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A Brief History of Gaming
The Wii Mini & the Post-Generation Redesign
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on December 06, 2012   |   Episode 26 (Show Archive)  

            
EGM Issue 1
The Wii Mini is coming ... to Canada!
Nine short days after launching the Wii U, Nintendo abruptly announced the existence of the Wii Mini. Scheduled to be released throughout Canada tomorrow, the Wii Mini is a smaller, cheaper model that lacks GameCube and WiFi support. It's bare bones; the type of system where all you do is load in a game and press start. Did this come as a surprise to you? It shouldn't have, because this post-generation redesign is perfectly in line with old school Nintendo.

Console redesigns are common place in the games industry. Between Sony and Microsoft, we're looking at five very different game systems in the last seven years. But like everything else, Nintendo doesn't march

Maybe there are still a few Wii holdouts!
to the beat of the same drum. To date, the Mario-maker has yet to redesign their hardware in the middle of a console cycle. They've added new colors and tinkered with the inner guts, but Nintendo is not one to pull the redesign trigger early.

Instead, Nintendo chooses to release their redesigned consoles after their new system hits stores. Sometimes they wait two years, other times it's a year later and, in the case of the Wii, it's only three weeks after a system launch. While other companies have attempted similar promotions (Genesis 3, Sony's WiFi-less PSP in Europe, etc.), Nintendo has it down to a science.

Out of the five generations of concluded Nintendo home consoles, all but two have featured post-generation redesigns. It's not a coincidence that the holdouts were the two least successful systems -- Nintendo 64 (33 million units sold) and the GameCube (21 million). Between the Nintendo Entertainment System, Super NES and now the Wii, Nintendo has sold more than 200 million units, giving them a nice second wind for those unwilling to pony up the cash for an expensive new system.

Top Loading Nintendo Entertainment System
[ Product Name: NES-101 ]

Top Loading Nintendo Entertainment System
Release: Oct 15, 1993 - The NES-101 debuted 26 months after the launch of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.

What's New?: Beyond clubbing it repeatedly with the ugly stick, the biggest change to this 8-bit NES is where you insert the game. For nearly a decade we were used to blowing on the cartridges and then ramming them into the classic Nintendo's loading bay. If that wasn't enough, there was the satisfying sensation of clicking the game down; letting you know that it's (probably, hopefully) ready to go. Here you load the game on the top, which alleviates some of the mechanical problems associated with older machines.

What's Missing?: Forget that satisfying click, because this NES is missing a lot more than a loading bay. On the back you'll find fewer audio/video options, likely attributed to the lower cost parts used in the redesign. The only option available involves using an
RF switch, which is far from ideal. Far less important, cost cutting has resulted in a missing LCD light and a clunky on/off switch.

New Controller: Not only did the NES-101 have a funky new look, but it also came with a game controller that resembled a dog biscuit. But don't let its cuteness fool you, this rounded controller is far better than the sharp, rectangular pad that came bundled with the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
The look was inspired by the Super NES controller to the point of rip-off. And the fact that it's missing four buttons makes this pack-in look a little bare.

Upgrade?: Although small and compact, the NES-101 is a visual nightmare. This design seems to take all the wrong lessons from the Super NES. Half of the console is sloping, like somebody accidentally stepped on the poor thing. The buttons are also loud and clumsy feeling, ultimately giving off a feel of cheapness you didn't get with the original 1989 release. On the other hand, the top loader rarely has issues playing games and the controller is far more comfortable than the original pad. Then again, the lack of audio/video options and the weird button placement makes this hard to recommend. The NES-101 is definitely a downgrade.

Super NES "Junior"
[ Product Name: SNS-101 ]

Super Nintendo Entertainment System "Junior"
Release: October 20, 1997 - Released almost exactly four years after the NES-101 and thirteen months after the launch of the Nintendo 64.

Junior or Mini?: Technically, neither is correct. In Japan, Nintendo decided to name their redesigned console the Super Famicom Jr. However, here in the States, our Super NES didn't come with a proper name change. Instead you get the SNS-101, something you might not even notice if you don't look very carefully. Still, even without an official name change, fans of the console will call it the Super NES Junior, Mini, Micro or even Slim. The choice is yours.

What's Different?: Squint your eyes and the sleek new redesign looks a little like the original Super Famicom. As somebody who can't stand the look of the Super NES, the SNS-101 is a major upgrade. Unfortunately, the illusion is broken the moment you fully open your eyes. Much like the NES-101, the Super NES

Super Famicom
Micro offers a downgraded audio/video experience. Gone is the RF option, as well as S-Video and RGB out. The only way to enjoy this 16-bit experience is to use composite. Also missing is the eject button, though many of us aren't exactly mourning its absence.

Pack-In Game: Released in 1997, Nintendo was up against some insanely tough competition. Not only was the PlayStation starting to gain ground, but gamers also had a choice between the Sega Saturn and Nintendo's own 64-bit console. As a result, Big N sweetened the deal by offering one of several pack-in games. For many late adopters, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island was their
first game. There were retailer-exclusive pack-ins as well. Target offered The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Kirby Super Star, while Toys 'R' Us handed out Tetris Attack.

Upgrade?: Visually, this is a better looking Super NES. It's still not on the level of the original Super Famicom in Japan, but it's a definitely upgrade from the boxy monstrosity we saw in 1991. I also find the lack of an eject button to be a blessing and a curse. On one hand, the design of this machine is greatly improved thanks to the lack of a large unnecessary eject button. However, this means that you'll need to use two hands to change cartridges. The system is simply too light, making the eject process a clumsy affair. Nintendo comes close to nailing it on their second attempt, but no matter how many attempts, they just can't match the beauty of the Super Famicom.

The Handheld Inconsistency
While there's no denying the post-generation console redesign trend, the same cannot be said for Nintendo's long line of handheld systems. Most of these systems are redesigned multiple times within their lifetime,
occasionally adding new hardware and functionality. The Game Boy Advance, for example, saw two cosmetic redesigns only a few years apart. The Game Boy Advance SP came out before the Nintendo DS, while the GBA Micro hit store shelves a year later.

Speaking of the DS, Nintendo redesigned the handheld almost immediately. The Nintendo DS Lite came only nineteen months after launch, followed closely by the DSi and DSi XL. The Nintendo 3DS seems to be on a similar path, what with the recent release of the Nintendo 3DS XL.

Even the original Game Boy bucks the console trend. The original brick-sized handheld didn't get an update until 1996, when Nintendo lightened things up with the Game Boy Pocket. There was also the Game Boy Light, but that was only available in Japan. Before long, Nintendo opened the floodgates with various styles of Game Boy Color. The result is a strategy that clearly works for the handheld market.

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