This is a cliff-note highlight I put together so you can view the evolution of Nintendo’s gaming systems on one page. Gamespot has put together a well more in depth article with more details about the internal components about each system.
Nintendo color TV-Game (1977)
Produced in partnership with Mitsubishi and sold exclusively in Japan, this was a series of 5 systems that debuted in 1977. It was called the TV-Game 6 because it included 6 pong inspired mini-games. Most notable feature is probably the turn-knob on the controller.
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Nintendo Family Computer (1983)
This console should start looking a little more familiar. Debuting in 1983, the Family Computer (commonly referred to as “Famicom”) was released in Japan and would later be given a facelift before being released to North America as the Nintendo Entertainment System. This 8-bit system utilized a microphone in the player two controller that could be used with a limited number of games including the original Legend of Zelda.
Family Computer Disk System (1986)
While technically an add on to the Famicom and not a new system, this update illustrates the change of thinking for the industry. The use of the re-writable, proprietary 2.8×3 inch disk (called disk cards) allowed designers to create larger games that required both sides A and B or multiple 112 KB disk.
More revolutionary was that the disk could be saved, taken to one of many convenience stores that had a Disk Writer kiosk and have a new game written on it. This same insistence on proprietary technology and fear of piracy will later create problems for Nintendo however.
Twin Famicom (1986)
Sharp licensed with Nintendo to create it’s Twin Famicom in 1986 that combined the disk and cartridge into one system.
Nintendo Entertainment System (1985)
We all know what this is…although someone should tell that family not to sit so close so the TV. Bad for their eyes…
In 1985, Nintendo began selling their Entertainment System in the United States (their first outside of Japan) for $299 retail. The casing had been redesigned from the Famicom to have a flip up door and a “zero insertion force cartridge“. These cartridge connections were susceptible to dust, which is why we used to have to blow on the connectors. However blowing on the connectors actually tarnishes the copper connectors making the connection problems worse.
NES Model 101 (1993)
This smaller less expensive version (retailed at $49.99) was introduced in 1993. The cost was reduced by taking out the RCA composite ports, the LED light and production innovations. This model also went back to the top loading format used in the Famicom to address the dust connection issues with the NES.
Super Famicom (1990)
Released just prior to Super NES in Japan (and later Australia and Europe), this system also had available a satellite modem players could attach to the system in order to download a limited number of games.
Super Nintendo (1991)
Released to the United States in 1991, the repackaged Super Famicom retailed for $199. The system featured 16 bit graphics and added X , Y and shoulder buttons to the controllers
Super NES Model SNS 101 (1997)
Released about the same time as the N64, this $99.95 version of the SNES was reduced in size and had the S video and cartridge eject button removed.
Released to North America in late 1996 at $199.99, this 64 bit gaming console faced stiff competition from the college-dorm-room-staple, Sony’s Playstation. This console excelled in party formats because of it’s use of 4 controllers, especially in racing games such as Mario Kart and 1st person shooters such as Golden Eye. The cartridges also had near non-existent load times as opposed to Playstation’s CD’s long load times on large games.
However this is also where we see Nintendo’s insistence on proprietary hardware and fear of piracy lead to problems. Many third party developers shied away from the cartridge format because it limited how large of a game they could create. The cartridges were also much more costly to produce than CD’s.
N64 DD (1999)
Released in Japan in 1999, DD stood for Dynamic Drive which added internet capabilities to the console. This was an ill fated attempt to turn the console into a multimedia workstation. It was discontinued in less than 2 years.
Released around the same time as Sony’s Playstation 2 and within 3 days of Microsoft’s Xbox, was the Nintendo GameCube.
Once again, the fear of piracy lead to underwhelming sales compared to their competition. The disc for this console could only store 1.5 GB as opposed to DVD’s which held 8.5 GB. This meant that third party developers had to omit parts of their games to have them fit onto the GameCube.
Panasonic Q (2001)
Panasonic, who partnered with Nintendo to create the GameCube disc, quickly heard the criticism about the system not being able to play DVD movies. Their response was the Panasonic Q, which was released in Japan and played both GameCube disc and DVD movies but it flopped.
In 2006 Nintendo released its biggest seller yet with the Wii, with over 101 million units sold worldwide. Using Bluetooth, internal accelerometers and infrared detection, the controller and “nunchuck” are able to use motion caption inside the 3-D games.
Nintendo marketed this new console to more casual audiences (i.e. senior bowling leagues) rather than go head to head with Playstaion 3 and Xbox 360. This was also the first Nintendo to support backwards compatibility. There was a hidden door allowing access to play GameCube games. You could also access the internet to download emulated classic Nintendo games.
Wii Mini (2012)
In late 2012, Nintendo released the scaled down $99.99 version of the Wii without GameCube compatibility, SD card slot, online connectivity, USB port, WiFi support or S-video.
Wii U (2012)
Also released in 2012 was arguably Nintendo’s worst sales performing console to date, the Wii U. Much of the blame for the low sales have been attributed to confusion with the name and timing of the release. Many potential users were confused if this was a new console or an add on to the existing Wii.
The most significant feature was the 6.2 inch touch screen on the GamePad. The touch screen could be used to supplement game play or as a screen for a second user. The pad also supported motion control and near-field communication to sync with other GamePads.
The system had a surprising amount of impressive tech. I think the poor sales simply came down to marketing and communication of what the product was capable of to perspective buyers.
Launching next week at $299, the Switch will be a hybrid tablet/console and utilize a similar 6.2 inch touchscreen as the Wii U did. It will come with 32 MBs of internal storage and expandable memory up to 2 TB via Micro SDXC cards.
The Switch will offer a couple 1st for Nintendo. The hardware will not be region locked like previous Nintendo’s have been and Nintendo will charge users to play online.
The marketing on this unit appears a little clearer than the previous Wii U and Nintendo believes that will help reverse the company’s sales decline.
Nintendo Classic…if you are able to find one (2017)
If I worked at Nintendo, I would find the demand for this product exciting and a little worrisome. Exciting because it is always fun to have an in demand product to sell.
Worrisome because of two reasons. There have been many articles written about the production and distribution problems Nintendo had bringing this product to market. As with any high demand/low supply product, scalping has become a point of poor goodwill between Nintendo and potential customers.
The second reason I would be concerned is that you have a new product (with very expensive R & D and legacy cost built in) coming out with the Switch, and yet there seems to be more demand for this lower cost product. Granted, the consoles are marketed for two different buyers (Millennials and younger for the Switch, Gen Y and older for the Classic), but I would still be a little concerned.