Last Sunday, the Nintendo Entertainment System celebrated its 35th anniversary. On October 18th, 1985, the system went on sale in New York City, with a nationwide launch in the fall of ‘86.
The NES’s Japanese counterpart, the Famicom, had been out in Japan since 1983. But while arcades were still popular in the United States, the home video game market was essentially dead. Nintendo’s fledgling American division was tasked with convincing retailers that their system was different from the Atari games they were unable to sell. With 90% of the Japanese home video game market, Nintendo was confident they could bring that success to America, too.
Nintendo of America’s first attempt was called the AES - based on the Famicom, but with a typing keyboard, a musical keyboard, a tape drive, and wireless controllers. The idea, I think, was to position it as more of a home computer and educational device. They showed it off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January of ‘85, but retailers were cool to the idea. According to Electronics Games magazine in March of ‘85, "Considering the videogame market in America has virtually disappeared, this could be a miscalculation on Nintendo's part."
Nintendo went back to the drawing board and redesigned the system to be a simpler, VCR-shaped device to look a little less like a child's toy. When the system finally released, it shipped with a full slate of games, including Super Mario Bros., able to draw from the Famicom's two year deep library of available titles.
And it worked - by 1990, there was an NES in fully 30% of American households, and more had been sold than all other video game consoles combined. The word "Nintendo", for a decade or more, meant video games.