After the proposed add on systems for the Super Nintendo had come to nothing, Nintendo had the task of trying to keep market share by creating a console with a new partner in Silicon Graphics, who were to provide a low cost, high performance graphics chip at the centre of the machine, other partners were NEC, who provided the CPU, and Toshiba and Sharp.
After a series of lengthy delays the machine finally launched in Japan first, where the machine did not sell well, failing to take on Sony and even slipping behind the Saturn, a major blow was losing their long time software collaborator in Square, who took their Final Fantasy series on to the Playstation, citing the lack of space and expense of producing a cartridge.
The public also found that after two years of movie style cut scenes in games, going back to static cartoon screens, and subtitles rather jarring due to the more restrictive medium.
Sales were much better in the US, where for a year the console easily slipped into second place behind the Playstation, on the strength of launch games such as the brilliant Super Mario 64, which took the 2D plumber into a rich, vibrant 3D world.
In Europe the machine had a very shaky start, the console cost much more than in other territories, retailing for £249.99, and the games were very expensive, the cheapest titles such as Pilotwings cost £49.99, already much higher than the CD games from Sony and Sega, but third party games such as Turok Dinosaur Hunter were as much as £69.99.
A hasty price cut to £149.99 revitalised sales, but apart from the very top titles such as Super Mario 64 and Wave Race 64, software sales remained sluggish.
In the second year, sales and software releases diminished, as third party companies moved away from Nintendo’s strict licensing.
Gradually though, in time, Nintendo gained ground on its competitors, overtaking the sales of the Saturn, as cartridge manufacturing costs came down, the software library was bolstered by more classic output from Nintendo, but the machine would find salvation in the output from Rare, who would produce some of the best games from the era, most notably Goldeneye 007, which would follow the film closely, and prove that consoles could do first person shooters very well, once the preserve of the PC.
Although a well loved retro console nowadays, the machine sold considerably less than the SNES, and left Nintendo with a considerable market share loss to Sony.
As of March 31, 2005, the N64 had sold 5.54 million units in Japan, 20.63 million in the Americas, and 6.75 million in other regions, for a total of 32.93 million units.