Synopsis of Toy
“Now you’re playing with power!”
There was a new sheriff in video game town back in the mid-80’s, and its name was Nintendo. But unless you spent the latter half of the 1980’s hidden in a cave on Fiji, you already knew that. The word “Nintendo” replaced “Atari” as a synonym for video games back in those days, and that near-total dominance of the home video game market has allowed Nintendo to ride of wave of continuous success through several next-generation systems and into the new millennium.
Nintendo originated as a Japanese playing card manufacturer back in the late 1800’s, but the company turned its focus to toys starting in the 1970’s. Success with the Game & Watch series convinced Nintendo that the future would be electronic. The company tried to break into the growing market for arcade games, and they succeeded in a big way with 1981’s Donkey Kong. A series of arcade hits followed, including several Donkey Kong sequels, and successful conversions to home systems like the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision got Nintendo thinking about a console of its very own.
The fruits of Nintendo’s labors arrived in 1983 in Japan, in the form of the Famicom (short for Family Computer), an 8-bit system that replaced traditional joysticks with a four-way pad control and two buttons (“A” and “B”). Conversions of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye showed the system’s arcade-perfect power, and further releases helped turn the Famicom into a genuine hit. Stateside, however, toy companies and retailers were still feeling the effects of the 1984 video game crash, which left them with warehouses full of unsold consoles and cartridges. Nintendo pressed ahead, redesigning its system and test-marketing it in New York in late 1985 as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The NES went national early the following year, and the rest is video game history.
Nintendo completely revitalized the home video game industry, largely thanks to the pack-in title, Super Mario Bros. The mustachioed plumber Mario had been a Nintendo stalwart since Donkey Kong, but this side-scrolling, multi-level platform adventure took him into uncharted territory. As a further enticement to buy, Nintendo marketed more elaborate boxed systems containing a light gun (for the pack-in Duck Hunt) and the disc-spinning R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy, used for Gyromite and only one other game). The console was an instant smash, single-handedly bringing video games back to national attention.
No game system can succeed without the games, of course, and Nintendo had literally hundreds. Arcade conversions like Kung-Fu Master, Double Dragon, Contra, Ikari Warriors and Bubble Bobble were popular draws, but the NES spectrum was more than wide enough for several original hits. Among them:
The Legend of Zelda - This fantasy RPG was the second major NES hit after Super Mario Bros. Sword-wielding Link scoured the kingdom of Hyrule in a quest to defeat Ganon and unlock the mystery of the Triforce. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link continued the RPG adventure.
Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3 - Two sequels that more than lived up to their predecessor. SMB 2 allowed players to take control of Mario, Luigi, the Princess or Toad, while SMB 3 offered eight multi-stage worlds to explore in yet another battle against King Bowser. The third installment was the most successful home game yet produced, selling over 7 million copies in the U.S. alone.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! - A conversion of the arcade Punch-Out!!, with the then-champion of the world as your final opponent.
Metroid - A sci-fi adventure game featuring one of the most memorable villains in all of video gamedom: The Motherbrain.
Castlevania - Another side-scrolling adventure, this one with a Gothic horror theme.
Blades of Steel, RBI Baseball, Double Dribble, Tecmo Bowl - Four one-on-one sports games—hockey, baseball, basketball and football, respectively.
Mega Man - A robotic superhero battles robotic supervillains, taking their powers once they’re defeated. Several sequels followed, as did a Saturday morning cartoon.
And there were far too many others to mention. The NES absolutely owned the home market for several years, and 1989’s Game Boy system gave Nintendo control over the handheld video game market as well. That same year, however, a new challenger emerged. Sega’s Genesis system offered 16-bit graphics and much more advanced sound, backed by much-desired games like Sonic the Hedgehog. Nintendo was by no means struggling (Super Mario Bros. 3 made sure of that), but the gauntlet had been thrown down.
Nintendo responded with the Super NES in 1991, a 16-bit system launched with the all-new Super Mario World. Games like the high-flying Pilotwings, the crazy-driving Super Mario Kart and souped-up sequels like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Metroid proved that systems stilled lived or died on the strength of their software. An arcade-perfect Street Fighter II, the RPG classic Final Fantasy series and the polygon-based space shooter Star Fox kept the Super NES high on many wish lists, and the system even brought back an old favorite with a brand-new modeled look in Donkey Kong Country.
A botched experiment with the virtual reality-esque Virtual Boy and new competition from the Sony PlayStation created new headaches for Nintendo in the mid-90’s, and the company needed another hit. They got a major one in 1996’s Nintendo 64. The fully-rendered, unbelievably expansive 3-D world of Super Mario 64 was hailed as a groundbreaking step in video games, and the console continued to score hits with the Star Wars-related Shadows of the Empire, the first-person prehistoric Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, the Mario-esque Banjo Kazooie, the multi-game Mario Party, the rumble-fighting Super Smash Bros., the James Bond first-person GoldenEye, the emergence of Pokémon and familiar faces in Mario Kart 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
With the 2001 introduction of a new GameBoy Advance and the next-generation Nintendo GameCube, the Nintendo name is still on the tip of many a video game player’s tongue. Competing systems from Sony, Microsoft and others have assured that no one company dominates the field anymore, but no child of the 80’s can forget the time when playing video games could only mean one thing: playing Nintendo.
Release History of Toy1985 - Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
1989 - Game Boy
1991 - Super NES
1995 - Virtual Boy
1996 - Nintendo 64
1998 - Gameboy Color
2001 - Gameboy Advance
2001 - GameCube