A History of Nintendo's Best Products
It is fair to say that the gaming industry wouldn't be where it is today without the contributions of Nintendo. The company helped to popularize gaming as a mainstream recreational activity and produced some of the most iconic games ever made. The creative genius behind Nintendo deepened and transformed the gaming experience for millions.
Beginnings - 1970s - 1980s
Nintendo, formerly a hanafuda card manufacturing company, entered the electronic toys market in 1970 with the development of the Ultra Hand, a novelty electronic extending arm. The following years saw other electronic toys including the Nintendo Beam Gun Game and the Nintendo Game & Watch, a handheld gaming system predating the Game Boy.
In 1981, Nintendo broke into the arcade games market with the massively popular Donkey Kong. The game was the first of many designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, a living legend in the gaming world. Nintendo also developed Mario Bros in 1983, an arcade game starring twin plumbers. Over one hundred games featuring the world-famous plumber duo would be created in the decades to come.
NES/Famicom Era - 1983 - 1991
In July 1983, Nintendo released the Family Computer in Japan. Dubbed the Famicom, this cartridge-based console did well in a difficult market for video games. While consoles developed by Atari, Coleco and Magnacox lost customers in droves due to lack of quality control in the third-party developed games, Nintendo was more discerning with the games developed for its console. Nintendo's reputation for quality control helped the Famicom become the leading game console throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
In 1985, Nintendo released the Nintendo Entertainment System to a world audience. Super Mario Bros. was released in 1985 with the system. It would go on to become one of the best-selling games of all time. Other notable games included Metroid and Super Mario Bros. 2 in 1986, The Legend of Zelda in 1987, and Super Mario Bros. 3 in 1991.
SNES/Super Famicom Era - 1990 - 1996
Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the USA in 1991. This highly anticipated machine would become the highest-selling 16-bit console of all time. Classic games such as Super Mario World (1991), Street Fighter II (1991) The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1992), Super Mario Kart (1992), Star Fox (1993), Donkey Kong Country (1994) and Final Fantasy VI (1994) would propel this system to greatness.
Nintendo also used the SNES to distinguish itself from other console developers as a family-friendly game company. By contrast, the Sega Genesis established itself as the edgier, more aggressive console.
While the SNES won the console wars of the early 90s, it soon found itself under pressure from the 32-bit Playstation, released by Sony in 1995.
Nintendo 64 Era - 1996 - 2001
By 1993, rumors were already circulating that Nintendo was working a new project. Code-named Project Reality, the new console would showcase fully immersive three-dimensional environments. Nearly a year behind schedule, Nintendo released its new console to a US audience in September 1996.
Dubbed the Nintendo 64, the console proved to be worth the wait. The sheer freedom of massive 3D worlds in games like Super Mario 64 (1996) and Goldeneye 007 (1997) was a new frontier for console gaming, and the system proved to be a huge success. Unfortunately, while the hardware was superior to that of the Playstation and Sega's newly released Saturn, the N64 still ran on cartridges rather than CDs. These were more expensive for third parties to develop, so many of the great N64 games like Mario Kart 64 (1997), Star Fox 64 (1997), The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) and Super Smash Bros. (1999) were developed in-house by Nintendo.
GameCube Era - 2001 - 2006
Released after Sony's Playstation 2, the GameCube suffered from many of the problems of its predecessor. Games were on minidiscs rather than CDs, making them difficult for third parties to develop. Additionally, Nintendo's family-friendly image had become a liability among a growing market segment of "hardcore" gamers. Nevertheless, the GameCube saw the release of several iconic games, most of which were developed in-house by Nintendo. These included Super Smash Bros. Melee (2001), Metroid Prime (2002), Super Mario Sunshine (2002) and Mario Kart: Double Dash (2003).
The early 2000s also saw the first collaboration between Nintendo and Sega. Once Nintendo's bitter console rival, Sega developed a number of games for the GameCube starring the company mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog. Other notable GameCube games included Pikmin (2001), Super Monkey Ball (2001) and Viewtiful Joe (2003). These games were quintessential Nintendo in that they combined unique, interesting gameplay with cartoonish graphics. While the company's games were often criticized for their lack of mature content, in-house developers preferred games that the whole family could enjoy. This philosophy would set the stage for Nintendo's next smash hit console: the Wii.
Wii Era - 2006 - present
Seeing itself rapidly losing market share to Sony and Microsoft, the company unveiled a new kind of gaming experience in November 2006. The Wii contained motion sensors that tracked the movement of handheld controllers. Gamers used their whole bodies to play.
The most popular Wii games tend to be family-friendly affairs. One notable example is Wii Sports (2006), which utilized the system's motion-sensing capabilities in mini-games like bowling, tennis and golf. This game would become the best-selling video game of all time. Other popular favorites included Wii Fit (2007) and Mario Kart Wii (2008).
No discussion of Nintendo products would be complete without a look at its handheld consoles. The Game Boy practically invented the handheld market, and the Nintendo DSi is the only major handheld machine in existence today. Some of the company's most popular games were designed to be played on these portable machines.
Game Boy Era - 1989 - 2004
Released in 1989, the Game Boy featured a tiny monochrome screen, a boxy frame, two buttons and a directional pad. Its initial success can be summed up in a single game: Tetris. Released with the console in 1989, Tetris became the best-selling portable console game of all time. Super Mario Land (1989), Kirby's Dream Land (1992) and Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (1993) rounded out early popular Game Boy games.
In 1996, Nintendo released the Game Boy Pocket, a slimmer version of the iconic system. Coinciding with this new portable console, the company also released a little game called Pocket Monsters in Japan. Known as Pokemon (1996) in the US, this game became an international sensation due, in part, to the release of separate versions of the same game. Players needed to trade with friends who purchased other versions in order to complete their collection of monsters.
The Game Boy's later success can also be summed up in a single word: Pokemon. Seven different Pokemon games were released in the following years, each one more popular than the last. Pokemon spawned a TV series, action figures, over four feature-length movies and countless other merchandise in the decade following its initial release.
Nintendo DS & DSi - 2004 - present
In November 2004, Nintendo released the DS. Armed with full-color three-dimensional graphics, two screens and a touch-pad stylus, the DS revolutionized handheld gaming. The Nintendo DS and its successor, the DSi, continue to dominate the handheld console market to this day.
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