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Nintendo Entertainment System

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Nintendo Entertainment System System Logo.png
ファミリーコンピュータ Famirī Konpyūta
Nintendo Entertainment System.png
North American model
Release dates
Japan July 15, 1983
North America October 18, 1985 
Europe September 1, 1986
Technical information
Display 8-bit
Media ROM cartridge
Other information
Console generation Third generation
Console type Home console
Successor Super Nintendo Entertainment System
NintendoWiki icon.png NintendoWiki article on Nintendo Entertainment System.

The Nintendo Entertainment System (Japanese: ファミリーコンピュータ Family Computer, or ファミコン Famicom), often abbreviated as the NES, is the second home video game console developed by Nintendo (the first being the Japan-only Color TV-Game series released from 1977-1980). This console is often credited with beginning the third generation of video and computer games. The first title in the EarthBound series was released for this system, though only in Japan. Sales for the Nintendo Entertainment System were high, with a strong lineup of exclusive games such as Kirby's Adventure, Metroid, and Ice Climbers. The console's best-selling titles are Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3. The Nintendo Entertainment System was succeeded by the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

Many games for the Nintendo Entertainment System were re-released as Virtual Console titles on the Wii Shop Channel, the Nintendo eShop for the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, and Nintendo Switch Online. Among these titles is Mother, which was released on the Wii U Virtual Console in 2015 and on Nintendo Switch Online in 2022. Several Nintendo Entertainment System titles are included in Super Smash Bros. Brawl and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U as Masterpieces.


The Nintendo Family Computer

The Nintendo Famicom.

Since before the success of their Game & Watch line of systems and their venerable arcade games such as Donkey Kong and Mario Bros., the president of NCL (Nintendo of Japan) at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, had tasked a team of engineers with creating a home computer gaming system. Due to the video game crash of 1983 in America, Nintendo had an opportunity to enter a milion-dollar industry with their console, since the crash that destroyed the console playing field over in America had not affected Japan in the slightest. One of Yamauchi's desires for the console was to keep the system's price point at around 9,800 yen, or 71.27 American dollars (worth roughly 221.03 US dollars in 2023). One of the console's engineers (and one of Nintendo's wisest advisors and technical gurus), Masayuki Uemura, had the technological capabilities to make the console a 16-bit system; but since Yamauchi wanted the price to be as low as possible, Uemura made the system an 8-bit machine instead, while Yamauchi further lowered the costs for the console by way of brutal negotiations. One such tactic was promising the Japanese electronics company Ricoh a sale of three million semiconductors, but only on the condition that they each be priced at 2,000 yen each. In this manner, Nintendo's new system could be more powerful than its competitors while still being the cheapest one out of all of them. [1]

Their console, the Family Computer System (or the Famicom), would be based off of the Atari 2600, with upgraded computer chips and controller input to differentiate itself from Atari's console. [2] The console eventually ended up costing 14,800 yen (105.44 US dollars, roughly 322.33 US dollars in 2023), which, while not as cheap as Yamauchi originally wanted it to be, was still cheaper than its competitors. The Famicom was designed around the internal architecture of Nintendo's arcade cabinets, as Nintendo wanted to to match the cabinets' powerful sprite and scrolling capabilities, with Nintendo also planning to release ports of Nintendo's popular arcade titles onto the Famicom system. Masayuki and other engineers "slaved over calculations" and fervently experimented on the Famicom's innards, trying their best to make the machine's limited components put out their maximum potential; "We had to accomplish this exactly. It was the order from the president. So much was riding on those experiments." Uemura would later quote. [3] Uemura was also instructed by Yamauchi to design the Famicom with the potential to hook up to a modem or keyboard to function as a computer; while this never came to fruition, it showed how far ahead of the bell curve Yamauchi could think. [4] The Famicom was also designed to look like a toy and not like a PC system to appeal to Japanese electronic stores, as they were not favorable towards carrying video game systems in their stores as they required televisions to operate. The maroon and cream color scheme was decided by Yamauchi upon viewing a scarf and a tv antennae with the same color scheme. [5]

The Famicom launched on July 15th, 1983 in Japan to immense critical and commercial reception, with its launch line-up consisting of home console ports of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. Shortly after its release, multiple reports came in from all over Japan that the Famicom would freeze or crash during gameplay; a problem caused by faulty chips in each and every Famicom console that malfunctioned. In response, Nintendo recalled every Famicom system (including the non-faulty systems) on the marketplace and replaced the motherboards for each and every system, with the consumers who had the faulty Famicoms being given the option to send in their defective Famicoms for repair free of charge. This act of goodwill bolstered Nintendo's image in the eyes of Japanese retailers, and the Famicom would move 500,000 units for the rest of 1983, with TV manufacturer Sharp producing a commercially-available TV set with a built-in Famicom. [6] Sharp also produced multiple iterations of the Famicom, including one which combined both the standard Famicom and its add-on, the Famicom Disk System, into one console. The initial release of the Famicom had a smooth-bottomed console and square controller buttons; since it had a weak lockout chip and soft square buttons could wear down, the console and controller were revamped with a rougher-textured bottom, a better lockout chip and round plastic controller buttons, which became the more widespread release. [7] Three million Famicom units were sold by 1984, with 19.32 million units being sold by the end of the Famicom's lifetime. The Famicom would become the most popular console system in Japan at the time, with Nintendo controlling 90 to 95% of the video game market at the time, with this fact being especially touted by Nintendo of America when bringing the Famicom to the U.S. Manufacturing for the Famicom lasted two decades before it was finally shut down in 2003, with the last published Famicom game, Master Takahashi's Adventure Island IV, being released in 1994.

