As Nintendo progressively left the arcade game development field in order to focus on its successful home console, SEGA doubled down on the coin-op market and managed to consistently produce during its existence highly memorable arcade games, especially during the eighties and nineties.
One name often show up when talking about these cool games: Yu Suzuki, a young graduate hired in 1983 by SEGA who then proceeded to direct and produce a large number of innovative arcade hits released by SEGA. Let’s talk a bit about some of them.
Space Harrier (1985) is a prototypical third person shooter that make great use of its sprite scaling technology to simulate multidimensional gameplay : the visual elements smoothly scales up as they approach the screen, giving an unprecedented sense of depth to the player. It also one of the first game to make use of a an analogical joystick that could detect the smallest movement from the player.
Out Run (1986) reuse the same sprite scaling technique to offer a 3D driving game that was unlike any other racing of its time. The game’s decidedly eighties presentation coupled with the catchy soundtrack made this coin-op a unique experience and a true arcade classic.
Nintendo wasn’t the only player on the Japanese market, far from that! Let’s talk a bit about SEGA, Nintendo’s fierce challenger during the eighties and the nineties.
SEGA’s history in itself is quite interesting. Initially a coin-op game distributor founded in Hawaii, SEGA managed to successfully grow by the late eighties and become on of the most important arcade manufacturer by sales in Japan and in the USA. However, a slump in the coin-op industry forced the company to turn its head to the nascent console gaming attempt.
SEGA’s very first video game console, the SEGA SG-1000 was released the same day as the Nintendo Famicom and was by all metrics a complete failure. This didn’t stop the company from trying again as SEGA attempted multiple time to tweak and re-introduce its console under different name.
Curiously, SEGA’s first significant breakthrough occurred on the European market, which historically received less attention from Nintendo and often had to wait months or even years after the American release to receive new games. The SEGA Master System, an improved version of the SG-1000 managed to sell more than the Nintendo NES thanks to its superior hardware and the quality of its arcade port.
Hey, we’re not done with the NES! Here are some more games that deserve a mention.
The Legend Of Zelda, released in 1985 and designed by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka was a radical action-oriented take on the then slow and clunky role playing game.
The game successfully blends elements of exploration, puzzle-solving and combat and delivers an experience that was quite unlike anything back and even manage to still have its impact today – if you can get past the primitive visuals, that is.
The very open-ended nature of the game in particular that give you unprecedented freedom to tackle the game as you wish is very reminiscent of today’s open-world game demonstrating how revolutionary and ahead of its time this game was. The game controls are simple, responsive and still offer a large gamut of possible action and usable item, in contrast to the often difficult to use computer role playing games.
Metroid (1986) is Science Fiction side scrolling action game that deserves recognition for its innovative and highly atmospheric presentation. It also makes remarkable use of the console basic audio capability to produce a surprisingly evocative score.
The NES and its Japanese cousin the Famicom had such a glorious career spanning over 10 years and covering a wide variety a video game genre that its all to give proper justice to all of the great games that were released on this platform.Let’s cover some of the best of them, those who contributed to make the NES a legend.
Let’s start with the best selling game on the NES, Super Mario Bros. (1985) Designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, this game puts you in control of Mario has he navigated various side scrolling levels by running and jumping in order to rescue the princess from Bowser.
The game’s simple but engrossing mechanics and highly responsive player controls combined with a consistently inventive level design made this game an instant hit that redefined the platforming game. It also marks the beginning of an extremely successful franchise that still exists today.
Dragon Quest (1987) was a rethinking for a Japanese console audience of the American Role Playing Game. It streamlined the often baroque game mechanics of the original role playing game available on home computer to great success, spawning the whole genre of so-called “Japanese Role Playing Game” such as Final Fantasy that took great inspiration from Dragon Quest.
Nintendo was able to learn from this criticism and presented the next year a stripped down system called the “Nintendo Entertainment System”, often referred as the NES nowadays.
Nintendo marketed their product as a toy for children and took extra precaution to distance it from video games, which still had reputation after he Atari-induced market fiasco. The console was sold exclusively primarily in toy stores and emphasis was made on the various gimmicky peripherals sold alongside it (such as R.O.B the Robot) in order to differentiate it for typical game consoles.
Another key decision made by Nintendo was to introduce a now standard licensing scheme for third party developers, forcing them to submit their game for validation to Nintendo before selling them. The objective was to regulate the amount and the quality of the games, in order to avoid another flood of bad games and was enforced by a Nintendo-provided security chip included in every game cartridge.
This strategy worked so well, it soon made the NES the number one console in the USA.
Their newly released Famicom being a widespread success, Nintendo was now focused in repeating this success in the United States. However the american market presented a particularly hard challenge, being completely distrustful of video games following the 1983 market crash caused by an overflow of low quality console games. Nintendo wanted to make sure to make their entrance properly on this crucial market.
Their first attempt was to introduce their Famicom as a home computer, this market being less affected by the market crash. Presented at the Consumer Electronics Show of 1983 under the name “Advanced Video System”, the initial reception from the press was rather mixed.
Nintendo went back to the drawing board in order to take the criticism into account. Moreover, the home computer was already crowded by a large offering of very low cost computer such as the C64.
Since the end of seventies, Nintendo have been doing well in Japan and was even able to export some if their toys overseas. In addition to their successful arcade game operation, they also had a full line of first-generation video game consoles on their local market, ranging from basic pong-clone to rudimentary driving games.
Nintendo was decided to take things to the next level on the consumer market and started around 1980 to design a new cartridge-based game console for their native japanese market. The earliest design specs called for an high-end machine complete with a keyboard and various peripherals bundled. However, the management eventually decided on a more accessible, low cost that could still be expanded thru the front extension port.
The Famicom, short for Family Computer was released on July 15 1983 in Japan and came bundled with two hard-wired controllers and a single extension port. These cute gamepads reuse the novel d-pad first seen on the Game & Watch. The second gamepad is also notable for substituing the select/start button with a microphone.