Tech

8 consoles from Nintendo that came before the Switch and how they fared

Nintendo's new video game console Switch is displayed at a presentation in Tokyo on January 13, 2017.
Kazuhiro Nogi | AFP | Getty Images

The Nintendo Switch goes on sale today — March 3 — retailing for about $300 in North America and 29,980 yen in Japan. It is a hybrid system that is part gaming console, part handheld device and part tablet, which allows for different styles of play.

"I think the concept alone is a game changer," Serkan Toto, CEO of consultancy firm Kantan Games, told CNBC. "The Switch is a clear reflection of Nintendo's background as a toy maker."

The Switch will likely face stiff competition from Sony's PlayStation 4, a top preference for hard-core gamers, and Microsoft's Xbox. But some say Nintendo's positioning in the market suggest the game-maker might be after the more casual gaming market.

Aaron Yip, a Singapore-based journalist who has covered Nintendo for 20 years, told CNBC the company has always positioned itself as a fun company. "In the sense, where the games may not necessarily look the prettiest, they may not always have the most powerful consoles but where they position themselves differently is the way you play games," he said.

CNBC takes a look at some of Nintendo's past consoles and handheld devices that have influenced the gaming industry.


Nintendo Entertainment System

Neil Godwin | GamesMaster Magazine | Getty Images

Nintendo introduced a home video game console — Family Computer, or Famicom as it is sometimes known — locally in 1983 that employed a custom CPU and PPU (picture processing unit).

Two years later, the company gave the Famicon a bit of an upgrade to match the taste of an American audience and the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was born. It rolled out in the U.S. in 1985, just as the video game industry was trying to recover from a downturn.

PC Magazine named the NES the second greatest video game console of all time, calling it the system that "turned every child into a gamer in the mid '80s." The NES supported a variety of Nintendo-approved gaming titles including Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda and Mega Man 2.

Game Boy

Artur Debat | Getty Images

Mobile gaming today is associated mostly with smartphones, but handheld gaming devices have been around for a long time. One of the most recognizable name is Nintendo's Game Boy consoles.

The original Game Boy was rolled out in 1989 and by end of last year, Nintendo has sold 118.69 million units of hardware and another 81.51 million units of the Game Boy Advance. The 8-bit handheld console allowed users to swap game cartridges and brought Tetris, originally a game developed by Soviet researchers, to mainstream popularity. Other iconic Nintendo games released for the Game Boy line include Mario and the Pokemon series.

"It's no exaggeration to say the Game Boy was a revolutionary device that changed the industry," said Toto. "There have been portable gaming devices before, but it was the first to reach a mass market with casual, as well as, hardcore gamers alike."

Nintendo 64

The Nintendo 64 game system and controller.
Yvonne Hemsey | Getty Images

The Nintendo 64 (N64) was rolled out in 1996 and Nintendo packaged it as "the world's first true 64-bit home video game system."

The cartridge-based game console could plug in four controllers for multiplayer gaming and in the same year, Nintendo introduced Super Mario for the N64.

Two years earlier, Sony had launched the original PlayStation. But Nintendo's overall success with N64, when compared to its other popular devices, has been fairly limited. As of Dec. 31, the N64 sold 32.93 million units in hardware and 224.97 million units in software.

GameCube

Mike Fanous | Gamma-Rapho | Getty Images

Nintendo launched the disc-based home video game console, GameCube, in 2001 and the year after it released a slew of titles for the device, including Super Mario Sunshine, Mario Party 4, Animal Crossing, Eternal Darkness and Metroid Prime.

Yip told CNBC that despite the hit titles above, there was a lack of a variety of good games for the device. "It also couldn't play other media like DVDs then, which the competing Sony PlayStation could," he said.

As of Dec. 31, the GameCube sold about 21.74 million units of hardware.

Wii

Gilles Bassignac | Gamma-Rapho | Getty Images

Though Nintendo's positioning in the gaming market might be sightly different to Sony, as Yip suggested before, the launch of the Wii was a massive game changer.

Released in 2006, the Wii revolutionized the home gaming console space with its iconic, motion-sensitive Remote that kicked off motion-controlled video gaming. It broadened Nintendo's audience base at a time when Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Sony's PlayStation were intensifying competition in the home gaming market.

IGN ranked the console the 10th best video game console ever in its list of the top consoles in the market. A total of 101.63 million units of the Wii hardware have been sold as of last year, according to Nintendo.

Nintendo 3DS

Nintendo 3DS portable game devices are displayed during an event in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011.
Jin Lee | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Nintendo 3DS followed the company's popular Nintendo DS (dual screen) handheld video game system that first launched in 2004. The Nintendo DS offered touch screen controls, wireless multiplayer and backward compatibility with Game Boy Advance games.

The 3DS, launched in 2011, is capable of displaying three-dimensional effects. After initially experiencing lackluster sales due to its high retail price, Nintendo reduced prices and sales took off. CNET reported Nintendo reduced prices for the 3DS to $169.99 from the launch price of $249.99.

As of the end of 2016, Nintendo sold 154.02 million units of hardware for the DS — its best selling handheld to-date —and 65.3 million units for the 3DS.

Wii U

Olly Curtis | Future Publishing | Getty Images

While the Wii was Nintendo's best-selling home gaming console, the Wii U is the company's biggest flop to-date, according to Toto. It has sold a mere 13.56 million units in hardware.

Introduced in 2012, the Wii U positioned itself as a handheld device that offered a combination of games, entertainment and online connectivity. But users are not impressed and Nintendo later admitted it failed to market the Wii U properly, neglecting to showcase what made it unique.

"The messaging has never been clear," Yip said. "A lot of consumers had no idea what the Wii U did. They didn't understand that it's a newer console and it's not an extension of the Wii."

NES Classic

Nintendo

Nintendo took nostalgic gamers back to yesteryear when it launched the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) Classic Edition in 2016.

A miniature replica of Nintendo's original NES gaming system — released all the way back in 1985 — the NES Classic console came pre-loaded with 30 of the gaming giants' most iconic games, including Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and The Legend of Zelda.

According to CNET, the console promptly sold out at most major retailers that stocked it.