The Nintendo Entertainment System

The Nintendo Advanced Video System from a January 1984 Las Vegas CES brochure. Here, you can notice the multiple applications for the system and its accessories. The console, tape deck/data recorder, and musical keyboard could also fit on top of each other for an ergonomic setup. [8]

The Famicom was planned to be released in the United States, and the initial planning was for Atari to distribute the system in America, with Nintendo of Japan receiving a royalty check for every unit sold. While Atari and Nintendo were enthusiastic about the deal, Atari eventually backed out of the deal entirely due to a skirmish between Coleco, Atari, and Nintendo for the home computer and console rights for Donkey Kong, and Atari's dire financial state during the video game crash of 1983. As a result, Nintendo had to market and distribute the American Famicom themselves. [9] To the chagrin of Nintendo, American retailers were adamant about not selling any video game system ever again because of the crash of 1983. To remedy this, the system was redesigned multiple times to appear more like a consumer electronic device on the behest of the president of Nintendo of America (NOA for short) at the time, Minoru Arakawa. The name for the American Famicom was originally the Advanced Video System, with multiple prototypes of the system being showcased throughout various electronic trade shows in 1984 and 1985. The device was conceived to have multiple applications, with several add-ons for the console being a tape deck/data recorder, a piano keyboard, a joystick, a programmable BASIC cartridge, and a typewriter keyboard. [10] The system was touted as less of a toy and a video game console and more as a high-end revolutionary entertainment system capable of "images that actually appear three-dimensional". It was also touted as being the first system to be "designed to fit in with other fine audio and video components", the first system "that allows play of music as well as games", and the first system that was "more than a toy". [11] The Advanced Video System (or AVS) also came with two infrared wireless controllers, (the AVS was meant to have no wires for the system and its applications at all, the only wires for the AVS being the ones that would plug the "cartridge controller" into the wall and into the television. [12]), and a sleek and futuristic "Light Wand", which could be used as a "Light Gun" in target games such as the hit Famicom game Duck Hunt, which was also showcased at the events along with the Famicom titles Baseball, Excitebike, Golf, Tennis, and Donkey Kong Jr. Math. NOA's sole marketing staff member Gail Tilden also announced that the AVS would come with 25 launch games [13], with the AVS itself supposedly launching in June. [14] An article also claimed that Nintendo stated that "a wide range of software would be marketed for all age levels" [15].

A second major design for the Nintendo Advanced Video System from a June CES 1985 brochure, now called the Video Entertainment System [16]. Notice the removed accessories from the previous iteration.

However, the potential retailer's receptions at the various trade show events were lukewarm at best; while they enjoyed the system and its titles, they saw through the AVS being a high-end entertainment system and saw it for what it really was: another video game console that had a very high probability of crashing and burning in a market that had excised new video game consoles and titles from it only a scant year earlier. As such, they were extremely skeptical of its chance at success in the U.S. and refused to place any orders, with additional critiques going out to the keyboards and infrared controllers on the basis that children would hate them. [17] In response, Nintendo decided to create a trojan horse that would bring the AVS into the homes of American children and would make it appear more of a toy and a uniquely sophisticated futuristic electronic device rather than have it bear the stale and damaged perception of video game consoles in general; a robot buddy accessory named R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), who could play Famicom titles like Robot Gyro and Robot Block (Gyromite and Stack-Up in the U.S., respectively) alongside you as a second player. The trade show adverts by Nintendo highlighted R.O.B. and his functions in particular: "He's the star of a new entertainment system that's programmed to make you rich." [18] While the robotic persona reportedly "worked like a charm" to drive intrigued visitors to Nintendo's booth [19], R.O.B. was merely a marketing gimmick, and retailers saw through the pretense of a robotic buddy (R.O.B.'s original name was OTTO, a play on the word "auto"; however, Gail Tilden settled on the name R.O.B. instead [20]) and still did not advocate for the system's American release. Despite Nintendo of America's staff calling R.O.B "hysterically slow" and it being difficult to make the sales-pitch "exciting", most of the staff agreed that the robot was indeed "cool" and that "it was fun to play! But again, like Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, I wouldn't want to do it for 40 hours", according to product designer Don James. [21] Simply put: it could fulfill its mission as a trojan horse for the AVS (probably). The AVS itself also underwent several changes in response to the 1984 CES reception: the tape deck/data recorder, the keyboards (both musical and typewriter), the programmable BASIC cartridge, and the joystick were all removed from the fray, leaving only the console, its controllers (now with wires), R.O.B., and the "Light Wand" (now the Light Gun). The number of launch games for the AVS decreased from 25 to 20 games, and then down to only 18, which were hand-picked by Nintendo of America warehouse manager Howard Phillips on the basis of what games would be the most fun for an American market. [22] The AVS's name was also changed to the Video Entertainment System (or the VES). [23] In addition to the changes to the VES itself, Nintendo began intensely centering the VES's marketing around R.O.B. on the front of advertisements and other promotional materials for the VES, believing him to be the epitome of the NES's futuristic and sophisticated marketing skew which continued until mid-1986.

