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Nintendo Entertainment System — revitalizing the console market

By: 26 November 2010 3 Comments

The NESFollowing the Video Game Crash of 1983, people had pretty much written off the console gaming market.

Well, they wrote it off in North America, at least. In Japan, the industry was still booming and Nintendo was leading the pack with its Family Computer (Famicom) system.

Nintendo wanted to release the Famicom in the United States, but was reluctant to compete toe-to-toe with Atari. The company engaged in negotiations to release a redesigned Famicom as an Atari unit, but the parties never reached an agreement.

Nintendo went ahead with a redesign and released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the U.S. in 1985. It’s worth mentioning that Atari missed out on a golden opportunity — the NES went on to become the best selling game console of all  time. Nintendo is still in business as a major player in the video game market while Atari effectively died years ago and exists as struggling game publisher.

Here’s another reason the failure of Nintendo and Atari to reach a branding agreement of some sort was important — Nintendo’s emergence as the video game company to beat shifted the video game industry from one dominated to American companies to one dominated by Japanese ones. Of the three major console manufacturers today, only Microsoft is an American company. That all started back in 1985, folks.

At any rate, the NES was an impressive piece of hardware at the time. Bear in mind that game consoles had the reputation of generating games that were inferior in terms of graphics and sound to home computers. Furthermore, console games were generally less complex than computer games because there was no way to save progress, thus making it impossible to produce a game that would last for more than one gaming session.

The Nintendo Famicom. Nintendo decided to redesign this ugly thing as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) for release in North America in 1985. Good idea.

The NES changed a lot of those assumptions. Some of the best evidence of the impact the NES had on how consoles were perceived can be found in Apogee’s marketing materials for the original Duke Nukem platformer in 1991. Apogee bragged that the PC-compatible game was on par with the graphics NES owners enjoyed. That, folks, was a shift in thinking.

Perhaps one of the reasons people viewed the NES differently from previous consoles is that it was so different. That all started with the controllers. People were used to joystick controllers when they played game consoles, but the NES featured a directional pad allowing the player to simply rock his or her thumb to control the action. The directional pad was novel at the time, but is pretty much standard equipment today.

And then, of course, you had the games. The system-seller for Nintendo was Super Mario Brothers, which was something games hadn’t really seen in the past. Super Mario Brothers was an innovative little title that pretty well defined the platform gaming genre. Platformers, of course, feature scrolling screens, require the player to jump on, over and around obstacles and typically include multiple levels in which players are required to complete objectives. The games can actually be won (compare that to the normal arcade game that end when the player runs out of lives) and feature enough puzzles, hidden spots and other activities to give players plenty to see and do.

kirby

Kirby!

And, yes, the replay value of those games is almost infinite — there’s always something new to find buried in those things plus Nintendo established itself as one of the best game publishers on the planet. In addition to the Super Mari0 games, you had other highly-entertaining, innovative and absolutely addictive platformers such as Kirby’s Adventure and Metroid. Nintendo managed to introduce complex adventure games such the Legend of Zelda series.

Ah, and let’s not forget that third party support. Tecmo came up with some great sports titles, Capcom showed up with the Mega Man titles and let’s not forget that Square’s Final Fantasy series made its debut on the NES. Oh, and the Dragon Warrior series from Enix was another role playing game (RPG) that was appreciated by a lot of NES owners.

While on the topic of RPGs and sports games, that brings up another nifty thing about the NES — there were certain games in which players could save their progress. I’ve still got a lot of those cartridges with battery backup in them that still save games fine although the games are a couple of decades old. The ability to save games meant designers could put together more complex games the result added a whole new dimension to what a console could do. In adventure games and long platformers, turning off the system and continuing where you left off was no problem. Got a sports game? Saving season stats and progression through a year was possible.

While the third-party support for the system was fantastic, Nintendo did something very smart (some might say draconian) when it came to developers. It had a licensing scheme meant to make sure that games released for the NES weren’t terrible and also guaranteed some revenue for Nintendo. Atari, back in the 2600 days, had no such system in place. A slew of terrible games hitting the market from independent publishers was named as one of the causes of the aforementioned Video Game Crash. Also, Atari was cut out of the revenue

loop when those independent publishers popped up and started producing games. Nintendo attempted to address both of those problems through licensing.

NES top loader

The very reliable NES "top loader" console.

The NES, though wildly successful and still fun, is not without its problems.For one thing, the system came with a massive design flaw. The cartridge slot on those “front loading” systems tends to fail over time. You’ve got a 72-pin connector in there that is twisted a couple of different ways between the cartridge slot and the motherboard. With that much real estate and odd positioning, it’s almost guaranteed that it will fail at some point. Fortunately, Nintendo released a “top loader” system in the latter days of the NES and the failure problem was eliminated.

Be warned about that top loader, however. They cost considerably more that a “front loader” system when you run across one and Nintendo eliminated the RCA output jacks on the system, leaving the user stuck with RF output. While the RF output isn’t as good as what’s available through the RCA ports, the Nintendo RF box is considerably better than the ones available for systems prior to 1983.

Also, an NES looks downright terrible on a modern, flat-screen television. Sure, the games are playable, but they are pixelated as can be. Fortunately, I play most of my “old” games on the old tube television in my bedroom and the games look just great there.

One major advantage of the NES is that most of the better titles are readily available for not a whole lot of money. Also, the system still has its fans and finding support for it is easy. If you’re looking for game reviews, make sure to visit The Video Game Critic. Looking to buy an NES or games for it? Then just click here for NES systems and games.

For more reviews of classic video game consoles, check out the Retrogaming section here at First Arkansas News.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email = Ethan@FirstArkansasNews.net.

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