Video Games

Happy 25th Birthday to the Nintendo Entertainment System!

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She likes to push people's buttons.

If you've fired up an Xbox 360, a PS3, or a Nintendo Wii for an evening of digital fun recently, you owe much of the opportunity to the gaming machine that set the standard for every console to come: the original Nintendo Entertainment System. The very first NES consoles hit stores in the U.S. 25 years ago today. And as any child of the 80s knows, within a couple of years, they were ubiquitous. But as Wired reports, the system was very nearly a flop:

Twenty-five years ago today, the American videogame market was in shambles. Sales of game machines by Atari, Mattel and Coleco had risen to dizzying heights, then collapsed even more quickly.

Retailers didn't want to listen to the little startup Nintendo of America talk about how its Japanese parent company had a huge hit with the Famicom (the 1983 Asian release of what became NES). In America, videogames were dead, dead, dead. Personal computers were the future, and anything that just played games but couldn't do your taxes was hopelessly backwards.

But Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi, whose grandfather had started Nintendo as a playing-card company almost a century earlier, believed strongly in the quality of the NES. So he told his American executives to launch it in the most difficult market: New York City. If they could make it there, Yamauchi thought, they could make it anywhere.

They couldn't make it there. Retailers wouldn't take the NES. So Nintendo of America head Minoru Arakawa, Yamauchi's son-in-law, took a huge gamble that he didn't share with the president. He told stores that Nintendo would provide them with product and set up all the displays, and they only had to pay for the ones that sold and could return everything else. For the stores, it was a no-risk proposition, and a few agreed to sell NES.

All dressed up and no place to go?

Even then, the initial roll out didn't exactly lead to a new high score. Nintendo only sold 50,000 consoles—about half their units. But they pushed forward with the NES anyway, quickly adding to the number of cities in which you could purchase the device and then going national. Eventually, the console sold more than 61 million units before giving way to newer, more powerful gaming systems like the Super NES and the Sega Genesis—systems that, in turn, paved the way for the ultra-powerful consoles we have now.

Today, according to the Entertainment Software Association, an estimated 42 percent of American households have game consoles. And for the last half decade or so, the gaming industry (as a whole) has done even better business than the big-screen box office, and top games setting entertainment-industry sales records. Meanwhile, Nintendo's flagship games have become cultural touchstones for a whole generation. (If you didn't grok why Scott Pilgrim collected power-ups and coins after defeating his enemies in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, it's probably because you didn't spend enough time playing the greatest NES game of all time, Super Mario Bros.)

It's a great business success story. It's also a great cultural success story. While it would be easy to over-interpret such things, I think the success of console gaming, which in some ways flips the traditional author-viewer relationship by putting the player in charge, reveals something about what the American public increasingly wants from its entertainment: individual choice, control, and digitally-enhanced free play—as well, maybe, as a shot at infinite lives (if you can get it).

Much more from Reason on video games here.

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  1. I am not so ready to celebrate the game console.

    Among computing devices, in general, the PC stands for freedom and the smartphone and the game console don’t.

    1. Wait, systems controlled by fully private entities can still be less free than other private systems? What kind of libertarian are you?

  2. I was watching G4 Feedback and they were saying that Nintendo is like 125 years old.

    And they have been in just about every business you can think of. In fact they mentioned that they once ran brothels in Japan

    1. From Wikipedia

      Nintendo Co., Ltd. (???????, Nintend? Kabushiki gaisha?) is a multinational corporation located in Kyoto, Japan. Founded on September 23, 1889[2] by Fusajiro Yamauchi, it produced handmade hanafuda cards.[6] By 1963, the company had tried several small niche businesses, such as a cab company and a love hotel.[7]

      1. I guess not brothels…love hotel could be just a place for poeple to have sex…i don’t know the exact meaning of the term.

        1. In Atlanta, they call that “The Love Shack”, baby

        2. “Love hotel” is the equivalent of a “by the hour” hotel, but more oriented at non-married couples than prostitution.

    2. This also manufactured a couple of PONG home consoles before the release of the Famicom (called the NES in the States).