The final design for the Advanced Video System/Video Entertainment System, now the Nintendo Entertainment System. In the top middle are the boxes for Duck Hunt and Gyromite.

In the face of continued opposition from American retailers, the VES was changed into its final design around June 1985 [24], with the console, controllers, and the Light Gun (now the NES Zapper) undergoing major cosmetic and functional changes, with R.O.B. receiving only minor differences in coloration and structuring. The VES's top-loading cartridge acceptance, like the Famicom, was removed, and replaced with a side-loading deck system similar to a VCR device. To support the new side-design, the VES became significantly less sleek and refined and more angular and blocky. The VES controllers' flat directional pad was changed to a plus sign-shaped D-Pad, which was brought over from the Famicom controller. (Another thing to note is that the NES's controllers both contained START/SELECT buttons and the first-player controller did not include a microphone throughout all of its designs, unlike the Famicom's controllers.) The console's color aesthetic remained mostly the same, though the light/dark gray and black color scheme received more prominent red highlights throughout the design. The launch line-up was whittled down from 18 to 17 games, with two being included with the console: Duck Hunt and Gyromite. The NES Zapper was also changed from an angular and detail-barren gun to a more simple and practical design, with the words "Nintendo Zapper" being emblazoned on the side of it. The words "Nintendo Entertainment System" were also emblazoned on the deck flap of the NES console itself in red, to reflect the console's newest and final name. (The POWER and RESET buttons also had their words in red.) The NES cartridges and boxes were also changed: To fit the console's side-loading cartridge function, the NES cartridges were changed from being squat and rectangular-shaped like the Famicom cartridges and were instead redesigned to be tall and long. (Later NES games could take advantage of this by upgrading its hardware inside the spacious cartridge shell.) The boxes were also designed to be longer than the cartridges themselves in order to show more detail on the boxes regarding the game; a single block of styrofoam was packaged in the box so the cartridge and other materials wouldn't move around an excessive amount inside the box. This was all done to make the games seem more like VHS tapes, which played into Nintendo's "entertainment system' marketing strategy. The boxes also displayed game-accurate graphics on the front to avoid misleading customers on the game's graphical capabilities; Nintendo felt that Atari had erred by showing lavish paintings of the games on their game boxes. And finally, the NES console would be packaged with two controllers, Duck Hunt and Gyromite, the Zapper, and R.O.B. in a bundle that would retail for the price of $130. [25] Despite these changes, the reaction at the trade shows did little better to encourage retailers to place orders; in addition, a focus-group test showed that children hated the console, with a typical 8-year-old's reaction being: "This is s**t!" A solemn Arakawa had to be reinvigorated by Yamauchi, who told Arakawa: "Try to sell the system in one American city. Then, if it fails, it fails. But we must get it into the hands of the customer. That is the only test that matters." After consideration between Arakawa and other Nintendo of America heads, Yamauchi decided to release the NES in New York City first, as it would be the most difficult place to sell NES systems in: it had been hit the hardest by the 1983 crash, and its buyers were among the most "cynical" and "savvy" buyers in the U.S. Yamauchi then granted Nintendo of America a budget of $50,000,000 to get the job done. [26]

An NES booth in FAO Schwartz from early 1986. Here, you can see multiple NES console sets and displays.

