N64 Encyclopedia book review – Games Asylum
The N64’s software catalog is equally fascinating and coherent. From the console’s release in 1996 (1997 in Europe) until its timely death in 2001, the final release coinciding with the launch of the GameCube, the system saw a first-party release every few months, a few titles from Rare per year, and a handful of third-party releases – of wildly varying quality – per month.
As the author of this comprehensive tome points out, Nintendo knew even before launch that a steady supply of software was going to be an issue, so they focused on quality over quantity.
It’s the system that gave us Super Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time – two games still often referred to as the greatest of all time – and rewrote the console’s FPS rulebook with the benchmark GoldenEye setting. 007. Let’s not forget, this is also the console on which Super Smash Bros. and Animal Crossing were conceived – two franchises that helped the Switch move millions of units.
Speaking of consistency, Chris Scullion’s latest encyclopedia is laid out in the same uniform fashion as before – it’s the fourth in an ongoing series. This means that every official release is covered, earning at least a quarter-page cover with a bonus sidebar and at least one screenshot.
US and European releases are grouped together, taking up the majority of the pages, with the backend of the book covering all 64DD add-on games and all Japanese-only releases.
The subject of screenshots deserves to be addressed. Modern emulators are famous for running N64 games in crystal clear high definition, which does not give a faithful representation. So rather than filling the pages with “bullshots” – a term not used often enough, frankly – Scullion went to great lengths to capture images in the N64’s native resolution. They are, for the most part, of identical quality to the slightly blurry and grainy screenshots found in gaming magazines of the time.
Since the N64’s library is smaller than that of the SNES and Mega Drive – two formats Scullion has covered in the past – more titles were given a page to themselves. Most entries detail the plot of the game (if any) and the type of game mechanics featured. Occasionally, the game’s critical and commercial performance is mentioned, with the legendary N64 Magazine receiving some shout-outs. And rightly so.
Entries are well-researched, sometimes delving into a game’s development issues or a franchise’s history. It’s clear that Scullion played all the titles – even the tedious sports sims, of which the N64 had a curiously large amount – instead of relying on hearsay and YouTube clips. It is something that is always commendable, while being noticeable everywhere. Even when it comes to text-heavy Japanese games, Scullion finds something remarkable to say.
Seeing the N64 library laid out like this is quite fascinating. As you scroll through its pages, you’ll start to notice patterns, such as how a trifactor from THQ, Midway, and Acclaim was responsible for a huge proportion of the library. It’s also interesting to see which games never left Japan and how few European exclusives the system had. The 64DD section wasn’t as interesting as I’d hoped, although that’s not the author’s fault – this failed add-on had a sadly small library; one that included niche art and design programs.
Small as it was, the N64 still had some hidden gems and lesser-known titles. Indeed, it’s easy to forget that in addition to games featuring Super Mario, Link, and Pikachu, it also had unique entries in the WipEout, Destruction Derby, and Road Rash franchises. If you’re currently scratching your head while looking confused, this is one of the best possible ways to familiarize yourself (or reacquaint yourself) with the brilliant and slightly weird N64 catalog.
The N64 Encyclopedia is now available in hardcover. Written by Chris Scullion and published by white owl. Expect to pay £25 to £30.