Cheat Masters is counting down to Wii U with a new editorial series that takes a look back on the first console Nintendo launched, and all the systems that followed. Throughout this editorial series, I will share personal stories, talk about the launch games, the launch price, and the overall impact of that system on the gaming world as we know it.
We begin with the third generation of video gaming, and I will cover the launches of the Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Master System, and Atari 7800. Future editions of this series will cover Nintendo and defunct console manufacturers, excluding Sony and Microsoft, as they will be talked about in the future when we are building up to the launches of Xbox 720 and PlayStation 4.
Nintendo Entertainment System
In June 1985, Nintendo unveiled the Nintendo Entertainment System to North America. This was the North American version of their Famicom, the “Family Computer”, as it was called in Japan. Nintendo’s goal was to reinvigorate the game industry and revive it from the video game crash of 1983 by ensuring that only quality games were released for the NES, and reinstating consumer confidence in video game products.
On October 18th, 1985, Nintendo released the first NES systems in New York City to test the market. They then slowly released the systems in other test markets until they had a full, nation-wide launch of the system in February of 1986.
NES became a pop culture phenomenon and major success. It revived the video game industry from the infamous crash of 1983. The system launched at the highest price point of $199.99, making it a very attractive value. Nintendo kept the NES going well over its expected life, finally retiring the system in the early 90s to start making way for SNES.
There were two different bundles for NES when it launched, much like how Wii U is launching with two different bundles. The NES bundles were:
Deluxe Set ($199.99) – System, R.O.B., NES Zapper, two controllers, Gyromite, and Duck Hunt
Control Deck ($89.99) – System and two controllers
Another version of the Control Deck was also released that cost $10 more and came with Super Mario Bros.
Nintendo Entertainment System launched with 18 games, some of which are the most important and influential video games of all time.
10-Yard Fight – I really dislike this game, but it is still important. It was one of the first sports titles available for NES, launching on day one with the system. Even though it may not be the highest quality game, it still paved the way for future sports titles and franchises that have been a huge part of the success of the video game industry.
Baseball – Simply titled, Baseball is one of the better sports titles for NES. With American Football being represented in the previous title, Baseball, a more globally celebrated sport, was a no-brainer to include with the NES.
Clu Clu Land – A maze-style game, Clu Clu Land hoped to build on the success of similar titles like Pac-Man. This game may not have developed the same following as other NES games, but its legacy continued, with an arcade port, sequels, a Virtual Console re-release, and the fact that it could be one of the collected NES games in Animal Crossing on GameCube.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math – While most people probably would’ve preferred a straight port of Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong Jr. Math retained many of the core elements of the arcade game, but added an educational twist on things. Nintendo’s early attempt at combining education and gaming made a few good moves in that it kept what made the original game fun, and included iconic characters like the Kong clan.
Duck Hunt – One of the most famous launch games, this title used the zapper to shoot down ducks as they flew across the screen. A poor performance saw an iconic dog mock the player, and this game showed that the NES definitely had chops when it came to light-gun action.
Excitebike – Another cornerstone of the NES line-up, Excitebike has developed its own franchise that continues to this day on Nintendo platforms. Most recently, Excitebike 3D was released on 3DS as a downloadable 3D remake of the original NES classic.
Golf – Another simply titled sports game on NES, this one was meant to appeal to the golfers out there.
Gyromite – This platformer/puzzler was unique in that players could use R.O.B. the robot to function in the game as a second player. While this mechanic was not well-received overall, its co-op functionality with a real person made Gyromite much more entertaining.
Hogan’s Alley – Another light-gun game in the NES lineup, this is a classic light gun game of the era.
Ice Climber – Ice Climber, featuring the Ice Climbers, was an arcade-style platformer that featured snazzy graphics and two characters that have been reborn in the Smash Bros. franchise. While Ice Climber wasn’t a major success back in the day, it gave birth to two iconic Nintendo characters that are celebrated in Nintendo’s premiere crossover fighting title.
Kung Fu – Football, baseball, golf…martial arts! As the name suggests, this game was based around fighting, and is one of the earliest fighting games on console.
Pinball – People loved arcades in the 80s. Arcades were a fun place to hang out that always had a bunch of different video games to try out of all different varieties. One of the more popular, and still popular, form of this was pinball, which was translated into home console form with the aptly named Pinball.
Stack-Up – Another R.O.B.-centric game, this title featured the same characters as Gyromite, and similar puzzle gameplay. Today, it is one of the rarest NES launch games to obtain.
Tennis – Yet another simply titled sports title, Tennis was exactly as it sounded. Mario made a surprise appearance as the referee in the game.
Wild Gunman – The third light-gun game that launched with NES, this game appealed to all the western lovers in the 80s.
Wrecking Crew – Re-released as a part of the 3DS Ambassador Program, Wrecking Crew is a hidden gem of the NES launch line-up. The game features unique destruction-based gameplay and stars Nintendo’s mascot, Mario.
Mach Rider – A car-racing game is obligatory for any system, and Nintendo got it out of the way right at launch with Mach Rider.
Super Mario Bros. – Quite simply one of the most important video games ever made, Super Mario Bros. practically invented the 2D side-scrolling platformer. The game was filled with secrets and fantastic level design, and it’s one of the main reasons that we still have video games today. Almost everyone knows who Mario is, and in all honesty, I doubt there’s anyone you know that doesn’t know who Mario is.