In the late summer of 1985, 100,000 units of the NES were shipped to a dark and dingy warehouse in Hackensack, New Jersey, with 35 NOA employees being sent there as well. After Arakawa encouraged the team with the promise that "If we can get the players to see it, it will be really big". The team (described by David Sheff in his 1993 book "Game Over" as being more of a SWAT team) spent the next five months doing everything that they possibly could to get the NES onto retailer's shelves, including devising an extensive ad campaign that centered around the NES being a powerful, revolutionary futuristic entertainment device (like a commercial that featured two brothers' house skyrocketing upwards towards outer space after playing their NES); setting up colorful NES booths in many stores and malls, and having NOA's Howard Phillips, an excellent spokesman, draw in customers to get hooked on the machine; hiring professional athletes to promote the NES in stores and malls (one such mall director forbade an NOA team from turning on the NES console, claiming they would attract the "wrong sort of crowd"; she just wanted to meet the baseball stars); repeatedly contacting malls and store operators to agree to allow them to demonstrate the NES; and going out in droves, pair by pair, to hand sell the system to as many department stores, toy and electronic shops, retail shops, malls, and stores in the New York area, even setting up the NES booths and window displays in the stores themselves. [27] Arakawa also went out with the rest of the team; he could be even seen running up a large flight of stairs with a TV in his arms, just to "see what it was like." [28] The team even stood next to Mets stars who were signing autographs and tried to get anyone passing by to listen to their pitch, with Mookie Wilson and Ron Darling even playing Baseball for the NES on a large-screen television. The team contacted companies like Toys "R" Us, Sea, Circuit City, and Macy's to host the NES in their stores; most of them were not interested, with the founding chairman of Toys "R" Us and a select few others being open to the idea. Arakawa then offered a risky strategy that troubled Yamauchi: Nintendo would stock the stores and set up their window displays and interior displays, while the stores didn't have to pay for anything for ninety days; afterwards, those stores would pay Nintendo for what they had sold and could return the rest for free. Despite being a risk-free proposition for the stores, the store owners were still skeptical, though the companies eventually agreed to the deal with the general consensus that the deal would be Nintendo's downfall. On the marketing side of the NES mission, Gail Tilden was responsible for creating the NES marketing vernacular for the system and its accessories: consoles were no longer "consoles" but "control decks"; game "cartridges" were now "game paks" (sic); and the use of "video game" was rebranded as a "entertainment system". This was done to remove the foul reminders of Atari from the public's view of the NES. In the meantime, the team was losing spirit--Arakawa's promise gave little respite at this point--it was a long, slow process to get stores to agree to stock the NES, even with Arakawa's tactic in play; it often took multiple phone calls to convince stores to stock the NES, with no guarantees that their decision wouldn't be immediately revoked based on the opinion of their other management heads. Journalists, the trade press, and reporters were entirely non-receptive to NOA's plight. Multiple stores, malls, and shops did agree to do so, though, and the number continued to climb as the fall and winter season wore on, largely in-part due to the extraordinary efforts of the NOA team. Eventually, enough stores agreed to stock the NES that the NOA team's spirits were bolstered, though Howard Phillips had a rather unpleasant encounter with a security guard while setting up an NES window display at a Toys "R" Us. [29] The team hosted an NES "birthday" party on October 10th at a place called The Visage, with the advert inviting children to experience a "child's-eye" view of the NES. T-shirts and pins with R.O.B. the robot on them were given around at the party while multiple silver R.O.B.s stood guard around a giant R.O.B. statue. [30][31]

An early 1987 NES ad featuring R.O.B. the robot.

The Nintendo Entertainment System was released for around 179.99 U.S. dollars (roughly 511.73 American dollars in 2023) [32] in late October, 1985. One of the first NES sales belonged to a man who purchased the NES system and all additional 15 launch titles at an FAO Schwartz while multiple NOA employees crouched behind a nearby pillar; he later turned out to be part of a Japanese competitor. [33] Nonetheless, the NES system would go on to sell 50,000 units for the Christmas season: while it wasn't as many as Nintendo was expecting, it was still a start, largely due to the monumental efforts that the NOA "SWAT-team" gave. The NOA staff had a lonely Christmas themselves, as most of them could not journey back home to their families to celebrate as their plane flight back to Seattle (NOA's headquarters) had been cancelled due to fog. Armed with their accomplishment, though, the team would go on to prepare a nation-wide launch in 1986, first starting with Los Angeles in February (which was tougher than New York as February was a bad month for L.A. retailers), which was greeted with an enthusiastic response from retailers yet still maintained the gradual pace from before; then Chicago, then San Francisco, and then several Texan cities before finally unleashing the NES across the entire nation. NOA partnered up with fledgling company Worlds of Wonder (formed by ex-Atari employees) with their hit products Teddy Ruxpin and Lazer Tag to distribute the NES throughout the states (Nintendo would end up hiring the sales force from Worlds of Wonder when the company faced bankruptcy later on due to an excess amount of unsold Teddy Ruxpins [34]) while toy company Mattel handled the distribution system in Canada and some European countries. [35] [36] NOA's vice-president of marketing, Peter Main, also planned a full-out advertising, promotion, and distribution blitz that accompanied the rollout of the NES into stores nationwide, what he would later only describe as "Nintendo's 'storming of Normandy'." [37] He would also infiltrate Wall Street and presented Nintendo's debt-free and successful history to the electronic and toy store's key analysts within Wall Street, causing the name and stories of Nintendo to spread like wildfire throughout Wall Street and bolstering Nintendo's image and popularity. This also caused multiple toy and electronic retailers to sign up to stock the NES including Sears, Babbages, Circuit City, Kmart, and Walmart (many of them the ones that initially turned down Nintendo's offer in 1985), which would generate a self-feeding fire by causing the various retailers to each stock more of Nintendo's products to try to compete with the other. "It became a fulfilling prophecy that something would happen", Main would later quote. [38] New NES system bundles were created as well; A Control Deck set was released, with the deck and two controllers being included in the bundle, as well as a pack-in title: Super Mario Bros., Shigeru Miyamoto's hit Famicom title that was also released as one of the launch games for October 1985; the NES system bundle from 1985 was rebranded as the NES Deluxe Set, with the words "DELUXE SET" being added to the front of the box, along with new images as well; and a limited edition version of the NES Deluxe Set came with an additional pack-in title along with Duck Hunt and Gyromite: Stack-Up, the only other game that R.O.B. could play with you. Being the NES's trojan horse, R.O.B.'s only purpose was to get the NES into the homes of the U.S. children that were robot-obsessed, so R.O.B. was quickly fizzled out and he vanished from Nintendo's marketing plans and advertisements around mid-1987. But it didn't matter; once children across America got ahold of the system, "nobody missed R.O.B....once players realized that games played with the standard controller, like Super Mario Bros., were much more fun." [39] Perhaps the greatest example of this is the NES Action Set, a bundle released in 1987 consisting of the NES, two controllers, an NES Zapper (later versions had the gray color scheme changed to a neon-orange color as laws regarding toy guns became stricter [40], while an additional lawsuit and suing against NOA by a soldier who claimed that he had mistook the gray Zapper as a real gun necessitated the change as well [41]), and a combo cartridge containing both Duck Hunt and Super Mario Bros.; this bundle would go on to be the best selling NES bundle in the console's history, almost certainly contributing to the cumulative sales of Miyamoto's Super Mario Bros. (more than 40 million copies worldwide [42]). The NES would go on to sell 3 million systems by the end of 1986, with the NES selling 6 million more by 1987. [43] At the end of its lifetime, the NES would go on selling over 34,000,000 systems in the U.S. alone, leading to a cumulative 61.91 million sales worldwide, with 19.32 million units being sold in Japan and 8.56 million additional units being sold in other regions. [44] The last officially licensed NES game in North America was Wario's Woods, released in 1994 (also the only NES title with an ESRB rating), while the final officially licensed NES game ever to be released worldwide was The Lion King, which released only in Europe. The NES officially halted production in the U.S. and Europe on August 14th, 1995, which replacement NES systems being made available for $25 until (at least) December 1996 through the Nintendo Power Swap program. [45]


