Happy 30th Birthday, NES!

The Nintendo Entertainment System officially launched in the U.S. 30 years ago today. At first it was only available in limited stores in New York and the surrounding area to test the viability of a nationwide rollout. Mr. Yamauchi, the president of Nintendo of Japan at the time, decided that they’d try and crack one of the toughest markets first. By his thinking, if New York was a success, then the NES would sell well everywhere else. It turns out he was right. The initial trial market yielded somewhere between 50,000 and 90,000 systems sold and in early 1986 Nintendo expanded the territory to the Los Angeles region. By September of 1986 the NES was available nationwide and went on to become one of the most successful systems of all time, locking in 90% of the videogame market.

Control Deck

Like many kids who grew up in the ‘80s, I have fond memories of playing the NES and the amazing games that were released for it. I still remember playing Super Mario Brothers for the first time at my best friend’s house across the street. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I begged my parents for a Nintendo system and my Dad kept telling me to wait for the game to come out on the Commodore 64, like so many other games had up until that point.


A year or so passed and my younger cousins were able to buy the NES. They had been given our old Atari 2600 and games a few years prior, and now they had leapfrogged us and were playing games like The Legend of Zelda. It was becoming evident that Super Mario Bros. was never coming to the C64 and more exclusive games were making their way to Nintendo’s ever-growing popular system. My parents finally caved one Saturday morning, waking me out of bed and telling me it was time to get up. I groggily dragged my feet, moaning that it was too early and I wanted to sleep in since it was the weekend. My Mom promptly declared, “If you want to get your Nintendo today, you’d better get up right now!” I never dressed so fast in my life. It was September 1988, and I was about to finally get the system I had wanted for what seemed like an eternity (time moves so slow as a kid).


We ended up buying the Action Set (Control Deck, 2 controllers, Zapper, and Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt Game Pak) for $99.99 at Target. Of course I wanted an extra game and begged them to front me my Birthday money, which I’d be getting in a couple of weeks. They agreed to let me purchase one extra game. I had narrowed it down between two very different titles: Ikari Warriors II (I had played the original and enjoyed it), and The Goonies II (loved the movie). Like many kids still do today, I went for the videogame based on a movie. Luckily for me, it was the right choice as it was (and is) a fantastic adventure game that’s complex, difficult, and just obtuse enough to last for months. It doesn’t hurt that Cindi Lauper’s “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” looped over and over again in midi format and sounded quite delightful at the time.


The NES really started my love affair with Nintendo and its games. Of course, I had played Donkey Kong in the arcade and even owned the watered-down Atari 2600 version of it to play at home. At the time I really didn’t know that Nintendo created it. I suppose at that age I didn’t really stop to think about the individual companies that were responsible for making the different games. With the NES I really started noticing which developers made the good games and paid special attention to Nintendo, Capcom, Konami, Sunsoft, and Enix as I found myself really enjoying a vast majority of their titles. Although I had been gaming for a long time on the Atari 2600 and Commodore 64, the quality of the NES games really made the biggest difference. Being able to play games like Bionic Commando, Blaster Master, Castlevania, Contra, Mega Man, Metroid, Zelda, Mario, Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon II, DuckTales, Tetris, Legendary Wings, Crystalis, Life Force, and so many others really cemented the NES as the must-have system of the later half of the ‘80s and into the early part of the ‘90s.


The Nintendo blitz was stronger at that point in time than it has ever been seen since. Entire retail videogame departments were filled with just NES stuff. There was no competition. Tons of accessories, like the NES Advantage, the Power Pad, and the infamous Power Glove were everywhere. Official game guides and Nintendo Power magazines were bountiful. Videogame commercials littered the cartoons that aired. Interactive kiosks showed off some of the latest games, and Nintendo even went back to its early ‘80s roots by releasing the PlayChoice 10 machines in arcades. They allowed gamers to try out 10 different NES games that could be updated periodically. I remember the first time I ever played Super Mario Bros. 3 was on a PlayChoice 10, months before the game was released for the NES. I can’t tell you how many quarters I spent on that game.


It was fun living through the Nintendo frenzy of the ‘80s. In late 1988 two games in particular were supposed to be the big holiday hits, Super Mario Bros. 2 and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. Due to a worldwide chip shortage, both games saw their quantities reduced. Zelda II especially had issues and I know in my part of the country it was impossible to find it until February of 1989. I had asked for SMB 2 that Christmas, but a couple weeks prior, my Mom informed me that she was very sorry, but she couldn’t find the game anywhere, and so I’d need to come up with another choice for a gift. I believed her, so imagine my surprise that morning when I unwrapped the game, paired with the NES Advantage. Yes! I could finally cheat by using turbo and slow motion.


Do you have any special memories regarding the NES? What were your favorite games? Let us know by leaving a comment below, or by e-mailing us at the contact page.

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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