Competition From Sega & NEC Heat Up The Holiday Season
Nintendo’s home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), launched four years ago in October of 1985. This test run took place in New York and was a smashing success. Ever since then the company has completely dominated the video game market. This has been thanks to its impressive gaming library, huge support from third party licensees, clever marketing, and low prices.
Success breeds competition and when there are billions of dollars at stake, everyone wants a part of the action. It’s no surprise that after striking out the first time with its Master System, Sega would try again – this time with a much more powerful machine. It’s called the Sega Genesis and it features double the bits of the NES (16 versus 8). That means it can crunch the numbers needed to display much more vibrant and detailed graphics on the TV. In fact, some of the games that have arrived are almost arcade perfect and quite the spectacle.
In Japan NEC has been having massive success with its tiny console called the P.C. Engine. Over here it has just released in a bigger shell with the TurboGrafx-16 moniker (that’s much more edgy, don’t you think?). Their system features a 16-bit graphics chip that allows for more colors on the screen and bigger, more detailed sprites.
The problems with both of the new consoles is numerous. For one, they have to go up against Nintendo’s marketing machine. The NES is in thousands of stores across the country, backed by millions of dollars of advertising, cartoons based on Nintendo properties are absorbed by kids on a daily basis, and its library is approaching 200 titles with something for everyone. But, perhaps the greatest difference can be seen in the pocketbook – the NES starts at just $80 whereas the Genesis is coming in at about $190 and the TurboGrafx-16 at $200 (more than double the price).
Neither of those systems comes with two controllers, so if you want to play with a sibling or a friend you’ll have to shell out more money for another controller. Neither comes packed in with a must-have game like Super Mario Bros. Instead the Genesis packs in the arcade port of Altered Beast (an OK game that will be conquered in a few hours) and the TurboGrafx-16 features an original action game called Keith Courage in Alpha Zone. Both games look and sound better than what’s on offer from Nintendo, but those two qualities don’t make the games more fun to play.
If these competitors are to succeed in capturing mindshare from Nintendo, they’ll have to do a much better job of creating magical experiences that can only be had on their platforms. Right now it seems the Genesis is further along the way to doing that with a line of sports games that should appeal toward the older crowd of gamers as well as some outstanding arcade conversions. It also helps that the system has probably the best 16-bit title yet with Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, which looks and plays amazing.
As much as these companies hope they’ll have the next big thing, realistically it looks like Nintendo will have no problem maintaining their leadership position over the next few years. Tens of millions of Nintendo systems currently reside in homes across America and that means tons of games will continue to be made. With Super Mario Bros. 3 just around the corner (February of next year) and big sequels like Super Contra and Castlevania 3 rumored from Konami, we think Nintendo will ride out the 16-bit storm just fine. That’s not to say they’re resting on their laurels; quite the opposite! The Japanese branch of the company is busy tinkering away at its own 16-bit machine, dubbed the Super Famicom in Japan, which should eventually become the Super Nintendo over here. The company’s not too eager to release the powerful machine because, frankly, it doesn’t need to. It’s doing so well with its current console that there’s zero reason to rush it to market. That means the developers can have more time developing quality software so when the day does eventually arrive an avalanche of games should be ready to go.
On the portable side of things, Nintendo’s new Game Boy system has been selling really well at retailers across the nation. At just $89 you can get the new handheld and it comes with a link cable to play head-to-head against another player as well a copy of the addicting Tetris and a set of earbuds for true stereo sound. There is some competition in the space with cheaper static LCD screens from manufacturers like Tiger and even Konami. They pale in comparison to the active matrix screen found in the Game Boy, which allows for fully animated sprites and backgrounds that scroll.
But it’s Atari hoping to strike while the iron is hot with its new handheld called the Lynx. It’s more powerful than the Game Boy and features a color screen that’s backlit so it can be played in the dark. The advantages are obvious with the Lynx and by any measure it’s a better piece of technology. But (and there’s always a but) the trade offs are major as well.
First up, you guessed it, the cost is more than double a Game Boy – coming in at about $180. Ouch! Second, the availability is scarce with only something like 50,000 – 100,000 available for Christmas. Third, this thing eats batteries for lunch! And fourth, it doesn’t come packed in with Tetris. Seriously, that’s Nintendo’s ace in the hole – an approachable puzzle game that melts away the minutes as you play. Plus Atari is a has-been company with very few innovative ideas in the game creativity department. We just don’t see other developers supporting the new machine with the same vigor as Nintendo’s Game Boy – hence we doubt it’ll catch on without a robust library of software titles. Time will tell, and obviously we could be wrong. Dennis Lynch of the Chicago Tribune thinks the Lynx is the better choice (article below). What do you guys think?
A NINTENDO FEVER CHART -PLUS SEGA
Dennis Lynch CHICAGO TRIBUNE
November 24, 1989
It`s Christmas season again, and to most parents that means one thing: Nintendomania is about to swing into high gear. Hard-to-get game cartridges will once again top the wish lists of millions of kids throughout the country, while their harried parents will once more be frantically searching discount stores hoping that the games are in stock.
