Lots has been written on the video game crash of 1983; needless to say after events with Atari, North American retailers were left with their hands burnt, so launching a new console was a risky proposition. We recently took a look at the baby steps which Nintendo took at CES in 1984, which provided useful feedback for the company and changed its whole marketing strategy with the product which would become the ridiculously successful Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES to its friends.
We've briefly touched on the trial regional launches of the NES in 1985 in the past, too; initially you could only get a NES in New York and LA in a very limited number of stores. Shedding more light on the days of old, King Solomon over on the NintendoAge forums has now unearthed some old documentation sent to consumers which does make for fascinating reading:
This information pack, dated 24th April 1986 and addressed to a Robert Dahl from Wisconsin, reveals the state of play. Young Robert was advised that the NES would be scheduled for a nationwide roll-out during 1986, but until then he could order the system via mail order from recommended stores in Costa Mesa in California, Chicago or New York.
Also enclosed in the pack are some charming descriptions of the hardware and games on offer. Our favourite is the description of arcade classic Donkey Kong:
Mario climbs ladders and dodges barrels to save Paula in this exciting maze game.
It's interesting to look back at these old days and marvel at the times when Nintendo had difficulty launching a product and keeping up with demand. Thankfully those days are behind us, right?
I am still discovering and being entertained nowadays by "new" Famicom games I never knew existed. That's what I call staying power.
Great article! I love these retrospective/gaming history pieces.
Once again I urge everyone out there to read Game Over by David Sheff. As Nintendo really never bothered with the UK or Europe market for the NES era (and some would say they didn't really start trying til the Cube er), we didn't get to experience the whole Nintendo-mania thing that gripped the US, and reading that book was a great way to see just how it all unfolded on that side of the pond. It's good to remember that when people blast Europeans for hating Nintendo. It's not hate, but it's just that Nintendo wasn't a huge part of most people's childhood over here, so there's no nostalgia for it.
Ah Paula, the infamous Princess Frogseat.
@Peach64 it's true that Nintendo got off to a slow start in the UK thanks to their arrangement with Mattel, however by 1990 the NES did start to make a big impact with the Ninja Turtles NES bundle:
SEGA had a big lead with the Master System and carried that momentum into the launch of the Mega Drive in the UK. However I would say the SNES launch in the UK was actually pretty strong. It can't be compared to the way the NES was handled, and by the time Street Fighter II was released every man and his dog wanted to own one.
The N64 and the GameCube's marketing didn't feel nearly as effective as that of the Super Nintendo in the UK. But then they faced much different challenges in their time.
Notice how the papers make the games sound 10 times more exciting than they actually are...
@Peach64 I'm from Germany and everyone of my childhood friends had a NES, SNES and/ or Game Boy back then. Nintendo was huge in Germany since the late 80s. In fact, I only know one person who owned a console from Sega. Before Sony entered the industry Nintendo had a monopoly on console gaming here.
I'm pretty sure the same is true for France and maybe even other mainland countries. So Nintendo has been successful for a long time in the most important European markets.
Dat final line made me chuckle.
@Dazza 8-bit micros were still doing pretty well I think up to 1990, Zzapp 64! was published up until '92 and games were so cheap compared to the consoles (as they were on cassettes). Like Peach64 says, I think the range of popular computer games here account for less specific nostalgia for Nintendo in the UK.
I recall the SNES launch and Street Fighter 2 took off certainly as every video shop seems to have the arcade, but then Champion Edition was out and ported to the Megadrive soon after! I remember the Megadrive vs. SNES debates at school, mainly fueled by the fact many parents could only be talked into buying one console I'd guess!
Nintendo could remember and learn from their NES launch.
This NES poster has a colorful mix of games for everyone.
Mario games, all the most popular Sports genres, Zapper Shooters, Puzzlers, Racing, Pinball, Adventures, Gimmicky Robot hardware games. If they could only launch with such a diverse quality line up nowadays.
This kind of advertising still works today.
Wii U had a slow start but now it has all the different important genres covered. Make a modern poster showing off the diversity Wii U has now! Include the best of 3rd parties and eShop too and a reminder that all the 1000+ Wii, WiiWare, and VC games work on Wii U.
@Ristar42 to be fair the Mega Drive version of SF2 felt like an absolute eternity to come out at the time. As I recall lots of us imported it following the Mean Machines review in July 1992. Then the PAL version came out for Xmas 1992 and it was a massive seller with a SNES bundle pack.
The Champion Edition on the Mega Drive didn't come out until October 1993. I honestly only knew one person in my entire school who actually bought it. Then to add insult to injury they didn't have the new 6 button controller. Imagine trying to play SF2 having to press START to switch between punches and kicks!
@Dazza Ha, sadly I didnt need to imagine Street Fighter 2, as I actually got to play it that way! I had one six button controller, so the unlucky second player was stuck hitting start.
My friend had an Imported SNES with SF2, but it was the arcade that really made the impression on me as I played that most, prior to the Megadrive release (I remember the preview in Mean Machines SEGA).
Then there was the C64 version of SF2 which begged the question, why!?
Here in America, NES fever was in full effect by Christmas '87. I've combed through Nintendo sales on vgchartz and was curious why Nintendo sales underperformed in Europe throughout the years compared to US and Japan. It seems, based on the comments, it was more accessible in certain countries over others. I can only imagine the challenges faced when trying to mass market a fledgling product across a multi-national continent, especially in the '80s.
@scamander I hear Nintendo was pretty big in Spain as well.
@Dazza The Genesis port of Street Fighter II sold less then the SNES versions of World Warrior and Turbo.
Which is kinda of a shame, because I thought Street Fighter played better on the Genesis thanks to the six-button controller.
That's the thing for me, outside of a few exceptions, I always felt the Genesis had the better playing versions of fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter.
The SNES versions always looked and sounded better, but they felt more loose. That, and the D-Pad on the Genesis was better in my opinion.
@Shiryu Now you're playing with power!
Wow, so back then they actually had a plan? Maybe that's why they are struggling now.
@SKTTR The Wii U has got bugger all as far as a diverse line up goes!
"Super Mario Bros.- a multi level adventure maze game."
I found that amusing. I admit I haven't played Super Mario Bros. as much as most other people, but IIRC the closest the game got to a maze was one of the Bowser castle levels with the repeating paths and you had to go through the correct paths in the correct order. Just saying.
@LanceHairdo Bad day at school?
@RadoGoji I know, I was scratching my head wondering where they got "maze" out of Super Mario Bros.! As far as I'm concerned, that's got to be the worst description of it, ever!
@LanceHairdo Hey look it's over the top excessive sarcasm guy slingin zingers for no apparent reason.. Everyone look at him!
Here's my suggestions for that HUUUGE ultimate Wii U advertisement poster.
Just pick 3-5 games of each category.
CO-OP MULTIPLAYER JUMP&RUNS:
ROLE PLAYING GAMES:
OTHER FUNCTIONS AND APPS:
@SKTTR i thought the wii u didn't have any games? This has to be a mistake...
Y'know, I wish they could rerelease "Popeye" on Virtual Console.
(Darn expensive licensing fees...)
Now You're playing with Pre-Power!!
These are the kinds of posts that keep me coming back to Nintendo Life
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