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Throwback Thursday: Console wars begin and players take sides

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From 1985 to 1990, Nintendo basked in the spotlight. Video games were thriving thanks to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and Nintendo controlled 90% of the video game industry in the United States. Of course this could not last forever.

Sega worked quietly behind the scenes to create a mascot that would knock Mario down from his place of glory and bring the Mushroom Kingdom to its knees. Several erhm…interesting ideas were proposed, but thankfully a blue hedgehog with a need for speed  and plenty of attitude won. Enter Sonic the Hedgehog, the fastest character in the realm. With Sega’s champion prepared for battle, a rival was born and players took sides.

While Nintendo was content with taking things slow, speed was the name of the game for Sega. The adrenaline produced by zooming through platforms as fast as possible was a big draw for gamers who had never seen anything like the blue speedster before. Sonic’s spunky attitude was also alluring. If gamers stopped playing, Sonic would tap his foot impatiently, and if gamers let Sonic wait too long he’d jump off screen and end the game. Mario wouldn’t even consider doing something so brash.

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Naturally there were console wars during Atari’s days, but nothing compared to the war that broke out between Nintendo and Sega. In fact, it is this long standing rivalry that paved the way for the console wars of today.

Confident that it had a product that was superior to the NES, Sega hit Nintendo hard with its “Sega does what Nintendon’t!” campaign.

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Nintendo managed to ignore most of Sega’s taunts and focus on developing quality games, which is incredibly impressive when you think about how quick companies are to attack each other today. There was an incident at the 1992 Winter Consumer Electronic Show however, where Nintendo’s Peter Main let off a little steam. Main took the stage and pointed the large plastic Super NES bazooka at SEGA’s booth, saying “Nintendo’s newest light gun has pinpoint accuracy from long distances. It’s also rather perfect for hedgehog hunting.”

Things began to really heat up when third party developers were no longer willing to work exclusively with Nintendo and began developing games for both companies. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Mortal Kombat which was released for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  Sega, who had wholeheartedly embraced older, more mature gamers, gave consumers the option to show blood when dealing damage to opponents. Nintendo stuck to its family friendly guns and changed the blood to gray sweat. Much to Nintendo’s surprise, they received tons of letters from angry parents about the censorship.

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Sega’s victory was short lived.

In their effort to beat Nintendo with the sheer number of games published and a flashy marketing campaign, Sega forgot about quality control. Although Sega’s system was more powerful, a large quantity of games were failures. By the end of 1994 Nintendo was leading sales again thanks to Donkey Kong Country. 

Sega consoles may be a thing of the past, but Sonic lives on and so does the rivalry between the speedster and the mushroom loving plumber. Today’s battles take place in Olympic stadiums, tennis courts, race tracks, and brawl stages where Mario and Sonic can go head to head and gamers determine the champion. The epitome of Red vs Blue, Mario and Sonic have been at it for years and there is no sign of a white flag from either side just yet.


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