Thursday, August 20, 2009

The End of An Era

More accurately, Chrontendo Episode 24 will mark the end of two eras. First off, we'll be covering the beloved boxing game Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (or just Punch-Out!!, as it has also been titled at times). "Ah, Punch-Out!!" you say. "Great game. I spent eons trying to knock out Mike Tyson, back in the day. What of it?"

Well... recall that Nintendo entered the video game field in the mid 1970s. Their early output was typical of the time: Space Invaders clones and whatnot. Then in 1981 they suddenly struck massive pay dirt with the release of Donkey Kong. DK and its sequels put Nintendo into the upper ranks of arcade game manufacturers. Additional successes, such as Popeye in 1982 and Mario Bros in 1983 cemented their position. However, after only two years since the first flush of success, Nintendo decided to focus their energies on the home market instead. At the time, this would have been a very unusual, almost suicidal, move. Atari and Sega both released home consoles, but managed to divide their attention between producing arcade hits and releasing a study flow of cartridges simultaneously. Nintendo decided to focus entirely on the home market, releasing a mere trickle of original arcade titles.

hit the arcades in 1984; a sequel followed shortly afterward. From a technical perspective , Punch-Out!! was far and away the most impressive game Nintendo had released. Enormous, lifelike characters, and realistic human speech allowed the game to stand apart from its contemporary brethren. The game was quite successful, but the series was Nintendo's last stand at the arcades. Punch-Out!!'s unusual follow-up, Arm Wrestling, would be the final original arcade game Nintendo released before devoting itself entirely to the Famicom and NES. Nintendo's presence in arcades would be limited to machines such as the Playchoice 10, which was simply a system for playing virtually unmodified NES games on an arcade cabinet.

Nintendo created popular and innovative arcade titles; it's too bad they chose to abandon the field entirely. The Famicom debuted with an arcade port, Donkey Kong, in 1983. Punch-Out!!, in 1987, would be the final Famicom port of a Nintendo arcade game, thus ending that particular chapter.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! was released in October 1987. Strangely enough, that same month saw another milestone; one that was, in retrospect, the first nail in the coffin of the 8-bit generation. Hudson Soft had been working on a new chip set -- one superior to that found in the Famicom. Hudson then partnered with electronics giant NEC to produce a video game console based around this chip set. The result, dubbed the PC Engine, was released in Japan on October 30.

There is some debate over whether the PC Engine can be considered a true 16-bit system. It used a 16-bit graphics processor and an 8-bit CPU. Regardless of the technical specifications, there could be no doubt the PC Engine was a next-gen console. Anyone who booted up the machine and plugged in an early title like Kung Fu, could instantly see the system's capabilities far surpassed that of the Famicom or Master System. The Famicom/NES remained a viable console until the early 90s, but anyone could see the writing on the wall. Sega shrugged off the failure of the Master System and went to work on their own 16-bit system, to be released almost exactly one year later. Nintendo themselves belatedly followed suit in late 1990. Famicom, your days are numbered.

Don't be all sad though. The good times for the Famicom are really just getting started. The 1987 holiday season will see three major franchises rolled out, as well as several interesting one-offs and a handful of sequels. Episode 24 takes us into November, so once that episode drops (very soon!), the end of the year madness will begin.


Kahless_GOA said...

Today its very hard to imagine Nintendo releasing Arcade titles...great times. Though I would like to know on what hardware the Punch Out! Arcade game based, because I always had the opinion that the SNES Version didn't just look as good as the '84 Arcade title (it didn't have the cool wireframe), and I don't believe that the SNES was technically inferior to a '84 arcade machine.

Kahless_GOA said...

Dude, I just realised the newest Episode of my favorite Podcast Retronauts has the subject of the Turbografx16, Link to the Retronauts Podcast:

and Link to the direct download:

I havn't listened to it completely, but it sounds kinda interesting till now.

Doctor Sparkle said...

The folks at Retronauts are quite cool. So I'll need to check that episode out. This being the 20th anniversary of the TG-16, it seems there a few tributes to the system lately.

Punch-Out!! looks really good for a 1984 arcade game, but I think that mostly has to do with clever programming and artistic design rather than hardware. The graphics are pretty low-rez and the color palatte is not very large. But details like the audience and the huge characters made it look better than anything else at the time.

Anonymous said...

As you are nearly finished with 1987, I'd like to get in a request for a short feature on unlicensed games for the Famicom. I believe they first started appearing in 1988 on the FDS. i know its maybe a bit early, just wanted to put the idea in your head!

Doctor Sparkle said...

Yes, I'll definitely do something with unlicensed games at some point. Actually, the biggie when it comes to unlicensed games, Tengen, started releasing NES carts in 88. The tricky part about unlicensed games is that info such as release dates is pretty scarce.