Nintendo Entertainment System Overview
Active from 1985-1995
Ricoh 2A03 @ 1.79 MHz
2 kB RAM
The history of videogames would be very different without the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System. After the crash in 1984, it seemed the videogame “fad” was over. Sure, the public would continue to play games on their personal computers – after compiling an important spreadsheet, of course – but plugging a console into the family TV, well...that was over.
Enter Nintendo. Referring to their console as an “Entertainment System” and the software as “Game Paks”, Nintendo stealthily launched the NES with the Robotic Operating Buddy accessory, and the public got over its videogame console stigma. It also helped that Nintendo released a little game called Super Mario Bros. Building on previous experiences such as Donkey Kong and Pitfall, Super Mario perfected a new genre, the platformer. The game was, as they say, a big hit.
By requiring 3rd parties to be licensed, exclusive and limited to a certain number of published titles per year, Nintendo worked hard to avoid the overload of crummy third party games that sank Atari in 1984. To be sure, some lousy games still got released, but Nintendo’s strong arming kept the threat of another crash of the game market at bay – while effectively owning the console market to boot. Sure, you might have had a Sega Master System or a budget Atari system, but you had bet on the wrong horse with the console equivalent of a Betamax.
While there were probably too many inferior Super Mario variants on the market (*see Atari, Pac-man and Space Invaders) the NES ended up with a huge and varied library, including some expansive and ambitious games (even if they didn’t quite come together) like Clash at Demonhead, Faxanadu & Simon’s Quest.
The NES also brought about the rise of Japanese games in the western market. Sure, many Japanese arcade games were popular in the U.S., but they were licensed to American companies. To the average consumer they were considered “Atari games” or the like. NES games had the names of their Japanese publishers right on the label, and developers like Capcom, Square and Konami became brand names in their own right. Discerning kids learned, at least on consoles, that most of the best games came from Japan, a consensus that held true for years through to the end of the Sony PlayStation's run.
- Ben Langberg