In the last year, Nintendo has ingrained itself in the American consciousness-especially that of Americans under 12. Its characters have inspired a Saturday morning cartoon show (Super Mario Bros.), and there is even a Nintendo cereal (sounds nutritious, doesn`t it?). Nintendo has become the dream of little boys and little marketing men everywhere.
Little girls dream of Nintendo, too, though perhaps not in the numbers that boys do. Until recently, most game cartridges have appealed to more violent and destructive tendencies than girls usually evidence. A welcome development has been the release of cartridges like The Adventures of Lolo that attempt to appeal equally to members of both sexes.
More good news for game players has been the development of books of hints and guidebooks to help you when you are stuck. For example, ”Mastering Nintendo Video Games,” by a father-and-son team named Judd and Joshua Robbins, gives help on more than 100 cartridges, including such favorites as Super Mario Bros. 2 and Zelda II: The Adventures of Link. The book retails for $7.95 and can be ordered by calling Hayden Books at 800-257-5755.
In addition, Kodak has released a videotape series called ”How to Score More Points on Nintendo Games.” Each tape in the series costs $14.95 and offers hints on solving five popular games. They can be ordered by calling 800-331-6839. The tapes are narrated by Skip Rogers, who is identified as World Video Game Champion but is really just an actor. Warn your kids; otherwise they might grow up hoping they, too, can be World Video Game Champion.
To help with your game gift buying, here`s a roundup of the hottest Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) releases, as well as a look at what Sega, the main pretender to the game-machine throne, has in store for the season. Expect to pay about $50 a cartridge-if you can find it. Some of the more popular ones will be especially hard to find as Christmas approaches.
Mickey Mousecapade (Capcom). This is a rather standard game of running, jumping and climbing that is notable because of its use of the Disney characters. Kids should be enthralled by the colorful action. Though Minnie and Mickey dodge knives throw by Pegleg Pete, the rest of the game is mostly nonviolent fun.
DuckTales (Capcom). In this other new Disney-oriented release, Scrooge McDuck and his nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie go on a madcap treasure hunt. Good fun for the young `uns.
Ghostbusters II (Activision). The computer game version of the first Ghostbusters movie had a whopping sales total of more than 2 million units. Though the movie sequel wasn`t nearly as good as the original, the game sequel far surpasses its predecessor. The graphics are far superior, the sound is better, and the game is simply more fun to play. Kids will love this one.
Magic Johnson`s Fast Break (Tradewest). This simulation of two-on-two basketball offers plenty of action at five levels of play. Slam dunks and alley-oops are all here, as well as a feature that says a lot about the state of professional sports these days: Your goal in this game is not only to win games but also to increase your salary.
Ivan ”Ironman” Stewart`s Super Off-Road (Tradewest). This racing game gets the award for longest title of a game cartridge. It`s also the first NES cartridge to allow for simultaneous four-player action. The game works by taking advantage of a new peripheral called the NES Satellite, which allows four controllers to be hooked up at once. Thus the entire family or a group of friends can compete at the same time.
Kings of the Beach (Konami). As another Chicago winter sets in, dreams of California beaches begin. This graphically superb game takes you there for the fun of professional two-on-two volleyball. Everything is here-spikes, skyballs, crushers and even string bikinis. Awesome, dude.
Code Name: Viper (Capcom). Most Nintendo action games have little connection to reality, but the premise of this one is real enough: A Latin American drug cartel has kidnaped several U.S. citizens. Your job is to infiltrate the drug lord`s lair and release the hostages. The game offers plenty of action. It`s not for the faint of heart.
Wild Boys (Bandai). You have to admire the marketing at this company: It sure knows its audience, the teen and preteen boys who make up the majority of NES players. This package features four heavy-metal rockers on its cover and urges kids to ”join Keef, Jay, Slash and Axle as they rescue their hostaged girlfriends.” Slash and Axle? Let`s hope Guns N` Roses gets a royalty check. The Battle of Olympus (Broderbund). Instead of inventing new monsters, this game brings alive some of the great mythological creatures of antiquity, including the Hydra, Cerberus, the Bull of Colchis, Talos, the Minotaur and many more. Set in ancient times in the Peloponnesus and Crete, this adventure offers a painless way to introduce your child to some classic characters.
The Hunt for Red October (Hi Tech expressions). As in Tom Clancy`s bestselling novel, this action game puts you in the role of a Soviet submarine captain who wants to defect to the United States. Adults who liked the book might enjoy this game, if they can pry their kids away from the control pads. The Game Boy
Nintendo`s Game Boy system, a hand-held version of the NES, debuted this season, accompanied by a blizzard of high-powered hype. Sadly, the system doesn`t live up to its billing. The screen display is not in color, which is bad enough. Worse is that the display is so hard to read that it could cause terminal eye strain. Players who absolutely need to have a portable game machine should wait for Atari`s new color system, coming soon.
As No. 2 in the dedicated game machine industry, Sega continues to try harder. Its hot new Genesis machine is far better than anything Nintendo has to offer, and an average Sega game has much better graphics and sound than the average Nintendo offering.
