On 1 March 1997, gamers in Europe and Australia were finally able to get their hands on the Nintendo 64 after what had felt like an eternity.
Japanese and North American gamers had gotten their hands on the system in June and September the prior year. And while social media may not have been around back then, extensive coverage in game magazines nevertheless reminded those of us in Europe and Australia that we were definitely missing out.
The European and Australian launches
Despite the wait, the European/Australian launch line-up did at least have a larger selection of day one games to choose from.
In addition to Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64 (which North America and Japan received at launch), Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey and FIFA Soccer 64 were also available.
Acclaim Entertainment’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter – which also celebrates its 20th anniversary this week – was released a few days later on 4 March 1997.
The N64 that was released in Europe and Australia is the PAL version, which uses the same hardware but is configured to run on the PAL television system that was primarily used in these regions at the time.
This didn’t make too much of a difference provided the games were optimised for the PAL N64. Sadly, many weren’t, resulting in versions of games that run 16% slower and are plagued by large black borders (to account for the larger screen resolution of PAL displays).
Worryingly, Nintendo was one of the worst offenders in this regard, releasing inferior versions of games like Wave Race 64 and F-Zero X. The company has somewhat rectified this in recent years by releasing the North American NTSC versions for download from its Wii U eShop in Europe.
The games that the PAL regions got
In total, 242 N64 games were officially released in PAL regions, although it’s important to note that a couple of these titles, Snowboard Kids 2 and Starcraft 64, were only released in Australia. The PAL regions only got seven games that weren’t released in North America, whereas North America got 61 that were never released Europe (59 when compared to Australia due to the above two games).
These titles were:
- AirBoarder 64 (also released in Japan)
- Centre Court Tennis (also released in Japan under the name, Let’s Smash)
- F-1 World Grand Prix II
- F1 Racing Championship
- Premier Manager 64
- Rakugakids (also released in Japan)
- Taz Express
The N64 in Europe and Australia today
You only have to look at the prices on eBay to see that the N64 remains a popular choice for collectors based in Europe and Australia.
Given the relatively small number of N64 games that were released in these regions (and in general), it’s possible that people are drawn to it nowadays because acquiring a full collection is a lot more achievable than for other systems. The fact that so many games were never converted to PAL has made returning to the system a lot more appealing, because importing NTSC games and systems has become easier and more affordable in many instances.
Specialist game retailers, in the UK at least, have picked up on this trend, and more and more of them have started to stock secondhand N64 products once again.
N64 owners can also get their hands on Krikzz’s EverDrive 64 flashcart, a cartridge that enables you to load a number of N64 games onto it via an SD card. The EverDrive 64 is region-free, meaning you no longer need to use an adapter to play NTSC or NTSC-J games.
The UltraHDMI N64 mod has also made its way to Europe at least, although the incredibly limited supply has meant that only a lucky handful of N64 gamers have managed to get their hands on one.
Do you remember the N64’s European or Australian launch?
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Want to know more about the history of the N64?
We took a closer look at the impact and legacy of Nintendo’s first 3D console last year in a post that marked the 20th anniversary of the N64’s original release.