From Pitfall Harry to Duke Nukem: Retro Consoles and the Games that Made them Great
Every technology has to begin somewhere. For the home console universe, the retro consoles paved the way for the big hitters out today. While perhaps laughable by today's standards, the early consoles managed to pull off a lot of technological prestidigitation to cram amazing games into consoles that would easily be outperformed by most modern calculators.
The Atari 2600
While not the first home console, the 2600 was the first to sell in big enough numbers for companies to start seriously considering video games as a "market." Like most consoles, the 2600 had its share of shovelware. However, there were gems like Pitfall and Demon Attack that gamers couldn't get enough of.
While the 2600 had few competitors aside from the much less prominent Odyssey 2, the death knell came with the introduction of Mattel's Intellivision. The console boasted superior graphics, improved sound, and a fancier controller. A strong lineup of sports games coupled with unusual but creative games like Microsurgeon and Dracula helped propel the console into prominence.
The Nintendo Entertainment System quickly became king of the hill in 1983 due to the power of the system. No longer did gamers have play "tiny" games that were simplistic in scope and graphics. Lengthy, sophisticated games with stories and larger than life characters like Mario sent sales skyrocketing. Aside from Super Mario Bros., other classic titles included Castlevania, and Mega Man. These led to the NES becoming the default home console.
When the Super Nintendo was released in 1990, it was already playing catch-up to the Sega Genesis. Sonic the Hedgehog became the face of the company, and his series of games presented the first serious platforming challenges to the mighty Nintendo and their hero, Mario. For the first time consoles like the Genesis were able to accurately port coin-op games like Altered Beast, allowing a true arcade experience at home.
While Nintendo was releasing the last significant cartridge-based system, the Nintendo 64, other console makers had made the jump to optical media. The most notable of these systems was the PlayStation. Spyro the Dragon and Tomb Raider were among the outstanding offerings for this revolutionary console. The PlayStation served as the bridge between the classic consoles of the past and the modern day powerhouses.