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Nintendo Stars At Electronics Show

The summer 1989 CES has come and gone, but the Chicago Tribune is weighing in with what they thought of the show. It was Nintendo’s biggest trade show yet with 52,000 square feet of video game goodness! We posted the booth’s layout earlier this month, but check out what Dennis Lynch of the Chicago Tribune thought of the spectacle:


Nintendo Stars At The Electronics Show

June 23, 1989|By Dennis Lynch.

Source: Chicago Tribune:


The computer software and hardware sections of the recent Consumer Electronics Show at McCormick Place can be summed up in one word: Nintendo.

Nintendo is a game company that was founded in Japan exactly 100 years ago. Initially a maker of playing cards, the company now dominates the home entertainment computer industry. Its biggest seller is the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the ubiquitous dedicated game machine that, in the words of one overzealous public relations person, is “loved by teenagers of all ages.“ (A dedicated game machine is a specialized computer used for only one thing-playing games.)

The Nintendo booth was the largest in the history of the Consumer Electronics Show, covering more than 52,000 square feet. The display had everything: hundreds of machines, each set up to play a different game; every type of Nintendo add-on imaginable, such as wireless joysticks and power gloves; and the usual contingent of good-looking female models. A teenage boy might think he had died and gone to heaven.

Speaking of boys and games, Nintendo used a glitzy press conference at the Hyatt Regency Hotel to unveil a new product that is bound to be on the Christmas wish-list of just about every adolescent in America. Parents of America, brace yourself: Here comes Game Boy.

One of the important questions of our time is, “How can children stay entertained when they`re away from their Nintendos?“ Game Boy is the simple answer: “By bringing their Nintendos with them.“ Game Boy is a portable video game system so small that it fits in the palm of your hand. But it won`t stay in your hand long if there are kids in your house.

There have been hand-held computer games before. But most of them could play only a single relatively unsophisticated game apiece. Game Boy can play a number of Nintendo cartridges. Want to play a new game? Just pop in a new cartridge.

Game Boy comes with all the familiar Nintendo features, such as the cross-shaped control pad and the A and B buttons. But it features some nice enhancements you won`t find on your home system. A Video Link accessory allows two or more players to connect their Game Boys and compete in tournament-style contests. Stereo headphones can be attached for private play.

Just picture the legions of Game Boy players to come: kids in the back seat of the car on long drives; kids under the covers way past bedtime; bored kids in study halls. And you heard it here first: I predict a school somewhere will make headlines within the next year by banning Game Boy.

Game Boy runs on four batteries that have a life of about 30 hours, which means that most households will have to change batteries weekly. Fortunately, an AC adapter cable is included in the suggested retail price of $89.95.

Don`t run out to buy it just yet, however. Game Boy won`t hit store shelves until August. When it does, expect a rush on the stores unlike anything since the heyday of the Cabbage Patch Kids. And be warned: Nintendo president Minoru Arakawa is already saying that initial demand may be greater than supply. So if you want to give Game Boy as a Christmas gift, you`d better grab the first one you find.

I`m convinced Game Boy will be a monster hit this year; I`m less convinced that it will be a good buy. So before you get caught up in the next wave of Nintendo mania, you should be aware of a couple of drawbacks to the product.

First of all, don`t expect your current Nintendo cartridges to work on the Game Boy. Size is the problem. A standard Nintendo cartridge is as big as the entire Game Boy unit itself. Thus, to play Game Boy, you`ll need to buy new cartridges. Initially Game Boy will be packaged with the popular arcade game Tetris. Other Game Boy debut titles include Super Mario Land, Baseball, Tennis and Alleyway.

Even though these new cartridges are small, they can contain up to two megabytes of data, about that contained on a standard Nintendo cartridge. What that means is that a program on the Game Boy plays pretty much the same as a game on the standard NES. The action is smaller, of course, but the play is as rich and as varied.

There`s one gigantic difference, though: Game Boy lacks color. Its LCD (liquid-crystal display) graphics are sharp and well-defined, with complex scrolling-screen backgrounds. But the screen display is hard to see in bright light. Moreover, you can`t help but miss the wonderful colors of the standard NES games. In the unlikely event that Game Boy does not become a major smash, it will be for this reason.

Whether the product succeeds or not, you have to admit that the marketing people picked a clever name for it. The name Game Boy not only carries echoes of Walkman, but also reminds us of the target audience for the product: game boys everywhere. But a name like this further reinforces the misguided notion that fun on a home computer is solely for adolescent males. When will we be ready for a Game Girl?

