Secrets of the N64 Expansion Pak by Punching Weight

When this video about the Nintendo 64 came up in my feed I gave it a look and I must say, that’s a face I haven’t seen in a while. It’s Derek, the Happy Video Game Nerd! I remember watching his stuff about ten years ago and then I thought he retired but it’s good to see he’s still around.

In this video, he talks about the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak and how it affects all the different games on the system. I must say that a lot of effort went into this video, he goes through finding footage of all these games in both Expansion Pak versions and the corresponding Jumper Pak version. He starts off by going through the Expansion Pak exclusive games, then the games that have separate game modes and finally games that just have some graphic/texture differences.

Enough talk, let’s get to the video ūüôā

transcript

The Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak… is a piece of junk, almost completely useless and sold on a bed of lies!

But I’m still gonna find a few awesome things with this little guy, because this is Punching Weight – a celebration of the weird, ambitious and unnecessary, and the N64 Red Top here is all three of those things! So whether you’re a hardcore collector or just interested in weird Nintendo peripherals, strap in, because we are going to take a deep, deep dive into the Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak.

But first, a shout-out to our Patreon supporters! This is a Patreon-supported show, stick around to the end of the video to see all of the people that made this show possible!

On with the show!

So just what is the Expansion Pak? It is a peripheral that replaces the stock Jumper Pak, and boosts the power of the Nintendo 64, doubling the RAM with an additional four megs of power! It’s easy to think this is the product of a bygone era, like the Sega CD or the 32X. Yes, they made dual versions of that.

But how different is it really from the Xbox One X, PlayStation 4 Pro or S model iPhones? Well… except this is a hell of a lot cheaper. But really, this is classic Nintendo! They love upgrading their stuff! The NES Top Loader, the Super Game Boy, the DS, the 3DS, the New 3DS, don’t forget about all the Game Boys, I mean, the reason the Wii U failed was because everyone thought it was just a tablet upgrade for the Wii! Which, yeah, I guess in a way it was, but let’s stay focused.

The Expansion Pak was salvaged from the 64DD, meaning this thing was created for something entirely else! Perhaps this is why so few games used it,and those games that did didn’t really benefit much from the extra juice.

How do you use the Expansion Pak? Well, on the front of every system is a little hatch with a tiny cartridge. This is the Jumper Pak, a.k.a TERMINATOR PAK. I’m not kidding, that’s what it actually says in Japanese on the front there.

Pry that thang out with the official Nintendo plastic thingy, or failing that, a screwdriver or table knife, and slide in the old Red Top, and bam! Your Nintendo 64 has now been supercharged! … except it hasn’t.

The sole purpose of the Jumper Pak is to allow the system to boot without the Expansion Pak. I’m not kidding, this thing might as well be empty.

Now, with it being designed this way, you’d think naturally most of the library supports it, so before we get into what the Red Top does, here’s what it does not do:
It does not improve any non-compatible game. It will not improve the framerates of GoldenEye or Smash Bros., or improve your Mario 64 speedrun.

However, it functions like a normal Jumper Pak in those situations, so you don’t need to worry about swapping paks, which Nintendo actually encourages you not to do. Though it’s probably still worth hanging on to your original Jumper Pak, just in case. More on that later.

The Nintendo 64 Expansion Pak will also not tell you where to suck it, like professional wrestler X-Pac. So that covers the non-compatible games, what about the compatible games?

In North America, just over sixty games are compatible with the Red Top. Now, I know that doesn’t sound very impressive, hold on, it’s actually even less impressive than that. The most common enhancement was an increase in resolution and texture quality, but at the cost of framerate: Games would look better but run worse.

Bad news for a library of games that already had huge issues with chug. You’re usually better off leaving the high-rez options alone. This is the case for most of the Turok and Star Wars games, as well as a few sports games. There are a few edge cases, like South Park and Duke Nukem: Zero Hour having the option to improve either the resolution or framerate.

Other games improve graphics in different ways: World is Not Enough, a.k.a. 007 TWINE!! offers a high-color mode, and Quake II 64 offers more colors and a small bump to the framerate.

But some of these games are still N64 exclusives, so the extra graphical options are still an interesting little novelty. They’re not really worth getting into, but it’s cool!

