Nintendo 64DD: Why Nintendo’s Forgotten N64 Add-On Failed

Nintendo 64DD
Nintendo 64DD

If you were a 90s kid excited about Nintendo’s upcoming N64 console, you likely read something somewhere about the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive, also known as the 64DD or DD64. Nintendo had lofty plans for the peripheral, as Shigeru Miyamoto stated in a 1997 interview with Earthbound creator Shigesato Itoi that “(The) DD was a better option than CD for expanding the range of gameplay.” Nintendo planned several games and even whole genres around what this magnetic floppy disk drive was going to do, and even saw the 64DD as an internet hub with connectivity for online gaming, shopping, and more.

Unfortunately, the 64DD never really got off the ground. A scant few games and expansion packs came out in Japan, but the long list of promised games and other goodies for the 64 Disk Drive were eventually released on traditional N64 cartridges, ported over to other systems, or in many cases, canceled altogether. The 64DD never set foot in the United States, save for a few prototypes.

So, what happened? Why did the Nintendo 64DD fail so spectacularly? Was this a sincere effort by Nintendo to expand on the potential of their new console, or was it a half-baked, half-hearted waste of time in the vein of Sega’s 32X or Sega CD? Let’s find out.


The Beginnings of the 64DD

Described by Nintendo as “the first writable bulk data storage device for a modern game console,” the dual storage “bulky drive” was announced by Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi at Nintendo’s 1995 Shoshinkai trade show. It was indicated that the storage solution for the N64 would be revealed fully at next year’s Shoshinkai show, and that it would launch at some point in 1997.

The first part of that promise held true, as the 1996 show saw a full announcement of the 64DD, complete with specs, promised sequels to games like Super Mario 64, announced original games such as Cabbage, and a variety of highly-touted projects from third-party developers like Konami, Enix, Capcom, and Rare.

So far, so promising.


A New World of Online Gaming

As exciting as all of that might have been, Nintendo’s biggest hope with the 64DD was to usher in an age of online gaming that would allow for the kind of multiplayer experience that’s commonplace nowadays. Several of the third parties working on projects for the Nintendo 64 disk drive were specifically working on Nintendo’s ambitions in this arena, with Ocean developing a multiplayer deathmatch mode for their upcoming Mission Impossible game, as well as SETA’s impending Ultimate War release.

Nintendo even considered partnering up with Netscape, at a time in which Netscape was one of the leading internet providers in the earliest days of mainstream online use, but nothing ultimately came of that.


How Did the 64DD Work?

The 64DD was a 64-megabyte Dynamic Drive with a writable magnetic disk drive that would attach to the bottom of your Nintendo 64, with the actual connection coming out of its EXT slot. The disks Nintendo would use with their device were similar to that of zip drives. Each disk would hold 64 megabytes of data with upwards of 38 megabytes worth of writable space. In addition to its online capabilities, the 64DD also had a special ROM-chip and 4MB RAM expansion.

The 64DD promised to be easier to develop for than the original N64, with Nintendo even planning for games that would connect to your Game Boy. From easy writability, to rapid-fire loading times, and even with the ability to create real time rendered cutscenes of the highest possible quality, the 64DD was Nintendo’s plan for a new level of development potential. Something that could adapt with the times, keep up with the success of the PlayStation, and establish an early foothold on the realm of digital gaming.

Then 1997 came along, and the 64DD was nowhere to be seen.


(Only) Homeward Bound

The 1997 release date for the Nintendo 64 Disk Drive never materialized. Nor did the device come out in 1998 either.

The 64DD seemed to enter a state of permanent limbo, and to this day no one is really sure for the specific reasons. Some speculate that Nintendo simply spread themselves too thin with the N64 and the 64DD, which soon became seemingly a victim of its own ambition. A lot of people point to the fact that Nintendo even managed to make their cartridges fit 64MB, so there was even less need for the 64DD by the time it came out.

This is evident in that as time went on, many of the games originally slated for the 64DD were released on the original N64. The biggest example of this being The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, but games like Donkey Kong 64 and Kirby 64 all originally began as N64 Disk Drive exclusives.

1999 nearly went by without a 64DD either, but finally, on December 11th, 1999, the Nintendo 64DD was released in Japan exclusively. By this point, Nintendo made it clear that the add-on would not launch in the west unless enough N64 users in Japan signed up for the DD’s subscription service Randnet, which would offer online connectivity and access to the games themselves over the next several months. Given the N64’s extreme unpopularity in Japan, no one felt optimistic about the 64DD’s chances.

The games themselves were interesting, but the F-Zero X Expansion Kit and titles in the Mario Artist series just weren’t enough to get people in Japan interested. With an estimated 15,000 subscribers to the Randnet service, it can be estimated that the 64DD itself sold roughly that many units. Planned features like an NES emulator, beta testing upcoming games, and an online Battle Mode between players never came to fruition.

Only ten disks were released for the Nintendo 64DD, and one of them wasn’t even a game.


The Legacy of the 64DD

The 64DD was an interesting idea, but was discontinued in February 2001, and by then, Nintendo was fully focused on the GameCube and Game Boy Advance. People generally forgot about the 64DD, although its 4MB RAM expansion feature became a popular add-on for the N64 all over the world.

Even today, the failure of the 64DD is still shrouded in some degree of mystery, but we can speculate on possibilities. Poor third-party support, the simple fact that CDs should have always been Nintendo’s focus, and other factors can be considered, but we’ll never know for sure.

But what we can see are examples of its legacy over the many years since its demise. Both Animal Crossing and Nintendogs initially began life as projects for the 64DD. Personal avatar creators were first attempted with the original Famicom, but it was with the release of Mario Artist: Talent Studio that the concept was fully realized, and is to this day part of every generation of Nintendo console releases.

So, while the Nintendo 64DD flopped, its ambition and ideas were interesting, and it did provide a glimpse into not only Nintendo’s ideal future, but the future of gaming itself. CDs and DVDs were the future, but you can’t blame Nintendo for trying to stick to their guns.

Well, maybe you could, but everything worked out for them in the end.

READ MORE: 15 Most Expensive and Rarest N64 Games of All Time

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