but it was more than that. GoldenEye wasn't really a hardcore multiplayer shooter. Anybody could play thanks to the targeting assist features. If the player could get the crosshairs in the general vicinity of their opponent's body, the game would automatically line up the shot for them. Of course, hardcore players could turn the assist features off, but that's besides the point. Goldeneye also had the advantage of not taking itself too seriously. Rocket launchers, golden guns, and "hide the remote mine under the door" were all great ways to get a laugh. GoldenEye was the college dorm multiplayer phenomenon it was thanks to it being a casual shooter anybody could play, but with a hardcore edge. Current day shooters franchises like Call of Duty aren't quite so newbie friendly.
Super Smash Bros.
Before Brawl, and before Melee, Super Smash Bros. was the original madhouse of multiplayer mayhem. This was a controller breaker if there ever was one. With their "Get N or Get Out" campaign, Nintendo took on an attitude that they haven't taken on since, and to celebrate the occasion, their biggest stars gathered in one of the most wild controller hurling multiplayer bashes of all time. Never before had people even imagined being able to take Mario and Pikachu and have them beat the royal living hell out of each other. It was a truly satisfying experience, and even with its low budget, lots of little bits of fan service were tucked within that cartridge. While bigger things were to come for Smash Bros., the original will always have a place in the homes of the Nintendo 64 generation.
Mario Party 1 & 2
Mario Party was a game you played with people who you either knew really well that didn't take things personally, or with people you quickly wanted to make enemies out of. Basically, Mario Party was a cheater's dreamland. In the first two installments, the mini-games were elaborate, clever, and original. The "Super Mario board game" concept was hilarious, and the 4-player action was laugh out loud funny. Mario Party was a great concept that originally got run into the ground, but the first two titles for N64 are among the system's best games. But heaven help you if there were any CPU players in the game and Peach wound up on the board. That bitch wins every time. No matter what you do, Peach will win. Seriously, if she shows up, just hit reset and save yourself the anger and pain.