Sega Master System
After the success the NES came to be, Sega decided to throw its hat in the ring as well and present itself as Nintendo’s direct competitor and rival, sparking the very first ever Console Wars, along with Atari as the third man. Sega released the Master System outside of Japan in June of 1986.
Master System retailed for $199.99 to compete with NES. While it’s unclear all of the games that were released for the system on launch, there was a hidden game programmed into the system, as well as two games that were packed-in with the console as well.
Snail Maze – Built into the console as a hidden game, this quirky title pleased those that discovered it.
Hang-On – This motorbike racing title really showed off how superior Master System was to NES. Hang-On was rubbed in the face of plenty Nintendo fans by Sega fans to prove the strength of the Master System.
Safari Hunt – Safari Hunt utilized Sega’s version of the Zapper, the Light Phaser, to complete a set of target challenges and mini-games. It failed to gain the same amount of popularity as the NES light-gun games.
Before Nintendo and Sega started fighting in the Console Wars, Atari was the king of the video game industry. Its first two systems were both massive successes, and featured quite a few landmark video game titles. However, Atari’s lax approach on who could develop for their systems directly lead to the video game crash of 1983.
Even so, Atari pushed on with Atari 7800, which released in June of 1984 for $140, two years before Nintendo would revitalize the game industry with NES.
Atari 7800 featured 13 launch games:
Ms. Pac-Man – Pac-Man remains one of the most popular game franchises of all time, so it was a no-brainer for Atari to snag the highly regarded sequel, Ms. Pac-Man, for a release on their new system, even if it was incredibly inferior to the arcade version.
Pole Position II – This racing title was a pack-in game for Atari 7800, and it was a sequel to one of the most celebrated racing games ever. Pole Position II attempted to carry on the legacy of the original on the 7800.
Centipede – Yet another arcade game that was brought to Atari 7800, Centipede was very popular, and should’ve helped sell more Atari 7800s than were actually sold by the time the console was discontinued.
Joust – One of the most popular arcade games of all time, Joust was lauded for its competitive multiplayer in arcades. This translated well to Atari 7800, and Joust is certainly one of the system’s most standout games, and certainly one of its most celebrated launch games.
Dig Dug – Everyone knows Dig Dug! Like Pac-Man, Dig Dug was very popular in the 80s and featured unique arcade gameplay that no other game could really claim. This made it appeal to gamers on a massive level.
Desert Falcon – Often forgotten, this action title was one of the first of its kind on Atari 7800.
Robotron: 2084 – What’s this? Another arcade port? You’d better believe it. Robotron 2084 was not as popular as the original arcade version, and people were already burnt out on the game as it was released for the previous Atari console as well.
Galaga – To push the Atari 7800, it is clear that the company tried desperately to translate the most popular arcade games for the system. I can see the point in doing this, and while Galaga is a fantastic game, I can’t be the only one noticing a certain trend…
Xevious – See all the other arcade games on the list.
Food Fight – At least this arcade cabinet was published by Atari! The popularity of this game saw it featured in tournaments and revitalized by Microsoft momentarily in the seventh generation, but it didn’t find a strong foothold as a port for the 7800.
Ballblazer – NES attempted to appeal to the masses by featuring numerous games based on popular sporting titles. Ballblazer on Atari 7800 had the sole purpose of inventing a brand new type of sport, which obviously wouldn’t appeal to very many people. This game was ported all over the place and was already widely available before Atari 7800 even launched.
Rescue on Fractalus! – This 7800 game was a planned launch title, and was a port of a game from the previous generation. However, it never saw the light of day, which is a shame as it was one of the more popular games in Atari’s arsenal.
Track and Field – One of Konami’s most popular games of all time, Track and Field was a sports game released for 7800 that could actually appeal to as a mass market. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
By the time the NES, Master System, and Atari 7800 became inactive and the fourth generation of video game systems were ushered in, there was a clear picture of who was the winner of the console wars.
Nintendo sold an astonishing 61.91 million NES systems, making it one of the most successful video game consoles in history. Sega Master System did not see even close to the same amount of success, selling only 11.8 million systems. Atari 7800 was a failure, with only 3.77 million units sold before it was eventually discontinued and Atari started working on the next generation, hoping for better luck.
40.23 million copies of Super Mario Bros. were sold as the pack-in title with the system, showing just how a launch title can really make or break a video game system. Super Mario Bros. 3 was the most popular non-pack-in game, selling 18 million units by the end of its run. Exact numbers for Atari 7800 games and Sega Master System games are hard to come by, but the Master System’s best-selling games were obviously the pack-in games of Hang-On and Safari Hunt. Meanwhile, Atari 7800′s most successful game was Pole Position II, which was also a pack-in title.
Nintendo was able to win the console wars by aggressively pushing the NES in all major markets. It brought new IP to the table and also tried to bank on the success of its former franchises. The broad range of sports titles appealed to the casual crowd, and the different bundles allowed gamers of all sorts of incomes enjoy the console.
I wasn’t alive when NES launched in 1986, but my parents have fond memories of the system. I have heard plenty of stories, like how my mom and my uncle were the envy of all their cousins when they received an NES for Christmas. I may not have been around to anticipate the launch of NES, but gaming is in my blood, Nintendo is in my blood, and I will be eagerly anticipating the launch of Wii U on November 18th.
In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to Cheat Masters. Next week, we’ll go over the fourth generation of gaming, with the Super Nintendo and the introduction of Nintendo’s first handheld, the Game Boy!