Review by The Vic Viper

Reviewed: 02/23/05 | Updated: 09/26/05

The system that got me (and a lot of others) into videogames

For many older gamers who are to young to have played the Atari, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the system that got them into gaming. After the videogame “crash” at the end of Atari’s reign, Nintendo created the NES and brought many people back into gaming as well as expanded the size of the gaming community. The NES was released in 1983, two years before Sega released the Master System.

Obviously the NES was very weak graphically compared to systems today, but compared to the pre-NES systems it was spectacular. Until the NES a game’s graphics generally consisted of one color for the level structures, one color for your character, and enemies were another color. A graphically impressive game was one where different types of enemies were a different color. Hell, an impressive game was one that had different types of enemies. The NES had 8-bit graphics, meaning it was now possible to create textured characters and backdrops. However, towards the end of the NES’s life graphics had become very impressive and detailed and the best could almost pass for low-quality 16-bit games.

The audio quality of the NES was very iffy, even by the standards of the day. Sound was mono and had very few channels; however a talented developer could make good background music. For example, the Legend of Zelda theme is a memorable classic even though it is a very simple tune. While background music could be good, sound effects ranged from horrible to average. Most effects consisted of a bleep of some kind when a weapon was fired or an enemy killed, though some games had decent explosion or gunfire noises. Much like the graphics, the audio quality improved tremendously between early and late games.

One thing that was nice is that the NES had composite A/V outputs, even though many TVs did not have composite input at the time. Using composite inputs improves the picture and sound quality greatly over using an RF switch, which overrides a cable channel coming through the coaxial line.

The controller was a rectangle with buttons, consisting of a directional pad, start, select, A, and B buttons. While it was very basic, it was very comfortable to hold, and did not cramp up your hands after playing for a short while. Granted most of us had much smaller hands when we played, but even as a twenty-one year old I can still use the controller without problems.

Nintendo has a reputation for making durable systems, and their first one is no exception. I’ve had my system for over fifteen years and it still works well enough. Occasionally it has trouble reading a game forcing you to reset it several times, but I have yet to find a game that it will not play at all. These are the type of problems that the current consoles will develop after only two or three years. The game cartridges are also very durable, with a thick layer of plastic enclosing the internal components on all sides. The only problem is that the connectors that the system reads from are really bad at collecting dust, even when stored in their jackets.

In terms of cost, the NES was a great deal since you go so much with it. Now when you buy a console you get one controller and have to go by memory cards separately. With the NES you got the console, two controllers, the Zapper light gun, and two games. Now you can only get the console used, so you’ll probably have to buy everything separately. Of course, you can find the system for as little as $25 if you look around. Considering how many of the games are still great even compared to this generation of games, getting a system and five games for the cost of one new game is a really good deal.

NES games were one of the first games that could be saved, however this was before the introduction of memory cards or other types of perpetual storage mediums. As a result games that did let you save had to have a battery built into the cartridge to maintain the memory. Since small amounts of memory takes very little power, batteries could last anywhere from five to ten years. This was great at the time, not to mention the best companies could do, but it has been long enough that no NES game can be really be expected to be able to hold it’s save ones the system’s power is shut off (though I have a few that can). Fortunately most games don’t have save features, and there is always emulation for those so inclined.

The NES is purely a gaming console; it offers no special features such as music playback. It also lacks many of the features that are becoming standard on consoles today such as hard drives, online play, system-links, etc. It did have a lot of accessories that you could buy for a unique experience. These include things such as the Power Glove, the Zapper (some of the NES’s light gun games are still better than ones available today), and a couple of different arcade sticks.

Some of the greatest games ever made appeared on the NES console; some of which spawned series that live on today, such as: Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Brothers, Star Fox, Metroid, Kirby, Donkey Kong, and F-Zero, and these are just Nintendo’s own franchises. Many great third party series were also started (or at least made their console debut) on the NES including Final Fantasy, Dragon Warrior, Contra, Castlevania, Ninja Gaiden, Mega Man, Gradius, and many more.

Many of the other great games on the NES were ones that never gained the popularity they deserved, so they never became long running series. Games such as Solar Jetman, Metal Storm, Crystalis, Star Tropics, and countless more.

One great thing about the NES is that games of all genres were heavily represented on the console. Since the NES dominated the market so much there wasn’t a situation like today where each genre is represented best on one of the three consoles, so if you like various genres you’ll need multiple consoles. Not that the Master System didn’t have a few great titles; the NES simply had the best in terms of both quantity and quality.

Some of the better know NES games have made a return in the form of collections such as the Mega Man Anniversary disc, or ports such as the GBA’s NES Classic series. Many of the greats haven’t been brought to modern systems, so if you want to experience these games, you’ll have to buy a console or emulate the games. It’s becoming harder to find a console in decent quality, though if the system was taken care of it should work. If you can’t find a good console, defiantly look into emulation.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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