Nintendo makes it to middle age10/28/2015
Why is it that almost anything deemed “classic” is an original? Remakes, spinoffs, “new and improved” — none of these iterations seem to grab the culture like the original. The original muscle cars of the ’60s and ’70s have basically been deified, while many of their updated, late model redesigns have been completely forgotten. The ’69 Camaro, ’71 Cuda and ’68 Shelby Mustang are the classics. One year later? Who cares. I’m sure they’re outstanding, but the original first run was where the genius was found.
For the most part, this isn’t true with technology. While old computers do carry a whiff of nostalgia, they are generally so awkward they’re more of a fun toy than a useable tool. There is one notable exception — videogame consoles. True gamers would never entertain casting off their old school consoles. Not one generation back, like the PlayStation 2; not two decades old, like the Sega Genesis; and most certainly not the granddaddy of them all, the 30-year-old original, Nintendo.
On Oct. 18, 1985, the original, 8-bit Nintendo entertainment system (NES) made its United States debut. Dubbed the Famicon (or Family Computer), Nintendo was already thriving in Japan after its 1983 release. Nintendo’s move to America actually broke from a longstanding tradition in Japan of not releasing its products to foreign markets. However, the Famicon was simply too popular in its home country not to roll the dice and follow major Japanese manufacturers like Toyota, Honda, and Sony by entering American markets.
Easily the most successful gaming system of its generation, the NES quickly became a stateside hit due to its cribbing of a certain plumber from the arcade game Donkey Kong. In fact, Super Mario Brothers was released in tandem with the NES. Beyond Mario and the gang, the NES had better graphics and smoother gameplay than the Atari.
Since 1985, Nintendo has hit a few stumbling blocks with the black and white Gameboy, the poorly designed and headache-inducing Virtual boy, the complete misfire GameCube, and the dead-on-arrival Wii U. Casting aside its poor performers, Nintendo is the only gaming system that can truly call itself a synonym for all videogames, confusing mothers and videogame store attendants across the country.
As important as the original NES was to gaming, the real magic of the Nintendo brand has been the ability to innovate its system and gaming environment. In the 30 years of gaming success Nintendo has enjoyed, it has seen a plethora of rivals give up the console fight, including Atari, NeoGeo, Sega, Nokia, Gizmondo, and even Apple. During its ’90s-Steve-Jobs-exile years, Apple released a ridiculous console called Pippin that swiftly failed. Pippin had only 18 games during its time on the market and was scrapped entirely upon Jobs’ 1997 Apple return.
So how did Nintendo keep winning where others kept losing? Well, first there are the characters (Mario, Zelda, Donkey Kong, Metroid, etc.), but more than that, Nintendo understood home gaming is not about the eye candy of great graphics. Real, life-grabbing gaming systems grab you in a way gaming hasn’t before. Eight-bit Nintendo was smooth, Super Nintendo was fun and had 3D environments, Nintendo 64 really upped the gaming world with multiplayer gaming, and the Wii turned gaming into an activity.
XBox or PlayStation are undeniably beautiful and have great games, but they are not revolutionary. It’s almost as if everyone else is writing top-40 music and Nintendo is composing. Right now, Nintendo is not the king of the gaming world. However, I’d argue that it doesn’t matter. People will always buy the original NES, and in five years no one will be buying the PlayStation Four. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.