The NES – A Look Back

1984 and 1985 were harsh years for the video game industry.  Thanks to the market crash due to the over saturation of the Atari VCS, not many people were interested in video games.  It seemed just like a quick fad and wasted time.  But little did we know that a not-so-known power from the east would revitalize the video gaming industry and send kids and adults alike into a type of euphoria for years to come.  That power was Nintendo, and that console was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

The Specs:

CPU – 6502 8-bit @ 1.79MHz

RAM – 16 Kb

Video RAM – 16 Kbit

Resolution – 256 x 240 pixels

Available Colors – 52

Max Colors at Once – 24

ROM Cartridge – Front Loading (Top Loading in later model)

2 Controller ports

1 RF Video Output

1 RCA A/V Output

Sound – PSG audio

It wasn’t that Nintendo was a completely unknown company.  They have been around since 1889 in which they produced playing cards.  After dabbing in other areas, they eventually started heading in the electronics area.  They would create exciting arcade games such as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. and would eventually end up taking a gamble by creating a home console system.

Nintendo first released their console in Japan in 1983.  It was known as the Famicom (Family Computer) and did fairly well in the market.  It wasn’t all sunshine though since the system was a bit unstable and many recalls were made to fix the problem.  After enough bugs were worked out and a good market share was established, Nintendo decided it was time to try the North American market.  Not an easy task considering we had just went through the famous video game crash.  But, they were going to try it no matter what.  The name changed to the NES, it had a makeover to look less like a toy, and the carts were a bit bigger.  Unfortunately, retailers weren’t very interested or intrigued by the idea because, again, the video game market was considered taboo.  Nintendo took a gamble and sold it in New York as a test market.  They promised retailers that they would buy back any system that wasn’t sold.  Luckily for Nintendo, they all sold out and the North American audience was ready for the next wave of gaming heaven.  The NES had a full North American release in February, 1986 and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nintendo was rather smart with how they approached the video game market by learning from the mistakes of the past.  For one thing, they made the appeal of the system by including that fat little plumber that we have all come to love – Super Mario Bros.  This just wasn’t some cheap, shitty bundled game.  No, this was a complete game full of awesomness!  Kids had never quite seen a game of this magnitude in their homes at the time (unless you were rich and had an arcade room, of course).  Everyone had Mario fever!

The NES was the crack, and we were all complete addicts.  But this wasn’t the only thing Nintendo was smart with.  They also knew that market saturation was a bad, bad thing.  Nintendo had a strict licensing policy to prevent another crash scenario from taking place.  With the strict licensing policy, not only did they keep a lot of garbage out, they also limited companies to a certain amount of game released per year (I believe around five).  This was actually a very smart move because unlike the Atari, the market wasn’t flooded with shit.  This isn’t to say that there weren’t any bad games on the NES, there definitely were.  But there was a catalog of great games and everyone had to have it.  Certain companies did try to get over the game limit by creating other labels to publish their under such as Konami which used Ultra Games as a secondary publishing title.  Very sly, and it worked.

The NES had its share of competition as well.  Sega tried to gain some market share with the Master System.  Atari started pumping out systems again after realizing the market was good again. Unfortunately, none of these could match up against the Nintendo avalanche that was coming down and crushing everything in its way.  And that was pretty much true.  The NES had so many good things going for it thanks to smart business strategies and great games – Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Castlevania, Excitebike, Contra, Mega Man, Double Dragon, Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!!!, Final Fantasy, and the list goes on.  The competition had no chance because these games were incredible and being a kid at this time, you just couldn’t ask for more!  Add all that in with the amazing ad campaigns – “Now you’re playing with Power!” – Ventures into other markets such as movies and TV shows, cereals, and toys, and there you have the avalanche that was Nintendo.

Speaking of being a kid at that time, it was some kind of magical experience.  I like to refer to us as the “Nintendo Kids” because that’s what we were.  We wanted everything that Nintendo threw at us, for better or for worse. But it was just more than the experience.  It was the interaction as well.  If you lived in a neighborhood like mine where everyone had an NES, it was fascinating!  All the kids would get into big discussions and debates about the latest NES games.  When you had friends over or stayed at a friend’s house, it was all about hardcore NES action.  There was just a certain appeal to it that I haven’t really seen since.  I think most of that is probably do to the fact that we’re all old and boring now.  Okay, I’m still super cool, but you get the gist of it.  I do wonder if the kids of today have that same appeal with the current generation of consoles.  There’s nothing like it, I’ll say that.  Especially back then when you would trade carts with your friends or neighbor kids to be able to play games that you didn’t have or vice versa.  I also think that’s when renting video games became a huge deal.  Nintendo was everywhere.  Everywhere.

All good things must come to an end however.  Well, in this case, it wasn’t so much an end as it was a sequel.  The NES had a long lifespan lasting around ten years.  That’s something that isn’t very conceivable in today’s world.  But it paved the way for what the market is now.  Sure, Atari was pretty much the first home console to get the ball rolling, but it was also the same thing that nearly killed it.  Nintendo made all the right moves and pretty much gave life back to a market that everyone figured was completely dead. And even if I don’t enjoy what Nintendo offers today as much, I still know my roots and know that Nintendo always has that soft spot in my heart for what they did. But the NES would eventually come to that inevitable end and its successor, the Super Nintendo, would offer even more greatness in terms of game quality. Some even refer to it as the greatest console in the history of consoles.  But, again, that’s for another time.

I am so glad that I organized all my gaming stuff last year because it really made it easy to find everything for these articles.  So here is my NES, straight from 1986!

This is our original NES console from way back when.  And guess what?  Of course it still works!  I just had to replace the AC adapter, but other than that, it works just fine.  And by fine I mean having to blow in the cartridges, dealing with that damn orange blinking light, pushing the games up and down a few times.  Ah, just like old times eh?

It brings back so many memories that I could probably write an insane amount about it.  I remember the first time I realized I could smash bricks with my head on Super Mario Bros.  It was a weekend morning and my brother and I were playing while the rest of the family ate breakfast.  I just happened to jump and smashed a brick and I went absolutely crazy in excitement.  I’m pretty sure they laughed at me. Or that time my brother and I were playing a game and my mother walks in with something in a bag. She handed it to us and what did we see before us?  A shiny golden god!  It was The Legend of Zelda, in all its beautiful glory!  Funny thing is, my mom played that game madly while we were in school.  I also remember my older sister playing Super Mario Bros. and constantly getting 1-ups.  She was having trouble getting through the level, but because of those damn 1-ups every time she’d restart the level, the game would never end!  I was dying while I eagerly waited to play Ikari Warriors.  I’m pretty sure it ended up in a fight- mwahaha.

Really though, there’s just too many memories to type out so all I’ll say is that the Nintendo generation was an amazing time and I’ll love these memories, good and bad, forever.


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