This weekend, Super Mario Bros. turns 30 years old. The game has become so ingrained in popular culture that it’s easy to lose sight of just how important and influential Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi’s creation was when it hit Nintendo’s Japanese gaming console on Sept. 13, 1985. The Famicom had been enjoying success in Japan, but Super Mario Bros. became such a phenomena in that country that by 1989 there was one Famicom in every two households in Japan. In 1986, when SMB made its way to the North American version of the Famicom, the NES, it helped the system overcome the toxic environment left from the great video game crash of 1983 and became a huge hit here as well.
A couple of years ago TDE celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and as part of that celebration we posted a look at the development of the game and the influences that helped shape SMB. After the jump, we present that post to you now, as we pay tribute to one of the greatest video games of all time:
Where we celebrate the video games from 1984, a scant 30 years ago.
In 1984, perhaps driven by George Orwell’s warnings of a Big Brother controlling everything, telecommunications giant AT&T was broken up into eight different companies, the result of anti-trust court case United States vs. AT&T. Ads for fast food restaurant Wendy’s started asking other chains “Where’s the beef?”. And, of course, the revolutionary Macintosh computer was unveiled by Apple.
1984 was also the second year for Nintendo’s Family Computer (Famicom) video game console. It was such a solid success in Japan that Nintendo had to open a new R&D department dedicated to making games for the system in order to keep up with demand. Heading the new R&D4 was Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the smash hit arcade game Donkey Kong. His first game for the Famicom is our subject today: the bizarre Devil World.
Players control a young dragon named Tamagon, who has taken it upon himself to enter the Devil’s domain and take on the big guy. As Tamagon moves around the Pac-Man styled maze, he must be careful. At the top of the screen the devil directs his minions to occasionally turn cranks, moving the maze in the four main compass directions. This movement creates crushing hazards for the dragon at the edges of the screen. Tamagon must take hold of the crosses littering the maze, enabling him to fight the denizens of Hell: robed eyes that chase him relentlessly. If the dragon is able to roast the eyes with his fiery breath while holding a cross, they turn into tasty fried eggs that he can eat. The crosses also let Tamagon pick up dots lining the maze, and when he has taken them all the board ends. He can also get some relief from the sweltering climes of hades by gobbling bonus ice cream cones that occasionally appear. In the next screen, Tamagon must take four bibles to a seal in the centre of the screen, and the last wave of the game is a bonus round with the dragon picking up bonus boxes before a time limit runs out. The screens then repeat, with increasing difficulty.
While the gameplay is merely another take on the maze game genre, the content of the graphics is what makes Devil World stand out, not only among other Nintendo games, but video games in general. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always thought that there needs to be more religious imagery in games. Nintendo of America didn’t think quite the same way, however. While Devil World was released in Japan for the Famicom in 1984, and on the NES in Europe in 1987, it was never released in North America. This was because of NoA’s strict policy against religious iconography in their games.
Now, taking to the pulpit, is a video of Devil World in action. Perfect for all you video game zealots. For more information on Devil World and the Famicom, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.
Into the smouldering crater of the Big Videogame Crash of 1983 – 1984 came the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), a game console whose wild success upon release in 1985 single-handedly resurrected the industry in North America.
It was a daring move by Hiroshi Yamauchi and Nintendo, but not a completely blind gamble. The NES had already met with stunning success in the guise of the Family Computer (Famicom), a system released in Japan in 1983. The Famicom was so successful that by 1989, there was one console in every two households in Japan. For its U.S. release, the system was re-tooled as the NES, made to look more like a piece of A/V equipment than a video game in order to shake off the bad vibes that the collapse of the market had left with American toy buyers. To say the plan worked is an understatement.
Here we present a family portrait of the two systems, the NES and the Family Computer They might not have been the lightning that started the industry, but they certainly delivered a desperately needed shock to the system that got the heart of video games beating again:
Hiroshi Yamauchi has died. Yamauchi came to power at Nintendo in 1949 at age 22, replacing his grandfather as head of the company after the elder suffered a stroke. Even so young, Yamauchi showed the iron will he would become infamous for, insisting that other family members in the company be fired, as well as quickly purging executives who refused to take him seriously.
Nintendo’s fortunes had come from the manufacture of playing cards ever since its inception in 1889. In the later part of the 60’s, Yamauchi took steps to expand the company into toys and games, creating an R&D department within Nintendo to develop such products. At the head of this group Yamauchi put a maintenance man with the name of Gunpei Yokoi, an enthusiastic tinkerer with an uncanny knack at creating new products out of older technology. With success after success, Nintendo would come to dominate the toy market in Japan. Later, as Yamauchi took notice of the new technology coming out of the States in the mid-70’s, they would do the same with video games.