However, a few compatible games were ported to other, beefier systems, like the Dreamcast, PS2 and PC which today makes the graphics bump not as meaningful. But I’m sure at the time, it kept the N64 in the conversation as newer systems arrived on the market. In fact, the more I think about the Expansion Pak, the clearer it becomes that it was just marketing BS, another example of gaming’s tired but still-marketable pursuit of graphics over everything. So I’ll be honest, you’d be forgiven if you wrote this thing off completely, but digging deeper, the Expansion Pak still finds itself in the middle of some mysterious and fascinating stuff!

So enough fartin’ around, it’s time to really get into the mud!

The Red Top had a more interesting and complicated relationship with a handful of games, enough to justify its existence. Still wouldn’t say this is one of Nintendo’s best products, but… man, you know I love this kinda stuff! I had to make a video about it!

And before we get too much further, for the record, we’re capturing all gameplay footage off the original hardware, with the standard composite cables. No emulation for this video!

Not that we have any issue with emulation, but for this video it was important to get the real thing, just for the sake of due diligence ‘n journalism! And of course, we need to start our deep dive into the Expansion Pak with the three games that required it: DK64, Majora’s Mask and Perfect Dark.

First off, DK64. Here in the States it was the only N64 game bundled with the Expansion Pak — that’s how I got mine. Elsewhere in the world, it was also bundled with Perfect Dark and Majora’s Mask, but here in the States, it was only bundled with DK64.

By itself, the Expansion Pak retailed for $30, maybe more depending on your region, which made the bundle a pretty good deal! It also came with a Jumper Pak Ejector Tool, and an instruction book that referred to this hunk of plastic as the Jumper Pak Ejector Tool.

Yeah, that snazzy red top doesn’t actually make it any easier to remove from the system. For fun, here’s what DK64 looks like when you try and play it with the Jumper Pak. Yep, just this screen and nothing else. Could’ve at least let us listen to the DK Rap!

DK64 was advertised as a game so massive, it needed the Expansion Pak just to fit it all in!

ANNOUNCER: “It’s so big, we included an Expansion Pak to get it all in!”

And it was a really big game! Many would argue too big,but it also housed some fancy lighting and decent framerate. However, it’s worth noting that Rare’s follow-up platformers, Banjo-Tooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day, released in 2000 and 2001 respectively, were also pretty massive games with impressive graphics that not only didn’t require, but didn’t even USE the Expansion Pak!

So what gives?

DK64 was Nintendo’s big holiday game for 1999. Nintendo expected it to do Ocarina of Time numbers, and was given a massive advertising budget. The advertising was effective: All this time I genuinely thought it was so big it needed the Expansion Pak to run!

ANNOUNCER: “This is the first game to require the use of the N64 Expansion Pak!”

Yeah yeah yeah… but it just turns out that was all marketing spin. In reality, there was a game-breaking bug that Rare could not fix. The real reason DK64 required the Expansion Pak was that it was an easier fix for this bug that randomly crashed the game.

It was a costly solution, but Nintendo needed their holiday hit. Delaying the game was out of the question. And also, the Expansion Pak didn’t even fix the bug, only severely mitigated it: If left on for upwards to ten hours, the game will still crash. This really isn’t a problem for N64 owners, however, for emulation and Virtual Console players using save states instead of saving and exiting the game like you normally would, this is still a problem.

The bug is apparently due to memory leakage, and may have been the result of an unseasoned development team within Rare. It’s true that Rare as a company made some incredible games for the system, but for most of the DK64 development team, this was their first N64 game.

According to some serious tea spilled by the members of the Conker’s Bad Fur Day team, their game didn’t need the Expansion Pak because they did a much better job optimizing the graphics than the DK64 team.

SEAVOR: “Donkey Kong 64… they did use it, didn’t they?”

MARLOW: “Indeed they did! They had to use it!”

SEAVOR: “Which means that we did a much better job of optimizing the game!”

MARLOW: “There’s also a good story behind why that happened.”

Whoo! Damn, that is some serious shade!

Anyway, this leaves in two places: Either the Expansion Pak just fixes the bug, or it does more than fix the bug. If the problem solely was the bug, then… technically, DK64 can run with the standard Jumper Pak. Theoretically, if some genius could hack the system with a GameShark or something like that, or get around the check for the Expansion Pak at startup, the game would run just fine!

