Nintendo's Wii has been on a roll of late, but it's taken four years of full time frantic sales in a much bigger videogame market for it to become the company's best-selling console system of all time. Last week Nintendo announced that it had shifted 67.45 million Wii units in four years, finally overtaking the sales of its original home console, the Nintendo Entertainment system, rather more informally known as the NES.
Astonishingly, back in the 1980s when the games market was a fraction of its current size, Nintendo shifted 61 million of its ugly little grey box. Or red and white box, if you were Japanese.
How powerful was the NES?
Even by the standards of the day, not that powerful. An 8-bit MOS Technology 6502 processor sat at the heart of the NES, albeit with some custom modifications. US and Japanese NTSC models screamed along at a hefty 1.79MHz, while the PAL model sold in Australia ran at a more sedate 1.66Mhz. It was produced for Nintendo by Ricoh. Yep, the photocopier people.
Was it the worldwide smash that the Internet makes it out to be?
Not entirely. Most videogame histories tend to assume that the NES was the be-all and end-all of post-Atari console gaming, but that's because many of them originate in the US, where the NES did indeed dominate. In PAL territories (including Australia) Sega's Master system had significant market share. Still, with quoted figures of only around 13 million Master Systems sold, the NES still had a significant sales advantage.
|The grey box: US and Japanese NTSC models screamed along at a hefty 1.79MHz [image source: Wikipedia]
Is it the NES or is it the Famicom?
Technically, it's both. Launched in Japan as the "Family Computer" (which shortens nicely to "famicom"), its American and European releases dropped that name, as well as redesigning the case and launching it simply as the Nintendo Entertainment System.
So the NES is where we get Mario from?
Nope. Whether you subscribe to the theory that the character in the original Donkey Kong is called "Mario" or "Jumpman", Mario (and Luigi) had already appeared in 1983's "Mario Bros", a simple game of pipes, tunnels and headbutting ever faster creatures, as well as a couple of LCD screen Game & Watch games. It was the first time Mario was Super, however.
Whatever happened to the NES?
Nintendo redesigned the NES a couple of times. Firstly to the grey box you're probably more familiar with, as the Japanese original was red and white. Later in the NES' life, a redesigned top-loading model was launched to offer a low-cost alternative to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). While Nintendo no longer produce the console itself, there's no shortage of systems that still use the core NES hardware, usually within a portable console body. This system offering "999 games" is basically a NES running on a simple chip with a bunch of pre-packed (and illegal) ROMS on board.
|The Japanese NES: The red and white "Family Computer"
Why was it relevant?
Name a non-Mario Nintendo franchise character - Zelda, Samus Aran, Kirby, Little Mac, Princess Peach - and they got their start on the NES. Heck, name a bunch of non-Nintendo characters, from CastleVania's Simon Belmont to Capcom's Rockman/MegaMan, and you're still looking at a NES original.
The NES also proved the value of the console concept at a time when the market was still recovering from the Atari videogame crash. Without the wild success of the NES, dedicated games consoles could have gone the way of the dodo.
What's it worth?
A standard grey box NES isn't worth much more than $20-$30, although the secondary top-loading models sometimes sell for a little more, as they're generally more reliable. Some NES peripherals, such as ROB or the Famicom Disk System add-on are a little more valuable, as are some of the games. Expect to pay anything from 99c for Duck Hunt all the way up to... well, the sky seems to be the limit for Stadium Events right now.