How we might have had an Atari Entertainment System instead of Nintendo…Happy Birthday, NES

NESOctober 18, a date that will live in infamy. In the video game world, that is.  For, that is the day that Nintendo brought forth the Nintendo Entertainment System on the shores of the United States.  Two years prior, however, if the stars had aligned differently, it might have been called the Atari Entertainment System and we would have the Atari branded Wii instead of Nintendo’s Wii.  See, Nintendo wanted to break into the North American video game market with it’s Famicom console.  In 1983, they had reached a deal with Atari to market the Famicom in the United States.  By that point, Atari was in trouble and needed to replace its aging lineup of consoles. It had the 7800 in the works, but needed something better. So, they were amenable to the Nintendo deal and were set to sign the final contracts during the summer 1983 Consumer Electronics Show.

As the story goes, however, Atari officials were strolling around the show floor and saw a demonstration of Donkey Kong running on the Coleco Adam computer. Furious about what they saw, Atari refused to sign the deal.  However, Nintendo had the matter cleared up in short time, but, by then, Atari was broke and could not follow through with the deal.  Atari was sold by Warner Communications to Jack Tramiel who promptly shut down the console business, leaving a warehouse of ready to market Atari 7800 consoles, accessories and games to sit and collect dust for nearly two more years.

Nintendo decided to go it alone and, after redesigning the console to better fit the US market, tested sales in a few key markets. Not only did they sell well, they sold out.  Nintendo decided to nationwide with the console in 1985 and the rest is history. NES went on to sell millions of consoles and tens of millions of games.  The home video game market was back from the brink of oblivion.

By that point, Atari was doing well in home computers but was dead in the home console market.  Seeking to expand again, Tramiel decided to do something with the warehouses of 7800 consoles. So, Atari released the console and set out to introduce other home consoles. The venerable 2600 was redesigned and re-released. Several keyboard less versions of the 400 and 800 computers were released as game consoles and, in 1992, the Jaguar, Atari’s last console, was announced and releases afterwards.  In 1995, Atari finally died as a standalone company. The name lives on today, but is in something like the sixth incarnation of the company. It still retains the intellectual property, it’s most valuable asset, from the early days.  In fact, they have released four versions of the first three consoles in plug and play versions.

Nintendo fared much better. After the NES, came the Super NES, the Nintendo 64, the GameCube and the Wii.  GameCube was the least successful of all the consoles but was, perhaps, the one with the best games. The SNES and the 64 introduced many of the better franchise games, like Super Mario Kart and the Super Mario games.  They also had a line of very successful handheld consoles like the GameBoy, GameBoy Color and the DS line.

Perhaps Nintendo’s biggest strength is its ability to think outside the box.  When Wii was announced, it was panned, universally, by the press because of its perceived hardware weakness. But, like they say, it’s the gameplay stupid and the motion controllers worked and worked well. Most of the games were fun, even if the motion control was just a gimmick.  Wii sold in record numbers, beating both Microsoft’s XBOX 360 and the over engineered and over priced PS3.

Gamers are fickle, however, and, after four years, the Wii finally showed its age and sales have fallen dramatically. Finally, the gaming press was right: XBOX and PS3 would outsell Wii. Well, that’s not entirely true. They have outsold it on a monthly basis, but have a ways to go before completely outselling the life sales of the console.  It’s replacement is due out in November of 2012, so we will see if Nintendo can continue generating the hot consoles.

To think that we damn near had an Atari powerhouse and why we don’t is a bit sad.  If Atari had been able to fulfill its end of the agreement, the video game world could be quite different today. We, likely, would not have a Microsoft branded console at all. Or, had Sony been able to market its Playstation attachment to Atari instead of Nintendo (who shitcanned it for a similar device from Philips, which never released here in the US) we may not have had a PS2 and, thus, the AtariCube may have taken the world by storm.  If only.

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Hot Wheels, Nintendo 3DS and InnoTab…ahh, to be a kid again

English: A Nintendo 3DS in Aqua Blue, photo ta...

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One of the joys of being a parent is that you get to play with toys that you would not others get by with playing.  And, today is a good time to be a parent as the toys are super cool.  Take, for example, today’s Hot Wheels.

hotwheelswalltracksHot Wheels has a cool set of tracks that use the Command Strips to fasten connectors to the wall and mount tracks there. These things are really cool and solve the ages old space problem of where to store the tracks. With these, you just leave them on the wall, provided, of course, you have a room where you don’t mind them hanging around.  For us, it is in our game room.

There are several sets, including a starter set. Each set comes with the hangers, Command Strips, track pieces and one Hot Wheels car. Note, not all Hot Wheels will work on the various pieces parts. For example, one set has a launcher mechanism shaped like a motorcycle engine. Only a certain type of car will go through it, some boxier shapes and those with oversize wheels will, likely, not work.

Each set is designed to be interchangeable and reconfigurable.  They vary in price but you should be able to get two to four sets for under a hundred dollars.

Another cool toy this season is the Innotab from VTech. This is a children’s tablet.  Although similar to the VReader, it is, of course, not compatible with any of the VReader software.  The device has a small touchscreen with vibrant colors and is fairly responsive. While is resembles (to a four year old) an iPad like device, it is no iPad. Or even a crappy assed Android tablet, but, this is OK. Those devices tend to confuse whereas the Innotab (and the LeapPad Explorer) are designed to be used by children.  The built in software is simple yet functional and most things you would expect from a tablet are there, including an accelerometer. There’s no web browser as the device lacks any kind of connectivity. Again, this is not a problem since it is a device for young children.  It costs $79.95.

Lastly, the Nintendo 3DS is, by far, the coolest toy on the market. It is a standard DS that plays 3D games and takes 3D photos and video.  The software is mostly well done and the ability to turn off the 3D is a huge plus. I found the effect pleasing until I moved either my head or the device . Once that happened, I could not get it quite right and ended up turning off 3D.

Mario Kart 7 for 3DS is, quite simple, a great game.  Almost perfect.  The only problem I had was the wonky control pad on the device itself.  This might be the 3DS’ achilles heal. It just did not feel overly responsive.  The game, however, has much going for it, including the return of 16 mostly great tracks and 16 brand new ones.  All versions of the game have at least one track, though most of them are redone versions and contain new elements, like underwater sections.  Overall, though, MK7 is one great game.

Now, the 3DS is one device that anyone who is just a kid at heart can actually own and not feel like a moron. It is priced right too: just $169 for the device.  Oh, it has a browser built in and a virtual console to play older Gameboy games.

I guess I am still just a kid heart as I found the Hot Wheels tracks to be quite a bit of fun and our kids did too.  Who says you need to be between 4 and 12 to enjoy them? I’ve been accused of acting like a five year old from time to time…maybe there is something to that after all!