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The Nintendo Entertainment System
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Nintendo Entertainment System (AKA NES)
1984 - 1995
It was 1983. The game market had officially crashed leaving the future of video games looking incredibly bleak. Atari had so many cartridges returned to them from merchants unable to sell them that they literally began burying them in Texas. To this day you can still find sections of the Lone Star State to unearth that would yield to a plethora of games. Granted, they probably wouldn't work anymore.
Despite the market's downfall, Nintendo of Japan made a bold move and decided to release the Nintendo Entertainment System in the United States. The year was 1984. Merchants were very leery about the prospect of stocking any Nintendo items. But, something about the Nintendo made them change their minds. Perhaps it was the sleek look that made the system appear more like home video equipment than your average video game console. Perhaps it was the strong following of games that was slowly but surely building in the local arcades. Whatever the reason the local department stores had for changing their minds, it's clear to this day that it was one that paid off.
Nintendo struck hard in 1984 with two consoles. The control deck which was known as the basic system was available for $199.00. The box included the system, two controllers, and Super Mario Bros. Out of the two systems, it was the higher selling model, and eventually lead to the format that future Nintendo's were released.
The second model was the deluxe version which included not only Super Mario Bros., but the game Gyromite and the play along droid, Robbie the Robot. While it was still a great bundle, the $249.99 price tag often times meant that folks would buy the less expensive version - Thus leading to the overall popularity of the Control Deck over the Deluxe Edition.
There were thirty games available with the initial release of the Nintendo. These games were released in the infamous "black" boxes, a style that was never repeated again. The games were instant classics, and to this day remain among the highest sellers throughout the lifespan of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The games were; 10 Yard Fight, Balloon Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong Jr. Math, Donkey Kong 3, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gunshoe, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Mach Rider, Mario Bros., Pinball, Popeye, Pro Wrestling, Slalom, Soccer, Stack-Up, Super Mario Bros., Tennis, Urban Champion, Volleyball, Wild Gunman, and Wrecking Crew.
Throughout the late 80's, the NES enjoyed tremendous popularity, blowing all the other systems away and playing a prominent role in the lives of many American and Japanese adolescents. Nintendo ruled over its empire with an iron fist, heavily controlling advertising, distribution, production, and pricing. Retailers that sold unlicensed games or charged lower prices were threatened or had their shipments withheld. Their tactics led to many lawsuits and investigations by the Federal Trade Commission.
Some of the more note worthy lawsuits included Nintendo vs. Blockbuster Video where they sued Blockbuster and won for copywrite infringement when Blockbuster was found guilty for copying instruction booklets for game rentals. Another was when the State of New York sued Nintendo for a monopoly on the video game market. This was attributed to Nintendo forcing all game designers they signed with to sign off that they would not produce games for any other video game system until the contract expired. The State won this case, and Nintendo was forced to release these contracts as well as pay all game owners damages in the amount of $5.00 each. There were several other lawsuits that Nintendo won and lost over the years, but none as note worthy as the two above.
Over the years of Nintendo’s reign at the top of the video game mountain there were several various combinations of the Nintendo Entertainment System released. This included the Action Set which became the most purchased, and most popular among gamers. The Action Set included the renowned Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt combo as well as the best light gun in the gaming world to date, The Zapper.
Nintendo hit a lull in the late 80's when parents went on a rampage against the company. The complaint - Their children were growing obese because rather than being active, playing sports or simply running about they were glued to the tube. Nintendo responded with the Power Set. A re-release of the Nintendo Entertainment center packed with the Power Pad. This set also included a triple cartridge which contained Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and Track and Field.
The Power Pad was designed to keep kids active while playing, and included several sports related games from Track and Field to Nintendo Fitness. It was a huge success, but alas, it didn't promote diet and exercise as parents had hoped, and Nintendo once again fell under attack from parents eager to blame someone else for their kids problems.
Nintendo continued on through the first half of the 90's and released two more versions of the original style Nintendo console. The Sports Set introduced gamers to a whole new way to play games. It included the Nintendo Satellite which allowed for up to four players to play at the same time. A concept never before heard of on a home gaming system. Also included were the twin cartridge Super Spike V Ball and World Cup. The system sold fairly well, but most who desired to own a Nintendo already had one. While sales were acceptable, they were far from what Nintendo would have liked.
The other set released was the Basic Set. It contained everything a person would need to play, except for any games. Needless to say, this was not a popular seller.
In 1991 Nintendo announced that it would produce the Super Nintendo. This was in response to the release of the Turbo Graphic 16 and Sega Genesis making names for themselves on the market. Though despite their better graphics, the sales of the NES and its titles were not deterred. Nintendo simply made the switch to keep current with the times, and not out of necessity.
In 1993 Nintendo released one final packaging of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Dubbed the NES2, this remodeled version did away with the zero gravity feed for the game cartridges and replaced it with a top loader which made the games more likely to respond when being turned on as opposed to the fight it would take with some of the older models. The NES2 also included an updated controller which resembled the style of the Super Nintendo's. No game was included with this pack either, but the $49.99 price made several people eager to do away with their older models and replace them with the NES2.
Speaking of controllers, the Nintendo made some controllers that to this day remain among the best controllers ever produced in the gaming world. The most famous is the Nintendo Advantage, a large arcade style stick which included oversized buttons as well as turbo buttons which could be adjusted for speed with dials. The controller was incredible, and became a fan favorite.