Nintendo's Hotlines

A 1988 line-up of NES games and accessories from 1985-1987.

The NES infected the Japanese and American pop culture zeitgeist, with Nintendo firmly establishing itself in the and first making its name known in the U.S. as the de-facto video game company in both Japan and America until Sega's uprising in the early 90s, being featured in countless mainstream magazines, articles, television and media references, advertisements, and fictional media such as the 1989 The Wizard film, in which a boy is an intuitive master of Nintendo games (the film was used to promote Super Mario Bros. 3) and The Simpsons, where the NES and Nintendo characters also make appearances. When Phil Rogers, the head of consumer service department, set up the phone lines for NOA's headquarters with four operators at the helm in February 1986, NOA had no knowledge about customer service; "we knew about service to distributors because we'd been doing that for arcade games, but we'd never even talked to a consumer." Rogers would later state. [46] Soon after, calls came "flooding in", so much so that Rogers purchased a $40,000 electronic call distributor in 1987, with 550 people answering 150,000 callers a week on a recently-bought 3,000,000-dollar phone system in 1988. Eventually, NOA's 1-800 number was backed up often because half a million callers came in every week. Questions regarding NES games were directed over to Howard Philips and other game players under Don James, the co-head of NOA. Bilingual representatives were hired for the French and Spanish callers, while Nintendo established a 1-900 number, which was a Captain Nintendo Hotline for "tips and adventure stories about Nintendo games." [47] A toll-free 1-800 Nintendo hotline number was soon established to help callers out with tips, tricks, and guides to difficult parts of NES titles, with the number even being put into 1987's The Legend of Zelda's instruction manual by Minoru Arakawa who knew that the game was a difficult one; Arakawa eventually had to increase the original NOA hotline staff members to 200 to 400 by 1990 (500 for the holiday rush). [48] "Game Counselors" worked the 1-800 number, offering answers to any questions a caller might have regarding NES games; by 1990, the 1-800 toll-free hotline became so expensive that The callers for all of NOA's hotlines never decreased, even when the 1-800 toll-free number was removed later on. A seven-minute time limit was also placed before the 1-800 number was removed and continued through to the 1-900 number; by the three-minute mark, the Counselor had to make sure the caller (usually a child) was speaking to them with their parents knowing about the phone bill, and by the end of the time limit, the Counselor had to gently let the caller off the phone, no matter what. [49] [50] But it didn't matter in the slightest in the end; the hotline, with "Gameplay Counselors" manning the lines on an hourly basis and being ready to help any hapless or questioning NES players with their system or game title further cemented Nintendo's "caring" reputation among its customers. [51] [52]

Nintendo Power

The first Nintendo Power issue, released in July/August of 1988. The cover is based off of Super Mario Bros. 2 and features clay models of both Mario and Wart from the game. The clay models were done by Will Vinton Studios in Oregon, known for California Raisins fame. [53]

