Nintendo Entertainment System NES (Famicom)

Full NameNintendo Entertainment System or Famicom
Year of release1983 (JP)
1985 (US)
Specifications 8-bit Ricoh 2A03 @ 1.79 MHz, Ricoh RP2C02 GPU featuring 2kb, 256 × 240 pixels resolution
Retail PriceUS$89.99 - US$199.99
Popular ClonesDendy (USSR), Phantom System (Brazil), Samurai (India), Pegasus (Poland)
Seen inBoyz n the hood (1991), Beethoven (1992)

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is a home video game console developed and produced by Nintendo. It was initially released in 1983 in Japan and became one of the best-selling video game consoles of its time helping revitalize the US video game industry.

The NES: Initially planned as a home computer

During the first development stage of the NES in the early 1980s Nintendo intended the NES to be a full-fledged computer with a keyboard and floppy disk drive. Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi however wasn’t pleased about such idea and ordered the development of a cartridge-based game console. On July 15, 1983 the NES saw the light of day being released on the Japanese market under the name of Nintendo Famicom. Following hardware issues and a product recall shortly after release the NES still made it the best-selling console in Japan by the end of 1984. Due to a flooding of bad video game titles in the 1980s and therefore many video game companies such as Atari going out of business the American video game market was in a deep recession at the time.  Nintendo saw a big opportunity in this and released the NES on the North-American market in October of 1985. Similar to Japan, the sales of the NES performed extremely well. By 1990, 30% of American households owned the NES. Even after the release of its successor console, the Super Famicom, the NES still remained the second highest-selling console. Nintendo sold 60 mio. Units of the NES until today with Super Mario Bros being the best-selling game.

Official ad for the NES by Nintendo

Nintendo’s “Seal of Quality”

The NES was powered by an 8-bit Ricoh 2A03 working at 1.79 MHz. Ricoh also supplied the graphical processing unit to Nintendo – a Ricoh RP2C02 featuring 2kb and being able to display a resolution of 256 × 240 pixels.

The library of NES games consists of about 850 games (US and PAL). The videogame system laid the foundation for many game franchises that are still existent today such as “The Legend of Zelda” or “Castlevania”. Unlike other video game companies Nintendo deliberately made use of third party licensing for the development of new games. Nintendo had strict licensing requirements. Only games which fulfilled the quality standards could be released. Beyond that a ‘seal of quality’ was printed on all appropriately licensed game and accessory packaging.

The Power Glove served as a controller with early virtual reality mechanics

The Nintendo Entertainment System was basically sold in four different bundles throughout the years: the Deluxe Set, the Basic Set, the Action Set and the Power Set. The price of the sets varied between US$89.99 for the Basic set (console only) and US$199.99 for the deluxe set which included R.O.B. the robot, NES Zapper light gun, two controllers, and the games Gyromite and Duck Hunt

Clone of the NES released in the USSR: The Dendy

NES with early internet functionalities

During its lifetime, the Nintendo Entertainment System received many peripherals such as lightguns, the Powerglove, turbocontrollers and more. In 1988, Nintendo even released a modem for internet connection in Japan which enabled access to stock trades, horse betting and other downloadable content. A multiplayer was not intended though.

Due to the success and long lifespan of the console, Nintendo supported the NES still 24 years after its initial release – until 2007.

As anticipated, strict licensing requirements did not stop NES hardware clones to emerge especially in countries where the NES was not officially marketed. The Dendy for example was a hardware clone of the NES sold in the early 90s in the former USSR republics which enjoyed big popularity.

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