  3. What, no love for the Atari 2600?

    1. It didn’t have GoldenEye 007, see.

    2. It sold only half of what NES achieved.

    3. That’s because Mattel’s Intellivision kicked the Atari 2600’s ass.

      1. I’ve never even known anyone that had one or played one.

        The Mattel, that is. I have two 2600’s.

        1. I owned a 2600, but a friend of mine had an Intellivision. I liked both platforms, though the 2600 had a much bigger library.

      2. The ColecoVision was the ultimate pre-NES console.

  4. Ah, NES… how do I love thee. Can’t remember how many hours combined my friends and I played this in elementary school.

    But, it’s successor is the greatest console ever made.

  5. If you’ve fired up an Xbox 360, a PS3, or a Nintendo Wii for an evening of digital fun recently, you owe much of the opportunity to the gaming machine that set the standard for every console to come: the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

    It also set a trend for sore thumbs . . . and carpal tunnel syndrome . . .

    1. Are we talking about the gaming system or the love hotel?

      1. My God, that’s brilliant. Porning systems–that is, gaming systems dedicated to interactive porn. Rolled out, of course, in love hotels.

        1. gaming systems dedicated to interactive porn.

          The Sony Playstation has a monopoly on that market.

      2. What do YOU mean, ‘what do you mean “you” people’?

  6. You didn’t collect power ups or coins from defeated enemies in Super Mario Bros. You only get coins and power-ups from ? or hidden blocks.

    1. Plenty of coins were out in the open, and many were also available in secret areas that tubes (and occasionally vines) took you to.

      Power ups for defeated enemies came in SM3 where the king would give you a reward as he was telling you you were wasting your time in his castle.

  7. I hate consoles. Give me a PC game, with keyboard and mouse, any time over a console controller.

    1. I used to say that especially since no console had StarCraft, but I do love my PS3 now.

    2. It depends on the game.

      If you are playing a platformer or driving game only a console controller works.

      If it is a FPS or Civ like game then only a mouse and keyboard works.

      1. Just use an Xbox 360 controller on your PC.

      2. If you are playing a platformer or driving game only a console controller works.

        One word.

        emulator

  8. Super Mario Bros is good, but that Donkey Kong spin-off is not “the greatest NES game of all time.” That honor clearly and obviously belongs to “The Legend of Zelda.”

    1. I’d say that’s pretty much a given.

      1. I just got done running through Ocarina of Time on my PC via Project64 emulator…NES wasn’t always the “best” console but its in house titles and characters will always be the industry standard!

      2. Can Reason triforce?

    2. I’m with Steve, although I would say that NES Metriod runs a close second.

      My first NES experience involved tequila and Metriod on New Year’s Eve.

      1. God, you’re old. My first NES experience involved milk, cookies, kindergarten and a nap.

    3. http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/legend_of_neil_1/

      Legend of Neil has to be the best “tv” show based on The Legend of Zelda. Maybe that isn’t saying much, but it is pretty damn funny. I think someone here recently posted a link to it.

    4. Get bent. It was clearly “Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!”.

    5. I was all about Castlevania when I was a kid. 😀

    6. All due respect to Mario & Zelda, but I most fondly recall River City Ransom. What other NES hero could savagely beat one opponent into unconsciousness, then use his limp body as a weapon to savagely beat the next baddie? Plus, full rear nudity in the sauna!

    7. Which is ironic considering that the early Zelda commercials were amongst the worst NES commercials of all time.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ByO_NTpdCes

  9. I remember playing Parsrc on a TI-99/4A. Good times.

    1. Adventure and Star Trek on a TI Silent 700 with acoustic coupler.

  10. Didn’t somebody recently post this link here? I rate Legend of Neil the decade’s best Legend of Zelda spin-off show. That’s quite the accomplishment. (it is funny though, really)

    http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/legend_of_neil_1/

  11. Didn’t somebody recently post this link here? I rate Legend of Neil the decade’s best Legend of Zelda spin-off show. That’s quite the accomplishment. (it is funny)

    http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/legend_of_neil_1/

    The filter really doesn’t like me posting this link.

  12. Didn’t somebody recently post this link here? I rate this show the decade’s best Legend of Zelda spin-off show. That’s quite the accomplishment. (it is funny)

    http://www.atom.com/funny_videos/legend_of_neil_1/

    The filter really doesn’t like me posting this link. Maybe if I promise not to masterbate any more it will let me post?

