Nintendo is an iconic brand in gaming. Zelda, Super Mario and Pokémon are just some of its legendary titles. But how did they come to be? WANT editor Jeroen Kraak takes you from NES to the Switch.
In the top 5 best-selling consoles ever, there are three times Nintendo’s. Of course, that includes the Nintendo Switch. But which consoles from the Japanese brand all appeared and what are the top titles?
Nintendo: from playing cards to consoles
Nintendo was founded in 1889 and mainly made playing cards. In the second half of the 20th century, it also began making other products, including toys. So it came to gaming in the 1970s and is now a company we all know.
1979: Color TV game
The Color TV (Image: Wikipedia/Evan Amos)
You can think of the Color TV game as Nintendo’s first game console. It was a variation of the well-known Pong. In total, the console contained 6 variations of Pong. Eventually, the Japanese company managed to sell more than 3 million copies of it.
Later, other variants came with other games. One even had a detachable steering wheel. You just played the games through your television.
The two most popular games were Block Breaker and Racing 112. In that first game, you had to use a bar to catch a ball and knock it away to break blocks at the top. The second was a racing game.
1980: Game & Watch
Nintendo’s first handheld. (Image: Wikipedia/Evan Amos)
Nintendo was not sitting still, as while producing several Color TV game versions, it was also working on Game & Watch. You can think of this as the precursor to the GameBoy and the Nintendo DS. These consoles were the size of a calculator and you could take them anywhere.
They were small and could be produced cheaply. They were handheld versions of well-known arcade games. They also had a digital clock.
Each one had only one game, as there were no cartridges yet. Donkey Kong and Star Wars were two of the most popular titles.
By the way, Nintendo still sells the Game & Watch, although this is an updated version. You can choose a version with several Zelda games or one with Super Mario games.
1983: Nintendo Famicom/NES
A wonderful console. (Image: Unsplash/Jason Leung)
While you can still argue whether the two previous game consoles were true consoles, with the Famicom it is a certainty. It was first launched in Japan and later came to the rest of the world as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). The 8-bit console.
This game console had several gray cassettes that you slid in through the tray. The company also marketed several accessories, such as a gun for shooting games and the R.O.B. That’s a robot that worked as a second player by reacting to colors on the screen.
The NES saw the first release of a number of iconic Nintendo titles, such as The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. In addition, it was Nintendo’s first console to be opened up to third-party game developers.
1989: Game Boy
Tetris on the Game Boy. (Image: Unsplash)
If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably had a Game Boy. This handheld has sold over 118 million times.
The nice thing about the Game Boy was that you could take it anywhere. The games were small cartridges that you inserted at the top. In 1998, a color edition was also released, which made it possible to play games in color.
The Game Boy’s best-known games are The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Tetris and Donkey Kong. We also saw a Pokémon game on this for the first time.
1990: Super Famicom/Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
The SNES. (Image: Unspash/yngams)
The SNES, or Super Nintendo, was the successor to the NES. It was the first 16-bit console. In total, the company managed to sell over 49 million copies of the game console. An impressive achievement, since competition had increased considerably due to the SEGA Genesis, for example.
The SNES is also home to a number of legendary games: Super Metroid, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country.
In 2017, Nintendo released a special emulator that allows you to play some legendary games on new televisions as well.
1996: Nintendo 64
Nintendo 64 (Image: Pat Moin / Unsplash)
In 1996, the Nintendo 64 was released in Japan and the United States, and in 1997 Europe and Australia were also introduced to the console. From 2D games went to 3D. The 64 in the computer’s name comes from the number of bits. Quite an update, compared to the NES. Moreover, this was also the number of MB that could fit on a cassette.
You may not expect it, but this console sold less than the SNES. Nintendo managed to sell a total of 32.93 million of these game consoles. Another thing that stood out about the console was its unusual controller. Moreover, the game console was the first to have four controller ports.
The Nintendo 64 is the home of many legendary games. Perhaps the best known are GoldenEye 007, Mario Kart 64 and Super Mario 64. But Super Smash Bros., Banjo-Kazooie and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time also saw the light of day on this console. A golden era for gamers, in other words.
