Nintendo is currently enjoying the kind of victory that comes with deciding existing competition isn’t challenging enough, inventing a new sport ten times as big, and winning that as well. PS3 fans mutter darkly about it not being a “real” gaming system: somehow under the impression that Sony is some kind of experimental organisation that doesn’t care about selling units (though that would explain a lot of their business decisions…).

There is no “true” gaming, no Bible of Consoles, and no path to success other than “selling the most units” – a pant which Nintendo has not only run down but probably bought with the profits. It’s taken a long time for Nintendo to reach the all-dominating heights of Mount Wii, though: here we look at various highs and lows along the way.

1. NES

nes

It makes sense that Nintendo would develop the console that brings millions of the previously-apathetic into the fold – they’ve done it before. In 1983 the Nintendo Entertainment System went all CPR-style on an industry which had been killed by a glut of offensively bad calculator-grade consoles, and whose grave had been pissed in by games like Pacman on the Atari 2600.

The NES invented and dominated an entire new market share (sound familiar?), reigning undisputed until the next generation of hardware. Oh, and if any of you commenters want to mention the Sega Master System, make sure you brush your teeth of the filthy stains even uttering the words cause.

2. R.O.B.

rob

Many try to dismiss the Wii as a gimmick, because the way the “actually fun” tactic is beating ten kinds of hell out of their multi-megaflop monstrosities is kind of embarrassing. For reference, this is what a gimmick looks like:

R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy, was every bit as tragic as you’d expect something which says “Videogamers have to buy artificial friends” to be. Filling the niche of expensive and horrifically tragic plastic items twenty years before PVC anime dolls came on the market, ROB worked with only two games. Precisely both of which sucked.

He’s also a warning that Nintendo aren’t the electronic angels the more obsessive fans make them out to be – the toy was aggressively marketed in North America after it was already deader than a Bond villain henchman in Japan. Nintendo Of America’s entire profits that quarter were filed under “Ruining the Christmases of Children with plastic rubbish”

3. Zapper

zapper

Luckily Nintendo would learn the benefits of peripherals which don’t suck with the Zapper, otherwise known as “the best light gun ever”. Companies would spend the next ten years trying to improve on the formula, coming up with abortions like the SuperScope and the Menacer. Generally agreed to be less effective fake guns than the average pointed stick, and slightly less fun.

The Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt bundle converted an entire generation of dedicated Nintendo fans. Another light gun wouldn’t even come close to the Zapper until the PlayStation G-Con – but without another hundred years in sheer Buck Rogerian style refinement, none will ever be as iconic as the orange-grey masterpiece.

4. Power Glove

power glove

Motion control isn’t a new idea – it’s only the technology that we had to wait for, as Nintendo proved with this Ode to Spastic Flailing in 1989. The Power Glove took the can’t-miss fantasy of physical interaction with video games, the star power of The Wizard, and technology which would have worked better if you’d replaced all the sensors with random number generators. The Power Glove was slightly less sensitive than a block of granite that had improbably suffered a stroke, and went on to star in every “Top X Peripherals Ever” from then on.

5. Game Boy

game boy

Inventing and dominating an entire market, take 2. Nintendo has owned the handheld gaming market since they started it in 1989, and anyone who says different didn’t understand the question or works for Sony. The clunky white box shot to first place in a field of one and just stayed there.

It helped that the competitors tried to outshine it with hideously overpowered and expensive hardware (feel free to start seeing a parallel around now). Systems with color displays looked better, but you’d get longer battery life just throwing AAs into a wood chipper. Some Game Gear games were actually impossible to finish as they took longer than the power could possibly last.

It also helped that the Game Boy launched with Tetris, a serious contender for most popular game of all time.

6. SNES

snes

The modern generation of Halo p3wn3rs might not know there was a time when Nintendo were the undisputed technical kings, and that time was from 1990 to 1994. The Super Nintendo was the most powerful console ever released at the time (but bear in mind this was a time when “Number of colors possible” was still a major advertising point). The SNES pads were a revolution for gamers used to cramped claws from the Genesis batarangs or just cutting furrows in themselves with aggressively organic-incompatible NES rectangles.

The SNES didn’t just dominate the 16-bit era – it kicked lumps out of the embarrassingly crude initial forays into 32-bits and CDs, with highly experienced teams maxing out SNES performance with gaming masterpieces which embarrassed the faces off competitors whose main selling point was “Look! Some grainy video!”

7. Virtual Boy

virtual boy

Another failed experiment in revolutionarity (you can use that word if you like), this time from 1995. The Virtual Boy wasn’t so much a Nintendo mistake as a symptom of the 90s as a whole: you couldn’t move for promises that virtual reality would promise a fantastic, if highly polygonal, future.

Understand: this was a decade with Disclosure – a film where a sex scene with Demi Moore is what leads to a virtual reality experience. The exact reverse of the real use of that technology. That said, we can only assume it was opposite day in Nintendo Quality Control and the entire management board had suffered simultaneous head injuries the day this ungainly mess of monochrome headaches was let out the door.

8. Nintendo64

nintendo64

Nintendo skipped the entire 32-bit generation. Unfortunately they didn’t use the extra development time to advance technologically. The N64 continued to innovate, but the radically different trident controller didn’t take off – almost every game but “Blast Corps” reduced it to the regular “Analog stick and buttons” functionality, making it a standard controller with an extra 50% of pointless weight.

This meant that there was nothing distracting from the fact that the N64 was deeply underpowered in comparison to the competition. A few stellar games like Mario 64, the genre-advancing GoldenEye and the absolutely definitive Perfect Dark weren’t enough to save the console from a deserved loss against the PlayStation. It couldn’t even take consolation from defeating their mortal SEGA enemies, as there have been roadkill smears which defeated the Saturn. Even Mario Kart sucked on the 64 – and Mario Kart never sucks.

9. GameCube

gamecube

Ah, the GameCube. Still fun, still cheap and cheerful, and still losing. The Cube lost out to both the PS2 and the XBox. Affordable pricing and Nintendo’s incomparable 1st-party work meant it was still worth buying if only for games like Mario, Zelda and F-Zero, while Metroid Prime remains one of the best things ever to happen to gaming.

But the pattern was clear – Nintendo’s refusal to engage in the “My processors are bigger than yours” pissing contest, or feature games based on large half naked men eviscerating things with blade or bullet, was costing them. Only something Revolutionary could save them:

10. The Wii

nintendo wii

Finally, their powers combined. The vision of the Power Glove, the sharp accessible design of the Zapper, the pricepoint/power balance of the GameCube and the family-friendliness they’ve wanted since the NES brought to the fore (but without banning violent games like in their stupider SNES days).

The expensive lessons of ROB and the Virtual Boy were learned well – the motion-sensing controls work exactly as people hoped, and innovative design makes them more than a one trick pony. And everyone but everyone either has one or is still trying to buy one, a full year and a half after release.

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