News Article

Feature: Retro Console Launches - NES

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Sharing the power

In recent weeks we’ve written about console launches such as Wii, 3DS and GameCube. This is all because we’re currently gearing up for the Wii U launch later this year, and E3 promises to build hype and excitement to astronomical levels. In the coming months most of us will learn all about Wii U online with various websites writing or reproducing daily news articles, sharing every developer comment, teaser and revelation. It’s part of what we do on this site, trawling the web and our own sources for information and news, every day, and writing our take on it for you to read.

For Wii U, a lot of its publicity and reputation will live or die by the internet, but as the launch gets closer we’ll no doubt see TV adverts and conventional marketing enter the fray. The point is that for enthusiastic gamers, the internet will reveal almost everything they need to know before they pick up their new console: there’s a huge amount of information to be found. Of course, before internet the gaming scene, and its community, was very different. Today we’re going to look at the Nintendo Entertainment System, specifically, and share with you a few examples of how keen gamers learned about an exciting new console back in the mid-late 1980s.

Playing with power

It’s easy to underestimate the challenge that Nintendo faced when launching the Nintendo Entertainment System outside of Japan back in 1986 (though there were trial regional launches in late 1985), as video games had become undesirable to a number of consumers. The infamous video game crash of the early 1980s had eroded confidence in video game companies and systems: there had been too many consoles, too many variations of standard titles, and an overall lack of quality. When deciding to publish NES itself in North America, Nintendo had to do so against this backdrop.

Internet marketing and hype wasn’t an option, so substantial magazine and TV presence was in its place, as well as a rebranding of gaming as a whole. Games became ‘Game Paks’, the console itself was called a ‘Control Deck’, and that was alongside the branding of the ‘Entertainment System’, of course. Below is a launch trailer for NES in North America, which emphasized the system as the birth of something new and revolutionary, featuring R.O.B. prominently.

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Unlike modern-day TV campaigns — such as 3DS adverts — that target multiple audiences with a variety of themes, it’s clear that Nintendo was targeting a specific demographic: boys and, maybe, young men. As well as information, previews and so on being housed almost exclusively in the magazines of the day, the TV adverts had very specific consumers in mind. There are two more below for you from early in the system’s lifespan: the first has the famous ‘playing with power’ slogan with a teenage boy playing the system, while the second seems to take off the movie Aliens: classic young man cool for the time.


Times were very different: video games weren’t part of an industry recognisable to a mainstream audience, which has much to do with the effect of DS and Wii and, most recently, smartphone and tablet games. Adverts at that time were all about cool, trendy imagery that emphasised action and power. Magazine adverts followed similar tactics, often appearing in specialist gaming magazines, speaking directly to an audience waiting to be converted to the Nintendo cause.

So that’s an insight into what gamers in the 1980s saw of NES, and some of the early marketing that made it a major success; in terms of TV commercials we're only touching the surface, with a lot of different campaigns being ever-present when NES was unleashed on the world. Despite this the console didn't take off in Europe in the early days, which may surprise some, but the launch in this region was more fragmented than in North America. That said, much of the UK advertising was similar, and we’ve included a broad range of magazine scans for the period below this article. A couple are from a bit later than the launch, but are fun to see in any case: just click on each one to see a larger image.

As we prepare for the bombardment of E3 coverage here on Nintendo Life, it’s interesting to look back at how Nintendo spread its message in the old days. On that theme keep an eye out for our SNES and N64 retro console launch features in the coming days — interspersed with a lot of E3 coverage — looking at how the battles with Sega and competitors got more confrontational, along with more awesome retro adverts and magazine scans, of course.

Special thanks to Damien McFerran and Jamie O’Neill for the magazine scans and assistance.

From the web

User Comments (23)



ajcismo said:

It took a lot of begging, and a lot of house work, lawn mowing and other chores to convince my parents to get me an NES. 1986 rolled by, then '87 almost came to a close when there was an interesting box under the tree. It was just the stand-alone model, no ROB or lightgun, only Super Mario Bros. The rest, as they say, is history.



NaturalGus said:

they should make Wii U commercials that seem retro like the NES commercials. i mean, sure make new and appealing commercials for today's young gamers but also have some commercials with the old school feel and the announcer talking about the power of the console while we see some amazing grapgics and some kid with a bad haircut playing like his life depends on it. that would bring nostalgia!



