The Japanese company Nintendo is a little older than a lot of people expect.
It was actually founded in 1889 under the name Nintendo Koppai, and produced playing cards called Hanafuda (which translates to ‘Flower Cards’). Hanafuda were substitutes for European playing cards, which were banned when Japan closed its borders in the 17th century. These cards were handmade and often popular with the Yakuza (Japanese Mafia) in gambling dens.
Nintendo’s first foray into electronic gaming was technically in 1974 when they held the rights to distribute the Magnavox Odyssey in Japan. The very first home console Nintendo made was called Colour TV Game 6, which was a console with 6 versions of Pong on it. There were five different Colour TV Game consoles released between 1974 and 1980, with each new one evolving and adding something new. All up, Nintendo sold around three million of these.
The first arcade made by Nintendo was EVR Race, an extremely complicated horse racing game released in 1975. A few other cabinets followed and enjoyed some success, however the breakaway hit, both at home and abroad, was 1981′s Donkey Kong. This was one of the first games to include a narrative, and introduced Mario (then known as ‘Jumpman’). This was also Shigeru Miyamoto’s first hit; he, of course, went on to do the Mario and Zelda games, amongst many others.
Wanting to bring arcade style games into the home, Nintendo released its first cartridge based console, the Famicom (short for Family Computer) in 1983, the same year as the great video game crash in America. The Famicom was massive hit, and over 1,050 official titles were released for it between 1983 and 1994. So many of these games were produced, some department stores are still selling second hand cartridges.
The Famicom’s controllers were permanently attached to the console with very short cables, with the second controller having an inbuilt microphone for talking and singing games. It is widely acknowledged that the most frustrating game was Takeshi no Chosenjo. (Look it up; I do not want to talk about this game. I’ve played it.)
The Famicom was redubbed the Nintendo Entertainment System in North America, and was released to a test market in the New Jersey and New York area in 1985; it quickly took off despite supplier’s initial misgivings concerning the 1983 video game market crash.
To make the console more palatable to the North American market, Nintendo also released peripherals such as R.O.B. (Robot Operating Buddy, only compatible with two games), the Light Zapper, and the Power Glove (Nintendo’s first foray in motion control).
The Australian PAL NES was available from 1987, with the only two games made for the Australian market being Aussie Rules Football (in which Canberra and Hobart had teams!) and International Cricket. Both were developed by Beam Software.
The Game Boy was released in 1989 with one of the most famous pack-in games of all time: Tetris. To secure the rights to Tetris, Henk Rogers actually travelled to then-communist Russia to meet the creator. The Game Boy remained the dominant hand-held device for over a decade.
The evolution of Nintendo hand-held games devices goes like this: The Game and Watch Series, Game Boy, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Light (Japan only), Virtual Boy (does that even count?), Game Boy Colour, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Advance SP, Game Boy Advance Micro, Nintendo DS, Nintendo DS Lite, Nintendo DSi/XL and now the Nintendo 3DS/XL.
Meanwhile, with the console war heating up in North America (“Genesis does what Nintendon’t!”) the finishing touches were put on the Super Famicom. First, it was released in Japan in 1990, then as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1991 in North American and finally 1992 in Australia.
Although they were relative late comers to the 16 Bit era, the SNES ended up far outselling the Mega Drive/Genesis after the release of Donkey Kong Country. Once again Beam Software came to the rescue for Australian sports fans with Super International Cricket.
Whilst everyone was moving over to CD-based games and Sony entered the gaming market with the PlayStation, Nintendo decided to stick with cartridges for the Nintendo 64. Originally titled Ultra 64, it was delayed several times until it was eventually release in late 1996 for Japan and America, and early 1997 for PAL regions.
The Nintendo 64 had the option for 4 players and the first to include a rumble pack for force feedback, which is now an industry standard. Although there were some classic games throughout its life, a lot of the 3rd party publishers no longer wanted to publish their games on the N64 due to the limitations of the ROM based cartridges. The worst game is generally considered to be Superman 64. Seriously, don’t play it. It’s awful.
2001 (early 2002 in PAL regions) saw the introduction of the GameCube, as well the introduction of miniDVD optical disc games to Nintendo. At the time, the GameCube was in competition with the Sega Dreamcast (which was on the way out), Microsoft’s Xbox, and the Sony PlayStation 2.
Although the GameCube’s library of games had scored well with the critics, it was heavily criticised for lacking digital audio, games in widescreen, but mostly importantly at the time, DVD movie compatibility. However, the GameCube did have a great peripheral: The Game Boy Player that was compatible with all Game Boy games at the time. The GameCube was quite profitable, but vastly undersold in comparison to the PlayStation 2.
Nintendo used the codename “Revolution” before eventually deciding on calling their next console the Wii (yes, we all had fun with that name). Motion control in video game systems had never been so accurate before, so this caused a lot of anticipation before its release (and even a two-part South Park episode).
With the Wii, Nintendo was trying to appeal to a much wider demographic than its competitors. With add-ons such as the Wii-Fit and a wide variety of user friendly games, people who had never bought a console before were purchasing the Wii. However, some people regarded the motion control simply as novelty and never played any games other than the pack-in Wii Sports. This created something of a Wii-glut in the second hand market.
Now, we’re pretty much up to date with the Wii U. Some of the complaints about the Wii were fixed, such as HD video and much more RAM. So far however, the console is selling far below expectation with only 3.5 million units sold worldwide (in comparison to the near 100 million of the Wii). It’s still fairly early days for the console, so they still might be able to turn things around. Some critics have even suggested that Nintendo should leave the hardware market and concentrate solely on games.
Nintendo has been synonymous with gaming now for almost 3 decades worldwide. My parents still called any console a “Nintendo” (I get revenge on Dad for calling every car a “Ford”) and Mario is one of the most recognisable mascots for any company, video game or otherwise.
However, poor sales of the Wii U and some lousy PR movies have recently marred Nintendo. They recently released a statement saying that although it is allowing people to keep gaming footage up on YouTube, it will receive all the revenue streams from, this included people who put their own commentary over the top, edit in their own material, or review the game for criticism purposes.
Even more recently Nintendo disallowed the live streaming of a Smash Brothers competition (EVO 2013), despite the fact they generated $95,000 for breast cancer research. After the internet exploded in negativity, they reversed their decision.
Even if Nintendo does eventually stop making consoles, many people around the world, fanboy or not, hope they won’t disappear from the games market forever.
Here are my own personal favourites for each console:
- NES – Super Mario Bros. 3
- SNES – Killer Instinct
- N64 – GoldenEye 007
- GameCube – Mario Kart: Double Dash!!
- Wii – WarioWare: Smooth Moves
- Wii U – ZombiU (pretty much the only game I’ve played other than Nintendo Land)
What are yours?
- Andrew “ProdTally” Yoshimura