Nintendo's Home Consoles: Past, Present and Future

By Joss Manger

Ever since the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1983, Nintendo have been at the top of the videogames industry, offering affordable yet powerful technology and wonderfully unique games. Throughout the 1990s, Nintendo battled alongside SEGA for home console supremacy only to see newcomer Sony Computer Entertainment (a division of the Japanese electronics giant) wipe the floor with its powerful polygon pushing 'PlayStation'. The industry moved onto 3D. Nintendo's offering was the Nintendo 64, which, despite a library of innovative games, failed to inspire the public in the same way as the conquering PlayStation. I was clear on the eve of the so-called "Next Generation" that the next round of console-warfare would mean fireworks.

The first fireworks were bright green and came from America when computer giant Microsoft announced their entry into the home console market. The Xbox spelled immediate trouble for Nintendo, with Microsoft's power and money helping them barge their way into the industry.

When the Nintendo GameCube first emerged in the UK it seemed an instant success, despite a seemingly weak set of launch titles. It fared well against the powerful Xbox with its simply breathtaking first party launch title, Halo. By the end of the year (and in the highly profitable Christmas season) the Xbox had halved in price and was bundled with the famous Jet Set Radio Future/ Sega GT2002 game pack. Understandably Xbox sales shot up tremendously, and contributed a great deal to what they are now.

Both companies are now in what they call "Second Place", with Sony and its PlayStation 2 leading by a large margin in first place (or 'Third Place' depending on the way you look at it...). The world seems to be against Nintendo. Dixons have dropped the 'Cube and no longer sell it, whilst Microsoft's Xbox price cuts constantly make Nintendo's job hard.

Despite the 'Cube running into difficulty, the Game Boy Advance and GBA SP handhelds are still making plenty of money, and recently Nintendo have moved to include GBA to GC connectivity into popular games such as Zelda: Wind Waker and (by persuasion at Ubi Soft) Splinter Cell. This they hope will sell more GameCubes (which is free of many interesting features such as DVD or CD playback). Microsoft has used its influence of the online world to set up a massive online gaming service called Xbox Live; this they see as the future home console gaming.

It is at this point that the two systems appear to be staying. New titles come out all the time from Nintendo and whilst these are all really good, they fail to be either as good as their prequels or as epically breathtaking as Halo. Third party support for the system has diminished slightly two, with developers such as Codemasters choosing not to develop games for the machine.

Over the rest of the year we can expect some strong releases from Nintendo (including the new F-Zero GX, Mario Kart: Double Dash!!, and Pikmin 2), but at the same time so do Microsoft (Project Gotham Racing 2, Xbox Music Mixer and Amped 2).

The battle must continue however, and unless Nintendo come up with some radical, new and innovative ideas for their products they may go the same way as poor old Sega. With the announcement of Sony's new handheld the PSP, for the first time the Game Boy is under threat from a major player and no one knows how things will work out. Without the strong foothold provided by the Game Boy, how will the GameCube (or any other console Nintendo may release) be protected? Only time will tell.

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