Retro: In 1996, the Nintendo 64 was a must-have Christmas present – alongside Tickle Me Elmo

Image: Nintendo Life / Zion Grassl

Getting a Switch, PS5, or Xbox Series X for Christmas may not be easy in 2021, but in 1996 it was the Nintendo 64 that was the must-have holiday gift in North America.

Rory Appleton of Indianapolis Star rummaged through newspaper reports from the period to shed light on the carnage that occurred when Nintendo launched its 64-bit system in the country.

The November 26, 1996 issue of The Star featured an account of what items were to hit the hottest this holiday season, and the N64 was listed alongside Chicken Limbo, a video game on the Barbie Fashion Designer CD and star Wars figurines – but it was Sesame streets Tickle Me Elmo, predicted to be the most popular ticket.

However, the newspaper said none of these items should be difficult to find in the run-up to Christmas – a prediction that was contradicted by a follow-up report just days later that involved shoppers lining up outside stores. to avoid disappointment.

Appleton explains:

Jim Davis, media manager for Best Buy on West 38th Street, shared his simple prediction for the Nintendo 64 with Star in a December 15 article, “If you find it, buy it.”

Davis has been handing out rain checks to customers since November 29, the day after Thanksgiving, when he went to work to find 30 people lined up outside. [the] state-of-the-art game console.

“Maybe Santa can write an IOU for your loved ones and put Nintendo 64 game cartridges and accessories under the tree for now,” the article says.

Target’s ad in the same issue broadly disclosed the shortage to Nintendo: “Due to continued unprecedented demand and the manufacturer’s inability to ship enough product, the Nintendo 64 system and games … will only be available in limited quantities.”

As is the case with sites like eBay today, back in 1996 there were opportunities for resellers: classified ads. Appleton continues:

As December approached, the Star and News thematic sections began to fill with brief announcements of the most popular products.

The Nintendo 64, released in the US in September at a retail price of $ 199.99, was on sale for $ 600 by December 23.

But Elmo was a real pot of gold.

By December 17, the shaking and giggling doll, which was in stores for just over $ 30 after taxes, was selling for up to $ 400.

On December 19, someone offered to tickle the “new” Elmo, who somehow lost his box, for $ 350.

The December 23 news release included an entire column of Tickle Me Elmo advertisements, dozens of which were available for up to $ 700 each. Several intrepid sellers said some of the money from their Elmos would go to charity, while others fought auction-style bidding wars (remember, eBay was in its infancy at the time) in print.

The N64 will be one of Nintendo’s most modest hits, selling just 32.93 million units worldwide (compared to the SNES, which sold 49.10 million, and the NES, which sold 61.91 million). However, the system was clearly in high demand during the first holiday season, and it also inspired one of the best videos in YouTube history.

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