Despite the existence of functioning N64-to-PC ports with ray tracing, the ambition of homebrew software developers to target original hardware remains resolute, even 28 years after the release of Nintendo 64. From devs like Kaze Emanuar, pushing Super Mario 64 ROM hacks with ambitious 60 FPS engine rewrites, to the Smash Remix team expanding the first Smash Bros title into a glorious 30-character FFA, there’s no shortage of new games to run on real hardware in 2024.
It turns out Nintendo’s first 3D console is something of a sleeping giant, since it was the most powerful console of its age (graphics, storage speed) but plagued by limited cartridge capacity compared to CD-based consoles of the same era. Meanwhile, Sony PlayStation games could be played across multiple CDs, which ultimately led to the most ambitious multi-disc titles being limited to PS1 and PC despite less refined 3D graphics on Sony’s hardware.
Below, we’ve embedded a recent video from Kaze Emanuaur detailing key N64 texture limitations, and how working with them properly can net dramatically higher performance. Evidently, lots of performance was left on the table with Mario 64 at launch, but of course it was a launch title. Later N64 games like Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, and Majora’s Mask make better use of the hardware, but ultimately can’t come close to decades of mod development.
Finally, there have also been some promising developments using N64 hardware from outside of the Nintendo ROM hacking scene, but unfortunately not all of these efforts have been long-lived. The functioning Source engine-to-N64 port Portal 64, for example, was copyright struck not long after “The First Slice” went live. The same developer, James Lambert, also demonstrated functioning MegaTextures on N64 hardware, but more as a tech demo than anything else.
Before wrapping things up, it’s worth mentioning that all these crazy Mario 64 engine improvements on real hardware aren’t just limited to YouTube videos. At the time of writing, Kaze’s only public release using the new engine is “Peach’s Fury“, which is a Mario 64 ROM hack that takes on an open-world hub design inspired by the official “Bowser’s Fury” on Switch, complete with the engine improvements needed to make it a cohesive experience.