The NES's success also gave rise to NOA's in-house magazine named Nintendo Power in late 1988, which gave game walkthroughs, cheats, hints, a list of upcoming titles, NOA's 1-800 hotline number, and advertisements for Nintendo products and peripherals from the past, present, and future. (There were even contests with winnable real-life prizes.) An Official Nintendo Player's Guide book was released in the late 80s, covering various walkthroughs of NES titles, while Nintendo Power Strategy Guides for NES titles were also periodically released between the bimonthly standard issues, which were essentially entire "issues" devoted entirely to the walkthrough, guide, and tips and tricks to NES titles such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Final Fantasy. After Nintendo Power became monthly, entire books were published with Nintendo Power that covered multiple walkthroughs of games from various platforms or specific, such as the NES GAME Atlas, Game Boy, Mario Mania, and Super Nintendo Entertainment System books, with Nintendo Power branded Player's Guide issues that covered one specific game's walkthrough, with this later formula being emulated by BradyGames and Prima's game guides. The magazine succeeded NOA's former free-to-join Nintendo Fun Club newsletter, which functioned similarly to Nintendo Power. The final issue of the newsletter encouraging its over-600,000 subscribers [54] to transfer over to Nintendo Power. Howard Phillips later stated, "When we first launched the NES in 1985, we figured out very quickly that kids were just dying to get extra information about the games—not just new games that were coming out, but also how to play them." [55] Thusly, after the NOA hotlines were formed, Howard Phillips and Gail Tilden started up the Nintendo Fun Club newsletter to provide a more inexpensive solution. As the Nintendo Fun Club was becoming too costly to produce, the newsletter was discontinued in 1988, with Nintendo Power succeeding it. Instead, Arakawa hired Howard Phillips and Gail Tilden to create the paid-subscription Nintendo Power magazine to satisfy readers' insatiable appetite with a biannual 100-page coverage of all things Nintendo, having seen several examples in Japan and deciding that that should be the focus of the magazine. (Famitsu, Famicom Tsushin, Jump, etc.) The magazine's purpose, in the end, was to ensure the longevity, satisfaction, and enjoyment of the Nintendo brand in America. [56] Howard Phillips was responsible for fact-checking the NES coverage in the issues, as well as inventing the modern walkthrough format; he and the Nintendo Power studio would take pictures of the game screens, which the team would then cut out with X-Acto knives and paste them together into one big collage of the game world map.[57] Howard Phillips was also featured as a character in a Nintendo Power comic strip, "Howard and Nester", in which Howard, dressed in a polka-dotted bowtie and having short, impeccable ginger hair (both of which were present on Phillips in real life: by this time, he had gained a Howdy-Doody quality to him), and the fictionalized teenage skate-punk Nester (NES-ter), engaged in comedic adventures based on the game on the previous issue's cover. [58] The strip was eventually dropped, but the strip further helped the magazine gain a unique identity to itself.

Gail Tilden also found a perfect voice for the magazine, one that didn't talk down to children and belittle them whilst managing to keep the magazine upbeat and relatable without giving the air of an adult failing to relate to their kid's generation; According to David Sheff in his book Game Over, that voice was a "cross between the dialogue in Wayne's World and a Pee-wee Herman routine." The magazine became the largest-circulating U.S. children's magazine by the end of its first year, while 6,000,000 subscribers were gained by the year 1990. [59] Around this time, Howard Phillips had upgraded from being NOA's warehouse manager to being one of Nintendo's official play-testers, becoming so good at hundreds of NES titles that he was the first person to be given the official nickname of "Game Master", with him eventually becoming the face of Nintendo to the American mind, with his celebrity Q scoring higher than Pee-wee Herman, Madonna, and The Incredible Hulk. [60]. Soon, an internal game counselor sect called "The Big Three" was formed, which consisted of Don James (who headed product analysis to determine that the games that Nintendo put out were of good quality), Howard Philips, and Shigeru Ota, who evaluated Famicom game imports from Japan to choose whether it would be released in the United States on a point-based system. If a game's fate was unknown, the game was tested by a bigger sect called "GC6" (six game counselors), in which six more evaluators gave their opinions on the matter. "First you think every game is the greatest. Then you get more critical," a member of GC6, Phil Sandoff (most likely a misspelling of Phil Sandhop) would later quote. [61] It expanded once more, including play-tester children who filled out various forms on the game, which directly influenced the Power Meter, the culmination of accumulated data from play-testers on the game. Based on the game's ratings, it would assist NOA in determining how "strong" the game was going to be and how much NOA could support the licensee or development team that had created a "fantastic" game; one of the ways was by giving extensive coverage in Nintendo Power. In fact, Nintendo Power became so influential among the gaming industry that third-party NES licensees often depended on the magazine's extensive coverage to advertise their NES titles to the American Nintendo audience; accusations were made about possible illegal monopolistic actions made by Nintendo with the magazine, such as giving minimal mention or coverage of a licensee's NES titles when the company was not on good grounds with Nintendo (i.e. making games for Sega's systems, complaining about Nintendo's limiting contract) and showing more coverage of a game(s) (some of them even bad) that was made by a company in Nintendo's good graces. Gail Tilden denied this, insisting that every game had an equal chance of making it into the magazine, no matter which company it was. [62] Gail Tilden also reported later on that some licensee's games would receive less coverage based on the game's low quality, while Howard Philips felt his integrity on evaluating NES games were "rock-solid", featuring the best-scoring game on the issue's cover. [63] If there wasn't a "super hit game" (a 32 point or above score on a 40 point scale) coming out, and there was a game that scored a 30 and there were no other high-scoring games like it, that game would be featured on the issue's cover "because it was the best game for that period." [64] Despite the continuing resentment and accusations from Nintendo's disgruntled licensees, Nintendo Power would go on be one of the most cherished, successful, and influential gaming magazines of the industry, spawning dozens of separate game magazines following the same formula, eventually becoming monthly in January of 1991 [65], and finally being discontinued a record-breaking twenty-four years after its introduction.

