Although modern games like Grand Theft Auto V and Titanfall are fantastic, we still find ourselves yearning for a time when game bits only came in single (or double) digits, when consoles looked like Steve Wozniak cobbled them together in his garage from spare transistor radio parts. We’re not talking about the NeoGeo, which brought the world Metal Slug but cost the equivalent of a kidney transplant, or the TurboGrafx-16, which… well, it existed. We mean the two dominant systems that laid the groundwork for modern video-gaming: the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Genesis. Their battle for market dominance in the ’80s and ’90s earned its own title—the Console Wars—and split households into respective factions. On the one hand, Nintendo had the Mario Bros. and Zelda, but then, Sega had Mortal Kombat and Sonic. That speedy hedgehog alone helped Sega capture 65 percent of the market share against Nintendo.
But regardless of who won or lost the Console Wars, the real winners were the consumers. The competition forced the creation of the Mario Bros. and Sonic franchises, among others, and left the market littered with some of the greatest video games ever created. Sure, they look simple by today’s standards, but they make up for their 2D graphics and lack of cohesive narrative structures with innocent joy and addictiveness. Are we the only ones thinking that it might be fun to play some of those old games again?
The NES (Nintendo Entertainment System, or “Famicom” in Japan — anyone else think we got the better end of that deal?) debuted in the United States on October 18th, 1985, revitalizing the gaming industry after the video game crash of 1983 that bankrupted Atari and saw gaming revenues fall from $3.2 billion to $100 million. It also saw millions of boys go nuts for something in a way not seen since Marilyn Monroe flashed her legs across the silver screen.
Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, Duck Hunt, Metroid, Mega Man 2, 1942, Double Dragon
In 1991, Nintendo released the Super NES (otherwise known as the Super Nintendo or SNES), a 16-bit system that took advantage of a new gaming development called the Super FX chip to render high-quality 3D graphics. The first “proof-of-concept” game was Star Fox, which entertained a generation of children waiting to get their braces tightened, convinced them all to hate frogs and established the phrase “Do a barrel roll!” as part of the early ’90s zeitgeist.
Star Fox, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Chrono Trigger, F-Zero, Street Fighter II
In the early 90s, a Japanese recession ate away Nintendo’s bottom line. Nintendo needed a trump card, and they found one in James H. Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics, who offered a low-cost, high-quality 3D graphics system to both Sega and Nintendo. Sega wanted exclusive rights; Nintendo agreed to license the technology on a non-exclusive basis. The technology formed the backbone for the Nintendo 64, which debuted in the U.S. in September 1996.
Mario Kart 64, Super Mario 64, Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Golden Eye 007
Ways to Play Nintendo
Ebay offers some great deals on old NES (~$60), SNES (~$60) and Nintendo 64 (~$45) consoles, and savvy buyers might convince sellers to throw in some games and the zapper gun. If you’re using an HDTV, just remember that the NES doesn’t output sound in Stereo, so when you plug in your sound cables, you should connect them to the white port. Your TV should recognize that you only have one cable and play sound through both speakers. Though let’s be honest: if you want the full experience, ditch the HDTV and pick up an old CRT TV at a garage sale or thrift store. NES/SNES games and cathode ray tubes go together like Mario and Luigi.
Check out the Retro Duo Portable NES/SNES Game System ($100), a portable system that takes real NES/SNES cartridges. Alternately, Android users can pick up SuperGNES ($4), a Super NES emulator, or the Mupen64+AE (Free), a Nintendo 64 emulator. Just be wary — while emulators are legal, ROMs (essentially digital copies of the games that get run on the emulators) are not. But if you’ve acquired ROMs (legally, of course), and opened them in an emulator on your mobile device, you can use an external controller to play the game. We like the USB/BT Joystick Center ($7), which offers compatibility with any Xbox, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and Wii remote, among others. Devices like the Google Chromecast ($35) and, of course, a simple HDMI cable ($4) can be used to send the contents of your phone to your TV.
The Retron 5 ($99), which debuts on June 6, will allows users to play NES, SNES, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance games in high definition. Super fans can get the Analogue Nt ($500), an NES system encased in a solid block of aluminum. Convenient that Father’s Day is just around the corner…
It actually came after the SG-1000, Sega’s original console. Although the Master System possessed better technical specs than the NES, Nintendo’s licensing system prevented Sega from access to a number of successful video game franchises. As a result the Master System only sold 13 million lifetime units compared to NES’s 62 million.
Fantasy Zone, Wonderboy in Monster World, Phantasy Star, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Land of Illusion
The aggressive marketing of the 16-bit Sega Genesis as the “cool” system launched the opening salvos of the “Console Wars”. Because Nintendo owned the rights to most of the era’s best arcade games, the Genesis positioned itself as the system for sports games. And then there was a little game called Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat II (with blood), Earthworm Jim, Road Rage II, NBA Jam TE
The 32-bit Sega Saturn, released in the United States in 1995, failed to attract a large following, mostly because Japanese CEO Hayao Nakayama and American CEO Tom Kalinske departed from the company soon after the Saturn’s launch. Perhaps more importantly, Sega failed to make a Sonic game for the Saturn.
Panzer Dragoon Saga, Virtua Fighter 2, NiGHTS into Dreams, Saturn Bomber Man, Astal
Ways to Play Sega
You don’t want the SG-1000, which is good, because you’re probably not going to find one. Ebay carries the Master System ($100), though you probably don’t want that, either. The best of the bunch, the Sega Genesis (~$60), frequently pops up for reasonable prices on Ebay, as does the Sega Saturn (~$100).
Download Sega Genesis ROMs straight to the A380e Pocket Retro Game Emulator (~$100). Unfortunately (or fortunately), because early Sega systems were objectively bad, developers aren’t interested in making mobile emulators for the SG-1000, Master System or Sega Saturn, though Android users can pick up MD.emu ($5), a Sega Genesis emulator that offers support for Bluetooth-enabled external controllers, or GENPlusDroid (Free), which offers wired gamepad & keyboard support. Control them via an external controller through the same process described in the Nintendo “Mobile” section.
The AtGames Sega Genesis Classic Game Console ($70) comes pre-loaded with 40 games, including Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage, plus two controllers (which may have lag and connectivity issues, so consider alternatives).