That`s the good news for Sega. The bad news is that Nintendo has a stranglehold on the market, and as long as Nintendomania keeps up, it won`t matter that a superior game system is going unnoticed by millions of players. Keeping up with the Joneses is especially important to kids, and most Joneses have the NES system, not Sega.
However, if you`re not afraid to march to a slightly different drummer, the Sega is a real bargain. Even better, it doesn`t have a cereal named after it. What it does have is a bumper crop of new releases. Here are the best of them:
The Sega Genesis
Sega`s new Genesis system is an astounding game system that finally delivers what manufacturers have been promising for years: arcade-quality games in your home. Try out the Genesis system and you`ll probably be putting your Nintendo away in the attic forever. There are currently just a few titles available for the Genesis, but they are stunning.
Tommy Lasorda`s Baseball is by far the best arcade-style computer baseball game ever, with spectacular 3-D graphics and great sound. The Genesis allows you to plug in headphones for full stereo sound.
Altered Beast, Ghouls `N Ghosts and Last Battle are three other Genesis action games that focus on an all too familiar video-game theme (kill, kill and kill again), but even the most nonviolent players will be in awe of the startlingly sharp graphics and the fluid game play.
Other Sega Titles
The rest of these Sega games can be played on standard Sega units, or on the Genesis if you purchase a special attachment. Though they lack the pizazz of Genesis sound and graphics, these games are still the equal of anything available for the NES.
Walter Payton Football is a fun version of nine-on-nine football. But it`s hard to see what if anything Sweetness contributed to this game besides his name. Still, the game is enjoyable enough, especially with two human players. You`ll need all your joystick finesse and flair to advance to the Super Bowl.
Casino Games takes you to Sega Royale, a gambling haven that lets you bet on poker, blackjack, baccarat and slot machines. If the betting becomes too hectic or if you blow your wad, you can relax with a game of pinball.
Wonder Boy III: The Dragon`s Trap is the latest release in the delightful Wonder Boy series, a group of games that girls as well as boys find appealing. In this game a nasty surprise awaits you: A dragon`s curse turns you into a lizard, and you must find a way to undo the spell.
Wanted! is a Western shoot-`em-up that puts you in the role of a sheriff who needs to clean up his town pronto. Guess how you`re going to do it? Yep, with your trusty Sega Light Phaser gun. Just the thing to send the bad boys to Boot Hill.
Cloud Master is an odd and intriguing game, a sort of Super Mario Bros. on acid. Bizarre landscapes, flying cat heads, pigs with guns, levitating bowls of soup and more await you in this spaced-out trip.
Tennis Ace is Sega`s answer to Nintendo`s popular tennis cartridge, whose main failing is that it doesn`t allow two players to compete against each other. The Sega version lets you play against either another human or the computer in singles or doubles. There`s even a password feature so you can save your standings in a tournament.
NEC`S TURBOGRAFX SYSTEM IS A WHOLE NEW GAME
Dennis Lynch CHICAGO TRIBUNE
November 24, 1989
The newest threat to Nintendo`s dominance of the American dedicated game machine market is NEC`s Turbografx-16 system, which like the Sega Genesis far outshines the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in playability. Games on the Turbografx look and sound much better than anything you`ve ever seen on a Nintendo.
Consider these comparisons: The NES works with a palette of 53 colors and can show a maximum of 32 sprites (animated figures) on the screen at any one time, with 4 colors per sprite. The Turbografx has a palette of 512 colors and can show up to 64 sprites per screen, each with up to 16 colors.
In addition, the Turbografx has stereo sound; the NES doesn`t. Moreover, the Turbografx has a processing speed four times that of the NES.
The result? Games that blow the silicon off anything the NES has to offer. Characters on the Turbografx are larger and more lifelike than on the NES, and scrolling from screen to screen is much smoother.
Another nifty feature of the Turbografx is that it has an optional CD player that provides stunning sound accompaniment to its games. When you`re not playing games, you can use the add-on to play your favorite audio CDs. The option is a costly one, though: $399, twice as much as the base unit itself costs. However, the price might be worth it. A compact disc holds more than 200 times more data than a Nintendo cartridge, meaning the Turbografx can offer much more intricate games.
The major drawback of the Turbografx is that not many titles are currently available for it. NEC hopes to have 20 programs available by Christmas, but right now just a handful of them are on store shelves, including such arcade fare as Keith Courage, Fighting Street and Dungeon Explorer. The premise of each game is nothing special, but the execution of each is simply stunning on the Turbografx.
The key to the Turbografx`s power is its use of a 16-bit graphics processor, as opposed to the 8-bit processor used on the Nintendo. Nintendo has a 16-bit machine in production in Japan but has not seen fit to release it in America, saying that American consumers aren`t ready for it. Such complacency is letting companies like Sega and NEC jump ahead of the competition-in technical excellence if not in sales volume.
Just as the Nintendo was a quantum leap forward from the old Atari game machines, so the Sega Genesis and the NEC Turbografx are a great leap ahead from the NES. For video players everywhere, it`s the start of a whole new game.
[Source: The Chicago Tribune]
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.