The Nintendo Max was also released around the same time as the Nintendo Advantage. The Nintendo Max was shaped sort of like a boomerang, and did away with the standard cross haired controls and replaced it with a disc. Also included on the controller were the addition of turbo buttons. Personally, we found the Nintendo Max to be difficult to use, and a little over responsive. This made things like staying down when ducking near impossible.
Not officially licensed by Nintendo, the Power Glove became a great novelty for rich kids to show off. But, alas, a novelty was all it ever was as it was unresponsive, and incredibly difficult to use. Mattel released booklets with the Power Glove that included codes that needed to be entered in when playing specific games. This would in turn make the "controller" compatible with the game. When the popularity of the Power Glove picked up, Nintendo opened up to the concept and not only did they give their blessing, they featured it in the 1987 movie "The Wizard" starring Fred Savage - The Wizard in turn turned out to be nothing more than a 90 minute commercial for the upcoming Super Mario Bros. 3.
Nintendo also gets hats off for making the first and only controller for disabled children (and adults). The controller fit around the chest like a vest and included voice activated controls as well as a directional pad which was controlled with the player's chin. This controller was only available by contacting Nintendo directly and requesting it.
Several other accessories were released for the Nintendo between 1984 and 1995. They included the Miracle Piano which was hyped as the easiest way to teach your children piano, and several accessories which were designed to enhance the gaming experience. Other various items such as cleaning kits and plastic storage cases were also readily available.
To help sell its products, Nintendo published its own magazine entitled, "Nintendo Power". In this magazine, kids were treated to a look at upcoming games, reviews of previously released ones, cheat codes, and all sorts of video game articles and pictures. It was a great magazine for its time, and is still published today, adapting with each new console released. The first issue of Nintendo Power made its debut in July/August of 1988.
But, that's just the consoles, controllers and accessories. The real popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System lied in the games. Well over 800 games were released in the eleven years that Nintendo ruled the gaming world. If one were to add in all the unlicensed and foreign games there would be close to 1000 of them. You could always tell the difference between a licensed and unlicensed game by the official Nintendo brand seal of approval being present (this was the same for consoles and accessories as well). And with out further delay, here are all the licensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System...
Despite all the games Nintendo released, none would ever sell more copies than The Legend of Zelda. It was the first game in history to sell over one million copies, and to this day remains one of the most famous games in the world. Also worthy of noting is the game Sesame Street: Big Bird's Hide and Speak. This unexpected game pushed the limits of the Nintendo by becoming the first Nintendo game to include voice over acting.
Nintendo had learned from the mistakes of its predecessors, and instituted a very strict licensing system for third-party game developers. This helped prevent the over-saturation of the software market which had brought about the '84 crash.
Although Nintendo had a strict licensing policy , many games were merely mediocre clones or crappy licensed games. Nintendo's "Seal of Quality" wasn't a measure of how good the game was, the seal just meant that the company had paid a licensing fee and that the game didn't contain adult content. Nintendo censored all U.S. releases, removing questionable words or adultish content. While this protected Nintendo's image, it effectively alienated it’s over 13 (years old) market.
Nintendo also had strict third-party programming policies for many years (and as mentioned above, were sued for a monopoly because of this): if you programmed for Nintendo, you only programmed for Nintendo. This policy helped kill off most of the NES's early competitors, like the Sega Master System. Companies were also limited to releasing two games a year, and Nintendo manufactured all NES cartridges themselves to control production. This hurt them greatly during the 1988 chip shortage, and the practice was discontinued in 1990. Those types of policies were later changed due to government pressure.
Tengen, a subsidiary of Atari Games and former Nintendo licensee, announced in 1988 that it had bypassed Nintendo's "lockout chip" and planned to manufacture and distribute its games independently. The lockout chip was Nintendo's method of controlling what NES-compatible games were manufactured. They were followed by several other "pirates" who produced several games over the years. Due to legal loop holes, these companies were able to produce games for the Nintendo without any threat of suit, and also without having to pay Nintendo a licensing fee.
Here are all the known unlicensed Nintendo games;
Nintendo also released a handful of multi cartridge games. These cartridges contained two to three games per cartridge, and were packaged in with the various console releases.
The games came with a black Nintendo sleeve, but no box, and were typically form fit into the Styrofoam packaging inside the console box.
These are the only four known multi cartridges that were produced.
As popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System grew, Nintendo held/sponsored a worldwide championship in 1990. For this, they produced very limited cartridges which contained portions of games, and a timer.
The objective of the competition was to get the furthest, as well as the most points as all the competing players, all while a clock was ticking down.
With the world of the internet, these cartridges, while few and far between, have made their way into collector's homes, though at an expensive price. One cartridge can fetch ten to twenty thousand dollars.
It is unknown how many of the grey cartridges, which were used in the competition, actually exist, but it is confirmed that 27 of the gold cartridges exist as these were the prizes (along with $10,000 cash) which were handed to winners.
When the Nintendo Entertainment System finally reached the end of the line in 1995, Nintendo decided to retire the system with a bang by showcasing a brand new villain for it's front man and spokes face, Mario. Wario's World was released not only on the Nintendo, but on the Super Nintendo and was so well received that the character has had several games produced based on him.
Today, the Nintendo Entertainment System has been sold to over 60 million buyers, and over 500 million cartridges have been sold world wide. The system and all its games remain an iconic staple in the world of electronic entertainment, and will forever be remembered as the system that rekindled the world of video games.
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