The influence of the N64 on video gaming cannot be overstated.
From a hardware standpoint, the console was the first to feature a controller that combined the traditional gamepad with a trigger button similar to a joystick. This feature is present on all current-generation systems and remains a gaming mainstay. Many features offered by N64 peripherals, such as rumbling controllers and connectivity with portable devices like the Game Boy, have also been incorporated into mainstream video gaming.
However, hardware also proved to be the system's downfall, as Sony's PlayStation console (pictured below) had debuted a year before the N64. With its more accessible disc-based hardware, the PlayStation was able to attract more developers and leave the cartridge-based N64 in the dust. Even so, the Nintendo 64 sold more than 19 million consoles during its production, beating out the Sega Saturn for second place.
The strength of the N64 always lay in its appeal to the core demographic of Nintendo fans. Nintendo recognized this, and subsequently began efforts to broaden its appeal with the launch of the Gamecube (below, left) in 2001. Yet it would not be until the release of the Wii (below, right) in 2007 that Nintendo would regain its superiority over the gaming industry.
With Nintendo now assuming the role of top dog in the video game market, I thought I could easily draw parallels between the "console wars" of today and those of the mid-90's. While Sega has long since given up on making consoles, Microsoft has risen up with its Xbox systems to replace it, and is in fact outselling Sony as of 2009.
This is appropriate, because I have noticed that Microsoft's plan of action with the Xbox and Xbox 360 has been remarkably similar to Nintendo's with the Nintendo 64. For one, Xboxes and Xbox 360s are now available in a variety of colors, just as the N64 was once upon a time. Another important similarity is Microsoft's use of in-house assets to create meaningful video games. One can easily see the shadows of GoldenEye and Zelda in Xbox games such as Halo and Fable. Microsoft has turned a few good games into staying power for its consoles, just as Nintendo did.