World-famous gaming firm Nintendo has come a long way since its days as a manufacturer of Hanafuda card games. The company's legacy stretches back to as early as 1889, but only when it entered the electronics sector in the mid-1970s did it begin to make history.
Few studios have played such an important role in shaping the video games industry as we know it. Nintendo has been at the forefront of new hardware developments for generations, and its software creations such as Super Mario Bros, Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda are some of the most iconic ever dreamed up.
With the gaming giant's latest console the Wii U about to arrive in the UK off the back of a successful launch in North America, we take a look back at its track record in hardware development with an extensive console retrospective.
1981-1990: Nintendo conquers the home and handheld markets
Nintendo's history in video gaming harks back to the mid-1970s with early ventures including the primitive Colour TV Game consoles and the Game & Watch series of LCD handheld games. It didn't truly make its mark on the industry until it broke into the arcade business with the release of Donkey Kong in 1981.
Donkey Kong was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, a young developer who would go on to create and direct some of Nintendo's most important gaming releases and attain legendary status in the industry. This barrel-dodging classic remains among the most recognisable platformers of all time, and the success of its numerous home computer ports paved the way for one of the most important consoles ever released - the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
Released under the moniker of the Famicom in Japan in 1983, the 8-bit machine got off to a troubled start in its native territory. A bad chipset caused initial models to crash, leading to a wide-scale product recall. However, this turned out to be a minor setback, as the system's popularity skyrocketed in Asia by the end of the following year.
Buoyed by this success, Nintendo turned its attention to other markets such as North America and Europe. After a distribution deal with Atari broke down, the Big N chose to take the cartridge-based machine to overseas territories on its own. It arrived in the US in 1985 with an entirely new design that dropped the top-loading cartridge deck and red and white motif in favour of a uniform grey form factor.
Backed by the commercial performance of all-time classics including Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Metroid and Punch-Out, the NES was a smash hit abroad and is often credited with revitalising the games industry after the crash of 1983.
Nintendo adopted the now-commonplace business model of licensing third-party developers to ensure that the NES's gaming library was vast. Numerous hardware peripherals were released for the console during its lifecycle, some more successful than others. The NES Zapper was one of the most stylish light guns to hit the market back then, but the Power Glove controller simply didn't work.
The R.O.B. the Robot add-on was an ambitious attempt at creating a virtual second player for those friendless kids out there, that was held back from reaching its potential by a lack of software support.
Dud accessories aside, the NES was the bestselling home console of its generations, defeating Sega's Master System with superior first-party titles and more extensive third-party backing. The system sold more than 61 million units during its decade-exceeding lifecycle and its legacy remains strong thanks to the enduring popularity of its software on Nintendo's online stores.
Not content with conquering the home console market, Nintendo turned its attention to the handheld market in 1989 with the release of the Game Boy. Developed by Game & Watch mastermind Gunpei Yokoi, this monochromatic wonder single-handedly revolutionised portable gaming and went on to become the biggest-selling console to date.
Longer battery life, a vastly bigger software library and a lower price point helped the system ward off fierce competition from Sega's Game Gear, despite the rival system offering a full colour display and an adaptor to run Master System games.
The Game Boy went from strength to strength as Nintendo supported it with increasingly sophisticated software as the years rolled on. What is arguably the finest title to grace the platform, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, arrived four years into its lifecycle, but the system fulfilled its true potential in 1996 when the Pokemon movement gained momentum.
The pet-battling series utilised the system's link-up cable to take multiplayer gaming and content sharing to new heights, laying the foundations for such concepts to be built upon across future generations.
Incremental hardware updates were released in the ensuring years. The Game Boy Pocket offered a more compact build and the Japan-only Game Boy Light was a frontlit iteration. Nintendo finally added colour visuals to the line in 1998 with the release of the Game Boy Colour, a successor to the device that added little other than enhanced graphical capabilities.
1990-2000: Super power and 3D technology
The year was 1990 and the 16-bit era was already under way. Sega had placed its cards on the table with the release of the Mega Drive (or Genesis, depending on which part of the world you hail from) and Nintendo could no longer rely on the NES to remain competitive.