I mean, it would probably still crash all the time,but if it’s true that it just fixed the bug, it shouldn’t need the extra RAM to run, and the Expansion Pak… even more useless than I thought.

But here’s what I can’t figure out: DK64 was released November 1999, but the announcement that it would require the Expansion Pak came in May, six months earlier. Six months!! And there’s no telling when that decision was made internally at Nintendo. Now, I’m no programmer, but that’s not exactly the eleventh hour.

If the Expansion Pak just fixes the bug, that means, with at least six months of development left, nobody said: “Well, since we have to use the Expansion Pak, might as well beef up the graphics and framerate while we’re at it.”

Now, it’s totally possible that no-one said that, but when the truth came out about the bug, the world seemed to declare “Okay, case closed!”, but there are still mysteries yet to be solved with DK64.

And one last thing: People are too harsh on this game! It definitely ain’t no masterpiece, and probably the weakest of Rare’s N64 platformers, but this deserves a remaster and a second chance!

Moving on, another game that requires the Expansion Pak: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. Majora’s relationship with the Red Top isn’t as juicy as DK64’s, but it’s still really interesting, and again, for funsies, here’s what it looks like when you boot it up with the Jumper Pak. It’s weird how some of the text is blurry. It’s just text, what’s the deal?!

The Legend of Zelda and the Expansion Pak go way back. Both Zelda 64s were at some point planned for the ill-fated disc addon, the 64DD, which, like I stated earlier, is what the Expansion Pak was originally made for. However, like a lot of 64DD games, Ocarina shipped without Expansion Pak support, though there are beta versions of Ocarina that require the Expansion Pak, though they may have been tech demos for the slightly improved GameCube version, as evidenced by the 2003 copyright on the title screen.

For a hot minute, there was a third Zelda project separate from Majora’s Mask, an expansion for Ocarina called Ura Zelda for the 64DD. (Expansions are what they used to call DLC, children!) From the ashes of Ura Zelda rose the Master Quest mode, which found its way to a port on the GameCube and the 3DS remake.

Now what does any of this have to do with the follow-up, Majora’s Mask? Majora runs on the Ocarina engine and reuses a ton of assets, so I’ve never understood why exactly this game requires the Expansion Pak. And listen, what I mean by that is it’s clear what the Expansion Pak does to Majora’s Mask: Its graphical improvements over Ocarina are numerous and well documented.

However, why was the Expansion Pak not optional?

The closest explaination I can find is that Majora had a very short development time. The story goes that because Ocarina took four years to make, Shigeru Miyamoto wanted a fast turn-around for the next Zelda game. Eiji Aonuma was given the baton, and made Majora’s Mask in just one year. Even reusing the Ocarina engine and its assets, it’s possible the team didn’t have the time to make Majora optimized for the Jumper Pak. But I think it’s deeper than even that:

It needed the extra RAM for its landmark time mechanic. The world of Majora’s Mask is filled with dozens of NPCs, and keeping track of their location and your progress with their side missions at all times was a massive memory hog! I imagine it’s similar to how the PS3 and 360 versions of Shadow of Mordor have a greatly reduced Nemesis system because those previous-generation systems just don’t have the specs!

I think it’s possible that Majora is the inverse of DK64: Aonuma knew that the time mechanic wouldn’t be possible without the extra RAM, so they improved the visuals while they were at it!

This is one of the few times the Expansion Pak was used to push the limits of gameplay, not just graphics. Eugh, or maybe I’m just stretching here. But wouldn’t it be just like Nintendo to be the only ones who knew how to properly use their hardware?

At any rate, despite requiring the Red Top, Majora’s Mask still sold well, though not quite as well as Ocarina. And even though it was a divisive game for fans at the time, from here, Aonuma would become the shepherd of the Legend of Zelda series for Nintendo.

Even though it’s probably the smartest and best use of the Expansion Pak, Majora is still a little rough around the edges, the best way to play this game today is on the 3DS remake.

Still, diehard Majora fans need to recognize that without this little buddy here, we would have never had this game.

Next, it’s Perfect Dark.

