Nintendo didn’t become the powerhouse that it is today without difficulty.
Between 1983 and 1985, a video game recession hit the North American market, resulting in a 97% decrease in revenue. This recession, known as the “video game crash of 1983,” was the result of several factors. The first death knell may have been the notoriously awful video game adaptation of E.T. the Extra–Terrestrial for the Atari 2600 (that deserves to be the subject of its own blog), but it was also caused by a flooding of the console market, competition from home computers, and a particularly massive increase of some of the worst games in history.
The American video game market was almost killed in the mid-eighties, but at the same time all this was taking place, Nintendo had released a game console in Japan that would cause a dramatic shift in the industry.
Released in 1983, the system was called the Family Computer, or Famicom, and it initially included ports of Nintendo’s most popular arcade games.
The Famicom was successful enough in Japan that Nintendo decided to sell it on the American market as well, but the crash had damaged the reputation of video games so badly that no American stores wanted to sell a new gaming system.
Nintendo had convinced the stores to sell their new console by bundling it with a toy robot named R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) so that if stores felt nervous about selling video games, it could appear more like they were selling a toy robot that came WITH a video game. By the way, this robot wasn’t just a Trojan horse. R.O.B. was a functional toy that was compatible with two Nintendo games called Gyromite and Stack–Up.
In 1985, the Famicom was test-marketed in the United States with a re-designed appearance under the name of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). First it was sold in New York, then Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco, eventually going national by the end of 1986, and it was a surprise hit.
Atari, the creator of Pong, was seen by many as the leader of the video game industry… until Nintendo came along. Nintendo was clearly the most creative game company, and they came at the perfect time. Nintendo practically revitalized the dying industry single-handedly.
Super Mario Bros. became one of the best-selling games in history when it was bundled alongside the NES upon release. It was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, the mastermind behind Donkey Kong, and his genius for design was becoming more and more evident. SMB was unlike any other game, taking you along a side-scrolling journey instead of remaining on a single screen, which was the norm.
The NES had many other launch titles in 1985 that Nintendo fans hold dearly, including Duck Hunt, Ice Climber, Excitebike, Baseball, Tennis, Golf, Pinball, Kung–Fu, Wrecking Crew, Clu Clu Land, and Mach Rider.
Among the most popular games of the 8-bit era are NES games like The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, Dragon Quest, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, and Punch-Out!! Many of these games have launched long-running series that continue to be popular to this day. The NES is where many franchises got their start. This was the beginning of the age of Nintendo.