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The Only Two Games That Actually Required The N64 Expansion Pak

The Nintendo 64 may be remembered for spawning genre-defining classics like "Super Mario 64" and "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," but the hardware itself has a more dubious legacy. Nintendo's decision to use a cartridge format for physical games proved controversial among the games industry, as competitors like Sony's PlayStation had moved on to CD-ROMs with better storage capacity. Even longtime collaborators like Square jumped ship for systems with better memory options, leaving Nintendo with a dearth of third-party support during this generation (via Nintendo Life).

Throughout the generation, Nintendo explored several ways to get the N64's limited capabilities up-to-snuff with the competition. Not all of these strategies were successful, as the Nintendo 64DD was a complete failure. However, one peripheral that did catch on was the N64 Expansion Pak. A small plug-in component that doubles the console's RAM, the Expansion Pak had a variety of beneficial effects on various games, upping resolution, increasing frame rates, and expanding multiplayer options.

All told, the Expansion Pak ended up becoming an invaluable asset to N64 enthusiasts with support across numerous games from the system's library. That makes it even more of a surprise to hear that out of every game that functions with the Expansion Pak, only two games actually require the item in order to be playable.

Donkey Kong and Zelda need the Expansion Pak

Out of every N64 game that has unique functionality with the Expansion Pak, the only two titles to outright require the peripheral are from Nintendo's own stable of IP: "Donkey Kong 64" and "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask."

"Donkey Kong 64" seems a logical choice to take full advantage of the Expansion Pak's performance capabilities, as the hardware came bundled with the game (via Console Variations). "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask," on the other hand, is a less obvious case. The game reuses many assets from "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," which doesn't require the Expansion Pak. But while the foundation of the pair may be similar, "The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask" is far more ambitious in its presentation, requiring the Expansion Pak to showcase detailed textures, remove fog, and increase the number of models that can be on-screen without affecting performance.

Some curious gamers may wonder what happens if you boot one of these two titles on the original N64 without the Expansion Pak inserted. As it turns out, it's nothing that special. The system simply displays a basic screen telling the player to insert the required peripheral. No fancy secret message or amusing tidbits here.

Modern methods of playing N64 games like Nintendo Switch Online may have relegated the Expansion Pak to obscurity, but we still have the device to thank for bringing two of the best N64 games of all time to life.