Now, when I said that there are three games that require the Expansion Pak, that’s not exactly true. Huge portions of this game are inaccessible without the extra memory, but you still can play Perfect Dark on a Jumper Pak. That’s even advertised on the box: 65% of this game requires the Expansion Pak!

This is not the only game to do this, we’ll get to that in a second, but it’s without a doubt the most well-known example.

Now, it might look like there’s next to nothing you can do without the Expansion Pak, but that’s not true! Booting up with the Jumper Pak grants you access to the “Small but Perfect” menu – Yeah, that’s that classic Rare humor for ya – which lets you play one of the most robust multiplayer modes in the history of video games!

You’re only allowed two human players, but you can still fill matches with eight computer bots! There are so many guns, levels, modes of play,for my money, this is the real star of Perfect Dark. So what if you can’t do four-player splitscreen?! You can still get dumb as hell with eight bots and nothing but N-Bombs, baby! Yeah, just look at this unplayable mess! It’s so beautiful! So the Expansion Pak is optional, but you can still have a hell of a time without one. With the Expansion Pak though, you are allowed four-player in the Combat Simulator, as well as access to all things related to the single-player campaign, including the Co-Operative and still almost one-of-a-kind Counter-Operative mode.

And of course, you also have the option to change the screen size, resolution and aspect ratio, but no setting keeps this game from some serious chug action.

Like we pointed out in previous episodes, once you’ve played the HD version on XBLA or in Rare Replay, there’s just no going back, it’s such an enormous improvement. But few games push the limits of not just the N64, but ANY console, like Perfect Dark, and watching this game struggle to run on an actual N64 is still a thing of wonder!

But hold on, here’s something that I think holds the HD versions back: If you’re playing on Xbox, you cannot play multiplayer with guests. All players have to have an Xbox Live account to play any form of multiplayer. No Combat Simulator, no Co-Op, no Counter-Op, it’s stupid! What if me and my friends are drunk and just wanna play now?! What if most of us bought PS4s and don’t remember our Xbox emails and passwords?! What’s wrong with guests?!

You know what you need to play multiplayer on an N64? Extra controllers and maybe the Expansion Pak, that’s it! God, the future can be lame sometimes.

And Perfect Dark isn’t the only game that hides huge portions of its game behind the Expansion Pak. Starcraft 64 requires it to play the Brood War campaign, — which is fitting, as that was the PC game’s expansion — and the multiplayer. I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, I mean, if you wanna play Starcraft and Brood War, it’s VERY available on PC. But the big deal here is the split-screen multiplayer.

Now, for some of you, the idea of split-screen Starcraft sounds absurd, but like I pointed out in earlier episodes, it’s pretty damn unique! Starcraft when you and your opponent can see each other’s screens drastically changes the multiplayer dynamic! And you can only get that with the N64 Expansion Pak! Furthermore, it is damn impressive how well this game actually plays on an N64 controller. I really can’t say enough how mind-bogglingly good this game is! And this is now the third time we’ve mentioned Starcraft 64 in a video! We did it! Oh, I never thought we’d get here people! Oh, I’m so happy, I just… Oh, so… I just wanna… I just wanna thank my parents…

Next up, another N64 technical marvel: Resident Evil 2. As expected, the Expansion Pak adds more texture detail, but nothing that’ll make you toss out your PlayStation 1 version. We’ve read claims of higher-resolution cutscenes, but… nyeh. Look, it’s still a miracle the cutscenes were all somehow crammed into this cartridge, but I couldn’t spot any differences, so nothing too exciting, I know.

But I only bring this up because we discovered something odd about Resident Evil 2 64: When we mentioned this game on our Resident Evil 2 episode of Punching Weight, we came across a production problem: With the Expansion Pak, the game shifts resolutions constantly, sometimes when moving to a new camera angle, or sometimes when opening and closing the menu, and every time, our capture card cut the video feed for a few seconds to re-adjust, making it impossible to play, especially in the very beginning.

We needed a Jumper Pak to get footage, but I didn’t think to take the Jumper Pak out of storage, because… why would I ever need my Jumper Pak ever again?! It had actually been sitting in the same place for the last 20 years: Inside my DK64 box! We had to buy another Jumper Pak.

