On July 15, 1983, the Famicom launched in Japan. The tiny red-and-white game system the English-speaking world soon knew the console as the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES) and it gradually became a fixture in '80s households.
In other words, it's been 35 years since Nintendo re-shaped the industry following the North American home console crash of 1983-1984. Granted, it took some time for the Famicom to make its way to mainstream American culture. The little system was shaking off the last of its eggshells just as the Atari CVS, ColecoVision, et al entered an irreversible graveyard spiral thanks to terrible decisions by Atari that finally terminated with literal tons of unsold merchandise getting crushed and buried in the Arizona desert. Merchants were understandably gun-shy about stocking another game system on their shelves (let alone a Japanese-made system—manufacturing wars and plain old racism made for strong anti-Japanese sentiment in the '80s), but Nintendo didn't back away from the overseas market and retailers eventually bit.
The Famicom did well in its home country thanks in part to ports of big Nintendo arcade games like Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. However, it was the 1985 debut of Super Mario Bros that seriously demonstrated to Japanese and Western audiences alike how deep a video game could really go. It might seem laughable now, but Super Mario Bros' visuals were unmatched by anything available on home consoles until that point. Even computers, the preferred gaming platform for Japan and Europe, had a tough time scrolling screens left-to-right—something Super Mario Bros did with ease. That scroll, which seems unremarkable today, turned Super Mario Bros from a game to a journey. Added mysteries like Warp Zones, seemingly random firework displays, and bugs that let Mario rack up 100 precious lives at once let players talk about the game in contexts beyond "My high score is better than yours."
Nintendo wisely kept the Famicom / NES fervor burning, giving rise to some of the best games ever developed. Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda—they were all born on the Famicom, and they still mean a lot to players today. Speaking personally, I started playing games when my parents brought home and ColecoVision and Atari VCS, but it was the NES that captured my heart and imagination with Super Mario Bros' changing environments and now-classic chiptunes.
Seeing a friend’s mom play through world 1-4 of Super Mario Bros and being stunned at how much more sophisticated it was compared to my Atari / Colecovision games at home. (I wanted to watch forever but it was my friend’s birthday and etiquette demanded I play dress-up.) https://t.co/SwdTWWZZlm— Nadia Oxford (@nadiaoxford) July 8, 2018
Jeremy Parish wrote an in-depth retrospective on the Famicom for its 30th anniversary, and you should take time out of this momentous day to read it. Happy anniversary Famicom. You're old enough to have a family, two cars, and a sensible job, but we love you just the way you are.