Nintendo Power: How Nintendo Almost Revolutionized Gaming by Creating an All-in-One Cartridge 27 Years Ago

Nintendo Power was a service for SNES and Game Boy that allowed users to add new games to a reusable flash memory cartridge at certain stores.

Nintendo Power
No comments Twitter Flipboard E-mail

Throughout its history in the video game industry, Nintendo has released a handful of add-on services and accessories for its consoles with the aim of giving players broader and more varied experiences. Talking about all of these devices in detail would likely take several articles. To put it simply: Nintendo had several tremendously original ideas, some of which ended up being the first sketches of a future concepts.

One of these ideas was Nintendo Power. In another timeline, it might have had a triumphant destiny if the company had opted for a different distribution strategy than the one it decided on in the late 90s. However, by releasing Nintendo Power only in Japan, the rest of the world missed out on something revolutionary.

When some hear the name “Nintendo Power,” they may automatically think about of the colorful magazine that held a place of honor on newsstands in the U.S. and Canada for 24 years. The service we’re talking about today has nothing to do with the publication dedicated to Nintendo’s projects, though. We’re talking about an additional service for the SNES and the Game Boy that took a timid step into the world of digital video game distribution through a unique concept: an all-in-one flash memory cartridge.

The Power to Renew Your Video Game Collection With a Single Cartridge

Nintendo Power wasn't the first service from the creators of Super Mario to experiment with flash storage subsystems. As we said before, talking about all of Nintendo’s experiments in this field would require several articles. Nintendo Power put the company’s entire catalogue of games up until 1997, the year it was released, within reach of users. It gave them the possibility of renewing their collection of games through a single cartridge, to which they could add and remove games at a special terminal.

The company announced the new service in Next Generation magazine: “Nintendo will launch a new peripheral for the SNES in Japan that will allow games to be downloaded over phone lines,” the news item’s introduction read. “The in-store video game terminals will allow players to select the game they want to record and add it to their cart at a price ranging from $10 to $40. The new system allows stores to free up space for additional Nintendo 64 products while still satisfying the seemingly insatiable Japanese demand for 16-bit games.”

The company described Nintendo Power as a service for “downloading games over telephone lines.”

One of the great benefits of this system was the price. Beyond the prices discussed for individual games we mentioned earlier, the company offered Nintendo Power as a cheaper alternative to buying physical video games: “The new device, which is essentially a flash cartridge and costs around $50, will dramatically reduce the manufacturing and distribution costs of future SNES titles,” the Next Generation article explained. Despite being an innovative idea for the late 1990s, Nintendo decided to keep the device in Japan.

A Nintendo Power cartridge A Nintendo Power cartridge. Source: FU3L on Reddit.

An Idea That Fell into Oblivion

Nintendo released a few exclusives through this system, many of which were Picross games popular with Japanese gamers. This flash memory remained in stores for quite some time, with Nintendo eventually expanding the service to include titles for Game Boy. The Nintendo Power cartridge stayed in the market for 10 long years before it was discontinued in 2007.

Sadly, even though it was a pretty advanced idea for its time, Nintendo Power is now just a footnote in the glorious history of Nintendo. And as is usually the case with such devices, it has become a collector’s item for those who treasure all the bits and pieces of Nintendo history. Nintendo enthusiasts have even given homes to the terminals that allowed users to add and remove games to their cartridges.

It’s impossible to know how Nintendo Power would have fared if the company had distributed it worldwide, but it certainly managed to position itself as a curiosity in the company’s history. If it had been developed differently, the service might have established itself as one of the industry’s great revolutions. We’ll never know.

Related | Nintendo Switch 2: News, Rumored Release Date, Price, and Everything We Know So Far

Home o Index