Super Mario Land

The golden age of arcade games helped solidify the medium, and it didn’t take long for the creators to begin experimenting. During that time, the only way to play a video game was to visit an arcade and insert coins into a cabinet. Because of this, the idea of being able to easily port one around on one’s person was particularly enticing. One of the earliest attempts at creating a handheld experience came in the form of Nintendo’s Game & Watch product line. This idea resulted from its creator, Gunpei Yokoi, observing a bored businessman on the Shinkansen playing around with his LCD calculator in 1977. The first few models sold under the Game & Watch trademark sold millions of units, effectively inventing a secondary market within the industry.

Though the subsequent success of their Famicom console cemented their status as one of the big players in the home gaming market, Nintendo wasn’t done experimenting with handhelds. As the eighties drew to a close, Research & Development 1, the team led by Mr. Yokoi, worked on a product to succeed their Game & Watch line: the Game Boy. However, this product had one important distinction from what came before. Still images were printed onto the LCD screen of a Game & Watch unit akin to how numbers are displayed on a basic calculator. This allowed the creators to get around strict memory limitations by not having to animate sprites. This wasn’t going to be the case with the Game Boy. It was to be a true 8-bit console, making full use of interchangeable cartridges – just like the Famicom. The only drawback is that it would lack color.

Part of what allowed the Famicom, or the Nintendo Entertainment System as it would be dubbed overseas, to enjoy the success it had was thanks to a little game called Super Mario Bros. It became a phenomenon upon release in 1985, not only pushing the sales of more units, but also revitalizing the American gaming market after its debilitating crash in 1983. Partially because it often came bundled with the console itself in package deals, the game went on to sell over forty-million copies. Overnight, Mario became one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time, so it was only natural that he should star in one of the Game Boy’s launch titles as well.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who created Super Mario Bros., left development of this new Mario title in the hands of Gunpei Yokoi’s team. Appropriately, the one who invented the Game Boy, Satoru Okada, would serve as its director. It was planned as the console’s premier title until Dutch gaming publisher Henk Rogers brought the highly popular Tetris to Nintendo of America’s attention. From there, he convinced branch founder Minoru Arakawa that the game would help Nintendo reach the largest audience. The company then agreed to bundle Tetris with every Game Boy purchase.

April 24, 1989 marked the domestic release of the Game Boy. The entire stock, which consisted of 300,000 units sold out within two weeks. It then proceeded to sell 40,000 units on its very first day when it launched in North America a few months later. Despite Nintendo electing to make Tetris the showcase title, the finished Mario installment, Super Mario Land, was among the handheld console’s launch titles. That it wasn’t bundled with the Game Boy did nothing to deter fans, for it managed to sell over eighteen-million copies, eclipsing figures of the series’ previous installment, Super Mario Bros. 3. Does it hold up to the same degree as its generation-defining predecessors?

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Metroid II: Return of Samus

Metroid II - Return of Samus

In 1980, Nintendo helped popularize the concept of portable games with the release of their first Game & Watch console. The man behind this invention was Gunpei Yokoi, the head of Nintendo’s first R&D team. Perhaps the most significant development to result from these consoles was the cross-shaped control system commonly known as a directional pad (D-pad). This proved an effective alternative to the bulky arcade joysticks most people were used to at the time. Indeed, the controller of Nintendo’s first home console to feature interchangeable cartridges, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was developed by Mr. Yokoi as well, which is why it bears a D-pad similar to one that originally appeared on his Game & Watch units.

Shortly after the NES’s debut, Mr. Yokoi received a request from the management to create games for it. One of the most notable titles produced by him during this time was Metroid. Though it may seem like a simple platforming game on the surface, Metroid broke the mold by allowing players to explore what was essentially a single large level in search of power-ups and secret passageways. In an era when the goal of platforming games were rarely more complex than “go right,” many of which completely forbade players from backtracking at all, Metroid accomplished something that was largely unprecedented in the console market, earning its rightful place in history for pioneering a new subgenre.

Nearing the end of the decade, Mr. Yokoi and his team began developing a new console, hoping to improve on their Game & Watch concept by applying everything they had learned from developing console games to the handheld market. The project was completed in 1989 and went on to become a brand synonymous with portable gaming in the nineties. The name of this invention was the Game Boy. Because hobbyists were enthralled with the idea of having what amounted to a portable NES system (albeit without any colors), Mr. Yokoi found that he was behind yet another success; a shipment of one million units to the United States lasted for but a few short weeks before they completely sold out. Shortly after the Game Boy’s debut, Mr. Yokoi, along with the staff of his R&D division, decided to create a sequel to Metroid, aiming to showcase the capabilities of their newest console. This newest chapter in the Metroid saga, titled “Metroid II: Return of Samus,” was released in North America in 1991 and the following year in Japan and Europe.

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In 1977, a toy developer from Nintendo named Gunpei Yokoi was traveling on the Shinkansen when he observed a bored businessman playing around with his LCD calculator. Seeing him press the buttons to pass the time gave Mr. Yokoi an idea: what if there was a watch that doubled as a miniature game and could easily fit in one’s pocket? He brought this idea forth to his superiors, and three years later, the fruit of their labor resulted in the first in their newest product line: Game & Watch. In 1980, the experience the average person had with video games was limited to the arcades, so they could barely fathom the idea of being able to carry one around from place to place. Naturally, they became a huge hit, selling millions of units while paving the way for other companies, such as Tiger Electronics, to try their hand in this blossoming market.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Yokoi, leading Nintendo’s oldest research and development team, helped develop the controller for what would become their debut gaming console: the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System). It wasn’t too long after the console’s launch that he was asked by the management to create video games for it. He and his team began to work on a pair of action titles, one of which would be dubbed “Metroid,” a portmanteau of “metro” and “android” – a dual reference to the game’s underground setting as well as the protagonist’s robotic features. Heavily inspired by the Alien franchise, Metroid would later go on to become a beloved classic with its non-linear design and emphasis on atmosphere, eventually selling over two million copies worldwide. Many still hold it as one of the best games in the NES library, but has it held up well with time?

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