Nintendo. That’s a name that carries a ton of weight. No matter where you are or how old you may be, you know what Nintendo is. Of course, to the uninformed, Nintendo might be just another video game company. They release family friendly games and directly compete with Microsoft and Sony in the home console market. To casual parents who are just looking for a system for their young children to enjoy, Nintendo is widely regarded as a safe bet. Yet as any gamer knows, Nintendo is MUCH more than this. Nintendo isn’t just a video game developer looking to make the next big thing. They’re not just a “safe bet.” Nintendo, in every aspect of the word, is the King of Video Games. Everything that we love today about the industry came to be because Nintendo made video games popular again. This is quite a feat for a company that actually existed for nearly 100 years before they changed entertainment forever.
Nintendo, despite looking as young and fun as ever, turned 125 this week. Can you believe that? Back on September 23rd, 1889, Nintendo was formed by Fusajiro Yamauchi to sell playing cards. Obviously he could never have imagined where the company would end up. He was long dead before Nintendo started breaking out into the business of taxi cabs, food chains, and love hotels back in the 50s. That’s right. The family friendly Nintendo had a chain of love hotels. But we’ve all had our young and wild years right? Nintendo, like all college kids, matured a bit and starting settling down with a nice companion. In this case, the companion was a young guy named Shigeru Miyamoto.
1981 was when Nintendo finally found its calling within the entertainment world. Under the watchful gaze of Miyamoto, Nintendo released the legendary game Donkey Kong. It was an unprecedented success. Only one year prior, Nintendo broke into the handheld industry with Game & Watch. The combined powers of Donkey Kong and Game & Watch made Nintendo the dominant trendsetter of the time. Then to really seal the deal, Nintendo launched the Family Computer in Japan in 1983, eventually bringing it overseas in 1985 as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). At that moment, this company that had existed for almost a century had just changed everything about home technology.
There is a very, very good reason why the NES is considered to be the most influential console in history. It’s where everything began. Let’s take a look at content. Here is a small list of popular franchises that became huge/even exist because of the NES: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Street Fighter, Castlevania, and Contra, for a start. As the biggest home console in the world, companies looked to the NES as a way to get their games out into stores. That little gray box was all anyone needed for some high quality playtime.
The NES did more than just introduce franchises that would define the industry however. It actually saved it. After the very high profile failures of Atari and the E.T. game, public perception of games was at an all time low. No one outside of Japan wanted anything to do with the business. The NES made them reconsider. By being selective about the quality of playable games and clearly defining exactly what an NES was supposed to be, Nintendo made video games fun again. Sure, there were plenty of eccentric additions like the light gun, the power pad, and ROB, but if you just wanted to enjoy the games without the frills, you only needed that gray box. Nintendo, in what would essentially become their business model, went simple to make the biggest splash.
The rest is obviously history. Nintendo has been riding this gravy train for over 30 years now, innovating every step of the way. Defining what a 16-bit graphics game really should look like? Greetings Super Nintendo. Controllers that vibrate and insane four player madness? Hello Nintendo 64. Wireless controllers? Thank you GameCube’s Wavebird. Touch screens for video games, motion control, and handheld system popularity? DS, Wii, and the Game Boy. Speaking of Game Boy, that’s where Tetris and Pokémon first began. Even when Nintendo wasn’t the first, they knew when to strike for gold. A great example is fully colored and backlight handheld systems. Sega’s Game Gear had this against the GameBoy but it lost handily because it was too expensive. Nintendo then slowly rolled out those features with the GameBoy Color and the Game Boy Advance SP, their first backlit handheld. Both crushed the competition.
I love Nintendo. Who doesn’t? Seriously, in a world filled with Microsoft and Sony fanboys, the one company people just universally love is Nintendo. I have been enjoying Nintendo products for most of my life. The first system I ever played was the NES and I’ve been a committed fan since. There’s just this unbelievable sense of comfort with the brand. You can always count on their first party games being awesome, and it’s very easy to use a Nintendo game to enhance a party. People don’t know what to do with a PlayStation or an Xbox at large gatherings. No one will just casually, on a whim, get every person there to play Call of Duty. But Mario Party, Mario Kart, or Super Smash Bros.? ALWAYS good choices. A Nintendo system is like that welcoming friend you’re always happy to see.
Though I haven’t touched upon it here, Nintendo’s gaming history hasn’t been spotless. The Virtual Boy way back when was a massive bust, and currently the Wii U is failing many industry expectations. Yet even when Nintendo is down, we always know it’ll bounce back. It’s too big and important to fail. In all honesty, it’s impossible to imagine a world without Nintendo. I have full expectations that, for as long as people want video games, Nintendo will always be there to provide. Thank you Nintendo for all of these amazing memories. Happy 125th Birthday!
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.