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Nintendo Entertaiment System

NESIt was the dawn of the third age of home video game consoles, a couple of years after the Great Crash came upon us all. The first age – the tidal wave of dedicated Pong-like consoles – ended with little innovation and a growing disdain toward devices that took over the TV but could play only a single game. The second age – consoles like the Atari 2600 and 5200, the Odyssey2, the Intellivision and ColecoVision (among others) – had collapsed in a flood of cheap games, many of them derivative or even plain boring, from which the makers of the consoles often got no revenue. The third generation marked the passing of the video game industry torch from America to Japan – but the machine that started the transition almost bore the name Atari.

Introduced in Japan in 1983, the Nintendo Family Computer, or Famicom, quickly established a foothold as that country’s home video game console of choice. Packed with Super Mario Bros., the Famicom boasted arcade-quality sound and graphics, as well as the well-respected Nintendo game library. Nintendo saw potential for the Famicom in the U.S., and originally approached Atari with the idea of licensing the Famicom to them. However, Atari was swept up in a changing of the guard from Ray Kassar’s management team to the post-Warner Bros. Tramiel era, and what’s more, a dispute over rights to the computer version of Donkey Kong erupted between Atari (which had made the game for computers like the Commodore 64 and Apple II) and Coleco (which was demonstrating the ColecoVision version of the game on their ColecoVision-compatible Adam computer). When Atari executives angrily confronted their Nintendo counterparts after happening upon Coleco’s Adam demo booth at the 1984 Consumer Electronics Show, the deal was off – and Nintendo was faced with the daunting prospect of trying to launch a video game system on its own in the American market, which had yet to be penetrated by a Japanese company.

In the end, they needn’t have worried. The arcade-perfect version of Super Mario Bros. alone helped to sell the system, and soon the Nintendo Entertainment System – which had almost been renamed the Nintendo Advanced Video System – was a household word.

In many ways, the NES marked the end of the classic video game era. The NES was the last non-portable game system for which the arcade hits from the early 80s through the end of the console’s lifespan were readily available without being relegated to multi-game “greatest hits” compilations (which would become prevalent in the SNES and Playstation years). The NES was the last console to feature as many simple, classic-arcade-style titles as it featured miles-deep RPGs or gritty fighting games.

By the time the Super Nintendo appeared (based upon Japan’s Super Famicom, naturally), the face of video gaming had seemingly changed forever, and the kind of games we celebrate in Phosphor Dot Fossils were few and far between.

Journey with us now to revisit the twilight of the classics.

Famicom only

NES

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