The Super Nintendo debuted in Japan in 1990 and hit other markets in the ensuing years. This 16-bit marvel offered significantly improved visuals and sound, as well as a superior chipset that matched the Mega Drive on most fronts and outgunned it on others.
The machine's software library was hugely impressive, bringing together first-party gems such as Super Mario World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and third-party classics like Street Fighter II and Doom.
Nintendo's SNES became embroiled in a bitter scrap with the Mega Drive, and the debate over which was superior raged on every playground. Although the Sega system had a significant head start on the market, the SNES ended up selling considerably more units worldwide. The machine remained popular well into the next generation, and is still sought after today among collectors and retro enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, the Big N began to experiment with virtual reality technology in the mid-'90s, and these endeavours eventually bore fruit in the shape of the Virtual Boy, a semi-portable table-top system capable of displaying "true 3D graphics" out of the box. However, it was with this venture that the company experienced its first hardware flop.
The Yokoi-designed Virtual Boy was panned by critics, the majority of whom expressed disappointment with the quality of software available and the below-par stereoscopic visuals. There were also reports that the head-mounted display induced dizziness, headaches and nausea. Nintendo discontinued the console less than a year after its release, and Yokoi announced his retirement shortly afterwards.
As the 32-bit era dawned in the mid-'90s, the SNES continued to tread water thanks to technologically impressive releases such as Rare's Donkey Kong Country, but it soon became apparent that Nintendo would have to invest in new hardware to compete with newcomer the Sony PlayStation and the Sega Saturn.
Nintendo entered into an ill-fated partnership with Philips to release a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES, and when this venture collapsed, the powers that be opted to keep the faith in cartridges for its next console, a decision that would prove costly, though not catastrophic.
The Nintendo 64 underwent several name changes during development, including Project Reality and Ultra 64. It finally saw the light of day in Japan in 1996 before hitting other markets the following year, giving Nintendo's rivals a head start once again.
The machine introduced 3D visuals, built-in four-player support and an analogue stick-based controller. It was more powerful than any other system on the market, but was hampered by the storage limitations of cartridges and substandard texture caching capabilities.
Nintendo's decision to shun CDs meant it lost the support of many of the third-party studios that had backed its previous consoles. However, it remained true to form when it came to first-party offerings, and many of the titles it released went down in history as some of the greatest of their generation.
Super Mario 64 reinvented the platform genre, while 1998's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was rightly hailed as one of the best games ever developed. While there were other gems, like Rare's masterpiece GoldenEye 64, the machine's software library was thin on the ground compared to its rivals, but it was certainly quality over quantity.
The N64 was not as successful or long-lasting as some of the gaming giant's previous offerings, but the machine can hardly be considered a flop. It sold 32.93 million units worldwide by the time it was discontinued in 2003, which is hardly a shameful figure.
2001-2004: Handheld advancements and the end of cartridges
2001 was a big year for Nintendo, with bold new console iterations hitting the both the home and handheld markets. First up was the successor to the Game Boy Colour, a 32-bit device dubbed the Game Boy Advance. In many ways, it was a SNES in the palm of your hand. Many of the 16-bit console's classic titles were ported across, such as Super Mario World, Street Fighter II and Final Fight, along with numerous exclusives.
Backwards compatibility with Game Boy and Game Boy Colour titles was included at launch and a range of accessories, including the Wireless Adapter and e-Reader, were released during the platform's tenure.
Two incremental hardware updates were issued over the years. The Game Boy Advance SP resembled a miniature laptop, while the Game Boy Micro was a sleeker piece of kit aimed at the fashion conscious. All three models pulled in a respectable 81.51 million global sales between them.
After reclaiming the portable market, Nintendo set about challenging Sony in the home console sector, knowing full well a cartridge-based machine would be crushed beneath the might of the PlayStation 2.
The Nintendo GameCube was unveiled in September 2001 as a successor to the N64, using optical discs as its primary storage medium - mini-DVDs with a greater capacity than the game carts of old.
