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A Brief History of Nintendo Cartridges

If a modern game doesn’t work properly on launch, you can’t just take out a cartridge and blow on it like you did back then. But you can still try the old turning it off and on trick. Nintendo has gone through some drastic changes over the last 40 or so years. Games came in all shapes and sizes from the retro NES cartridge to today’s switch cards. And in today’s post, we’ll take a walk through gaming history and look at the evolution of Nintendo’s game cartridges.

NES Cartridge

While Nintendo wasn’t the first video game company to come out with cartridges, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the company’s first big step into the home video game market. The NES began after Nintendo’s initial success at video game arcade cabinets back in the early 80s. Nintendo wanted their cartridges to be the size of a cassette tape. But in the end, they were twice as big as initially planned. When Nintendo aimed for the North American market, they made a few drastic changes to the console’s appearance and also their games. The NES game cartridge was considerably larger than their Famicom counterparts. While it may have differed from the Japanese console in a lot of ways, the classic NES console and cartridge would pave the way for Nintendo in the future. Even today, a lot of fans see the NES as their first real game console with that cartridge’s memorable loading sound.

Game Boy Cartridge

A few years after the NES’s success, Nintendo was looking to break into a new market. ‘What if people could enjoy our games on the go?’ ‘What if we could store 8-bit games in people’s pockets and have them play anywhere?’ Mind-blown! Thus, in 1989, the first Game Boy was released. With Game Boy players could choose from the wide selection of games because of the GB cartridges. They were small enough to be portable while still capable of playing 8-bit games. While the GB itself would go through several changes in its life, the cartridges would not see a substantial change.

SNES Cartridge

New system means more power, more bits, and a different cartridge. When the NES was phased out, it was replaced with its next evolution – the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Not only did the SNES have some of the most notable titles in Nintendo’s history, but the early 90s would be the start of what we know now as the console wars. At that time, Sega launched the Genesis as a direct competitor to Nintendo. This is where we get the blue blur himself – Sonic the Hedgehog goes up against Mario. As for cartridges, they would undergo a smaller design compared to the NES and employ a few physical region lock features.

Game Boy Advance Cartridge

The trend during the 2000s would be to make things smaller and smaller. In 2001, the world welcomed the Game Boy Advance that ushered in the 32-bit era in handheld gaming. Graphically, the GBA is similar to the SNES, but what made the GBA stand out was that the cartridges were considerably smaller. In addition to the smaller size, the GBA had a number of cartridge-related peripherals. One of the other ones was a cleaner cartridge. This was a white cartridge that had a soft cloth that would clean the connectors of the system.

GameCube Cartridge

In the same year the GBA dropped, Nintendo released what many believed to be the greatest console the company ever made –the GameCube. The most notable change is the transition away from cartridges to micro DVD discs. The system read optical discs that were noticeably smaller than normal DVDs. Unlike its competitors at that time, GC could not play normal CDs or DVDs.

Nintendo DS Cartridge

When you’re trying to innovate, sometimes more is in fact better. In 2004, nobody could have seen the DS coming and being such a massive hit. The additional screen and upgraded graphical capabilities were just what players wanted at that time. The Nintendo DS offered a unique experience with the addition of a touchscreen, but it could still play the GBA games just fine. Of course, the DS didn’t have cartridges, at least not in the way we’ve talked about them up to this point. NDS cartridges were smaller still. Smaller than their GBA counterparts and resembled SD cards. The cartridges underwent drastic changes only upon the 3DS arrival. They included a notch that would fit in a 3DS but not in a normal DS.

  • By the way, do you know where those retro DS and lots of other Nintendo classic titles are stored? You don’t need to buy vintage cartridges, of course. They come in the form of ROMs! With the Nintendo DS Romset, you can enjoy the best old-school games on your modern devices!

Wii Cartridge

With the Wii came the new way to store games. In an ironic twist, given the Wii’s orthodox appearance and innovations, the system ran on normal sized optical discs. While we would later get the Wii U, nothing would change substantially to the system, discs, or games.

Switch Cartridge

Released in 2017, the Switch marries the idea of console gaming and handheld gaming with the tablet and docking port. Switch games are stored on micro cards similar to the ones used on a DS, though, surprisingly, even smaller.

And that is a look at the major Nintendo cartridges over the years. If you want to pay tribute to the legendary legacy of Nintendo, you can download a nice emulator designed to run the game of your favorite system, grab a couple of ROM games, and dive into the realm of digital adventures and primordial fun!

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Written by Marcus Richards

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