Maybe it's a sure sign that we're getting old, but some of us on the TrustedReviews team have been playing games for over 25 years. In that time we've seen everything from the pioneering arcade hits to Crysis, and just about everything in-between, which is why we've sometimes been known to waffle on about obscure Japanese imports or British game classics â€˜til the cows come home. We know a portion of our readership will share some of these memories, while another section will probably be too young (like many of the whippersnappers in the TR office). That's why we've decided to run a short series of features covering the old consoles and some of the games that have made gaming what it is today.
Don't think of this as some dry history lesson, however. Another good reason to write about this stuff is that these games and systems aren't just a thing of the past. Thanks to retro compilations and downloads on Xbox Live Arcade, Wii Virtual Console and PSN you can play many of them today, and there's no reason to get involved with emulators and dodgy ROM downloads to do so. We're kicking off this week with the great 8-bit consoles, and we'll take a crack at the 16-bit and 32-bit eras in weeks to come.
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
First launched in Japan in 1983 as the Famicom, Nintendo's groundbreaking home console is arguably the most important and influential games system of all time. The NES went on to sell over 60 million consoles worldwide - a record held until the days of the PlayStation (100 million) and PS2 (120 million and counting).
The NES was originally designed to bring ports of arcade hits like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros into the home. However, with the release and incredible success of Super Mario Bros, this changed. Both Nintendo and its third-party licensees realised that the NES could host a new generation of video-game characters and concepts.
The Mario, Legend of Zelda, MegaMan, Metroid, Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden series' all took their first steps on the system and still survive in some form today. Plus, it was on the NES that RARE made the shift from home computer software house to console game developer; a move that many other Western teams have made in subsequent years.
The NES also became legendary for its iconic accessories. Some, like the Lightgun and Dance Mat, are still around today. Others, like the plug-in robot, R.O.B and the infamous PowerGlove, haven't stood the test of time so well.
The NES was not a particularly powerful system. The PAL version was powered by a 1.66MHz Ricoh CPU with a 5.32MHz graphics chip and a mere 2KB of onboard RAM (though on a cartridge-based machine this wasn't much of an issue). Its colour palette was limited to 52 tones, with 64, 4-colour sprites on the 256x240 resoluton display. It's most enduring hardware legacy is its controller: the D-pad and two button arrangement that took over from the Atari joystick as the standard model of gaming devices. Yet it was the NES that proved a maxim that remains relevant today: in the console world, content is king.
Super Mario Bros 3
Super Mario Bros was the original 2D platformer, but Super Mario Bros. 3 was - and arguably is - the best, expanding the classic side-scrolling gameplay with more complex environments, a huge range of monsters and one of the best selections of power-ups known to man. It might look blocky and ugly, but even now the subtleties of the control and the imagination thrown into every minute of gameplay shine through. An updated version, Super Mario Advance 4, can be played on the DS, while the original is available to download on the Wii's Virtual Console service. A slightly dodgy browser based version can also be found with a quick search on Google.
The Legend of Zelda
The legend began here, with a game that combined aspects of action, adventure and role-playing games in a way that nobody had ever seen before. Here Nintendo pioneered the elements of combat, dungeon exploration and puzzle-solving that would power the series right up to the present day, along with characters like the hero, Link, the Princess Zelda and the evil Gannon that would recur in some form or another throughout the series. The original is a bit rough and ready, but it still has enough magic to make it more than just a museum piece. Again, it's available to download on the Virtual Console service.
One of the great side-scrolling arcade/adventures to appear on the NES (alongside Metroid), Castlevania spawned a long series of sequels, appearing on every generation of console so far, including portables. Each chapter continues the story of the Belmonts, a family of vampire hunters set in an endless war against the king of the undead, Dracula. Armed with a whip, the player makes his way to Dracula's castle, fighting myriad foes and bosses before a confrontation with Dracula himself. Castlevania's controls feel a little rusty in comparison to Mario's, but you can still appreciate how - without this game - the likes of Devil May Cry would have been unimaginable. Once again, check out the Virtual Console service to give it a go.
Nintendo's forgotten hero never escaped the shadow cast by Metroid, the sci-fi arcade/adventure designed by the same team. In a slightly weird take on Greek mythology, Pit, a young angel trapped in the underworld, is enlisted by the imprisoned goddess of light to collect three sacred treasures and tackle the dark goddess, Medusa. Playing much like a cross between Zelda and Metroid, Kid Icarus never made it to subsequent generations of Nintendo hardware, but Pit is now due to star as a playable character in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii. Could future outings beckon? Available - you guessed it - to download on the Virtual Console service.