The Wii U, the latest home video game console from Nintendo, could be the hot toy this holiday season—several of them are already selling for over $500 on eBay.
So let’s hit the pause button on our shiny new (and very expensive) Wii U and take a look back at Nintendo’s first home console.
Most gamers assume the company’s first foray into the home market was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Wrong! The incredibly popular NES, which helped Nintendo resurrect the floundering video game industry and rule it like a God during the latter half of the ‘80s with games like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Duck Hunt, was predated by a console that debuted in Japan in 1977. The uninspiringly-titled Color TV Game, which was never released stateside, was a huge hit in Japan—more than three million units were sold there between 1977 and 1980.
The first console, the Color TV Game 6, contained six tennis-like games that were, basically, Pong knock-offs, and in color (the background was green, just like in real-life tennis!). Players sat close to the TV and controlled their on-screen paddles not with joysticks or controllers, but dials on the machine itself, which was powered with batteries or an AC adapter. A year later, Nintendo released Color TV Game 15, which featured over twice as many variations of tennis/Pong along with the breakthrough technology of controllers connected to the console with wires.
Meanwhile, the American video game market was dominated by the more advanced Atari 2600, with games like Frogger, Centipede, and Pac-Man. The Atari wasn’t officially released in Japan until 1983. Nintendo tried to compete a little bit with its third console in the series, Color TV Racing 11. It included a racing game and two controllers along with a steering wheel and a gearshift attached to the console. The final two Color TV Games featured a knock-off of Atari’s Breakout and a version of Othello respectively.
Here’s a Japanese TV commercial for the first two consoles. Exciting.
While the Color TV Games were fairly unambitious, they did allow one plucky young student to get his foot in the door at Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto was hired to help design the casings for the consoles, and went on to create many of Nintendo’s most popular titles like Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda. He is now considered one of the most successful video game creators of all time.
The Color TV Games are a collector’s item these days. Depending on their condition and whether or not they still have their original box, the consoles sell for between $100 and $2,000.