Today, the Nintendo Switch will officially be born, and it’s time to take stock of what Nintendo has achieved in the past three decades and what the future holds for products like the Nintendo Switch.
The original Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, was arguably the gaming company’s first major success in the gaming console market. It was originally released in Japan on July 15, 1983 – more than thirty years ago – as Famicom (short for Family Computer), and subsequently came to North America in 1985 and then Europe a year later in its NES avatar.
Although the NES had chip problems on launch, by 1984 it was the best-selling gaming console in Japan. It successfully ported the older arcade games like Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye, but it also brought much-loved titles like Super Mario Bros., Pinball and Kung Fu when it made its appearance as the NES in North America in ’85.
In one sense, it saved the gaming market that crashed in 1983, and created a new method of gaming that caught on like wildfire. Nintendo achieved this by employing new terminologies to differentiate itself from the damaged gaming market.
For example, it was referred to as an “Entertainment System” rather than a “video game system.” The ‘console’ name also gave way to “Control Deck”, and several other name changes helped overcome what could have been a major hurdle to the product being embraced by consumers.
In short, it was nothing short of a marketing coup that brought the NES into mainstream gaming. By 1988, the NES was so popular that the demand for Nintendo cartridges outstripped the demand for all home computer software combined.
By 2009, IGN had named it the single greatest video game console in history, but by then the product had been dead for nearly 15 years, having been discontinued in 1995 in both North America and Europe. Incidentally, the original Famicom continued until 2003, but repair service was offered in Japan until 2007.
The NES Classic Edition, which came out in 2016, hoped to bring back some of the nostalgia of the older NES, with 30 built-in games from the licensed NES library. The new console’s emulation engine was different from the Virtual Console emulation found on Wii U, and it brought in 22 built-in games that were common for all markets. The eight remaining titles were exclusive to specific regions, such as North America/PAL NES version and Japan’s Famicom version.
The NES Classic Edition was well-received in the market despite complaints about the controller cord being too short and minor glitches with the emulation engine. It sold 196,000 units in its first month, eventually selling 1.5 million units by the end of 2016.
NES took gaming out of arcades and brought it into our homes, and NES continues that tradition of home-based consoles. But Nintendo Switch makes another valuable contribution: it disengages gaming from the tethered experience of a console and gives us mobility in addition to all that.
The Switch could be the very thing that drags console gamers out of their dark dungeons and brings them out into the open world, where they can relive the gaming experience on the move instead of being limited by the length of a cord.
Yes, we have several gripes against Virtual Console games not making it to Nintendo Switch, but there could be more upside here than meets the eye. The hybrid quality of the Switch experience is one of those benefits. You can take it wherever you go, play it like a hand-held, or a touch-enabled tablet or a traditional gaming console.
Nintendo will definitely be keeping its fingers crossed today as the Switch is launched, but the company has taken a major step to speed up the evolution of the gaming experience. The key to it all are the 60+ Indie titles expected to come with the device. We have to wait and see how these games are received, but looking at The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it’s clear that a new mobile experience is coming to games that are traditionally console- or PC-based.
The Nintendo Switch may not fit into our pockets, but it fits perfectly into our idea of a mobile device. That opens up new possibilities in a tremendous way. Who is to say that we won’t end up having Netflix or Gmail or other familiar apps on this device down the road?
This is just the beginning, but we expect to see major developments, enhancements and capabilities on the Nintendo Switch in the not-too-distant future.
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