10 Things You Might Not Know About The NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES)

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Geek Dave goes 8-bit.


1. The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES as it is commonly referred to, was released on October 18th 1985 in the US and September 1st 1986 in Europe. The flagship title at time of release was the now legendary Super Mario Bros. But that game was actually intended to be one of the last produced for the system as the console the NES was based upon, the Nintendo Family Computer, or Famicom, had been released way back on July 15th 1983 in Japan. So by the time we Westerners got our hands on this new 8-bit gaming system Nintendo was already planning to replace it.

2. That hadn't always been the plan, though, as Nintendo originally hoped to release an American version of the Famicom console through Atari in 1983. It was to be called the Nintendo Advanced Video Gaming System, and the deal was set to be finalised and signed at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show in June of that year.

The proposed Advanced Video System bundle was to see a Famicom style motherboard housed inside a keyboard case and would include a cassette drive and wireless joystick.


However, the deal fell through thanks to a number issues, including the North American Video Game Crash of 1983 which Atari's over-saturation of low-quality releases had played a big part in. Also, Atari themselves discovered at the show that its competitor Coleco was illegally demonstrating its Adam computer with Nintendo's Donkey Kong game. This violation of Atari's exclusive license with Nintendo to publish the game for its own computer systems delayed the implementation of the contract. Before it was sorted out, Atari's CEO Ray Kassar was fired, so the deal went nowhere, and Nintendo set about redesigning the Famicom for the Western market themselves.

3. Not all of the Famicom's features made it in to the final NES design. Take the controllers for instance, the Famicom ones were hard wired into the machine itself and had built-in volume control and microphone.


This was something that was utilised in several Japanese games including The Legend Of Zelda. In the original Japanese version of the game, the rabbity looking enemy Pols Voice could be instantly killed by making noise near the microphone. As the NES didn't have this ability the game was adapted to make Pols Voice vulnerable to arrows instead. However, when the manual was put together it was originally just translated from Japanese into English, and so the hint that Pols Voice hated noise remained. Leading to some Western gamers whistling at their TV sets in confusion.

4. As you can see the Famicom and the NES look pretty different from one another, part of the reason behind the redesign was because Nintendo hoped to woo back corporate buyers in the lucrative Western markets who, after the Atari Crash of 1983, were wary of buying and stocking video game consoles. Nintendo hoped to get past that aversion by making the NES look more like a VHS tape player than a game console. That's why it has the cartridge slot hidden, to hide the fact that the NES actually played video games.

5. Another of Nintendo's efforts was implemented to win over consumers who had lost confidence in low quality video game releases. The Nintendo Seal Of Quality.


This was introduced to stop a flood of unlicensed third-party games appearing on the system, meaning Nintendo themselves could control the quality of every single title released for the system. They did this by establishing a strict NES licensing program that required third-parties to produce their games via Nintendo's own factories. Also, each cartridge included a security chip, which only Nintendo themselves produced. this chip was tested for authenticity when inserted into the system.

6. When it arrived in the US the NES was far from an instant hit. In the first six months of release 50,000 consoles were purchased, half the number Nintendo had hoped to sell. When the system was rolled out nationwide, in February 1986, Minoru Arakawa, the head of Nintendo of America, told stores that they only had to pay for product that sold and that they could return everything else. He also offered to put up the displays for them. Even then, most retailers weren’t interested.

It wasn't until September 1986 when the NES started to catch on, and by 1988 Nintendo had almost single handedly revived the video gaming industry, turning it into a multi-billion dollar business that has never looked back.

The Nintendo Entertainment System itself remained available, in one form or another, right up until 2008, and between the NES and the Famicom they sold a staggering 61.91 million units during their production lifetime.


7. Nintendo released 17 launch titles with the NES: 10-Yard Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, Gyromite, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Kung Fu, Pinball, Soccer, Stack-Up, Tennis, Wild Gunman, Wrecking Crew, and Super Mario Bros.

Some varieties of these launch games contained Famicom chips with an adapter inside the cartridge so they would play on North American consoles, which is why the title screen of Gyromite has the Famicom title Robot Gyro and the title screen of Stack-Up has the Famicom title Robot Block.

8. The NES cartridges had very little data space. Many were only 256 kilobytes, and even the largest NES games were no bigger than 6 Megabits, or about 768 Kilobytes. For comparison, a single average smart phone picture taken today contains about as much data as two and a half NES games! It's truly remarkable how they packed so much into such a small space.

9. As the West was just getting into the NES, back in Japan the Famicom was getting a serious upgrade with a new Disc System.


As most NES games originated from Japan pretty much all of them produced after 1986 were built to take advantage of the greater storage capacity, meaning they exceeded the basic capabilities of the NES system. Most titles ended up depending on add-on RAM and co-processors built into the cartridges themselves, and further down the road some publishers even created their own high-end cartridges for their top-of-the-line games.

10. Super Mario Bros. is the best-selling NES game of all-time at over 40.24 million copies (although that does include the cartridges bundled with the US/European NES consoles). It remained the biggest selling game of all time on any console for over 20 years, until another Nintendo title took its crown - Wii Sports, which as of end September 2016 had shifted a staggering 82.79 million units!

The number two highest selling NES game is Super Mario Bros. 3, which sold 18 million copies (and if you discount the copies of Super Mario Bros. bundled with the consoles then this title outsells the original 2 to 1), and then Super Mario Bros. 2, which sold 10 million copies.

Previously
10 Things You Might Not Know About Pac-Man
10 Things You Might Not Know About Donkey Kong
10 Things You Might Not Know About Super Mario Bros
10 Things You Might Not Know About The Legend Of Zelda
10 Things You Might Not Know About Gauntlet
10 Things You Might Not Know About Sonic The Hedgehog

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