2001: Game Boy Advance
The Game Boy Advance (Image: Wikipedia/Evan Amos)
This was the Game Boy’s first major technical update. Games looked better. Fortunately, it was also just possible to plug your old Game Boy games into the device. In total, it was sold 81.51 million times.
The new Game Boy Advance games had a smaller cartridge and were just a bit better. In addition, this console also had a built-in screen light, so you could also game better in the sun, for example. You could also use the device as an e-Reader.
Plenty of games came out on the Game Boy Advance: Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Advance Wars.
The Game Cube. (Image: Nintendo)
Released at the same time as the PlayStation 2, Xbox and SEGA Dreamcast, the GameCube had quite a lot of competition. Nintendo saw that reflected in its sales figures. Only 21.74 million copies were sold, which was a setback for Nintendo.
For the first time, Nintendo used optical discs for this console instead of the familiar cartridges. Unlike competitors such as the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, this console was entirely focused on gaming. Thus, it was also not possible to play movies on DVD. Consequently, the game console was received with mixed reactions.
Well-known games on this console were Super Mario Sunshine, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, Animal Crossing and Star Fox Adventures.
2004: Nintendo DS
Flip open and close. (Image: Pexels/Stas Button)
The Nintendo DS was the successor to the Game Boy Advance. DS stands for Double Screen, and so this console had two screens. The bottom one was also a touch screen. In total, Nintendo sold 154.98 million copies of it.
The special feature was that you could fold the console. That way you could easily take it with you. Unlike the Game Boy, it did not use cartridges, but SD cards where the games were stored.
The most popular game for the Nintendo DS was New Super Mario Bros. Nintendogs, Brain Age and Mario Kart DS also scored well.
One of the true classics (Image: Nintendo)
After the somewhat disappointing GameCube, Nintendo came out with the Wii. The company knew things had to change because it could not compete with PlayStation and Xbox in terms of specifications. Therefore, it chose a different target group and focused more on casual players.
The Wii’s controllers were therefore a kind of remote controls that you attached to your wrist. Moreover, they could detect movement, which provided a whole new gaming experience. It was a true success, and Nintendo therefore managed to sell over 101 million copies of the console. Sony and Microsoft tried to emulate this with PlayStation Move and Kinect, but this never became as successful as the Wii.
With the Wii, it was also possible to create a Mii: a self-designed avatar that you could use in various games. The console’s best-known games are Wii Sports, Super Mario Galaxy and Mario Kart Wii.
2011: Nintendo 3DS
The 3DS family. (Image: Nintendo)
Although the name and appearance suggests that this was a version of the DS, the 3DS was a completely new game console from Nintendo. This handheld console had a 3D screen for 3D games, but this did not work very well. Many people then chose to just play games in 2D. Despite this, Nintendo sold 42.74 million units.
Well-known titles on the 3DS were Fire Emblem: Awakening, Super Mario 3D Land, Animal Crossing New Leaf and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
2012: Wii U
Game console Wii U (Image: Nintendo)
As successful as the Wii was, the Wii U was a disappointment, with sky-high expectations that could not be met after that earlier success. Nintendo painfully managed to sell only 13.57 million copies.
Besides the fact that the hardware was not your thing, the console also came with a tablet to serve as a controller. Moreover, third-party developers were also not supported well enough and the marketing was not too good.
Still, some fun games certainly came out on the console. For the first time, we saw Splatoon, Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World.
2017: Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch. (Image: Unsplash)
We have already arrived at the last console in this list: the Nintendo Switch. The game console is celebrating its sixth birthday this year, but it is still extremely popular. That’s partly because this is a hybrid console. You can connect it to the TV, or just play it in your hand. A total of 103 million of them have been sold, and this number continues to climb.
This is partly due to the special Joy-Cons. These are somewhat like the Nintendo Wii’s controller. You can detach them and put them on your wrists. This allows you to play games using arm and hand movements just like the Wii.
The best-known games for the Nintendo Switch are, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its successor Tears of the Kingdom. Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe also managed to score quite well.