With an almost preternatural ability to pick both talented designers and the games and systems they produced, hardly anything made by Nintendo reached store shelves without Yamauchi’s approval. When the company’s U.S. subsidiary floundered in the early 80’s and begged for a new hit game to sell, it was Yamauchi who took the chance on a young artist unproved in game design to come up with a product. The game was named Donkey Kong, and its creator was Shigeru Miyamoto.
After issuing orders to create a cartridge-based home console called the Famicom (Family Computer) that met with great success in Japan, Yamauchi would set his sights on conquering the American market. Undaunted by the toxic landscape created by the total collapse of the U.S. video game market in 1983-84, Yamauchi insisted on selling the Famicom to American homes as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985. The system would single-handedly resurrect the video game industry from cindered ashes back to billions of dollars in sales, and make Nintendo a word synonymous with video games, as Atari had been before it.
After 55 years at the helm, Yamauchi was succeeded as Nintendo president in 2002 by Satoru Iwata. He remained the company’s largest individual shareholder until his death, at the age of 85. While he may have ruled Nintendo with an iron fist, the company he drove from Japanese playing card manufacturer to globally dominating video game giant is now mourning his loss.
You can read the history of two great products with Yamauchi’s stamp on them here at The Dot Eaters:
Atari might have created the video game industry, but it was Nintendo who brought things back from the dead after the disastrous video game crash in the U.S. in 1983-84. They did so via the Nintendo Entertainment System, but it was only through the development and subsequent success of the earlier Japanese version of the game console, called the Family Computer or Famicom, that Nintendo had the confidence, technical know-how and financial means to take on America.
Who knows how many years it would have taken for video games to come back without the Famicom? Five? Ten? It’s hard to deal in hypotheticals, but what we can do is take a look back at one of the most important consoles in video gaming history. 30 years ago, on July 15th, 1983, Nintendo released the Famicom in Japan. Here’s how it happened:
Here is the last of the TDE articles detailing various aspects of the Famicom, as well as the NES, the North American version of the console released in 1985. These posts celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and lead up to the full history of the Famicom, to be posted tomorrow. The post today also falls on the 30th anniversary of Mario Bros., so two koopa’s with one fireball, so to speak. While Famicom project lead Masayuki Uemura and his team at R&D2 labs at Nintendo do great work putting together the hardware of the famed video game console, it’s the games for the system that give it longevity. And there’s few games that boost Famicom and NES sales as much as Super Mario Bros..
TDE continues a series of posts concerning various aspects of the Famicom and NES, leading up to the 30th anniversary of the ubiquitous Japanese video game system. This time, we look at Nintendo’s first cautious steps towards online connectivity with the Famicom.
Just the Fax
In America, video game companies have tested the waters of console-based online services, such as PlayCable for Mattel’s Intellivision in 1981, and 1983’s Gameline for the Atari 2600. Nintendo starts its own flirtation with online services for the Famicom in 1987, with the development of the Disk Fax System. Used in conjunction with the Family Computer Disk System, the scheme allows players to purchase special blue-coloured disk versions of games, onto which they can save their high-scores. They can then take these to Disk Fax kiosks in participating stores, where their high scores are read and sent to Nintendo via phone line to be entered in contests run by the company. Games used in the competitions include the two versions of Family Computer Golf: Japan Course and U.S. Course, as well as 3-D Hot Rally and Famicom Grand Prix F1 Race. Top scorers receive awards such as gold versions of disk cards, ensconced inside of elaborate packaging.
As part of our celebration of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Famicom, the Japanese video game system by Nintendo that was later adapted for the North American market as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), I’m posting my review of The Wizard. It’s a 1989 Fred Savage vehicle that many consider as simply a 100 minute commercial for Nintendo. I made this initially for Ten Point Review, where we rate a movie according to four criteria, and then add and/or subtract points as we see fit in order to come up with a numerical rating between 0 – 10. Time to watch people play games!
The 30th anniversary of the Famicom is nigh! TDE is celebrating with Updates posts concerning various aspects of Nintendo’s hugely important and influential game console. We’ll also cover details of the NES, the North American version of the Famicom, released two years later in 1985. These posts will lead up to the full Famicom and NES Bitstory articles that will be published here in mid July. As had happened before with the Atari VCS, a console that helped create the video game market in the first place, the NES becomes a cottage industry for peripherals and other products associated with the console. Today, we’re looking at an integral part of the immense and long-lived success of the NES. Today, we’re playing with Power!