The Famicom is one of my favourite consoles of all time. It’s hard to nail down exactly why I love the Famicom so much, seen as how us North Americans got pretty much the same thing (albeit in a much boxier and greyer variation) as the Nintendo Entertainment System only 2 years after Nintendo released the Family computer in Japan. While the Famicom was designed to look very much like a video game system, absurd and futuristic with its off-white and red color scheme and tiny (in comparison) candy-like hard-wired controllers, the NES was designed to blend in underneath our TV sets with our VCRs, Beta machines, and Laser Disc players. This was no accident. Nintendo of America was very intent on marketing the NES, initially at least, as a toy. No, it was not a video game console.
Home video game consoles nearly went extinct the early 80s, a victim of over saturation and lax quality control. This was not a video game. it was an Entertainment System, it was a toy! It came with a little robot and a bunch of weird gyro disks! Nintendo’s sly cover story worked, and by the late 80s kids in Canada and the US were ‘playing with power’ by the millions.
With the boom came the second coming of the video game. Nintendo and the NES single handedly saved the home video game and drove the first rusty nail into the coffin of the arcade machine. I got my Nintendo in 1988 when I was six years old, so its suffice to say that I grew up not knowing anything else. Pre-internet, all I knew of the Family Computer were the occasional thumbnail photo and blurb I saw in Nintendo Power or Game Players Magazine. I believe it is the alien nature of the Family Computer, or Famicom as it is officially abbreviated, that drew me towards it as an adult. Many of the games are nearly identical to the games I played growing up and still play today, while many have differences both large and small. Still others never escaped the land of the rising sun and were completely new experiences to me. The Family Computer was released by Nintendo in Japan in 1983. The original model featured hard-wired controllers and RF as the only output option.
Spurred by the success of Nintendo’s early arcade titles, the Famicom was devised as a direct connection for Nintendo into Japanese living rooms, bypassing the need to produce, distribute and develop expensive arcade hardware. The early Famicom titles were simple arcade style games, near perfect adaptations of many of their most popular arcade titles. The Famicom’s launch games were in fact all arcade ports; Popeye, Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong A unique aspect of the Famicom compared to other home video game consoles of the time, and the reason for its long life span and varied library of games, was the versatility of the hardware itself. An Atari game from 1978 is near identical in both appearance and sound to any game made in the waining days of the console. The Famicom however gave the opportunity for developers to improve their software without having to change the actual hardware. Popeye is a vastly different game from Castlevania III, although they both play on the same machine.
The Famicom was released 2 years before the Nintendo Entertainment System, and while Nintendo ceased producing the NES in 1995, Nintendo of Japan sold new Famicoms until 2003, giving the system an astonishing 20 year lifespan. The Famicom should rightfully be given the title the saviour of video games as we know it, as every advance that the NES made was built on a foundation the Famicom created. Nintendo and the NES may have saved the video game industry, but the Famicom was the boot in the mud that enabled them to take those first strides on the path to legend.