The N64 Encyclopedia book review

The N64’s software catalogue is just as fascinating as it was consistent. From the console’s release in 1996 (1997 in Europe) until its timely death in 2001, with the final release coinciding with the GameCube’s launch, the system saw a first-party release every few months, a couple of titles from Rare per annum, and a scant 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, and so they focused on quality over quantity.

This is 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 re-wrote the console FPS rulebook with the benchmark setting GoldenEye 007. Lest we forget, it’s also the console that both Super Smash Bros. and Animal Crossing were conceived on – two franchises that have helped the Switch shift millions of units.

Speaking of consistency, Chris Scullion’s latest encyclopedia is presented in the same uniform way as before – with this being the fourth in an ongoing series. This means every official release is covered, gaining at least a quarter of a page of coverage along with a bonus fact boxout and at least one screenshot.

US and European releases are bulked together, taking up the majority of pages, with the book’s backend covering every game from the 64DD add-on and every Japan-only release.

The subject of screenshots is worth touching on. Modern emulators are renowned for running N64 games in crystal-clear high definition, which doesn’t give a true representation. So rather than fill the pages with “bullshots” – a term not used often enough, frankly – Scullion has gone to lengths to capture images in the N64’s native resolution. They are, for the most part, identical in quality to the slightly fuzzy and grainy screenshots found in gaming magazines of the time.

Due to the N64’s library being smaller than that of the SNES and Mega Drive – two formats Scullion has covered in the past – more titles have been given a page to themselves. Most entries detail the game’s plot (if applicable), and what kind of gameplay mechanics were featured. Occasionally how well the game performed critically and commercially is mentioned, with the legendary N64 Magazine getting a couple of shoutouts. And rightly so.

Entries are well-researched, sometimes diving into a game’s development woes or a franchise’s history. It’s clear that Scullion played every title – even the tedious-looking sports sims, of which the N64 had a curiously large amount – instead of relying on hearsay and YouTube clips. That’s something always commendable, while also being noticeable throughout. Even when it comes to the text-heavy Japanese games, Scullion finds something noteworthy to say.  

Seeing the N64’s library laid out like this is pretty fascinating. While browsing its pages you’ll start to notice trends, such as how a trifactor of 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 just how few European exclusives the system had. The 64DD section wasn’t interesting as I had hoped, although that’s no fault of the author – this failed add-on had an infamously small library; one that comprised of niche art and design programs.

As small as it may be, the N64 still had a few hidden gems and lesser-known titles. Indeed, it’s easy to forget that in addition to games starring Super Mario, Link, and Pikachu, it had unique entries in the WipEout, Destruction Derby, and Road Rash franchises too. If you’re currently scratching your head while looking confused, this is one of the best possible ways to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with the N64 brilliant, and slightly bizarre, back catalogue.

The N64 Encyclopedia is available now in hardback. Written by Chris Scullion and published by White Owl. Expect to pay £25-£30.