From Game & Watch to Wii U: a history of Nintendo in 14 objects

The Japanese gaming giant set older gamers’ hearts racing earlier this year with the announcement of the NES Classic Edition, prompting some misty-eyed reminiscing. Do you remember all these devices? How many did you play?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 9:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 9:03am

On October 18, 1985, Nintendo unveiled the console that almost single-handedly revived the gaming market following the disastrous video game crash of 1983. And more than three decades later, on November 11, 2016, Nintendo will be bringing back that ingenious piece of kit – and now it will fit in your hand.

The internet practically exploded when the NES Classic Edition was announced earlier this month. It’ll definitely bring back memories of the 1980s, and will give younger generations a peek at how we fared with games that didn’t take weeks or even just days to beat, or how we lived with the fact that we had no way of saving our games.

Now that Pokemon Go has come to Hong Kong, here’s how to play it

Nintendo’s in the news a lot lately – thanks to Pokemon Go, which single-handedly disrupted the gaming market and increased the value of the company’s stock by as much as 120 per cent. So in honour of this upcoming blast-from-the-past offering, and the rumoured release of its next-generation console the Nintendo NX in March next year, let’s look at the consoles released to date by the Japanese gaming giant.

Color TV-Game, 1977-80 (US$31-US$177; US$122-US$703 in 2016 dollars)

Yes, the NES wasn’t the first gaming machine from Nintendo. Five consoles were released in this Japan-only series – 6, 15, Racing 112 (complete with a steering wheel), Block Breaker and Computer TV-Game. Obviously, there were not a lot of games at that time, but there were at least 21 versions of Light Tennis, which you may also know as Pong.

Game & Watch, 1980 (US$20; US$59 in 2016)

The idea for the Game & Watch started when long-time Nintendo employee Gunpei Yokoi saw some bored person having “fun” with a calculator by pressing its buttons. So why not an LCD watch that’s also a game system? It was also the inspiration for Yokoi to develop the modern-day D-pad, first used in 1982 for the Donkey Kong game. The Game & Watch went on to sell 43.4 million units.

Nintendo Entertainment System, 1983 (US$299; US$724 in 2016)

One of the most successful machines ever and the cream of the crop of the third generation of video game consoles with 61.91 million sold. Originally released in Japan as the Family Computer, or Famicom, in 1983, the NES was the product of Nintendo’s plans to make a cartridge-based console as a result of its successes in arcade games. As such, the first release came with ports of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr and Popeye.

Game Boy, 1989 (US$89.95; US$175 in 2016)

The runaway winner of the fourth generation of video game consoles, the Game Boy ran on four AA batteries and its LCD displayed four shades of “grey” – light to very dark olive green. The best-selling games were, of course, Tetris, along with Pokemon Red and Blue. And just how runaway was it? Combined with others in the series (such as the Game Boy Light and Game Boy Color), it sold 118.69 million units. The generation’s second-placed with a “paltry” 49.1 million? The next console on this list.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System, 1990 (US$210 in Japan, US$199 in US; US$387, US$352)

Based on the NES’ success, it was no surprise that the first 300,000 units of what was originally called the Super Famicom sold out within hours in Japan. The 16-bit Super NES/SNES was in response to the NEC PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16 and the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive; it would also set the stage for one of the most notable console wars between Nintendo and Sega. The 16-bit design allowed tiling and simulated 3D effects and a palette of 32,768 colours compared to 48 on the NES. This console’s bestselling game was Super Mario World.

Virtual Boy, 1995 (US$179.95; US$285 in 2016)

Forget all the recent hype over virtual reality – Nintendo had its own weird-thing-over-your-eyes two decades ago. It was marketed as the first portable machine able to display “true 3D graphics” and would “totally immerse players into their own private universe”. However, if there is success, there was also failure: the Virtual Boy’s users complained of headaches, dizziness and nausea. It flopped so badly that it was largely ignored despite repeated price drops, and was eventually discontinued only months after its release.

Nintendo 64, 1996 (US$199.99; US$316 in 2016)

Released to much fanfare and best remembered for its rivalry with the original Sony PlayStation, the N64 was the last major home console to use cartridges. It was originally priced at US$250, but it was ultimately lowered to US$199.99 to keep up with the PlayStation and the Sega Saturn, both of which lowered their prices to that level in the summer. The N64 remains one of the most-recognised consoles ever, thanks to its M-shaped controller. The N64 sold 32.93 million units, which pales in comparison with the 104.25 million PlayStations sold.

