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Is Nintendo In Trouble?

Video games are finally making a comeback after the terrible crash of 1984. Nintendo has successfully sold over 200,000 NES machines and is ramping up production for the all-important Christmas shopping season. It has secured more and more retail support and it looks like it could be on track to capturing the mindshare of kids across the nation. Of course, there’s competition in the mix, with Sega releasing its Master System sometime this fall and Atari finally getting its act together by releasing the 7800.


I’ve reviewed a handful of the games for the NES (with more reviews on the way), and while not all are a slam-dunk success, many are heads and shoulders above the competition when it comes to graphics, sound, and fun. No other game captures the imagination and ingenuity of Super Mario Bros., and no other system has this title. No one else has an interactive robot and up until Sega releases its machine, no one else has a light gun. It’s not hard to see why Nintendo has been a huge success in Japan, selling millions of units every year. With over 100 games available in that nation, the writing is on the wall of what to expect in the months and years over here.

Still, not everyone is on board. Ed Semrad of the Milwaukee Journal has given a far more negative review of the NES. Despite being positive earlier last year, he has changed his tune and is quite vocal in what he sees as shortcomings. His biggest sticking points are easily addressed, and I will go over them one by one.

In his assessment of the NES, he states that the graphics are GOOD, the audio is VERY GOOD, game scrolling is VERY GOOD, and the joystick controls are POOR. His overall rating for the system is FAIR. He believes that the NES comes in third place, after the Sega Master System and the Atari 7800 and that purchase of this system is NOT RECOMMENDED. I, obviously, whole-heartedly disagree with his verdict.


As his article begins, Ed seems to go in with a sour outlook, using strange excuses to justify his opinions. For example, he states that the NES is not new and that it’s the oldest of the three new systems, having released as the Famicom in Japan back in 1983. While that is true, it shouldn’t have any impact on scoring the system as the games look better than anything currently on the market, especially the 7800. Speaking of, the 7800 is old as well as it was test marketed back in 1984, but due to hardships the company shelved the system until now. Sure, Sega has shown off some nice looking games and its specs are slightly better than the NES, but games are much more than just graphics. They need to be designed well and be fun and entertaining. I’ve yet to see anything on the Master System come close to the excitement delivered by Super Mario Bros.

Next Ed goes on a rant that Japan has way more games and accessories than the U.S. does. No kidding! It’s been out since 1983 and the NES is just now launching nationwide here. What did he expect, for Nintendo to instantly have a library of 100 games? It has to build a user base and for its part it has put out about 25 of its own games. Third parties are just now signing on (Data East and Konami are two big ones), so the games should begin flowing later this year at a better pace. Plus, these new games will be more recent ones, so they’ll look better and possibly be bigger than games like Pinball or Kung Fu.


Ed then worries about the impending Nintendo Disk System. Readers of the site will know that the Famicom received an add-on device earlier this year that allows games to be sold cheaply on disks. This has been a solid hit in Japan, and Nintendo of America has stated that it could be coming stateside sometime in the future. Nothing has been set in stone, but what’s interesting is that he pulls a $200 price point for the supposed device out of thin air. In Japan it’s roughly about $100, so I’m not sure where the $100 markup is coming from.

Of course Ed has to slam the look of the NES, saying it’s not sleek like the 7800 or the Master System. Sure, I’ll agree that the NES might not be the prettiest system on the block, but at least it looks different and has a unique front-loading bay where the Game Paks go. The 7800 and Master System look like any other gaming systems circa 1982. Besides, why should this matter one iota in a review?


His next qualm is about the controllers included with the NES. I can actually partially agree with some of his sentiment here, as the small pads and buttons can be challenging for some people. Also, it does take some getting used to the action buttons being on the right and the d-pad on the left, since most gaming systems had players using their right hands on the joystick and their left for the action button. He claims it’s difficult to get things to move at an angle with the d-pad, and he may be correct, but I’ve yet to play a game where it was necessary. Bottom line is I’ve grown accustomed to the controllers and they seem adequate, although I do yearn for a joystick and hope one gets made for the NES soon.

Ed also criticizes the Zapper as it’s using outdated technology when compared to Sega’s Phaser. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve yet to have any issues with the Zapper registering accurate shots in Duck Hunt. If it’s already accurate, I don’t see the need for better technology if it’s not going to improve accuracy. He doesn’t like R.O.B. the robot, and to be honest I haven’t been a big fan either. It’s clunky and slow, but it does have a charm to it that I’m sure kids will really enjoy. If Nintendo makes more software for R.O.B. I can see it catching on, but if not I don’t think we’ll be talking about the robot after this year. Of course these accessories are completely optional.


Another complaint has to do with the amount of memory on the cartridges. Because Sega has 1 Megabit carts on the way and Nintendo hasn’t officially announced any, Ed says that the graphic screen detail is better on the Master System and the 7800. To compare the graphic capabilities of the 7800 and NES is laughable. Show me one game that’s currently available that looks better than Super Mario Bros. Go on, I’m waiting. Sure, higher memory sizes can lead to more attention to detail in graphics, just look at some of the Famicom software that has been released. Guess what, many of those games will likely make it across the Pacific and we’ll be playing those on our NES consoles. Given what Sega has shown off so far, most of their games do look colorful and are even better looking than some of the titles on the NES. It remains to be seen how expensive they are, and also how fun they are.

Now, the last complaint Ed has is the reliability of the system. As it turns out, his review unit had a technical issue and he had to send it in. Yes, this is unfortunate, but unless he can prove that this is a widespread issue, then there’s absolutely no reason to bring it up. There’s a defective rate in every electronic device produced. Perhaps we should give all of them low scores.

What do you think? Do you own the NES, and if so what are your thoughts on the system? Do you agree with Ed’s opinions? Let us know in the comments below.


08-09-86-Ed NES Review 8-9-86 pt1

08-09-86-Ed NES Review 8-9-86 pt2


[Source: Milwaukee Journal – P.13]

Craig Majaski

Craig has been covering the video game industry since 1995. His work has been published across a wide spectrum of media sites. He's currently the Editor-In-Chief of Nintendo Times and contributes to Gaming Age.

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