These video game consoles defined your childhood and helped pave the way for connected living


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It’s 30 years since Nintendo released its handheld console, the Game Boy. Gaming has changed a lot since then, with today’s devices offering users top-notch graphics, in-depth stories and online gameplay.

While it wasn’t the first handheld gaming device, the Game Boy had mass market appeal, durability and a strong stable of games.

Here, CNBC takes a look at some of the consoles that, over the course of a few years, defined gaming in the 1990s and early 2000s, paving the way for today’s connected, hyper-fast and immersive systems.

1988: Sega Genesis/Mega Drive

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Sega’s 16-bit Mega Drive — known as the Genesis in North America — was launched in Japan in 1988.

Games on the console, which came on cartridges that were inserted into the top of the device, included “Sonic the Hedgehog,” “Earthworm Jim” and “FIFA International Soccer.”

In some homes, the Mega Drive’s shelf-life was extended by the release of the 32X in 1994.

Maligned in some quarters for being a clunky stop-gap before the launch of the CD-based Sega Saturn, the 32X served as an add-on that gave Mega Drive owners the opportunity to play games such as “Virtua Fighter.”

1989: Game Boy

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Since its release to the Japanese market in 1989, the Game Boy has gone on to sell more than 100 million units worldwide, becoming perhaps the most iconic handheld console of all time.

The original Game Boy weighed around 300 grams with batteries and had a battery life of approximately 15 hours. While its screen offered only four shades of grey the device boasted legendary games such as “Tetris.”

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Several other iterations of the Game Boy, such as the Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color, were released during the 1990s, but the original remains a design classic.

Rival devices included Sega’s Game Gear and Atari’s Lynx, yet for many gamers in the 1990s the Game Boy was the go-to entertainment choice for long road trips and train journeys.

1990: Super Nintendo Entertainment System

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Known to U.S. and European gamers as the SNES, Nintendo’s rival to the Mega Drive was launched in Japan in 1990, where it was called the Super Famicom.

A 16-bit console, it had stereo sound, color graphics and double the built-in memory of its Nintendo stablemate, the much-loved NES. Games on the SNES included “Super Mario Kart” and “Donkey Kong Country.”

The SNES also had an in-built digital signal processor, which enabled it to take 2D shapes and, in the words of Nintendo, “twist and spin them through three dimensions.” This enabled classic games such as “Super Mario Kart” to, as Nintendo puts it, generate “pseudo-3D tracks.”

1994: Sony PlayStation

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Launched in Japan in 1994, the Sony PlayStation was a CD-based console that, along with rivals such as the Sega Saturn, launched a new era of home video gaming in which 3D graphics became the norm.

Classic, genre-defining games such as “Metal Gear Solid” offered PlayStation users slick visuals, intricate gameplay and sweeping story lines. Others, such as “Crash Bandicoot,” were defined by their lush, luminous colors and fast-paced gameplay.

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According to Sony, the PlayStation became the first console to ship more than 100 million units globally.

1996: Nintendo 64

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While other companies such as Sony and Sega turned to CDs for their new consoles, Nintendo continued to use cartridges for its 64-bit console, the Nintendo 64.

Nintendo released the N64 in Japan on June 23 1996, selling more than 500,000 on launch day. The system offered four controller ports, 3D graphics and came in a variety of different colors.

Much of its focus was on games that could be played by multiple users, such as the James Bond-themed “GoldenEye 007” and “Mario Kart 64.”

The N64’s controllers were also unique, coming with a control stick for rotation and 13 other buttons. An innovative “Rumble Pak” could be inserted into the back of the controller to provide physical “shudders” during gameplay. 

2000: PlayStation 2

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Sony’s PlayStation 2 was launched at the start of the millennium and marked another turning point in home entertainment.

The console came with “high definition 3D visuals” and, significantly, some capacity for online gaming.

With an in-built DVD player, it also showed how our homes would become increasingly interconnected, with one device capable of carrying out several different functions.

Incredibly popular, over 155 million PS2 units have been sold worldwide, while as of 2018 nearly 11,000 games had been made for the device.

2001: Xbox

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The present day

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Today, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo continue to develop and release consoles. It’s a given that these devices offer users sophisticated graphics and connected gameplay, but they have also become entertainment hubs that provide a range of services.

These “add-ons” include virtual reality gaming and access to streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify.

As for the future, tech giant Google will soon release Stadia, a cloud-based system will that enable games to be streamed on a TV without the need for a console.

Regardless of how technology develops, tomorrow’s consoles will be defined by the things that made the Game Boy so popular: ease of use, resilience, quality games and fun. 



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