Because look, every time the footage grays out or skips ahead a few seconds, the video is cutting out! Every time you see that, I’m flying completely blind for a few seconds! It was so frustrating, but there must be some impressive behind-the-curtain tech running this game, because no other N64 game we tested had this many graphical shifts. And we think that’s actually pretty awesome!

Also, I found out that some Jumper Paks come with stickers, and some don’t. So thank you for almost derailing an entire episode, Resident Evil 2 64! But you’re a fascinatingly weird game, and we love you.

Oh, and on the topic of games where the Expansion Pak gave me some trouble, here’s a fun little aside: Space Station Silicon Valley! This cult favorite platformer from the people that would one day give us GTA III is not Expansion Pak compatible, but will still sometimes crash with the Expansion Pak.

Again, usually games that don’t support the Expansion Pak play no differently with the Expansion Pak, but Space Station Silicon Valley is the only game with this problem, as far as we could tell, which is good news, because all this time I thought something was wrong with my cart!

Okay, we’re gettin’ down to the end here, next we’re gonna look at three Midway games where the Red Top does more than just improve the graphics: Hydro Thunder, Gauntlet Legends and San Francisco Rush 2049. The Expansion Pak is required to play Gauntlet Legends with more than two players, and Hydro Thunder with more than three players.

I think this is kind of interesting, because both of these games were also released on the Dreamcast, a system that also had four controller ports. However, Hydro Thunder on the Dreamcast is only two players. Now, years later, Hydro Thunder would appear on Midway Arcade Treasures 3 for the PlayStation 2, GameCube and Xbox, but the version in this bundle was apparently just a port of the Dreamcast version, which means the N64 Expansion Pak version is the only one with a four-player mode!

I never felt compelled to own the N64 port of Hydro Thunder, — you’re looking at the Dreamcast version here, by the way — but after learning this little factoid, I think I might have to track this version down!

As for Gauntlet Legends, while the box says it’s designed for the Expansion Pak, it doesn’t explicitly say it’s required for three or four players, which must have ruined at least a few game nights back in the day!

And lastly, San Francisco Rush 2049: An entire track and racing circuit is locked without the Expansion Pak, plus changeable rims and music in arcade races. In this instance, you’re probably better off just getting the Dreamcast version, or playing it on the Midway Arcade Treasures 3 compilation I just mentioned. And there’s a bunch of other trivia, like the PAL-exclusive F-1 World Grand Prix II, a game I’ve never played myself, apparently requires the Expansion Pak to view full race replays.

I read on Wikipedia that Shadowgate 64 has unlisted Expansion Pak support, but I tested that for myself, and there are no graphical options in the game, and I didn’t notice any difference. That’s Wikipedia for ya.

NBA Jam 2000 mentions “Jaw-dropping Ultra Hi-Rez‚ĄĘ graphics” on the back of the box, but doesn’t indicate that without an Expansion Pak, your jaw will remain un-dropped. Re-Volt unlocks a medium resolution mode with the Expansion Pak, which doubles the resolution, however, with a cheat code you can unlock an even higher quality! But I don’t have a copy myself, so I couldn’t say if that makes it look or run better than the Dreamcast version.

And that just about covers it, so I wanna say thank you so much–

Matt: Now wait just a damn minute there, Derek!

Derek: Wait a minute, that voice sounds familiar…

Matt: You weren’t thinking of wrapping this thing up without… um, mentioning a little thing called the Turok games?!

Derek: Oh, hello there Mr. McMuscles! And, well… yeah, all the Turok games do is increase the graphics, but at the cost of the framerate. And those games already ran kinda shitty.

Matt: [sigh] Derek, Derek, Derek, sweet child… you’re not thinking Punching Weight enough! You’re forgetting that the Turok games have cheats! Cheats that mess with the graphics! And there’s some fun to be had, and besides, you’re always fuckin’ ragging on Turok games and everyone dislikes that! Allow me to grab the wheel from you for just a minute.

Derek: Alright, fine Matt, hit ’em with that Turok Dinosaur Hunter knowledge!

Matt: Okay, look, there are four Turok games released on the N64, and they were The Best! And all but the first one use the Expansion Pak, not that they needed it! And for the record, Mr. Alexander didn’t mention this at the top, but Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, released late October 1998, was the first game to support the Expansion Pak, edging out, y’know, the pretenders, like Quarterback Club 99, Top Gear Overdrive, FIFA, all that shit, even Star Wars: Rogue Squadron by a few weeks! … at least in North America, okay, fine, I’ll give you that.

