THE NINTENDO YEARS

THE NINTENDO YEARS

Beginning a three-day series of Nintendo special features Next-Gen presents a year-by-year summary of the company’s history, picking out the key trends – some familiar, some now often forgotten.

TOMORROW: READ ‘THE WAY OF NINTENDO‘ HERE AT edge-online.com

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Innovation looks at the level of technological ambition – just what was the volume and quality of new ideas coming out of the company at any one time? Software examines the status of the games that Nintendo’s internal teams, and some of their key first- and second-party partners were producing, and Commercial assesses the impact of that hardware and software on the company’s market share and profitability.

For a fuller history, there’s still no better place to start than David Sheff’s Game Over, and among the best online resources is Ken Polsson’s Nintendo Timeline, which can be found via Google.

 

1983

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation
Nintendo graduates from lightguns and Game & Watches with its first home console, the Famicom, which will go on to become a design classic, and which Nintendo will support for more than two decades.

Software
Donkey Kong (pictured) takes Mario from the arcades into the home in his original adventure, and Nintendo launches his private enterprise with the arrival of Mario Bros, which will become a cornerstone of the company.

Commercial
The Famicom sells half a million in just two months, paving the way for the massive growth to follow. Although not a stellar initial performance, the success of the NES effectively builds the Japanese home gaming market.

1984

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation
Alongside familiar lightgun tech in the Zapper, Nintendo introduces the Famicom robot (called R.O.B in the US), which emphasises the Famicom’s identity as a home computer rather than a games machine.

Software
The NES’s early years are distinguished with arcade clones and simple, representative games whose names act as genre definitions as well as complete descriptions, like Golf, F1 Race, Pinball and Tennis (above).

Commercial
Strong sales of the Famicom in Japan are interrupted by reports of the console freezing up on certain games. The failure is traced back the hardware, and Yamauchi takes the hard, but far-sighted, decision to recall all units.

1985

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation
With the Famicom now well established in Japan, and dollars rolling in from the success of the Donkey Kong arcade machine, Nintendo redesigns the casing of its Famicom to suit the new market, and renames it the NES.

Software
Mario is already a star, but the arrival of Super Mario Bros catapults him, and the NES, into a new league. Bundled with the hardware, it remains the best-selling game of all time, topping more than 40 million copies.

Commercial
While the US is initially sceptical of the NES, with memories of the recent console crash all too painful, Japan has enthusiastically embraced the Famicom, buying 6.5 million units of the console in the two years since its launch.

1986

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation
Nintendo takes the first of many bold leaps with the Famicom Disk System. Cheaper than cartridges, and rewritable, the disks could be plugged in at kiosks to download cut-price games, until publishers rebelled.

Software
Four years on, the Famicom begins a golden age, playing host to franchises which will support Nintendo for decades to come, like Metroid and The Legend Of Zelda (above), which relies on the Disk System to save.

Commercial
As the US enthusiasm for home gaming machines is restored, the NES starts to sell as successfully as the Famicom had in Japan. By the end of 1986, Nintendo has sold over a million of its new consoles, and dominates US gaming.

1987

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Innovation
With the Disk System eclipsed by carts with battery saves, a fledgling Nintendo Of America takes the lead by announcing the Hands Free controller, which allows disabled players to play nearly all available NES games.

Software
Incurring the wrath of many new fans, Nintendo releases the side-scrolling sequel to The Legend Of Zelda, but earns the enthusiasm of many new ones with the arrival of Punch Out!!, endorsed by Mike Tyson in the US.

Commercial
US NES sales accelerate to over four million, which combined with Japanese sales take the company to a 70 per cent market share, dwarfing efforts by rival Sega, whose recently launched Master System is failing to win through.

1988

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation
Long before Konami sees its potential for humiliating and exhausting arcade-goers, Nintendo launches its own dance mat, the Power Pad. Designed initially for fitness games, it doesn’t prove a success.

Software
While the original Super Mario Bros cheated its way into the record books by being bundled, SMB3, hits new heights fuelled by franchise fame alone. Also born this year is the Famicom (Advance) Wars series.

Commercial
High-profile games mean that the NES enjoyed another stellar year in the US, selling around seven million units. Despite being five years old, it is showing no signs
of flagging, and won’t be discontinued until 1995.

1989

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Innovation
Gumpei Yokoi, who had moved the company into toys with the Ultra Hand, and into electronics with the Beam Gun, propels Nintendo into handhelds with the Game Boy, which will dominate portable gaming for decades.

Software
The tale of Nintendo’s acquisition of the Tetris rights is one of the best known gaming legends. Ultimately selling more than 30m units, often bundled with the console, it is worth every penny Nintendo pays for it.

Commercial
NES sales in the US continue to accelerate, coming close to 10 million, and Japan is quick to fall for the Game Boy, buying a million within the first year. Between them, the machines take Nintendo to an 80 per cent market share.

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