When covering each console I will cover its actual history, my personal history with it and some info about collecting for the console. Being that this was Nintendo’s first console, I will be covering the company’s history as well.
HISTORY OF NINTENDO
When doing my research for this post I was surprised to see what all Nintendo had been involved in before the birth of the NES. Like most of you, I assumed Nintendo had always been in the business of electronics. However it seems the company has had its hands in a gamut of things including: playing cards, cab services, love hotels and toys. They started with playing cards back in 1889. After goingthrough all the aforementioned ventures they finally started to produce what we now know them for: video games, in the 1970s. Nintendo didn’t start right away with console gaming though. They started with smaller endeavors like Love Testers and light-gun games. Their first arcade game was EVR Race in 1975, after that they had several small titles until hitting it big in 1981 with Donkey Kong which was designed by the now legendary game creator Miyamoto. While developing arcade games they also came out with their first console, the Color TV-Game in 1977. That’s right, the NES wasn’t even their first console. The Color TV-Game was released only in Japan and basically was just six variations of PONG, which Nintendo called Light Tennis. Nintendo developed five different Color TV-Game consoles over the next three years, each was just variations of its specific game. Their next big development was the Game & Watch, a series of handheld video games. Each version of Game & Watch had a different video game on it, they did not have swappable cartridges like the Game Boy system Nintendo would later develop.
HISTORY OF THE NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES)
In 1983 Nintendo developed the Famicom (short for “Family Computer”) for release in Japan. They considered using joystick controllers like the Atari but settled on the pad design of the Game & Watch, primarily since they had so much success and positive feedback on it and because they had limited knowledge of arcade sticks. That would prove to be a key decision because several developers used the Famicom/NES gamepad and attempted to improve upon it through the next couple decades of console developments. They designed the system to look and feel like a professional product. Nintendo wanted to get away from the perception people had about video games. This was a time period shortly following the great video game crash of the early 80s (which I will eventually cover and explain in its own blog post), so the company wanted consumers to think of the system as more of a professional computer system instead of a video game. The stigma and current poor sales related to video games made Nintendo uneasy about launching a state-side version of the Famicom but they eventually would in 1985, naming the U.S. version the Nintendo Entertainment System. Titles developed for it used artwork and images that closely resembled the actual in-game models because part of the reason for the video game crash was the unrealistic depiction of the artwork on past video games. The game covers also included the “Nintendo Seal of Quality”, meant to reassure the buyer that the game had been personally reviewed and approved by the company. Again, all these steps were taken to make consumers feel like they were buying a quality product and to try to distance themselves a bit from all the knock off systems of the Atari 2600 era that had led to the market crash.
In North America the NES was launched in 1985 with two different package options with different prices on each. The Basic Set came with no game for $89.99 ($198.89 today according to http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/) or you could get it with Super Mario Bros. for $99.99 ($220.99). The Action Set came with two controllers, a Zapper (Nintendo’s patented light-gun), Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt all for $149.99 ($331.49). After launch there would be three more named package releases: the Power Set, Sports Set and Challenge Set. The last iteration of the NES would come out late in ’93 for only $49.99 ($82.27) and only came with two controllers and no game. The NES was finally discontinued in 1995, giving it a lifespan of 10 years of North American production, a great run for the early years of console gaming, at that time second only to the Atari 2600. Over its lifespan the NES sold 62,000,000 units worldwide and 34,000,000 in the United States, making it the best selling console of its generation. A few key launch titles were Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Ice Climber and Super Mario Bros.. One key thing Nintendo was the first to do is the licensing of their console to third party developers. For the gaming laymen, this means they encouraged other companies to have access to their development tools and to develop titles for their console as long as Nintendo approved them before launch. This approach is how all current generation console gaming companies (the big three of course being Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony) do business now.
From the controller design, to the decision to work with third party publishers, the NES is the grandfather of the modern day gaming scene. Nintendo has had without a doubt the biggest role in shaping console gaming over the last three decades. System after system they prove to be able to consistently put out quality systems and software. NES set Nintendo on that path. The console itself was a solidly constructed, well marketed medium for some amazing software that would set-up some of the best games of the next 30 years. These excellent franchises all made their debut on the NES: Legend of Zelda, Kirby’s Adventure, Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Mega Man, Final Fantasy and many more. There’s a reason most gamers these days will tell you the NES was their favorite console. It came out the right way, at the right time and holds a special place in many gamer’s hearts.
PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE NES
I touched on it a bit back in the 2600 post, but the NES was my first console. My dad bought it shortly after I was born in 1988. I was encouraged at a very young age to play video games (thanks mom and dad!) and apparently was a natural. Many times my parents have recollected how dad used to have his work buddies come over to our house so they could see first hand how his 3 year old son could beat Super Mario Bros., with or without using warps. I also remember playing lots of Excitebike and Paperboy back then. Once my younger brother Levi was old enough to play along with me we played lots of great co-operative games together, namely the classics Double Dragon, Battletoads and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade. But my favorite game for the NES and still my favorite game to this day, is Super Mario Bros. 3. SMB3 is a pure masterpiece of level design and personality rivaled in my mind only by its concurrent entry Super Mario World. I replay SMB3 every year on my birthday, its my own little gaming tradition. Over the years I’ve played pretty much every key NES title ever made and I can vouch first hand that the NES certainly is something special. Its amazing that a system which just turned 30 years old can still have so many games that remain a blast to play.
COLLECTING FOR THE NES
Back in the 2600 article I explained how I only collect complete-in-box for my absolute favorite game for each system. By reading the last paragraph, you can probably gather that it was Super Mario Bros. 3 that I bought for the NES. Other than SMB3, all NES carts I have are loose but in great shape. So I can give you an accurate idea of what its like to collect loose carts for the NES. On average the NES is only mildly difficult as far as how tough the games are to find. Because it sold so well, there are an abundance of game copies around, even 30 years later. Yard sales, used game stores and sometimes pawn shops are all places worth looking. The problem with NES collecting is that because its so beloved, even people who may not consider themselves “video game collectors”, buy up NES carts all the time. This keeps the price of loose carts middle of the road. For most games you’re looking at a price of about $5-$15. If you’re wanting to pick up key titles like Castlevania or Legend of Zelda then you can expect to spend a bit more, but even then usually not over $25. As I said, these prices and availability are if you want cartridges in really good condition like I do. If you don’t care about the condition of the label then you can save about 30-50%. A common problem you’ll find with buying the games is that for some reason every kid wanted to brand his NES cart with his initials in permanent marker (a problem that seems to also plague SNES and N64 games). This marker can be sometimes removed with various tricks you can find with a quick Google search. On the flip side, if you want them all new in box then you’re looking at double the prices I listed at the very least. These games are 30 years old and highly desired, not many boxed copies remain intact. The people who own complete in box copies know how valuable they are so expect to spend quite a bit more than the $5-$15 I quoted you for loose carts.
Collecting the system itself isn’t too difficult either, aside from two things: the condition you want it in and the pin connector. You can find them without too much trouble at yard sales and retro game stores, but they’re typically not in great condition. They usually have a small chip here or there, or some yellowing coloration in a few spots, or some kid decided to brand their system with that damn Sharpie. If you want one in excellent condition you may have to resort to eBay. Regardless of whether you get a beat-up NES or a seemingly brand spankin’ new one, its probably gonna need a new 72 pin connector. This piece is what you’re pushing the game into when you insert it, it’s what’s connecting with the “teeth” of the cartridge. The pin connector goes bad over time and its thought that it really doesn’t matter how much play the system has seen, after X amount of time the pin connector needs to be replaced. If you get no response on the screen and the system’s power light is flashing red on and off then you need a new one. Luckily this is cheap and easy to do yourself. Head over to Amazon and pick this guy up for only $10: http://www.amazon.com/NES-Connector-Bulk-Packaging-Nintendo-DS/dp/B000A3IA0Y. With a small Phillips screwdriver and this YouTube video you can fix it yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEyV3F_34UY. I just did it myself a couple months ago and it only took an hour.
***UP NEXT IS REVIEW ON NES, BATTLETOADS, BIONIC COMMANDO AND CASTLEVANIA 2: SIMON’S QUEST***