Although the GameCube was a more developer-friendly platform, many third-party studios continued to overlook Nintendo in favour of releasing their titles on the PS2 and Xbox, which held a majority share of the older demographic. However, the likes of Capcom, Electronic Arts, THQ and Disney Interactive Studios did back the platform.
Nintendo remained on form where its first-party projects were concerned, with titles like Super Smash Bros Melee, Metroid Prime, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Super Mario Kart: Double Dash!! helping keep the platform profitable.
Unlike its rivals, such as the Xbox and PS2, the GameCube did not provide CD or DVD playback, but it did offer some basic online support for a select few titles via a separately-sold adapter, and cross-connectivity with the Game Boy Advance for others.
The GameCube sold 21.74 million units during its time on the market, a figure which pales in comparison to the PS2's 154 million units, leaving it in third place behind the Sony machine and Microsoft's Xbox by the end of the sixth generation.
2004-2011: Dual screens and motion controls
Nintendo's next major innovation involved dual screen and touch technology, as the Game Boy line made way for the Nintendo DS in 2004. The device sported a form factor not unlike the age-old Game & Watch releases with a touch-sensitive second display, microphone support and WiFi connectivity.
The system was originally intended as a third pillar in Nintendo's hardware lineup, coexisting alongside the Game Boy Advance and GameCube, but strong sales and backwards compatibility with its portable predecessor saw the older device soon phased out.
Backed by a huge software library comprising both first and third-party hits, the DS was a resounding success for Nintendo, striking a chord with gamers of all ages. Revised models soon followed, with the DS Lite offering a slimmer alternative and the DSi a range of improvements, such as dual cameras and enhanced networking capabilities. The final iteration, the DSi XL, was later released as a pure size variation.
The DS is Nintendo's most successful product to date with more than 152 million units sold worldwide, a feat that makes it the second best-selling console of all time behind the PS2. The firm continues to support the platform while promoting its successors, the 3DS and 3DS XL, which use auto-stereoscopic technology to create 3D visuals without the need for glasses.
On the home front, Nintendo was the second company to enter the seventh hardware generation, pushing its motion control-pioneering Wii into the arena to take on Microsoft's Xbox 360. The GameCube successor was the firm's smallest console to date, but naturally, its most sophisticated.
As well as bringing motion control to the mainstream, the Wii was backed up by a range of online services such as the Wii Shop Channel and the Mii Channel. It soon established itself as the most family-friendly console on the market thanks to the all-ages appeal of titles like Wii Sports and Mario Kart Wii.
Although the console looked underpowered compared to the Xbox 360 and Sony's shiny new PlayStation 3, it held its own against them on the hardware charts, and has sold significantly more units to date.
Developers looking to target the mature demographic continue to favour Nintendo's rivals, but the company insists the Wii has a "broader" demographic than its competitors, and worldwide sales figures exceeding 97 million appear to back this up.
2012: Enter the Wii U
Nintendo posted its first ever financial loss earlier this year, blaming the downturn on lower-than-expected sales of the 3DS. A subsequent price drop on the system appears to have helped it on the road to recovery, but there is a lot riding on the commercial performance of the gaming giant's new home console, the Wii U.
The Wii U was unveiled at the E3 in the summer of 2011, where it was confirmed that Nintendo's next innovation is to introduce dual-screen gaming to the home console market. The HD console comes with a tablet controller called the GamePad, which features a touch screen as well as physical controls.
Nintendo has already released the hardware in the US in two versions - a 'Basic' white-coloured model with 8GB of internal flash storage, and a 'Deluxe' black version with 32GB of flash storage, bundled with stand and docks.
The Wii U is aiming to get hardcore gamers back on board while continuing to appeal to the family audience. This is no easy feat, but the hardware is technically impressive and third-party support is strong.
Triple-A franchises including Mass Effect, Assassin's Creed, and FIFA will all grace the platform, plus the promise of modern entries in Nintendo's own franchises is mouth-watering.
Early reviews of both hardware and software are largely positive, so there's no reason the Wii U shouldn't take the market by storm when it arrives in Europe on November 30, at least until Microsoft and Sony unveil shiny new hardware themselves.
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Gallery: Wii U's UK launch lineup in pictures: