The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) arrived in the U.S. at a time when the concept of home videogames was thought to be dead. The abrupt decline of Atari, Coleco and Mattel in the years between 1983 and 1985 left retailers skeptical, even hostile, toward the prospect of another gaming console. Yet despite this uphill battle, the NES quickly became a phenomenon, at once reviving the industry and making the name Nintendo synonymous with videogames.
Based on the already popular Japanese Famicom, the 8-bit NES was first test-marketed in New York City in late 1985 and became available nationwide toward the end of 1986. Nintendo's strategy was to position the console as more than just a videogame machine, and to that end, they heavily emphasized two peripherals included in the package: the Zapper light gun and a toy-like robot called R.O.B.
Although these two gadgets helped get the NES into stores, it was a game called Super Mario Bros. that really sold the system. With its large worlds, scrolling environments, and hidden secrets, the game clearly showed off the NES' power over previous consoles. Another innovation was the system's controller, which contained two action buttons, start and select buttons, and a cross-shaped "d-pad" first introduced on Nintendo's Game & Watch handheld units.
Due to its experience with piracy and unauthorized cartridges on the Famicom, Nintendo included a "lockout" chip in the NES that allowed them to control the quantity and quality of games released by third-party companies, as well as receive a license fee for each game sold. Companies such as Tengen found various ways to circumvent the chip, leading to inevitable legal action.
The NES' formula for success relied on a healthy dose of first-party classics, such as The Legend of Zelda, Mike Tyson's Punch-Out and Metroid, complemented by strong third-party games like Metal Gear, Mega Man, Castlevania and Battletoads. But despite Nintendo's "Seal of Quality," the system still had more than its fair share of poor titles, including such bombs as Gilligan's Island and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.
The NES arguably hit its peak in 1990 with the release of Super Mario Bros. 3, which sold 17 million copies worldwide. Although the system continued to remain a strong presence for several years afterward, the release of the Super NES in 1991 marked the beginning of the end. The last game for the NES was Wario's Woods, released in 1994. ~ Skyler Miller, All Game Guide