HP_3 said:

As a starting gamer of the 70's, 80's. I been exclusive to Nintendo for many years, I still own a NES and even the newer model they made. The NES dominated the home console scene for sometime, and I enjoyed playing lots of good games on it. It's a shame that so many good NES games never made to the Wii VC.



hYdeks said:

I remember getting my NES because I just moved into a new area, had no friends, knew NO one, so my parents said while in the store "you think you'll like the Nintendo?" hah, from then on I've been a huge gamer

I still own that NES, and it still works!!



CosmoXY said:

I remember playing NES at my parents friends house for the first time and instantly getting hooked. Later, a neighborhood friend of mine got one and we played it all summer long. It must have been 1988 before my brother and I finally saved up enough to get ours. We got the bundle with the orange zapper, man that thing was sweet. So many fun times with that system.

I do remember the TV ads of the day. To a young boy, seeing those ads was like getting a glimpse into a different world. And when a new Nintendo Power arrived in the mail, forget about doing anything else for the rest of the day!

Finally, there was nothing better than going into a store and staring at the wall of video games for sale while Mom shopped in the grocery section. Before the internet, this is how we'd learn about new games a lot of times. Those were the good old days.

Edit: One more thing - learning that Nintendo games were made in Japan blew my mind. It made these games feel even more magical because they came from a place I had no understanding or knowledge of other than through movies and old stereotypes. The world as a whole seemed so much bigger back then, before the internet and before I had the privilege to travel very much.



JJtheTexan said:

I got an NES right after launch, when I was six years old. I remember I really wanted one and begged for one and got it for Christmas. What I don't remember is why I wanted one. Maybe my friends had them? No, because they were always coming over to my house to play (and someone stole my copy of Excitebike. I am still mad about that almost 30 years later. Never replaced it until I got it on Wii Virtual Console and 3DS eShop).

My parents were divorced and so I conned my dad into getting me an NES as well — on Christmas morning 1987, I unwrapped a big box under the tree... to reveal an Atari 5200. I made him take it back to the store and exchange it for an NES. Great decision at the time, but now I lament that I could have had two systems in two households... or else kept the Atari in its box unopened for 25 years before selling it on eBay for a ton of money. Sigh

WORST decision I ever made was selling my NES and 100 or so games when I was in college.



tweet75 said:

if nintendo really wants to give the retro feel with wii u they should include a great super mario game as a pack in game



ADaviii said:

I believe going the retro route would help Nintendo. It is a very different approach than the other companies are using and the retro feel will gather attention not just from us, but from others who remember these types of commercials.

NES was the system, though. I'll never forget playing with that rectangle with the plus sign and 2 buttons (that's what I use to call it ).



Capt_N said:

I first played an Nes at my cousin's apartment. My cousin tried to wow me, by beating level one, & saying, "Watch (then my name), he's going into the pipe on his own.", or something to that effect, as I was supposed to be wowed by Mario automatically walking toward/entering the 1-2 backwards-L-pipe, prior to the player controlling Mario. I believe I was 5, although I could have been 3, or 4. The following year, for Christmas, my sister got (herself) an Nes. I remember me, being the one, to discover the (1-1) secret coin tunnel, as Luigi/player 2. I became a Nintendo fan, & while I partially, or maybe just think I remember, some Nes commercials, I do remember some SNes ones. Years later, my sister donated her Nes to the Salvation Army, & the games we gave to our cousins.

Around Christmas '99/'00, I got a model 2 Nes(famously the "top loader"), from the then-new local retro game store called Funcoland(I had never heard of it before). Up until years ago, when they stopped selling games from that era, I managed to purchase a lot of Nes games, & this(years 1999-early 2000's) is also when I started branching out into other Nintendo series, specifically Metroid, & Zelda. I wish I had never sold Zelda, & Kirby's Adventure back.

Lesson to be learned from me, my fellow gamers: Don't ever sell your games, consoles, or hardware, unless you are truly willing to never play/own them again.



arrmixer said:

Thank you all for your stories... It really brings me back... though I remember playing some old Com 64 when I was like 4 on my dad's computer... I really didn't fall in love with gaming and nintendo until my older cousin got himself a NES and I played it at his house. Out of all the first experiences one could have I was playing elevator action.. from there I was hooked... I couldn't stop thinking about the nes system... I wish I hadn't got rid of my old nes system my uncle bought from me years later....

It's funny my first VC purchase when I bought the Wii (my first system since snes) was actually elevator action.



Super-Mario-Fan said:

im not old enough to actually have owned a NES but my oldest sister had one and the only game she had was Super Mario bros. and i loved it and i have been a Mario fan ever since.Too bad the NES broke but I still have the game.



