Today Nintendo is a reference poin in the world of gaming consoles, and there was a time, during the NES era, when Nintendo actually MEANT video game console. But every story has its starting point and the worldwide success of the japanese firm has its beginning in the first console released back in the 70s. This month in fact, Nintendo celebrates the 40th anniversary of its first console, the Color TV Game.
The story in a nutshell
Color TV Game, actually consist of a set of 5 different 1st generation consoles (PONG clones) released between 1977 and 1978 only in Japan. The first of them was Color TV Game 6, a joint venture with Mitsubishu Electronic and consisted in 6 PONG variants (actually 3 variants, each one for 1 or 2 players) named Hockey, Volley Ball and Tennis. The last Color TV Game was released in 1980 even if its name was Computer TV Game, a console to play Othello.
Even if the gaming world towards the end on the 70s was shifting to the 2nd generation consoles (the most famous, the Atari 2600, was released in 1977, the same year Nintendo released the Color TV Game 6), Japan was still a bit behind so Nintendo had no rivals with its innovative entertrainment system. Taking advantage of a long and numerous tradition of PONG clones, Nintendo put a particular care oin the realization of its console, and this can clerarly be seen in the visual aspect of the games, no more blocky black and white PONG variants, and in the aestethic details of the console itself. It’s only my personal opinioin, but the Color TV Block Breaker is probably the most beautiful 1st generation console ever released.
The brain behind the Color TV Game consoles, or at least begind the first two, was the Mitsubishi M58815P chip
Depending on the console, we have different controls: the Color TV Game 6 is more like an RCA Studio 2 with two built in paddles , while the Color TV Game 15 has two detachable controllers. Then we have a driving wheel for the Color TV Racing 112, again a potentiometer for the Color TV Block Breaker and various buttons in the Computer TV Game
Differently from other PONG clones, the Color TV Game looks way more beautiful. First thing first when playing tennis, the field is green, and this is a big improvement on the PONG formula.
Even the following games show some great improvement. The Racing game 112 for example has almost nothing to envy to the early Atari 2600 games, as you can see from the video below.
What can we say about the game. As I’ve already told you the first consoles were (almost) shameless PONG clones so even though the names are “Tennis” ot “Volley” or “Hockey” we are talking about variations of the two-sticks-and-a-ball formula.
The Color TV Game 15 has a superior number of games but…actually are the same as in the Color TV Game 6! Let me explain better: Since both of the consoles share the same chip, both of the consoles have virtually the same games (15 in total) but in the first console, for some unknown reason Nintendo gave to the end user only 6 of them. Just to be complete, here’s the list of games available
- Tennis A (テニスA)
- Tennis B (テニスB)
- Volley A (バレーA)
- Volley B (バレーB)
- Hockey A (ホッケーA)
- Hockey B (ホッレーB)
- Ping Pong (ピンポン)
- Shooting Game (射撃ゲーム)
The first seven games are available for 1 or 2 players (back then every difference was considered a proper game), while the last only for 1 player, giving the total of 15 games.
A particularity of the first two models was the absence of a power supply: the consoles were battery powered and the external lead had to be purchased apart. Unfortunately the power cords with the supply were quiote heavy back then; for example the Computer TV Game one was like 2 kilos, making the console big and bulky, even because Nintendo squeezed all the arcade hardware into an home console. It was quite advanced for the times but was as well difficulto to handle.
Following what Coleco did with its range of differente consoles, Nintendo in 1978, precisely on June 8th, exactly one year after the release of the Color TV Game 15, put on the market the Color TV Racing 112, a driving simulator that, however, looks very poor and cheap, but is notable for being the first console on which Shigeru Miyamoto worked after he got hired at Nintendo. Then we have the last two specimen, Color TV Block Breaker that goes under the laber “Breakout clones” and Computer TV Game to play the port of the first Nintendo arcade game, Computer Othello, released in a limited quantity and for a limited time.
The legacy…we all know what happenend to Nintendo in the 80s. The Color TV Game consoles are just the first step of the worldwide success nintendo got shortly afterwards. In a few years Nintendo would have released the first Game & Watch, then the Famicom and, in 1983, the NES that put the big N on the top of the video games world for more than a decade.
Talking about the numbers, some of the consoles were released in limited amounts (for example were released only a few hundred copies of Color TV Game 5) while other like Color TV Game 15 sold roughly a million units, while the Racing TV game 160k units.