The Impact of Nintendo and the NES

The movie poster for The Wizard, the Universal Pictures film that helped promote Super Mario Bros. 3 and grossed 14,278,900 dollars on a $6,000,000 budget. [66]

With the hotline and Nintendo Power, Nintendo's American reputation was firmly established in American minds, though not without some drawbacks: Nintendo faced lawsuits from various companies (and often conducted various lawsuits against other video game companies themselves) about Nintendo's monopolistic practices in the U.S. and the possible side-effects of video games on the minds of U.S. citizens and children, most of which are covered in Game Over. [67] Nintendo won every time, thanks to its excellent lawyers, and Nintendo and its money-making NES persisted in the American culture. The NES also gave birth to the "Nintendo Generation", which were the young children who grew up with the NES during the late 80s and early 90s, passing game codes, secrets and rumors at schoolyard playgrounds, faking being sick to stay home and play their NES, and devouring each issue of Nintendo Power with aplomb. This was further helped by Nintendo's various television advertisement campaigns, which set Nintendo in the eyes of the advertisement business and made a distinct and unique impression on the viewers of the ads. Nintendo's advertisement partners ranged from FCB (advertising agency), Leo Burnett, Pepsi (through its smaller drink brand, Slice), McDonald's with promotional Happy Meal toys based on the characters from Super Mario Bros. 3 [68], and even Universal Pictures with creating the film The Wizard, which Jeff Ryan described in his book Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered the World as an "hour-and-a-half commercial" for Super Mario Bros. 3. [69]. At the height of its popularity, the NES was in one out of three American homes. [70] The NES library contained first-party titles that are still revered as some of the best games of all time today through innumerable lists of NES favorites, and licensed third-party titles ranging from mega-popular fictional franchises to live-action films from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to Ducktales to The Simpsons to Top Gun to Back to the Future. The "Nintendo Seal of Quality" was also established on the NES game covers by Gail Tilden to assuage any retailers or buyers of the excellent quality of the NES system and its titles back in 1985 after Atari and is competing rivals churned out low-quality game titles back in the early 80s. Nintendo employed a rigorous contract with its third-party developers, in which Nintendo was later repeatedly persecuted against; one part involved Nintendo manufacturing every NES cartridge even if it was a third party licensee's game and receiving a lion's share of all the profits reaped from the games' sales, while another part detailed that no game could be released without Nintendo's express approval. [71] [72] Despite this, many third-party licensees signed up to make NES games, such as Konami with their games Castlevania and Contra, and CapCom with its Mega Man and Ducktales series of games. Nintendo also held back on possible sales for the NES and its games, which angered industry heads and retailer representatives; nonetheless, the NES and its games would still be among one of the most successful products sold in the late 80s and early 90s, with the gaming industry eventually being rivaled only by the movie industry in terms of grossing money. One such example is with the 1990 title Super Mario Bros. 3, which sold 14,000,000 copies worldwide with its total grosses only being succeeded by the Spielberg blockbuster E.T. film, with Super Mario Bros. 3 going on become the highest-selling individual game in history at the time. [73] The video game industry earned 450,000,000 dollars in sales in 1986 [74], with the video game industry being a $5,000,000,000 industry by 1990 with Nintendo maintaining a firm grasp of over 90% percent of that. [75] Multiple third-party companies became famous due to the NES, with the Mega Man, Castlevania, Contra, Dragon Quest, and Final Fantasy franchises continuing on subsequent game platforms and systems since the NES. A UK company named Rare also became a reputable third-party licensee for Nintendo through their NES titles R.C. Pro-Am, Snake, Rattle 'n' Roll, and the hit game Battletoads, leading Nintendo to purchase a 25% stake of the company in 1994 after being impressed by their recent Silicon Graphics (SGI) advances in video game technology, leading Rare to become an independent second-party developer for Nintendo. The stake increased to 49%, while Rare would go on to develop more titles and franchises for Nintendo's subsequent consoles, such as the Donkey Kong Country, Killer Instinct, Banjo-Kazooie, and Conker franchises, with stand-off titles such as GoldenEye 007, Diddy Kong Racing, Perfect Dark, and Star Fox Adventures, before finally being bought out by Microsoft in 2002 due to Nintendo refusing to purchase the other 51% of Rare. [76] In addition, R.O.B. has gone on to star in other Nintendo franchises as a cameo, from being a statue, a minor appearance, or a part of a mini-game in the WarioWare series, a giant statue in a race in F-Zero GX, and its head and gyro blocks being part of the Blast from the Past series in Pikmin 2. His most notable appearances in other Nintendo franchises are as a playable racer in Mario Kart DS and the Super Smash Bros. series as a playable fighter in every series title beginning with Super Smash Bros. Brawl. The NES itself has also been subject to an innumerable amount of references and appearances in other media since the 80s, like television (The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, The Big Bang Theory), fan-made documentaries (like Nintendo Quest, which features two friends as they try to collect every licensed NES game in a month), and feature films (like 8-Bit Christmas, where a young boy and his friends try to obtain a coveted NES system for Christmas 1989).

First-Party Console Accessories and Bundles


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The Family Computer Network System.