Game Boy was just the flashiest of Nintendo related announcements at CES. There was plenty of other action on Nintendo fronts at the convention. In the peripherals area, some new accessories were unveiled that add extra dimensions to Nintendo fun.

Broderbund Software demonstrated U-Force, a hands-off controller for video game play. The system turns your body motion into on-screen action, without attaching you to wires, special clothes or foot-activated pads. It is the cure for the thousands of people everywhere who suffer from Joystick Elbow and other hi-tech ailments.

As Ed Bernstein of Broderbund said: “Using U-Force means that there is nothing between you and the game. To throw a left jab in Mike Tyson`s Punch-Out, for example, you simply throw a left jab in midair.“ Through a series of sensors, U-Force detects your motion, velocity and relative position and translates them into on-screen action.

The U-Force controller works with just about every Nintendo cartridge. According to Bernstein, it actually improves play for about 40 percent of them. But if, like me, you have calluses from gripping a joystick too tightly, you`ll appreciate the opportunity to put your joystick aside and let your fingers do the talking.

U-force will be available later this summer and will retail for a suggested price of $69.95. You`ll know when it is out; Broderbund will be pushing it with a lavish ad campaign.

Nintendo itself is selling a Hands Free Controller (HFC), but it has a very different audience in mind. Its controller is designed for those who cannot use the traditional control pads because of limited body mobility or insufficient hand functions.

Simulation of joystick buttons is achieved by use of a “sip and puff“ tube that is placed in the player`s mouth. The rest of the controller, which weighs about 2 1/2 pounds, hangs comfortably from the player`s neck. It can be used in many different positions, from sitting to lying down.

The HFC is designed for a player from 6 to adult who has at least a minimal amount of motor control of the jaw or head and who has moderate lung capacity. It costs $120. For more information, contact Nintendo at: 1-800-422-2602.

Nintendo also debuted the NES Satellite, a wireless controller that allows up to four players to control on-screen action at once. As Arakawa says, “The satellite gives us the opportunity to develop a whole new game category, one with a team orientation. Video game play can now become a cooperative effort; players must work together on strategies that will accomplish a desired goal.“

Early titles in the series include NES Play Action Football; V-ball, a beach volleyball game; and Super Off-Road, an obstacle course game. Players will be able to use the Satellite to compete against each other or to work together as a team against the computer or another human team.

Nintendo faced some competition of its own at the show from its major rivals, Atari and Sega. Both these companies unveiled dynamic new products. Being No. 2 and No. 3 means that these firms have to try harder. On the face of it, their new offerings are even more powerful than anything Nintendo has to offer.

For example, Atari introduced a portable video game machine that can outplay Game Boy. Most important, the Atari portable features color. With a pointed gibe at Game Boy, Atari president Sam Tramiel remarked: “Our graphics are not only very detailed and dimensional, they`re done from a palette of 4,096 colors. We saw no reason to retreat to the prehistoric days of black and white.“

The Atari boasts other features that Game Boy cannot match: It runs four times faster than the Game Boy and can handle much more powerful cartridges; it can be linked to up to eight other units; it can be attached to a car`s cigarette lighter for power; and the screen image can be rotated 180 degrees so that either lefties or righties can play easily.

All this means a higher cost than Game Boy`s; the Atari will retail for somewhere around $150. The system comes with one cartridge included, the popular California Games. Other titles initially available include Impossible Mission, Blue Lightning and Monster Demolition.

Meanwhile, Sega debuted Genesis, the first 16-bit dedicated game machine available in the United States. Currently most game machines, like the Nintendo, are 8-bit devices; a 16-bit machine delivers much more bang for your buck. The Genesis system features high-definition arcade quality graphics, stereo music and sound effects.

The games I tried out on the Genesis beat anything I`ve ever played on a Nintendo. It`s truly like having a video arcade in your home. In addition, Genesis offers other features you won`t find anywhere else, such as the ability to use a modem to play games against other opponents across town or across the country. Expect Genesis to be on store shelves by Christmas.

(In a New York press conference before the show, NEC Home Electronics announced that it would begin marketing a 16-bit game machine this fall.)

Nintendo is getting ready to release a 16-bit machine of its own in Japan but has no plans to release one in the United States soon. Peter Main, vice president of Nintendo, says American consumers are not ready for a 16-bit machine. Genesis just might prove him wrong.


[Source: The Chicago Tribune]


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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