There once was a playing card company in Japan that decided to get their feet wet in the world of arcade games. One day, they introduced an addicting little video game about a plumber battling with an ape and within five years, the name Nintendo would become synonymous with home video game systems. Perhaps every family in America didn’t have a deck of Nintendo playing cards in their living room but millions would eventually have one of their Game Systems. And if you were a kid during this era, it was simply the only game to have. Let’s take a look at the history of this iconic toy.
Atari had reigned supreme in the video game market for years when Nintendo arrived. Riding on the overwhelming success of the Donkey Kong arcade game and its numerous sequels, Nintendo decided to venture into Atari 2600 territory in 1983 and see if they could offer a better game system. They introduced an 8-bit system with an innovative joystick replacement that used a four-way directional pad and two buttons and rolled out the first models with a Donkey Kong conversion. Side-by-side with the Atari 2600, there was simply no comparison.
During the same time, an unfortunate video game market crash had left retailers a little gun-shy about investing in a new console system but Nintendo persevered, making numerous adjustments to their design until they arrived at the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) console in 1985. After test marketing the product in New York, it was clear that the new system was a winner. The success of the NES console would completely turn the industry around, thanks in part to the included Super Mario Bros. game cartridge that proved to be an instant hit. They also offered a light gun that could shoot at the screen for a game called Duck Hunt, as well as R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) for their Gyromite game. The result was a game system that retailers could barely keep stocked.
Of course, what always makes or breaks a console system is the quality of the games offered. Nintendo came through with flying colors with such beloved games as the Legend of Zelda, Mike Tyson’s Punchout!, Castlevania, RBI Baseball, Techmo Bowl and Mega Man – to name but a few. When they introduced a hand-held game system in 1989, called the Game Boy, it appeared that Nintendo was invincible. Then came Sega.
When the Sega Genesis system was released in 1989, it boasted 16-bit graphics and noticeably better sound, as well as its own little addictive game called Sonic the Hedgehog. The question was, could Nintendo fire back with something equally impressive? In 1991, the met the challenge with the Super NES system, with its own 16-bit engine and a collection of games that included Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart and Street Fighter II. It was clear that Nintendo still had plenty of muscle to flex and a legion of loyal fans to back them up.
The Genesis system wasn’t the only nemesis that Nintendo would battle with over the years. The Sony Playstation in 1994 took a big bite out of their market, although they did answer back with a very impressive system in 1996 called the Nintendo 64, which rendered an extraordinary 3D environment for Super Mario 64 and produced an impressive list of games in its own right. They would maintain a respectable section of the market share in later years with the introduction of the Game Boy Advance and GameCube in 2001, and the Nintendo DS, released in 2004 with over three million ordered in advance. And their newest offering, the Wii, released in 2005, proved to be a formidable challenger to the Playstation and X-Box systems, outselling both established systems combined in its first year.
Plenty of people have tried to write off Nintendo over the years but they have proven extremely resilient and may be on their way to taking the title of most popular video game system yet again. But for those with decades of video game experience under their belt, the name “Nintendo” will be forever linked to their childhood, watching the adventures of Mario, hitting home runs and scoring touchdowns, and trying to rescue Princess Zelda until the wee hours of the morning. Those were good times.
If you’ve clocked many an hour playing your beloved NES, tell us all about it in our comments section, and be sure to mention your favorite games from the era, as we remember this revolutionary system that changed the way we play games forever.