  13. Didn’t somebody recently post this link here? I rate this show the decade’s best Legend of Zelda spin-off show. That’s quite the accomplishment. (it is funny)

    legend of neil

    The filter really doesn’t like me posting this link. I’ve tried adding text and promising not to masterbate if it let it work, but that didn’t help. Now, Ive tried making it a link opening in a new window and promising to Zarquan this is not a post for personal gain.

  14. Didn’t somebody recently post this link here? I rate this show the decade’s best Legend of Zelda spin-off show. That’s quite the accomplishment. (it is funny)

    The filter really doesn’t like me posting this link. I’ve tried adding text and promising not to masterbate if it let it work, but that didn’t help. Now, Ive tried making it a link opening in a new window and promising to Zarquan this is not a post for personal gain.

  15. Fuckety fuck fuck. Well go to atom.com and type legend of neil if interested…

  16. I hate consoles. Give me a PC game, with keyboard and mouse, any time over a console controller.

    Its hard to top a full-on HD game on a 50 inch screen. Expecially shooters, RPG, and the like.

    Now, strategy games, you need the keyboard and mouse, I’ll agree.

    1. Well, a PC will do that the same as a console (better, actually). You might have to drop some change, though.

    2. I prefer FPS on keyboard, you have much faster access to shortcuts than the limited buttons. If you’re going full on twitch based FPS keyboard > controller.

      God this post is going to bring out the gaming nerds.

  17. Yeah, it’s hard for the younger crowd to imagine it, but at the time Nintendo entered the console business the video game industry was all but dead. Atari had saturated the market with low quality garbage like “E.T.” and the Pac-Man adaptation that was just plain AWFUL. The bubble burst and the whole thing collapsed.

    Hither came Nintendo, and they kicked Atari’s ass. Better graphics, better technology, BETTER GAMES. It also didn’t hurt that they had design geniuses like Shigeru Miyamoto in their employ.

    1. Your history is fucked up.

      Atari was already dead by the time the NES entered the market.

      In fact at the time i do not think you could buy a new console from anyone. The Video game crash of 83 ended it all for the most part. And one could say it was dead a year or two before that.

      From 84-86 there was only the arcade and that was it for video games.

      1. One of my buddies had an old Vectrex that he was still playing as late as 1987.

      2. I should add that he’d had it before the product went off the market before the crash, though.

  18. If you’ve fired up an Xbox 360, a PS3, or a Nintendo Wii for an evening of digital fun recently, you owe much of the opportunity to the gaming machine that set the standard for every console to come: the original Nintendo Entertainment System.

    Not really
    NES released in mid 80’s at least 5 years after Atari 2600 released in the lat 70’s. They may have upped the bar, but they didn’t set the standard.

    1. Can you clearly delineate the difference between “upping the bar” (i.e., raising the standard) and “setting the standard”? They sound the same to me.

  19. Damn I feel old. I was a little too young to play it in 1985. I think my parents bought it in 89-90. Super Mario 2 was my most played game.

  20. Not really
    NES released in mid 80’s at least 5 years after Atari 2600 released in the lat 70’s. They may have upped the bar, but they didn’t set the standard.

    The Sony PS came out because Nintendo refused to put sony’s CD player in their console. The PS3 exists because of the NES.

    The XBOX exists because the Microsoft saw how big the PS1 got and wanted a piece the home entertainment pie.

    all this happened becouse the NES caused it directly.

    The same cannot be said for the Atari and if you want to give the mantel of the first home video game console then you have to give that to PONG.

    Also the NES was the first console to have as good or better graphics and game play as its Arcade counter parts. So yes it did set the standard.

  21. Personally I know a guy is gay when we meet and i feel the need to check my fly~hd64564

  22. Nice post.It’s all in the eyes and where they are looking~

  23. Personally I know a guy is gay when we meet and i feel the need to check my fly~hd64564124

  24. Your history is fucked up.

    Atari was already dead by the time the NES entered the market.

    In fact at the time i do not think you could buy a new console from anyone. The Video game crash of 83 ended it all for the most part. And one could say it was dead a year or two before that.12345

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