Game Boy Advance, 2001 (US$99.99; US$136 in 2016)

The first major upgrade to the Game Boy series, the GBA deviated from the traditional portrait mode of the previous Game Boys and took a landscape form. With hardware comparable to the Super NES, the GBA had role-playing games and platformers, as well as retro games ported from earlier 8- and 16-bit systems. It also offered backward compatibility with all previous Game Boy titles. The GBA wasn’t offered much resistance in the sixth generation of hand-helds.

GameCube, 2001 (US$199; US$271 in 2016)

This was when a whole new battle began. The GameCube joined the sixth-generation party on November 18, after the PlayStation 2 had dominated for almost two years and with Microsoft finally joining the fray by launching the Xbox a mere three days earlier. Nintendo finally decided to ditch cartridges and for the first time used optical discs, as well as four, 16 and 64MB memory cards for storage. The GameCube didn’t sell as well as its predecessor with 21.74 million units; it came in third behind the Xbox’s 24.65 million – and both were way behind the PS2, which, at 157.68 million, remains the best-selling console of all time.

Nintendo DS, 2004 (US$149.99; US$191 in 2016)

Released to much hype, the DS – dual screen – is a clamshell device similar to the Game Boy Advance SP. The two LCD displays worked together, the lower one being touch screen. Aside from the resident buttons, the DS also used a stylus. The DS went head-to-head with the PlayStation Portable and this is where Nintendo got a decisive victory. Combined with the DS Lite (brighter displays, slimmer), DSi (larger screens, two cameras, internal and external storage) and DSi XL (even larger than the original DS), the DS line has sold 154.88 million units, almost double the PSP’s 80.82 million, making it the bestselling hand-held console of all time and just behind the PS2.

Wii, 2006 (US$249.99; US$299 in 2016)

With the releases of the Xbox 360 in 2005, the PlayStation 3 on November 17 and the Wii two days later, the seventh-generation rumble began. What made the Wii stand out were its controllers and accessories, most notably the Wii Remote, a hand-held pointing device that senses movements. A notable feature was the now-defunct WiiConnect24, allowing the console to receive updates and messages over the internet while in standby mode. Nintendo came out on top again with the Wii, selling 101.18 million units, against the PS3’s 86.46 million and Xbox 360’s 85.49 million.

Nintendo 3DS, 2011 (US$249; US$268 in 2016)

Capable of creating a 3D effect using stereoscopy, the 3DS kicked off the present eighth-generation brawl, which featured even more advanced and enhanced capabilities across the field. The 3DS retains the clamshell form and has backward compatibility with the DS and DSi. A key addition to its controls was the analogue Circle Pad, and has three cameras – two outside, able to take 3D photos and videos, and one facing the user. Score another win for Nintendo here – the 3DS family has so far sold 59.61 million units, dwarfing the 13.91 million of its main competitor, the Sony PSVita.

Wii U, 2012 (US$299 basic, US$349 deluxe; US$315, US$366 in 2016)

Probably most recognisable because of its touch-screen-toting GamePad, the Wii U is Nintendo’s first console to support full-HD graphics. It is able to play Wii games and comes with the Nintendo Network, featuring staples of today’s gaming such as in-game purchases, downloadable content, online accounts and community-style multiplayer systems. The beginning wasn’t smooth though; several disagreements happened within Nintendo, forcing it to start from scratch several times. While innovative, it hasn’t gained traction; its 13.14 million sales pale compared to its rivals, the Xbox One’s 21.11 million and the PlayStation 4’s 40.75 million.

NES Classic Edition, 2016 (US$59.99)

No need to say more: It’s the NES, only smaller, with full-sized classic controllers. To get your blood rushing – attention, not-so-young gamers – here’s the full list of the rockin’ 30 launch titles: Balloon Fight, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania, Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Double Dragon II: The Revenge, Dr Mario, Excitebike, Final Fantasy, Galaga, Ghosts ’N Goblins, Gradius, Ice Climber, Kid Icarus, Kirby’s Adventure, Mario Bros, Mega Man 2, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, Pac-Man, Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr Dream, StarTropics, Super C, Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2, Super Mario Bros 3, Tecmo Bowl, The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Were you able to beat any or all of these back in the day? Game on!