Friday, October 1, 2010

NES Month: Intro & History

Greetings, readers! Today starts a special month for this fledgling little blog. For on October 18th, 1985, Nintendo shipped the Nintendo Entertainment System for the first time in the United States of America! So I'll dedicate the entire month of October 2010, its 25th anniversary, to reviewing NES games and hardware (and possibly continuing the Dance Dance Retrospective series).

There will also be loads of opportunity for trivia along the way. For example, that date I threw at you (18 October 1985) only refers to a limited release in the New York City area. Eleven more test releases were conducted since February 1986 until it was finally launched nationwide and in Canada in the following September. [1] But the console's interesting history doesn't start during the launch, but before it. See, the "Great Video Game Crash of 1983" took the wind out of what people thought would be a fad. But gaming computers were doing fairly well, such as the Commodore 64 and Amiga series, so that influenced Nintendo to redesign their Family Computer, or "Famicom" console (released in 1983 in Japan) into the Nintendo AVS (Advanced Video System) for the Consumer Electronics Shows in 1984. This thing came with a non-literal ton of peripherals: two controllers, a light gun, a joystick, a computer keyboard, a cassette deck, and (not pictured) a MIDI piano keyboard, and they were all wireless! ...Although it must not have been up to the standards we're used to in the 7th generation of consoles, because the wireless functions and keyboard tempered people's interest in the AVS, and as a result no systems were ordered. But if you want to check out what could have been, there is (as of this writing) one on display at the Nintendo World shop in New York City. (Darn, they get everything; what's left for Philly!?)

That's a *lot* of peripherals! [2]
But it seems Nintendo took a similar route when releasing the NES proper. There were many different accessory bundles available with the system; the big, bad one available at launch was the Deluxe Set. For US $250 (2009 value: US $491.84 [3]), you got the Control Deck, two controllers, the Zapper light gun, the Robot Operating Buddy, and two Game Paks: Duck Hunt and Gyromite. What, no Super Mario Bros.? You could get that separately or in the basic Control Deck bundle. You might also recognize later bundles such as the Action Set (with Zapper and Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt Game Pak) and Power Set (same as Action Set, but with Power Pad mat and World Class Track Meet added to the Game Pak). Again, there were non-literal tons of peripherals available for the NES.

But what about the stuff you'd use most often, the Control Deck and controllers? Honestly, what can I say? They are the very emblems of nostalgia for this sort of thing. I'm sure we all thought at some point how much the Control Deck looks and feels like something like a VCR. And brick-shaped or not, that controller had to be more comfortable than the cramping joysticks of the Atari 5200 and the like. But, I'm not afraid to be honest with this... In the long run, the NES Control Deck sucks. See, as you pop the games down with a spring-loaded hinge, some of the pin connectors stop reading those on the Game Paks correctly. And making matters worse was the "10NES" chip, designed to prevent unlicensed and imported games from working on the NES (the former intended to prevent the Video Game Crash from happening again). If a connection could not be made between the 10NES chip in the Control Deck and one in the Game Pak, the system would reset continually. Mostly this happened just because the pins couldn't make that crucial connection. Nintendo responded a little too late by releasing a new top-loading console in 1993, just two years before the NES was officially discontinued, and two years after its successor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, came on the market. But fortunately, in one of rare cases where I would condone knockoff goods, "Famiclone" consoles (named after the Famicom) also did away with the hinge problem, and some even threw in support for other systems like the Super NES and even Sega Genesis. In other news, pigs have been spotted flying, more at eleven.

Here are the reviews scheduled to appear this month:
As you can see, with a few exceptions, I'm not going for the big guns, the Marios and Zeldas, the Mega Mans and Castlevanias, because you already know what to expect with those. As I do with all my reviews on the SDP, it's got to be something a bit more in left field. Most of the stuff I'm doing for NES Month I have nostalgic experience with, but it's not a requirement. But seriously, if this is the NES we're talking about, how could anyone in my line of "work" not have nostalgic experience with their own unique set of games?

[1] "Nintendo Famicom: 20 Years of Fun."

[2] "Nintendo Advanced Video System." Wikimedia Commons.

[3] The Inflation Calculator.

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