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Nintendo's NES game console turns 20

It's been 20 years since the NES first hit American shelves. And today, Mario's still going strong.

It was 20 years ago today, to paraphrase the Beatles song, that "Super Mario Bros." started to play.

On Oct. 18, 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) first went on sale in the United States. It was an 8-bit video game console, and largely thanks to "Super Mario Bros.," a spinoff from the arcade hit "Donkey Kong," the NES quickly became the most successful game system of its era.

"It has been 20 years, which is hard to believe," said Beth Llewelyn, Nintendo senior director of corporate communications. "Super Mario Bros." was "a great game. That's what it all boils down to. It offered something new. It was the first side-scrolling game."

In the interim, Nintendo's consoles included the Nintendo 64 and the current GameCube.

And while most cell phones are now capable of game performance far beyond that of the NES, the machine's legacy lives on.

Today, Nintendo is overshadowed in game consoles by Sony, with its PlayStation series, and by the Microsoft Xbox. But Nintendo still is considered the worldwide leader in handheld video game devices, with its GameBoy series and the Nintendo DS. However, Sony is also gaining significant ground in handhelds with its PlayStationPortable.

For its part, the "Mario" franchise is very much alive and well. Current members of the family include "Super Mario Strikers," "Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time" and "Mario Party 7."

Meanwhile, Nintendo is getting ready to release its next-generation console, the so-called Revolution. While it promises to be a significant leap forward from the GameCube, it has mostly been relegated to also-ran status by the forthcoming Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 and the excitement those two platforms have generated.

But Llewelyn said that the Revolution, which is expected to be released next spring, will feature the ability to download old Nintendo games, including titles going all the way back to the NES.

In any case, those who remember the launch of the NES 20 years ago are almost certainly no longer in the video game industry's most coveted demographic. Yet, many remain committed gamers and probably relish their first NES memories.

"When it comes down to it, it (was) just a great game play experience," Llewelyn said. "That started back with the first NES game."