There’s no way that you love video games and haven’t heard of Nintendo. Yes, the king of home video game consoles has been an integral part of our childhood and has gained iconicism in popular culture. It not only saved video game consoles phasing out in wake of home computers, but has literally reinvented the way people look at and play video games.
Nintendo’s golden age popularity has certainly waned in the presence of competition from newcomers like Sony and Microsoft. Yet time and again, they have proven that no one does home consoles like them. One could actually write a book on the milestones they have achieved, but let’s talk about some groundbreaking contributions Nintendo has made in the gaming industry.
1. Save Feature on Home Console
With games occupying only 8-bits of data, it was impossible to introduce save feature in home consoles. This was however changed with the release of The Legend of Zelda in 1987. The game cartridge was unique as it included an inbuilt battery to facilitate the game’s progress to be saved with a password system. Soon this feature was adopted for several games and became a definitive standard.
It might be surprising but Nintendo was the first to introduce a direction pad as an alternative to the popular joystick controller. It first made its presence with their 1982 handheld system Game & Watch for Donkey Kong. Since then the cross direction pad has been featured on nearly every home console controller.
3. Shoulder Buttons
The gamepad was already a much preferred gaming accessory as compared to Joysticks, keyboards and mouse. But what made it even more efficient is the inclusion of shoulder buttons with release of the Super Nintendo 16-Bit console in 1990. More buttons not only meant access to more number of moves, but the ergonomic placement also made them extremely practical in use.
4. Analog Sticks
Sure some might argue that joysticks were the first analog sticks often bundled with early game consoles such as Atari 5200. But their use simply faded out with the introduction of gamepads. Nevertheless, diagonal motion was still a problem with the D-Pad that limited the fluid motion capabilities of high detail games. Finally, in 1996 Nintendo downsized the bulky joystick in a more manageable ‘thumbstick’ with Nintendo 64. While the console didn’t see much popularity in wake of competition from Dreamcast and PlayStation, the analog stick became an essential part of any good game controller for next gen games.
N64 sure didn’t enjoy the same legendary status as its predecessors despite having all the qualities. Nevertheless, their Rumble Pak add-on with Star Fox 64 released in 1997 that changed things forever. Rumble Pak could be easily attached at the back of N64 Controller to enable vibrations based on in-game experience. Soon, Sony introduced their DualShock controller with inbuilt rumble motors confirming the importance of this addition.
6. Wireless Controller
For years, gamers entangled themselves to death with the numerous wires in home consoles. Their first ray of hope came out with Nintendo’s revolutionary ‘WaveBird’ controller that eliminated wires in favor of RF based receiver. Yes, it was a far cry from the modern day wireless controllers, but certainly a radical change that gamers were asking for, since a long time.
7. 3D Graphics
Even before PlayStation shocked the world with its 3 dimensional environments and polygonal characters, N64 was offering a similar experience on cartridges. The introduction of 3d graphics in console games was certainly an unheard thing before Super Mario 64 was released in 1996. The game was a first of its kind with 3d environments and became the bestselling game for the console.
8. Motion Control
Nintendo has often been loathed by purists for trying to reinvent the way people play games. We had already seen gimmicks like the Power Glove (1989) that was a technological and commercial failure. However, the legendary video game company hit home run with their motion control dedicated console, the Nintendo Wii. Its motion sensor equipped controller was not only flawless in execution but created an entire new class of gamers, dedicated to motion gaming.
9. Double Screen
Even before Nintendo DS, double screen in handheld games was already a tried and tested idea with Game and Watch for Donkey Kong in 1982. This handheld not only introduced gamers with the aforementioned D-Pad, but also explored the possibilities of having multiple screens. This idea was later explored in detail with Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS, with more practical users for multiple screens.
10. Trigger Buttons on Portable
We’ve all dreamt of a full scale game controller combined with handheld. Sure one could buy many peripherals for the PlayStation 2 that allowed you to attach a screen atop the console. But that’s still not very practical or satisfactory. Thankfully the recently announced Nintendo Switch provides a full-function controller for handheld, complete with shoulder and trigger buttons.
11. Console + Handheld in One Package
We’ve already mentioned Nintendo’s ambitious Switch console and how it attempts to bring back old school gaming. It is also the first console to combine both portable play with home console capabilities in a single package. This might sound gimmicky to the purists, but holds an immense promise for on-the-go gamers who are bored of playing lo-fi games on smartphones.
12. 8-bit console for HD Screens
We can safely say that no one understands nostalgia better than Nintendo and their release of “NES Classic Edition” is a definitive proof of that. Sure emulators and ports to other gaming consoles have dimmed the viability of an old fashioned 8-bit gaming system. Regardless, NES Classic Edition and its immense demands shows how much people like to enjoy things the old-fashioned way. The classic edition was launched in November 2016 and contains 30 in-built games (remastered for HD screens) and save state feature, along with the classic NES controller. The console can be attached to any screen with an HDMI cable.
Nintendo could’ve been the first with CD-ROM Consoles with the SNES-CD, which was being co-developed with Sony. Unfortunately, the collaboration ended prematurely and Sony released their very own console, branded as Sony PlayStation, in 1994.