Nowadays it is hard to think of a world not consumed by video games: from consoles to cell phones it is considered common place to pass the time by enjoying a game of Angry Birds or Candy Crush. For those around in the 80s and 90s though it most certainly was the vintage era of gaming. Initially starting in dark arcades dropping quarters to bringing the fun home with consoles and then playing on the go with your favorite characters, these two decades brought in my opinion the most exciting times for gamers everywhere. Premiering this month on Crackle we are given an extensive history in how one company has not only survived but thrived in the gaming world by introducing the blueprints that every video game company models itself on and that is Nintendo. Narrated by Sean Astin (The Goonies, Lord of the Rings) director Jeremy Snead (Video Games: The Movie, Unlocked: The World of Games, Revealed) takes us through the over 100 year old journey in a 5-Part Docuseries detailing how Nintendo has remained not only a staple but guiding light in the video game industry.
Ep 1: PLAY YOUR CARDS RIGHT
What I did not know was Nintendo started as a company in the late 1800s as a card company. As a way to go around Japan’s regulations of importing Western goods these cards were imprinted with images of the seasons, nature and animals. In a meeting with Disney their business grew while it now incorporated Disney characters through various merchandise items. Through change in ownership the company invested in other ventures: taxis, love hotels and even instant rice. Albeit none of these as successful as the Disney merger until the idea of manufacturing toys was the now go to business model. This venture proved to be extremely successful even introducing the original game of Duck Hunt which projected images on your wall as you shot at them with a light gun. This technology is what bridged Nintendo into producing video games; the light gun technology was a game changer and what steered them towards the arcade cabinet business. Unfortunately the games lost appeal after only a few months and in the midst of trying to figure out what to do with the giant inventory of machines they sought out the help of a lowly employee in the name of Shigeru Miyamoto, now considered the saving grace of not only Nintendo but possibly the entire gaming community as we now know it.
Ep 2: A TROJAN HORSE
With the arcade business slowly dying it was Miyamoto who single handedly saved Nintendo with the game of Donkey Kong. Amidst their success they saw competitor Atari fade away and now with a stranglehold over the competition they ventured into their next foray which was portable gaming. Not only did Nintendo pave the way for storytelling in video games but even the simplistic idea of introducing a D-Pad to their controller to give players ultimate control of their characters was a game changer. In hindsight as much as Miyamoto was the savior of the company it was in part also due to the work by composer Koji Kondo. Anyone who has played an NES game will immediately remember both the characters and it’s most important element, the music. These two factors combined gave players a whole new gaming experience rather than just the rudimentary spaceship and shoot em’ ups that littered arcades. It was a difficult sell to parents to purchase a home console in the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) but the second it entered homes everyone wanted/needed one. As successful as Nintendo was though they also were not the favorite of game developers. Through ridiculous regulations and mandates no outside developers could make a game without putting themselves at financial risk. Of course just like today people found a way around this with Atari producing NES games under the name of Tengen; bypassing the copyright chip that was installed on NES cartridges. This strict grasp on the game developers also opened the door for another company, Sega, to test the waters in the gaming world and allow any developer to make games for them.
Ep 3: A SLEEPING GIANT
Having a rival competitor for the first time in their history Nintendo scrambled to find the right answer to retaliate. Unfortunately Sega was leaps and bounds ahead of them by producing a 16-bit console system with a robust library of games at their player’s disposal. Nintendo did not take this lightly especially with Sega’s ad marketing specifically calling out Nintendo as the weaker system. In 1991 they fired back with the roll out of the Super Nintendo (SNES), also a 16-bit console. Unfortunately they found themselves facing the consumer question “Why do I need another Nintendo?” Luckily for them though they had built a relationship with their players by producing such successful titles as Super Mario Bros., Mega Man, Metroid and Castlevania; with now a better gaming system players wanted to play with their old friends in a whole new world. As a foresight into the future Nintendo started to develop next gen games using 3D technology that opened a whole new avenue; sadly this technology was limited with it offering little to boost game titles. Trying to stay ahead of the game they decided to partner with Sony to develop a CD based console. Though once again due to their rigid contracts Sony left the deal due to it being a one sided partnership thus creating the biggest opponent for Nintendo to date… Playstation.
Ep 4: FORWARD MOTION
In 1996 Nintendo released their newest console in the Nintendo 64 (N64). Unfortunately with the Playstation now being the #1 of the gaming world Nintendo was not ready for this fight. What held the N64 back initially was once again “Why do I need another one?” This time consumers were right though because when it was initially released the N64’s game library was extremely scarce; that along with the complete redesign of the controller gamers did not know what to make of it. They garnered some success with franchises such as Super Mario Bros. in Super Mario 64, Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and even with new titles such as GoldenEye 007 but it was not enough to topple Playstation. By 2000, Playstation was the supreme ruler of the gaming world with their release of the Playstation 2; offering stunning graphics with intense gameplay as well as a first, it was also a DVD player. As Sega floundered trying to compete in upscale consoles Nintendo took another swing with the advent of the GameCube. Once again though even with moderately successful game titles the system did not meet expectations; its awkward design and small CD format games (a work around because Sony owned the rights to DVD) were not favorable among consumers or gamers. Nintendo’s days were seemingly numbered with the emergence of Microsoft’s online accessible Xbox console, it was unknown where Nintendo would go. Realizing the dominance held by the Playstation 2 and now Xbox they had to seek out a different path. Nintendo then took a step back into their own play book and released a new portable gaming console in 2004 with the Nintendo DS. The DS was a huge hit and surprisingly with no other portable consoles on the market Nintendo once again climbed the mountain to become #1. Their new approach to consoles also paved the way for the hugely successful Wii console. Nintendo had seen how both Playstation and Xbox were clamoring to the male teen demographic where they instead decided to stick to their roots. The Wii offered a fun, immersive, new way to play games but also was so simplistic that the console found its way into nursing homes and used for rehab treatments. Gaming was no longer limited to the adolescent male and could now be enjoyed by the whole family; something Nintendo was always passionate about, giving their users a new, fun way to play games.
Ep 5: RESET BUTTON
As time moves forward so does technology and in 2007 the world took a giant leap with the introduction off the very first iPhone. At this time Nintendo had been the only option for portable gaming but now with the App Store that was a thing of the past. Trying once again to up the competition they unveiled the Wii U; a bust on arrival that sold less units than the GameCube. As their history has shown though Nintendo always perseveres and that continued when they allowed their mega star Mario to be used on other platforms in the 2016 obile game Super Mario Run which was a huge success. Not satisfied with their status in the console wars though led them to their most lucrative system in the Nintendo Switch, released in 2017. Offering fun gameplay with beloved titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey Nintendo once again reigned supreme. The history of Nintendo truly is a wonder to watch from their small beginnings as a playing card company to gaming mega conglomerate. Their magic relied on the purity of their games, the joy characters such as Mario, Luigi, Link and others brought players but most importantly always catering to their audience. Their mentality of being all inclusive opened new doors for them and huge success that many have tried to emulate but to nowhere near the same result. The world of gaming has changed: downloadable apps/games, instantaneous games being available online and the entirety of gaming libraries being so oversaturated one would not know where to begin. One constant stays true though and that is in Nintendo, a company that single handedly created the road map of gaming success and without them who knows what would have been.
4 out of 5
The 5-Part Docuseries is available now for Free via Crackle