Moving Data –
Transferring data from one source to another is taken for granted today thanks to modern technology such has SD cards, USB flash drives, torrents, the internet, texting, instant music, movie and game downloads, and wireless communication. But back in early 2000, Nintendo took it upon themselves to create a way to transfer data from their dominated handheld market to their home console. The end result might have been a little clunky but resulted in some creative, albeit underused and underappreciated, gameplay elements.
Pokemon Stadium for the N64 launched in North America on February 29, 2000. In addition to launching on leap day, this flagship title also carried another exclusive quality – every copy of the game included the Transfer Pak. As a result, the Pokemon Stadium box was much bigger than the standard N64 game.
The Transfer Pak was a device that allowed Gameboy and Gameboy Color games to communicate with specifically designed N64 titles. About the size of a deck of cards, Gameboy and Gameboy Color games would slide into the back of the Transfer Pak just like any Gameboy hardware. Once a corresponding Gameboy game was inserted, the connection portion easily attached to the back on the N64 controller just like a Rumble or Controller Pak. Because of its size and shape, it made holding the controller a little awkward although it didn’t really add a game breaking amount of weight. The Transfer Pak did not require an additional power source unlike the use of two AAA batteries when using a Rumble Pak. The front of the unit featured the same gray color as the original N64 controller while the backside displayed a see-through plastic casing. To the ignorant gamer, the Transfer Pak could have a confusing appearance.
Nintendo has always had a firm grip on the handheld gaming market and perhaps it was strongest thanks to the popularity of Pokemon and lack of competition in the late 90’s. By the time Pokemon Stadium hit stores, gamers had been playing the original Red and Blue for well over a year. This allowed fans to build strong Pokemon teams and become familiar with the entire Pokemon roster and move set.
With this fact, the Transfer Pak was mostly used with the Pokemon Stadium although it was not required. Using this unique device allowed players to upload their battle hardened handheld Pokemon into Pokemon Stadium. Besides continuing the adventure on the big screen, players were also treated to seeing their pocket monsters in full 3D and were not mere pallet swaps. For example, two different Bulbasaurs might each be a different shade of green or have slightly different visual features although they are the same breed. And thanks to the GB Tower option, players could play their handheld Pokemon titles on a television screen similar to playing on a Super Gameboy or Gameboy Player. It is worth noting that only Pokemon titles were compatible with this feature. Further, Doduo and Dodrio Modes could be unlocked which allowed players to speed up the original Pokemon games when played through the Transfer Pak. Playing in 2x or 3x speed actually made the slow gameplay of the original Pokemon adventures much more tolerable.
Pokemon Stadium was the most used Transfer Pak compatible game. However, there were a handful of other U.S. released games that supported a transfer feature:
Mario Golf (N64) ~ Mario Golf (GBC)
Mario Tennis (N64) ~ Mario Tennis (GBC)
Mickey’s Speedway USA (N64) ~ Mickey’s Speedway USA (GBC)
Perfect Dark (N64) ~ Perfect Dark (GBC)
Pokemon Stadium (N64) ~ Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow versions (GB)
Pokemon Stadium 2 (N64) ~ Pokemon Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, Silver, Crystal (GB, GBC)
Mario Golf and Mario Tennis gave players the opportunity to import their male or female avatar into their respectable N64 versions. Although this was a welcomed feature, it didn’t work in the way you might expect. Mario Golf and Mario Tennis on GBC were basically RPG’s as the male or female avatar would gain experience and become better players the more the game is played. Point being, importing a low level character into Mario Tennis, for example, would result in challenging gameplay against the game’s AI especially on higher difficulty settings. In fact, unless a significant amount of time was spent leveling up your handheld characters, unbalance gameplay would result in a frustrating experience. Positively, experience earned when playing N64 game could be transferred back into the GBC game; just remember to properly transfer all corresponding data before you turn off the system. Negatively, characters are not saved in N64 version; they must be uploaded each time. And it should go without saying, but the Virtual Console re-release of these N64 titles on Wii did not include this Transfer Pak function. Transferring data between the Mario Tennis games also unlocked new courts in the N64 version and new playable Nintendo characters in the GBC version.
Perfect Dark, a well-received Rare developed FPS, also supported the Transfer Pak. If the GBC version was inserted into a Transfer Pak while the N64 version was powered on, four cheats were instantly unlocked: All Guns, Cloaking Device, Hurricane Fists, and R-Tracker/Weapon Cache Locations. However, these cheats can be unlocked during gameplay of the N64 version. This means using the Transfer Pak does not unlock any exclusive content unlike the Mario sports titles.
Rare originally had plans to use the Gameboy Camera peripheral with the N64 version of Perfect Dark. Players would take a picture of their face using the GB Camera then import these pictures onto a playable character in the N64 version. Unfortunately, this feature was scrapped because of the highly publicized Columbine High School shooting; there was too much negative press surrounding violent video games at the time. Years later, Ubisoft used this same idea in their Rainbow 6 titles on the Xbox 360 through use of the Xbox Live Vision Camera. Shooting your friends in their face, literally, definitely brought a new type of element to multiplayer.
In addition to being bundled with Pokemon Stadium, the Transfer Pak was available to purchase by itself for around $20. Online retailers like Amazon and eBay still sell the N64 transfer pak for around that same price too. But unlike N64 memory cards and rumble paks, there were no third party Transfer Paks produced. And if a Transfer Pak was inserted into the controller, a memory card or rumble pak could not be used.
The Transfer Pak was a novel and respectable concept for its time. Nintendo then took this idea to the next level with their following home console as players could connect their Gameboy Advances to a Gamecube for exclusive features and unlockables. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventure, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles made heavy use on GBA-to-GC connectivity. And when you think about it, the Wii U is latest culmination of this connectivity concept with the use of the touch screen controller.
If you had an N64, a Gameboy and an addiction to Pokemon, you probably used the Transfer Pak at some point. Since both an N64 and GBC game needed to be co-developed, it is no wonder as to why it wasn’t used more often. But dedicated gamers were able to use this quirky and forgotten Nintendo peripheral to make their gaming experience a little more unique and a little more enjoyable.
Not As Good As: the Gameboy Player
Also Try: linking a Neo Geo Pocket Color to a Dreamcast
Wait For It: Wii U games that directly connect with a 3DS