Turok 2, Turok 3, and the spin-off Rage Wars offered the expected high-rez mode, which, yeah, makes the graphics sharper, but the games run slightly slower. It doesn’t have cheats that improve graphics, like Re-Volt. You can still have some fun comparing stuff like the Pen & Ink Mode cheat, a.k.a. Polygon Mode, and the Gouraud Mode cheat, a.k.a. Texture Map Mode, switching between high and low rez with the Expansion Pak and comparing the differences. Ink & Paper Mode especially is a cool peek behind the curtain, a clearer sense of just how much the Expansion Pak is improving the visuals, it’s mindblowing!

I really wish the PS4 or modern PCs could keep up with this tech!

Derek: Oh wow, that is really cool! But, y’know, it IS about time to wrap up, and now that you’re here, I think I know just how to do it: With the most hilarious Expansion Pak compatible game!

Matt: Daikatana?

Derek: Ooh, close, but no! Xena: Warrior Princess!

Matt: You actually own Xena: Warrior Princess?

Derek: Oh, I mean, I don’t… but I know someone who does.

Matt: Um… I– I don’t know what you’re talking about, Derek…

Derek: Matt, we are doing important work here! Please! The world needs to know!

Does the Expansion Pak make Xena: Warrior Princess the greatest game ever made?!

Matt: Well, you ended the Nintendo 64 Mouse video with Superman 64,

We need another showstopper for this video, another Tidus joint! Xena: Warrior Princess!!

Derek: Ooh, the Talisman of Fate! So fancy! Alright Matt, what’re we lookin’ at here?

Matt: Xena is a fighting game. A 3D fighting game!

Derek: Oh wow, there aren’t too many of those on the N64. That’s pretty cool.

Matt: Well, it’s… kind of a fighting ga– it’s barely kind of a game, beca– let’s just play it.

Derek: Oh hell yeah, main girl, Xena: Warrior QUEEN. And ladies and gentlemen, I think a storm is brewin’. It’s a fight! Wow! And right out of the gate, Xena is playing the mind games! Xena got her completely confused with this technique here!

Matt: Yeah, no, Derek, I concur! This is a really sound strategy! You can’t beat this! Oh wow! Wow, we haven’t seen this technique done since…

Derek: And now she’s backing away to let the clock run out!

Matt: This is a sound strategy here.

Derek: Absolutely, Matt! Bold!

Matt: Bold! Bold! Bold strategy here!

Derek: Bold strategy. Very bold. Very bold.

Derek: Matt, would you say this is a bold strategy here?

Matt: Ooh, that’s a bold strategy here!

Derek: And again with the mind games!! Oh my god, she’s jumping, and jumping! In all my years of broadcasting, I’ve never seen such command over the ring!

Matt: Now, now, this is a really great tactic by her, she’s going to do…

Derek: Yeah?

Matt: Uh…. nothing. That’s good! That’s good too!

Derek: Matt, does this game still suck?

Matt: Yeap.

Derek: Right on. Thanks for watching everybody! Check out Matt’s channel, he is currently working through an amazing eight-part retrospective on the Prince of Persia games, and it’s over on Matt’s Flophouse.

You are watching Stop Skeletons From Fighting, we are a Patreon-supported show, huge shout-out to all of the wonderful people that you see on the screen right here, they made this video possible. Y’know who else made this video possible, our friend Alex from S House Studios, thank you for helping out with the edit!

Again, to support the show at Patreon.com, one dollar goes a long way, but two dollars gets you access to our activity feed and our private Discord, check that stuff out, thank you so much for the support, thanks so much for watching, and stay powerful!

See? It’s very thorough and informative.

Secrets of the N64 Expansion Pak by Punching Weight
Secrets of the N64 Expansion Pak by Punching Weight
Derek from Punching Weight and Stop Skeletons From Fighting gives us his insight on the Nintendo 64's Expansion Pak and what it does to improve games.

Articles across the web

Search

Subscribe to the mailing list

Follow N64 Squid

  • RSS Feed
  • Tumblr

Popular posts

Leave a Reply

Your Name (required)

Your Email (required)

Website

Your Message