Any quest to play retro Nintendo games should probably begin with the NES. It’s one of the most iconic gaming systems of all time, and it essentially revived the home console market in the United States single-handedly after the disastrous video game crash of 1983. Since I am trying to recreate (for myself and anyone who cares to read this) the era of the NES, I should probably know a little about the system’s history. But first, a quick personal background on the NES:
I seem to recall my large family (9 kids) owning a few different NES systems throughout the years. I can’t recall the order of things, but in one phase I went through, I played a lot of Super Mario Bros. This is the earliest instance of gaming frustration I can remember, yet I tried again and again to get further in the game.
At other points in time, we owned the NES Zapper and the Power Pad, plus a cartridge with Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet. My siblings and I had to be careful while playing with that Power Pad (an accessory that lays flat on the ground and senses your running speed using various “pressure sensors”), as our heated sprinting matches could get a little out of hand.
That basically sums up my most important NES memories. The images are vague in my mind, but the feelings remain vivid to this day.
What caused the video game crash of 1983? Actually, I’d like to phrase that question a little differently: what obstacles did Nintendo have to surmount to get the home console business back on its feet? Prior to 1983, Atari pretty much ruled the home console space. Poor marketing and a flood of shoddy products caused both consumers and retailers to lose faith in the home video game business, however, and that part of the industry essentially caved in on itself. Nintendo had already taken the arcade world by storm with Donkey Kong, but despite the dire state home gaming consoles found themselves in, the arcade business continued to survive and thrive.
Nintendo, however, had big plans to bring gaming back into homes, and even bigger odds stacked against them in their mission. Everyone, from consumers to retailers to industry experts, was convinced the home console market was dead, never to return. Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to a limited “test” market in late 1985 and to the entire United States in early 1986. They used a marketing strategy that identified the NES with the toy industry more than the video game industry to soften consumers toward it. It took some time, but the NES picked up steam and wasn’t about to let it go.
Nintendo also had to put measures in place to prevent another catastrophe that could ruin the industry all over again. Game developers had no choice but to work closely with Nintendo in getting their games out on the NES: their games had to be approved by the big N, they couldn’t release more than 5 games per year, and a lockout chip found in NES cartridges made it nearly impossible for unlicensed developers to publish games; in other words, developers had to get cartridges straight from Nintendo. This strategy ensured that the market did not become bloated, as it had in the past, with inferior games.
Of course, Nintendo contributed on the software front, as well. Super Mario Bros. led the charge, and later games like Super Mario Bros. 3 helped carry the torch in the late 80’s and early 90’s. All of this paid off, the NES was a massive success in the U.S., and the rest is history.
That concludes today’s look at the NES itself. As for games, there are still two days left to vote on which game I’ll start my NES Quest playing, out of these four: StarTropics, Ducktales, Paperboy, and Faxanadu. Admittedly, it’s pretty much down to Ducktales and StarTropics at this point, but feel free to vote on whichever strikes your fancy in a comment below (if you haven’t already, of course)! The final results will be posted sometime on Friday.
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