Nintendo has been in the console business for years, and here's where it all started, more or less. The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) wasn't Nintendo's first gaming console, but it certainly cemented the company's role in video game history. An unforgettable library of games (helped by the tepid state of the home video game industry at the time) made this console an iconic part of many of our childhoods.
There's a good chance you or someone you know has a working Game Boy kicking around: these nigh-indestructible consoles allowed us to bring Tetris and countless other games with us everywhere we went -- provided of course we had a few spare AA batteries at hand.
Super Mario World. Mega Man X. Chrono Trigger. Super Metroid. These are just a few of the countless titles that still send a shudder down the spines of grown women and men around the world. The Super Nintendo offered a phenomenal library of games.
If there was one experiment Nintendo (and the rest of us) would like to forget, it's probably the Virtual Boy. Calling it a disappointment would be an understatement: this early attempt at 3D gaming was far more likely to serve up neck pain and headaches than an immersive experience.
Fresh off the heels of the less-than-stellar Virtual Boy came the Nintendo 64. Four built-in controller ports ushered in an unprecedented era of couch gaming for many of us, countless hours spent in heated Super Smash Bros. matches, or darting around varied, colorful tracks in Mario Kart 64. And who could forget their first foray into Mario 64, seeing the Mushroom Kingdom rendered in gorgeous (for the time) 3D for the first time?
Take everything you loved about the original Game Boy, make it a bit slimmer and slap on a color display, and you've got the Game Boy Color. Calling it a color display is a bit generous, though, as the limited color palette paled in comparison to competitors like the Sega Game Gear or Neo Geo Pocket. But a lower price, backward compatibility with the vast library of Game Boy games, and long battery life on a pair of AA batteries meant the Game Boy's successor would eventually conquer all comers.
The Game Boy Advance reinvented the venerable handheld device, serving up gorgeous visuals in a portable design.
Nintendo's GameCube lacked the raw muscle of the PlayStation 2 and Xbox, and lagged behind the two in sales as well, owing in part to the lack of support from third-party developers. But the system that brought us Super Smash Bros. Melee and Mario Kart: Double Dash!! still holds a fond place in memory hearts.
Why settle for one screen when you could have two? The Nintendo DS remains a great example of Nintendo's willingness to experiment on a grand scale. This portable gaming console added a touchscreen, and spawned a library of innovative games you couldn't play anywhere else. Svelter models would follow suit eventually, but the DS was a stellar evolution for Nintendo's portable console family.
When the Wii was announced, critics were at a loss: the console's bizarre control scheme seemed completely at odds with the traditional gamepads we'd long been accustomed to. Couple that with weak performance and lackluster third-party support, and it would seem the Wii was doomed. However, instead, the Wii would go on to sell over 100 million units worldwide, becoming one of the best-selling consoles of all time.
The 3DS brings all of the lessons Nintendo learned over the DS' stellar lifetime, and adds a third dimension. Most of us weren't sold on 3D, but the novelty -- and a solid collection of games -- helped ensure the DS family's continued success.
The Wii introduced a novel control scheme, and did gangbusters. The Wii U introduced a novel control scheme -- a controller with a built-in display -- and, admittedly, hasn't had nearly the same level of success. It remains an interesting device, though: the tablet-controller lets you play games without tying up your TV, while built-in NFC connectivity lets you use Nintendo's Amiibo figurines to expand your games.
Nintendo's latest take on the 3DS doesn't look all that different, but packs a number of improvements. The first is the second control stick -- something gamers have been demanding for quite some time. The New 3DS also improves the 3D display with a bit of face-tracking wizardry, and packs a bit more power under the hood; some games will see performance improvements, while others, like the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles, will only work on the new hardware.