WOLFER said:

Oh man this system was my childhood back in the day... being a 90's kiddo, super nintendo had already came out but they were just too expensive for my older brother but man the NES was just too awesome when i first played it. I was very fortunate to have at least a handful of popular games to play such as Mega Man 3, Contra, and Double Dragon just to name a few. Good Times.



Slapshot said:

My Dad got him a NES around launch on my birthday. I can still remember the way the box looked and the new console smell as I tore into it — only to find that my young self lacked the skills to actually play it. Well, for a few months that is.



Supremeist said:

The Nintendo Entertainment System.. Ahh, what an amazing piece of history now. I can barely remember it as much as the N64, but I remember seeing the R.O.B. thing at peoples houses and it always freaked me out (Some robot thing!!!!). But yeah, I really like the old ads!



bahooney said:

@tvnewsguy Wow, you must have been really spoiled. If I ever asked my dad to take a Christmas gift back to the store to exchange it, he would've been crushed... let alone something as expensive as an Atari. I can't imagine how bad your dad must have felt.



Luigi_is_better said:

My parents got the bundle with Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and zapper, and the Olimpic's game with the Power Pad. It was awesome! My siblings and I would get so tired from running on that pad, then competing in Mario and duck hunt. When it was time for bed, we'd hear our parents playing duck hunt. It was torture! They never played a game like that again until the Wii. Thank you Nintendo for Wii Sports! You've made my parents gamers for a second time!



Ceru said:

It was 1989, and my small hometown had a video store that rented out the NES, with the grey zapper, and Super Mario/Duck Hunt. I rented it, and had a devil of a time figuring out how to hook it up to my old TV (remember that dark grey box, the RF switch??). After successfully hooking it up, I rented Rush n' Attack, played it for a bit, meh it was okay. But I popped in Super Mario Bros... and played it for HOURS that night! After playing C64/Amstrad/Spectrum computer games, I felt truly spoiled that I could play video games on a machine intended just for that purpose: playing video games! I then rented Superman (not that great), and Mega Man II, one of the greatest NES games I've ever played, that title music, ah!! The following Christmas, I received an NES of my very own. Got Final Fantasy for my birthday, cursed my lungs out at Blaster Master, was disappointed at how easy Super Mario 2 was to complete, played a bootleg Famicom Mario 3, and '31 In 1' games, got StarTropics with the letter you dip in water to reveal a code needed in the game, experimented with the Game Genie, and barely survived the fun but frustratingly difficult BattleToads.



Crow said:

I just registered on the site so that I could add a thank you note to Thomas Whitehead and all the other posters in this thread. Reading the article and accompanying comments sure does bring back some memories for me.

My older brother had an Atari system that I first gamed on (Combat, Pitfall, Missile Command, Pac Man, Warlords), but I can't say that I was ever really /enthralled/ by video games until I played SMB on the NES. I was 10 or 11, and it was at the daycare that I went to before and after school. None of the kids I played with could get past world 1-3 (even getting that far meant you were one of the skilled players), but HOLY CRAP was it fun. We had to take turns, switching off after each man. I still remember the awe I felt when I saw a friend accidentally find the hidden 1-up block on the first level. Hell, to this day, just playing that 1-1 stage can make me happy and take me back.

It was another year before my parents bought me an NES of my own. By that time, many of my friends had games that we would swap, as this was before video stores carried game packs. Contra, Double Dragon, all the SMB titles, Zelda, Metroid, Tetris--all those now-classic games were in our rotation. But so were more obscure titles, such as Archon, NES Pinball, Sky Kid, and Castlequest.


In any case, NES engendered in me a life-long love of video games. There are so many incredible games now that I can't keep up with them. But you always remember your first love.



ThreadShadow said:

"When You've Been To Hell And Back You've Played Ikari Warriors."

Yeah, Ikari Warriors is pretty terrible, but I didn't think it was that bad.

Fun Fact: Another cool feature on the NES; it could stand horizontal AND vertical long before PS2 came on the scene! : )



StarDust4Ever said:

Every year for Christmas as a kid, I begged my mom for a Nintendo. Never got one, until one fateful day in Fall 2002 when we were cleaning out the garage, and found an NES, still in the original box! Apparently, my mom had bought one for me, placed it in the garage, where it collected dust for over a decade I went to Game-X-Change and bought crap-loads of games. I blazed through 20 years worth of video game history in 4 years time before going current gen and buying a Wii in December 2006. I'm stoked about the Wii-U and e3 2012, but NES is still my favorite system!

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