1985. There was no internet or cell phones. The video game industry was sagging, and things looked grim. Unless you had a ton of quarters for the arcade, or were friends with the rich kid in class that had an Atari, video games were a spectator sport for you, a treat if you were so lucky.
If you have been paying attention to social media this week, you have a basic idea of what came next. The product that revitalized the industry and became the benchmark for future consoles and video game companies.
Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in North America, selling over 60 million units. We learned the subtle nuances of a side scroller in Super Mario Bros, the vast expanse of the topdown adventure in Legend of Zelda, the sheer rage of aiming a blaster in Duck Hunt.
This week we celebrate its 30th anniversary. I feel SO old typing that.
Let’s take a look at Nintendo over the last 30 years.
For many of us, Nintendo defines our childhood. I remember the ad campaign for the NES Christmas 1985, and the insane near-riot of consumers competing for the system that included two controllers, a zapper gun, and one game cartridge, often the Mario Bros./Duck Hunt duo. New titles were highly anticipated and we showed off our catalog of game cartridges with pride. Even my father played the NES (it was golf, but that counts, right?).
We lost ourselves in Nintendo’s 8-bit world.
The NES begot the Game Boy in 1989, the first portable gaming console that featured tiny pixel graphics in four shades of grey. Game Boy broke records, selling over 150 million units worldwide. Ours came with Tetris, quickly followed by Super Mario Land, the title that convinced me that the devs at Nintendo smoked a LOT of weed at brainstorming sessions.
Case in point; exploding turtles and winged flying Easter Island-esque heads. But it introduced us to Princess Daisy!
The Super NES came out in 1991 with 16-bit graphics and blew our minds. My favorite title, MarioPaint, was the first time I used a mouse and drew on a screen instead of paper…or my desk. So much detention.
1996 saw a double whammy, with N64 and Game Boy Pocket making their debut. The N64 introduced us to 3D possibilities, though lacking in the ability to create a proper curve- ask Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft. Many of may favorite games came out on the N64; Super Mario 64, LoZ Ocarina of Time, and MarioKart 64.
Game Boy Pocket brought us a smaller version of the popular handheld, with a larger screen and different colors than the light grey of the original.
2001 brought us the Game Cube, which refined the N64’s graphics and ran games on optical mini disks (not to mention a more ergonomic controller than the N64’s alien spaceship one). The same year, the improved Game Boy Advance (GBA) came out, blowing previous sales out of the water. LoZ Majora’s Mask, WindWaker and MarioKart: Double Dash took center stage in my house.
Two years later, in 2003, GBA SP introduced the folding clamshell design we still see today, as well as the rechargable battery and a backlit screen (eyeballs everywhere rejoiced). One year later, however, the the first DS gave us a smaller, lighter design featuring a touch screen and regular screen, WiFi compatibility, and backwards compatibility. Video Game stores everywhere stocked replacement styluses for obvious reasons.
2006 was another dual year, with the launch of the Wii introducing exciting new features, like a sleek body, attractive OS and wire-free motion controllers. Another bonus- GameCube games could be played on the Wii with GC controllers. Genius.
The DS Lite, still one of my favorite handhelds, gave us brighter screens and a lighter, smaller body as well as the backwards compatible feature. It sold tens of millions of copies worldwide. I still have mine as well as a decent library of games, one of my favorite being Super Princess Peach, where you use her mood swings and her vibe scepter to solve puzzles and beat enemies.
I’m not even kidding.
2009 saw yet another Game Boy with the release of the DSi. This upgraded version featured cameras (like the original Game Boy minus the pointillism-like imaging), the DSi shop to download titles. One year later we got the DSi XL, with much larger screens, streaming capabilities via Wii.
2011 brought us the 3DS that featured 3D graphics without the need of those annoying 3D glasses.
2013 saw a step away from the favored clamshell design with the 2DS, which was like a flattened version that you could not snap closed and put in your pocket. It was launched to coincide with the release of Pokemon X and Y, but was widely panned for it’s design.
This was refined in 2015 with the 3DS XL, with better controls, bigger screens and the same online capabilities as its predecessors. Also, it snaps shut like all previous DS models. Nintendo learned their lesson it seems.
As for consoles, 2012 gave us the Wii U, which offered better graphics and introduced us to Amiibos; Nintendo figurines that looked great AND enabled new features in titles like SmashBros, Mario Maker and others. The demand far exceeded the supply for many of the figures, with some enterprising fans selling them online for a hefty profit.
Amiibos also work with the 3DS and 2DS handhelds. I won’t lie if I say I was tempted.
In our immediate future? A new 3DS bundle was announced for North America that features a slightly smaller 3DS with removable faceplates to allow owners to personalize their handheld. As for a new console, Nintendo has been teasing us for some time, though the cult-like following of the Amiibos is enough to placate fans for now.
And to think the Video Game industry was stagnating before we were introduced to the NES and their sidescrolling duo of Italian plumber brothers.
Happy Anniversary, Nintendo. Thanks for the memories.
RIP Nintendo CEO Mr. Satoru Iwata. You helped bring those games to life.
*Game Boy silver cartridge blank made by BLUEamnesiac*