The NES supported multiple accessories throughout its lifetime, beginning with the Famicom BASIC computer, with was released alongside the Famicom data recorder/tape deck. Another accessory was a Family Computer Network System (a collaboration between Nintendo and Nomura Securities in 1988, a modem attachment for the Famicom which allowed users to access a server which provided downloadable content, cheat codes, jokes, on-going stock trades, the weather, and equine betting. The server was discontinued in 2001, with 130,000 units sold. According to the book Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, the reason the modem was not a commercial success was that the concept of using a modem to access an internet-like server was mostly foreign at the time. [77] A 1990 American release of the modem was reportedly considered by Nintendo through a partnership with AT&T, though this failed to materialize. While an American version of the modem was never released, the modem port on the bottom of the NES was still implemented into the final design. [78][79] Both Sega and Nintendo refused to grant a license to an unofficial NES modem with only three titles, which ultimately went unreleased. [80] Other peripherals for the Famicom included a stick controller which worked primarily the same as the NES Advantage controller and a pair of 3D glasses which received a lukewarm reception. [81]

The NES Zapper in its original gray color.

On October 1985, the NES Zapper and R.O.B. were bundled with the NES system set alongside the console and two controllers. The NES Zapper functions as a light gun, which could play NES titles like Gumshoe, Duck Hunt, Wild Gunman, and Hogan's Alley. The NES Zapper functions as a receiver: when the finger trigger on the Zapper is pressed, the game causes the entire screen to become black for one frame. On the next frame, all valid targets that are on screen are drawn all white as the rest of the screen remains black. The Zapper detects this change in light level and determines if any of the targets are in its hit zone. If a target is hit, the game determines which one was hit based on the time of the flash, as each target flashes for one video frame, one after another. [82] Thusly, the NES Zapper actually functioned as the receiver, with the television set as the transmitter; this was the exact opposite of the way a gun would logically work in real life, though an NES player who did not know the mechanical functions of the Zapper would easily perceive the Zapper as the actual transmitter. [83] In fact, in early NES Zapper models, young players quickly figured out that by shooting at a nearby lightbulb, it would trick the Zapper into perceiving it as the white flash on the Duck Hunt screen and cause the game to register a successfully shot on-screen duck, thereby making a perfect in-game score by essentially "cheating". Another form of "cheating" is to simply press the Zapper against the television screen and shoot the ducks from there (most often a CRT television set; due to the technology of the Zapper, the device will only work well on a classic CRT set, as the input lag on modern TV sets is too great while the Zapper relies on the CRT's lesser lag [84]). The Famicom version of the NES Zapper, titled the Light Gun, was a near-perfect replica of an old-style western revolver (even releasing alongside a Light Gun holster individually for sale). While this was perfectly acceptable in Japan, American concerns over the misidentification of a realistic toy gun and the regulations surrounding toy weaponry led to the design being completely redone in the U.S. by NOA designer Lance Barr [85], with the Light Gun becoming a sleek, futuristic "Zapper". [86] The NES Zapper would also be bundled along with other NES system sets, including the NES Action set, the most popular NES system bundle in the console's history.

The Mattel/Canadian version of Stack-Up.

The NES was also bundled with R.O.B. the robot in 1985, a battery-powered accessory to the NES system that could purportedly play games alongside you on the system. A seeming cross between R2-D2 and E.T. [87], R.O.B. functioned by using a series of flashing LED lights emitted from the TV set during the games Gyromite and Stack-Up to manually maneuver round plastic objects to place on its tray, which was connected to a standard NES controller with R.O.B.'s actions acting as its inputs. R.O.B. has the same optical electronics as a NES Zapper and likewise only functions correctly when coupled with a cathode-ray tube (CRT) television set and not an LCD TV set. Games can send six distinct commands to R.O.B. by flashing the screen, with R.O.B. having an included visor to tolerate brighter CRT sets better [88]. The test feature within Gyromite and Stack-Up sends an optical flash that should activate R.O.B.'s red light. [89] R.O.B. was short-lived, as he merely served as a trojan horse to get the NES into American homes, but he helped to give the NES a beginning, which led to the system becoming an American phenomenon only a year later. Along with being bundled with the NES system, a standalone R.O.B. was also released in 1986 for $49.99 [90], which was released alongside a big box version of Gyromite that contained the R.O.B. attachments included in the 1985 set. The standard (and only) Stack-Up release also contained a set of colorful gyro blocks, which could be used by R.O.B. to play Stack-Up. In short, you could acquire R.O.B. and all of his accessories in two ways: you could purchase the October 1985 bundle/NES Deluxe Set and Stack-Up, or you could purchase R.O.B., the big box Gyromite, and Stack-Up individually. The same R.O.B., Stack-Up, and Gyromite bundles were released for the Famicom in Japan as well, with R.O.B. having the same maroon and cream color scheme as the Famicom; this would later be present as an alternate color option in R.O.B.'s subsequent Super Smash Bros. appearances.

The NES Advantage controller.

The NES advantage controller was also developed in 1987, functioning as an arcade-reminiscent alternative to the NES controller. The controller

Console Bundles

The Top-loader Model

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The Nintendo Entertainment System supported 8-bit graphics, whereas most consoles of the second generation of video games only supported 1-bit or 4-bit graphics. The Nintendo Entertainment System also supported 2-player games, though Mother did not utilize this feature.

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EarthBound games for the Nintendo Entertainment System


Systems with EarthBound and Super Smash Bros. games.
Home consoles
NESSNESN64GCNWiiWii UNintendo Switch
Handheld consoles
GBADS3DSNintendo Switch