Flashback Friday: The Evolution of Gaming Consoles

Today our Nintendo Wii arrived and so in light of that, this week's Flashback Friday we'll be taking a look back at the various gaming systems I've experienced in the last 25 years.

Now last week, in our flashback to Toys of the 80s, I mentioned my early gaming experiences with both the Atari and Nintendo NES systems, so rather than repeat myself (and save you guys the time) let's move on to the next systems on the list.

Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis
In the early-mid 90s, we were already accustomed to Mario, Luigi and Bowser, but then Sega introduced us to Sonic the Hedgehog and his nemesis Doctor Robotnik with the release of their gaming system, Sega Genesis. With better graphics and play than the Nintendo NES, it was only natural for Nintendo to update their system and give us the Super Nintendo.

Most people I knew had one system or the other, since they generally offered the same game selections (save for the exclusive Nintendo and Sega characters) and the graphics and game play were pretty much the same, however I did know a few people that had both. Me, I got the Sega Genesis - I remember getting it in 5th grade, in the fall of '94 as a reward for getting good grades on my report; my dad took me to the now defunct Funcoland store and we got a good deal one that game with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. While I enjoyed my new system, getting games like the Lion King and Toy Story for Christmas later on, I still played my original Nintendo from time to time.

In the mid-90s, we were introduced to a few more systems, the first of which was the 3DO - the first system to use CDs instead of cartridges. I remember seeing this one in Media Play and playing the game Gex. The graphics were pretty neat, however the sticker price was high and there wasn't nearly the game selection that Sega and Nintendo had to offer for their systems.

Sega Saturn, Sony Playstation and Nintendo 64
http://gameconsoles.net.au/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/nintendo-64-console-300x273.jpgIn 1995, Sega released their next console, the Sega Saturn, which was one of the first consoles to include a memory card function. However unlike the previous Genesis system, the Sega Saturn wasn't as popular and couldn't compare to the Sony Playstation, which was released in the same year!

The Sony Playstation also used CDs instead of the traditional game cartridge and due to its popularity, graphics and gameplay, it proved that Sony had arrived in the gaming world.

Nintendo soon offered up their latest in gaming - the Nintendo 64 - however unlike the rest of the consoles on the market, Nintendo decided to stick with the traditional gaming cartridges instead of making the switch to CD. One thing the N64 consoles had the others didn't was the option of being able to plug in 4 controllers instead of just 2. Sure, there were accessories that the other consoles offered to increase the number of players, but the N64 had theirs built in. While the N64 didn't have the lengthy load time that the Playstation and Sega Saturn did, compared to the Playstation, the graphics didn't seem as great - Playstation offered more life-like graphics in their games (I remember my family and myself being in awe of neat it looked!) the N64's still felt a bit cartoon-y.

In my house, we got a Playstation for the family back in '98, after having visited with out of town relatives the previous summer who had the console and introduced us to it. Eventually, we also got an N64 for my younger sister, as the system seemed to appeal more to the younger demographic.

http://media.teamxbox.com/faq/xbox.jpgSega Dreamcast, PS2, Gamecube and Xbox

The Sega Dreamcast, despite being the last console Sega would put out, was the system that paved the way for our current gaming systems. A neat thing about the Sega Saturn was that you could put the game CDs into your car stereo (for example) and listen to the game soundtrack (I knew a guy in high school who did this often - when he wasn't blaring either the Matrix or Mortal Kombat soundtracks, Rammstein or Rob Zombie, he'd have a Sega CD playing!). Deemed "ahead of its time" back in 1998, the Dreamcast was the first console to include a built-in modem and a way to connect to the internet for online gaming. Unfortunately for Sega, the consoles that would soon follow would utilize this technology and vastly improve on it.

The PS2 - Sony's follow-up to the original Playstation - also offered the availability to connect to the internet and was the first console to be able to play DVDs. It was also backwards compatible, so in addition to playing the PS2 games, you could also still play your original Playstation games on it.

Nintendo soon followed suit and released another new system, the Gamecube, which was Nintendo's first console to a CD instead of a game cartridge, but unlike the other consoles, Nintendo's gaming CDs were mini-discs. Like the N64, it also continued the Nintendo trend of offering 4 controller ports instead of just 2. Still, unlike the others, the graphics still didn't feel as life-like as those of the PS2 and the soon to be released Xbox.

The Xbox was Microsoft's first big venture into the gaming world and had a unique feature of including a harddrive in the console that was similar to that of a basic desktop computer. Originally, gamers were iffy about this new system, as the console was bigger than it's competitors, cost a bit more, and the feel of the controller was a bit strange, however that was all put aside with the release of the ever popular shooter franchise Halo, which was now exclusive to Xbox. It also didn't required memory cards, as it could save the game data directly onto it's harddrive.

My family eventually upgraded to the PS2, as the added DVD feature and backwards compatibility with the original Playstation games was a pretty nice combo for our family rec room in the basement and eventually my sister got a Gamecube. Later on in my college career, I received the slimmer version of the PS2, as I had plenty of games, but no system to play them on since the original PS2 was considered "the family's" and was also being used as the basement's sole DVD player. A roommate and my ex both had the Gamecube, so I also played that system from time to time as well. I had tried the Xbox over at my ex's, as his roommate had one, and I did enjoy the Xbox exclusive title Fable, however the cost of one was too far out of my reach.

Something else noteworthy during this time was the return and increase popularity of alternate controllers. We all remember the plastic Nintendo gun that was essential for playing Duck Hunt on the NES back in the day, but not since then were alternate controllers very popular. With the release of Guitar Hero for PS2 and Rock Band for Xbox, these games utilized and made popular controllers in the shape of objects such as guitars, microphones and drums.

And now we are brought to generation of consoles.

http://application.denofgeek.com/images/m/PS3.jpgXbox360, PS3 and the Wii
http://watchitguide.net/guide/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/Nintendo-Wii.jpgIn 2005, Microsoft released an upgraded version of it's Xbox, titled Xbox 360. Similar to the previous version, the 360 offered a bigger harddrive, HD DVD plug-ins, and introduced the Xbox Live feature for online gameplay with others all over the globe.

In response, Sony released the next generation of Playstation - the PS3. The PS3 went a step beyond its previous version, now doubling as a Blu-Ray DVD player and the first console to support HDMI output of the box. Like the Xbox, it includes a harddrive and no longer requires memory cards to save game content. Up to 7 devices can connect to the PS3 via Bluetooth as well.

The same week the PS3 was released in the US, Nintendo released their latest and groundbreaking new console, the Wii. Like the others, it uses CDs for games, has a built in harddrive so there is no need for memory cards and has the ability to connect to the internet. What makes this system unique however is the groundbreaking gameplay. The wireless controllers are called Remotes and numerous attachments can be connected to make gameplay more interesting. The controllers are also motion sensitive, so it requires you to actually get off your butt and  interact with the games, encouraging a bit of a workout with many of its game titles. It also offers access to play many old school Nintendo titles you may not have played since the original NES days and it also plays Gamecube games! Before getting ours, I had only played it once at a friends and briefly via the in store displays, however the system is so groundbreaking in its gameplay, I had to get one - this is one console you MUST add to your gaming collection. As a workout tool, its great, as it provides so many different interactive titles, and as a gaming system, it still acts as a regular gaming console.

While we would like to get a PS3 someday, right now the cost is too far out of our budget and our PS2 still works just fine for now, so I'm just fine with our Wii and PS2.

Gaming consoles have come quite far in the last 25 years - it'll be interesting to see how they will be improved upon in the next 25 years!

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