I first saw the Nintendo 64 in-person at a friend’s house. They had managed to get one near the launch, and I was infinitely jealous, like any child would have been. It’s a very annoying feeling. Suddenly, everything I owned at that point wasn’t quite worth it. No matter how many games I played on the Super Nintendo, the N64 was still beyond my reach. And that meant that I needed it more than I needed anything else in my then-short life.
Of course, I asked my parents for one. I remember my mom saying that there was no way I could get one, since the N64’s launch of September ’96 was already a month after my birthday. My dad, hearing this, basically decided that no son of his would go without the latest and greatest thing, and thus he decided that I would get a N64 the next day.
I think my dad was more excited than I was, to be honest. He was always a fan of gadgets and technology. Hell, he bought my mom a Nintendo Entertainment System back when they were still dating. From what I know, apparently one of the barbacks at the bar my dad worked at was ranting and raving about how awesome Super Mario Bros. was, and that got my dad interested. Oddly enough, this was where he drew the line with buying games and playing them himself, since he didn’t buy much else until I was born.
My dad didn’t necessarily care about video games on their own. He cared because I cared.
The next day, I got to go to Montgomery Ward to get a N64. I don’t quite know why we went there to get it, but I’m sure it had something to do with my mom shopping around for the best prices. She always had a knack for finding sales, and just as much of a knack for refusing to buy things when they weren’t on sale. I know that if she had been mistaken and the Nintendo 64s were priced $5 higher than whatever catalog had listed prices, I probably wouldn’t have gone home with a console that day.
Of course, my dad bought the everloving hell out of the last Nintendo 64 in the store. We had a choice of two games: Super Mario 64, or Pilotwings 64. I chose the former, because I wasn’t an idiot.
Now, Pilotwings 64 was a great game. It just had the distinction of being the “other” launch title for the N64. As in, it was the one that people either bought second or not at all. Mario 64 was groundbreaking. Pilotwings was, essentially, a sports game, which eventually get relegated to bargain bins and dust-covered shelves.
I remember booting up Mario 64 for the first time very distinctly. My dad had a lot of trouble hooking the console up because getting to the composite AV ports on the back of our rear-projection TV was such a back-breaking effort that I almost mean that in a literal sense.
My dad, a man who said “Fuck you.” to doctors who said he would never walk again after having his spine crushed by a fuel tank in the Marine Corps, a man who threw his wheelchair out into a busy intersection of South Boston once he found out that he wasn’t completely paralyzed from the waist down, was more or less beaten by a poorly-placed AV port on the back of a television. Luckily he wasn’t hurt too badly. We solved this problem in the traditional way, by never hooking up the N64 to another television in the house ever again.
Super Mario 64’s opening is what my dad loved the most about the game. Hearing the “It’s-a me, Mario!” voice clip must have been more amazing for him than it was for me. Yes, video games had voice before this. But Mario didn’t, at least not on a home console. That opening line paved the way for a truly next-generation experience that was a real step above what was capable on Nintendo’s other consoles.
The N64 controller took a lot of getting used to. I remember taking a while to get used to the fact that the analog stick controlled movement, not the D-pad.
I don’t really play Mario 64 anymore. It’s still a great game, it’s just one that hasn’t aged as gracefully as other Mario games. I always think of my dad when I do find the time to play it, though. And looking at the Nintendo 64 kind of makes me wish that Montgomery Ward didn’t go bankrupt…