Saturday, October 29, 2016

Retrospective: Nintendo Entertainment System (1985)

The industry’s most important console.

I have to start at the beginning. 

Not only the beginning of the home consoles, as we know them, but the start of my own gaming experience.  I was born into a household that already had a Nintendo Entertainment System hooked up to the television.  As I understand it, The NES a Christmas present, the year prior to my birth in 1986, from my mom to my dad.  Thanks, ma.

I don’t remember my first time playing video games, because I was already playing video games when my memory kicks in.  I remember being just shy of four years old and logging hours on Super Mario Bros, R.C. Pro-Am, and my favorite NES game, maybe the best game ever made,  Super Mario Brothers 3.  I have fond memories of playing all the classics: Tetris, Metal Gear, Legend of Zelda, and Mega Man 2.  This is where my love of video games started.  And my belief that video games can be the best medium for storytelling, but that’s a topic for another blog.

I still have that Original Nintendo sitting on display on a shelf in my home.  It’s a chore to get it to work, but it’s a pleasure to own.  It’s a gray brick chalk full of memories.

The Nintendo Entertainment System saved the the video game industry. 

That is not hyperbole.

It wasn’t the first home console, but it was the most important.  The video game bubble had burst and companies were folding left and right.  Arcades had become a niche, and, for all intents and purposes, the home console market was dead. 

The NES was a solid system, but two things, in particular, made it a success. 

First, Nintendo marketed the system as the “must have” toy to get parents to buy it for their kids.  It worked.  Selling the system as a toy opened up the best demographic any company can shoot for, children’s Christmas lists.  It worked so well, that the stigma of video games being toys reserved for children exists today.  You have to remember, this was before EB Games, Gamestop, and E3.  Nintendo had to get their system into Toys R Us and make sure it sold.  Getting it to stay on the shelves was also accomplished by keeping it off the shelf.  This is when Nintendo started something they have become notorious for, undersupply.  It’s a dangerous move, but if a product is always sold out, people are going to want it more.

Second, They instituted a new system for licensing games.  They would only approve games that met a certain standards.  Gone were the days of the market being over saturated with sub par games.  Nintendo wanted to maintain a high level of entertainment for all of its consumers.  Third party developers had to submit their game to Nintendo and await approval.  Since, the NES was the only system worth developing games for, game companies were at the mercy of Mario.  This approach helped lead to the start of classic game franchises like Metal Gear, Final Fantasy, Tetris, Dragon Warrior, among others.

Nintendo was able to pull stunts like this because their first party games were so good.  They launched their most iconic, and timeless, franchises on the NES.  The first incarnations of Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Punch-Out!!, and Kirby.  This was a point in time when Nintendo could not seem to miss whether it be game or console. 

They would launch the hugely popular Game Boy(1989) off of the NES’s success.  The Game Boy would not only prove to be the first successful, portable game system, but started Nintendo’s domination of the handheld market, which continues today. 

The Nintendo Entertainment System had its failures.  The peripherals were, mostly, a joke.  The light gun was useless outside of the classic Duck Hunt.  The Power Glove was useless despite having an amazing movie, The Wizard, to promote it.  (I’ll have an article on that masterpiece of film, later.) The ROB barely registered at all, except for being a character in Super Smash Bros.  The multi-tap was a great idea, but that kind of multi player gaming wouldn’t find a large audience for another decade or so. 

Overall though, the Nintendo Entertainment System was a MASSIVE success.  Not only did it kick off Nintendo’s reign as the top video game company for the 1980s and most of the 1990s, it made video games relevant, pulling the entire industry back from the brink of extinction.  Nintendo doesn’t reign as king of the industry anymore, but their drive to provide quality entertainment, while pushing the boundaries of how we play, is alive and well.

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