Three years later, I continue with the second installment of our journey through video game history. Read the first installment of The History of The Video Game Console here. Quite a jump from the Atari Jaguar to the NES, eh?
Much like Atari before it, Nintendo’s creatively-titled Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) captivated a generation of gamers. The amazing feat is that they did it only a few years after the video game crash of 1983 which nearly put Atari and the whole North American video gaming industry out on the curb.
The NES was originally released in Japan as the Nintendo Family Computer (AKA- Famicom) in the summer of 1983, but didn’t cross the pacific to America until October 1985. For distribution in America, Nintendo originally reached a deal with Atari to distribute, but console competitor Coleco screwed that all up by releasing an unlicensed version of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong for their system, making Atari think Nintendo was sleeping around on them. Can you imagine if Atari & Nintendo rode the 8-bit wave together, instead of NES bashing Atari 7800’s brain in?
Nonetheless, Nintendo carried forth, releasing two different bundled version of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The first bundle, with a $199 price tag, was the Control Deck, which came with two controllers and the Super Mario Bros game. The second bundle, priced at $249 was called the Deluxe System, and included the infamous R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) peripheral, the games Duck Hunt and Gyromite and also another peripheral—the Zapper light gun. Later bundles would follow in the years to come, with the most famous (and most bought) of these being the Action Set featuring two controllers, the Zapper, and a Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt 2-in-1 game cartridge.
The NES had an impressive number of EIGHTEEN launch titles. Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, Kung Fu, Pinball, Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Excitebike, and Ice Climber were just a few launch titles that represented just how entertaining this new “entertainment system” could be. Megahit franchises like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda and Metroid were all published by Nintendo and placed the system on the map as a powerhouse, but with the NES being the undisputed 8-bit king, many blockbuster third party titles & franchises were developed for the system as well: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Ninja Gaiden, Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, Mega Man, Castlevania, Contra, Double Dragon, Metal Gear and Battletoads all delivered with critics & gamers alike. Most of these games, whether developed in-house or through a third party, are still seeing sequels, prequels, spinoffs and remakes being made today on the current gen systems. Also, fan faves such as Punch-Out!!, A Boy and His Blob, Bump ‘N Jump, Strider, River City Ransom, Dr. Mario, Tetris, Baseball Stars, Kid Icarus, Ghosts ‘N Goblins, Jackal, Rampage, Tecmo Bowl, Bubble Bobble, Bionic Commando, and Kirby’s Dreamland all also contributed to the NES’ success over the years.
In addition to the previous mentioned R.O.B. and Zapper, the NES featured many other peripherals and accessories: NES Satellite/Four Score (allowed up to 4-players at once), NES Advantage (big control pad with a joystick and turbo buttons for all of us who got sore thumbs on the button masher games), NES Max (another controller, but with a weird d-pad and boomerang shape), Power Pad (for running and jumping, and was sold with World Class Track Meet, eventually getting it’s own console bundle), Broderbund’s super lame U-Force (look ma, no hands!), Mattel’s Power Glove and Konami’s Laserscope. There was even the NES Lockout, a vise-like contraption to prevent anyone from playing your games/system.
For my money, the single most important and worthwhile accessory was Galoob’s Game Genie. Having problems beating a level? Need more stars? Want to jump higher? Hey, I’m sure the Game Genie has just the code you’re looking for.
The NES was an absolute phenomenon. Bed sheets, underwear, toys, trading cards, and all kinds of food (not to mention the NES Cereal System) were quickly produced featuring some of Nintendo’s most recognizable mascots. Cartoons were made: The Legend of Zelda, various versions of Super Mario Bros. and Captain N: The Game Master were all hits in the late 80s. Mario even finally got to the big screen in 1993’s very weird live-action ‘Super Mario Bros.: The Movie’ and 1989’s ‘The Wizard’ starring Fred Savage was practically a hour and a half commercial for Nintendo.
By the mid-90s, the bit wars were upon us and the spotlight was on 16-bit systems such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and Sega’s Genesis console. So, in 1995, after a very successful and glorious ten-year run, Nintendo of America finally pulled the plug on the NES (Nintendo of Japan would continue to manufacture the console itself until 2003!). My innocence died that day.
The Nintendo Entertainment System continues to live on in the hearts of bloggers (Just like me!), merchandising stores like Hot Topic, fan websites, retro enthusiasts who still own the console and on Nintendo Wii’s very own Virtual Console, where for only $5 a download you can play some of the greatest games ever created and experience Nintendo Power one more time (or for the first time). For many, the NES is the golden age of video games. It takes people back to a time and place in their heart that has not been repeated since. Even today, when I play Super Mario Bros. 2 on Virtual Console, I’m instantly transported to my childhood and get lost in the NES soundtrack of my youth.
In my opinion, the NES is the great video game system of all time (despite their being quite a few frustrating and impossibly hard games in the library). Sure, games and consoles have come a long way in terms of power and visuals since 1985, but there’s a certain innocence and great charm to the system that I don’t think any other console before or since has ever captured.
Until next time…