Why We Won't Get An N64 Classic This Year

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By Vishaal Bedi

A few months ago, I outlined 17 N64 games that I felt were worthy of being on an eventual Nintendo 64 Classic. At that time, my assumption was that Nintendo would follow a similar approach to how they handled the Super Nintendo Classic with a formal announcement in June, pre-orders taking place at some point in late August, followed by a release around the end of September.

Given the complete silence from Nintendo around the Nintendo 64 Classic, it’s become clear that the likelihood of an N64 Classic being released for holiday 2018 is looking bleak at best. Traditionally, Nintendo releases these classic editions around the holiday season, and despite the rumours circling in the last week or so following a trademark registration, it’s probably too late for a release this year.

It’s possible Nintendo could do what they did with the original NES Classic and just announce it and release it a short time later, but given the chaos that ensued and anger from fans unable to secure a unit, it’s unlikely that Nintendo will make that mistake again.

The month of November will be dedicated to the release of Pokémon: Let’s Go. December will belong to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I don’t see any real opportunity to release the N64 Classic during those months, especially if it could interfere with sales of both of those games.

So the question we’re left with is why didn’t Nintendo release a Nintendo 64 Classic this year? Here are a few possible reasons:

1. Hardware Issues

The Nintendo 64 was the first 3D Nintendo console and as such, the N64 controller included an analogue stick and a very funky controller design to help navigate the 3D worlds that graced the system. The console itself can be shrunk down into a “mini” format, however, the N64 controller sizes have to retain their original size. Those pads are much larger and thicker than their NES and SNES counterparts, presenting somewhat of a challenge when trying to package a ‘Classic Mini’ edition.

Another issue is that the N64 was the first, true party system with four controller ports. In my opinion, the N64 Classic needs to come bundled with at least 2 controllers (if not all 4) and that only further increases the bulkiness of the entire package, not to mention the associated costs. Nintendo would have to manufacture plenty of extra controllers for N64 Mini fans to snap up. The NES Classic, as well as suffering from shortages itself, also had second controllers to purchase that were tough to come by.

For the N64 Classic to truly work - especially if its library includes the likes of Mario Kart 64 and Mario Party, then extra controllers will have to be readily available. That’s a significant manufacturing undertaking that Nintendo may be reluctant to pursue, especially when they want to ensure there’s enough Switch units on offer at Christmas this year.

2. Software Issues

So far as games go, the N64 had some truly stellar first party offerings. Groundbreaking games such as Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time are still highly regarded to this day. Unfortunately, when it comes to the system’s third party gems, many of those iconic games may not be able to grace an N64 Classic due to licensing issues.

Rare, the company that created Banjo-Kazooie, Banjo-Tooie, and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, amongst others, now belongs to Microsoft. There would have to be some agreement between the two companies to allow Nintendo to use those games. Xbox head honcho Phil Spencer has indicated that he is open to having Banjo-Kazooie appear in the latest Smash Bros game, so there may be hope for a deal to get these iconic Rare titles as part of the N64 Classic’s library.

Goldeneye (also by Rare), would likely also need to get licensing approval, no easy task considering nobody really knows who owns the rights to the game - Nintendo or Rare - not to mention that nobody actually owns the licensing for James Bond video games right now. Popular wrestling games such as WWF Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF No Mercy would also have similar issues.

It’s hard to imagine an N64 Classic without a few of these iconic franchises. It’s possible Nintendo is working through these licensing issues, in part causing the delay, but that may just be wishful thinking on our part. Fingers crossed Nintendo is able to get all the licensing issues sorted out so that us happy N64 kids can relive those magical childhood memories.

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3. NES and SNES Classics

Who remembers how the NES Classic was handled by Nintendo? For those that didn’t get their hands on one during its surprising - and very short - release in 2016, I’m sure you have some not-so-fond memories. I remember reading an article online that Nintendo had “quietly” announced a retro NES Classic that was to be released on 11 November 2016.

There was no information about pre-orders, and upon visiting a local EBgames, I was met with a “we don’t have any information on how many units we’ll be getting”. All I was told is that security would be opening the mall earlier and that the best way to guarantee that I got a unit was to come as early as possible and stand in line. I had to reach my local mall around 8am and even then, was lucky to get my hands on one as my store only had 17 units - more than some Walmart locations received.

To make matters worse, Nintendo announced the NES Classic would only be available until the end of the year, meaning most people never managed to pick one up. Given the uproar and backlash from fans, Nintendo (intelligently) decided to do pre-orders for the SNES Classic in August 2017 – not that this was any easier for me.

I still remember receiving the email saying pre-orders were now available and could only be completed in stores. By the time I reached my local EBgames, all pre-orders were sold out. That led to a frantic couple of hours hitting as many EBgames as I could, eventually landing one of the last 5 units that were available at another mall.

Let me tell you a secret about me – I rarely, if ever, run. Especially at malls. This was the first time that I can recall running as an adult - from my car, into the mall, all the way until I got in line at EBgames. Even then I was trying to ask people what they were in line for, which obviously turned out to be the SNES Classic as well.

I tell you this story to demonstrate that even with pre-orders, it was difficult to get your hands on a SNES Classic, with shipments usually sold out within a minute or two. Nintendo then announced that they would continue production of the SNES Classic into 2018, and that they would be bringing back the NES Classic during the summer of 2018.

Why is all this relevant to an N64 Classic? My feeling is that Nintendo is focused on production of the NES and SNES Classic for the remainder of 2018 and don’t want to disrupt production and sales for those units until their production runs are complete by the end of the year. Nintendo is more likely to ride the high popularity and sales of both the NES and SNES Classic in 2018, and then hopefully announce the Nintendo 64 Classic sometime during summer 2019. With any luck this will give them ample time to sort out the hardware and software issues noted above.

The Nintendo 64 will always have a special place in my heart as my first Nintendo console, and I had high hopes of being able to play a classic edition of that system with my friends and relieve all those childhood memories this year. They say patience is a virtue and for now, we’ll just have to enjoy blowing into our old school N64 cartridges, and adjusting those wonky A/V composite cables.

Vishaal has a background in Engineering, advocating for users through design research and storytelling. The Nintendo 64 was his first Nintendo console and he’s been a Nintendo kid at heart ever since. His favourite Nintendo game is Super Mario Galaxy 2.

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