By James Wargacki, Learning & Research Services
Nintendo entered the current video game console generation with a bang when it released the Switch on March 3. This new home/portable console “hybrid” is the culmination of over 100 years of experience in the entertainment industry for Nintendo.
Founded in 1889, the Marufuku Company made a name for itself in its native Japan as a manufacturer of cards for the game Hanafuda. The Marufuku Company was able to survive the economic turmoil in Japan after World War I and World War II due to the relatively low cost of manufacturing and distributing card games. In 1951 the Marufuku Company changed its name to the Nintendo Card Company and began its path to gaming innovation. A shortage of paper in 1953 led Nintendo to develop plastic playing cards, and in 1959 the company released various sets of cards with licensed characters from the Walt Disney Company.
Over the years, Nintendo continued to expand further into the entertainment industry with board games in the 1960s, the electronic Beam Gun series in the 1970s, and arcade games such as Donkey Kong in the early 1980s. Also in the 1980s, Nintendo developed its first handheld console under the Game and Watch product line.
In 1983 Nintendo released its first home console, the Famicom, in Japan. Two years later the Famicom was released in the United States as the Nintendo Entertainment System which began the company’s legacy as a home entertainment powerhouse around the world. In 1989 Nintendo expanded their reach to the handheld console market with the release of the Game Boy. As the years passed, numerous competitors such as Sega and Sony came to market with their own entertainment consoles such as the Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, and Sony PlayStation to challenge Nintendo’s dominance. Although Nintendo has not always been the market leader in the home entertainment industry, their well-received hardware like the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and Game Boy Color paired with strong first-party software titles from the Super Mario, Legend of Zelda, and Metroid series have contributed to their continued success throughout the years.
The peak of the company’s popularity began in 2004 with the release of the Nintendo DS. The DS included many innovative features such as an integrated touch screen, Wi-Fi connectivity, and backwards compatibility with older Game Boy titles. Two years later Nintendo released the Wii to great critical and commercial acclaim. While the Wii had less processing power than its competitors, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, the innovative motion controls and strength of first-party titles such as Wii Sports and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess appealed to casual gamers and longtime Nintendo fans alike. The Wii and DS would go on to sell 101 million and 154 million units respectively.
Nintendo’s follow up consoles, the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, ended up at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of financial success and critical reception. The Wii U’s major selling point was its proprietary gamepad. With various buttons, triggers, and control sticks surrounding an integrated touch screen, the Wii U Gamepad opened up new gameplay possibilities in the form of asymmetric multiplayer experiences and the ability to play some games directly on the gamepad. Poor battery life and a lack of compelling software caused the Wii U to greatly underperform compared to its predecessor. The 3DS continued Nintendo’s history of innovation with the inclusion of a glasses-free stereoscopic 3D screen. The new technology was impressive and critically well-received but resulted in a high initial cost for the console, low battery life, and sometimes led to eye-strain and dizziness for its users. While hardware updates and price drops contributed to the 3DS selling over 65 million units, the Wii U was discontinued in early 2017 after selling only 13.5 million units.
The Switch builds on Nintendo’s history of innovation in hopes of replicating the success of their most iconic home and handheld consoles. The central feature of the Nintendo Switch is the hybrid design which allows gamers to connect the console to their television using a docking station and also allows them to undock a seven inch tablet for gaming on the go. The included pair of Joy-Con controllers can be used individually or in tandem to allow gamers plenty of flexibility in how, when, and where they would like to play. Multiple Switch consoles can connect using local Wi-Fi or Nintendo’s online services for multiplayer gaming, and the Nintendo Switch also works with the company’s popular Amiibo line of interactive figures. Gamers are able to experience new entries in established franchises such as Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Bomberman R, and Just Dance 2017, along with new titles like 1-2-Switch.
Celebrate the release of the Nintendo Switch by checking out some of these games, books, and other items from and about Nintendo and the video game industry.