All good things eventually come to an end, and by the early í90s Nintendoís juggernaut was clearly saddling up to saunter casually into the sunset. The system simply didnít have a place in the world anymore: Next-generation machines (including the NESís own successor) were growing in popularity, and the insanely successful Game Boy offered publishers a low-cost 8-bit platform for their high return-on-investment needs. Outclassed by its descendent, undercut by its portable counterpart, the NES was well and truly over.

Even in obsolescence, though, the console continued to grace its flagging pool of supporters with a steady stream of worthwhile software. Many of these titles went overlooked in their time, only reaching a state of public awareness years later via emulation and online ROM distribution. Many is the gamer who rued overlooking the colorful and inventive Kirbyís Adventure -- to say nothing of collectors who wish they had picked up Little Samson or Power Blade 2 before their value reached triple-digit figures.

Here again Nintendo honed a strategy -- or capitalized on a trend, in any case -- that would become a cornerstone of their business for decades to come. As NES fans migrated upward to the Super NES, their old consoles were passed along as hand-me-downs to younger siblings, cousins, neighbors, or garage sale patrons. While the company pushed its advanced 16-bit console on older and more dedicated players, the NES found new life among this second-hand demographic. The NES library subtly began aiming for younger players, and Nintendo reprinted its most popular titles in new, budget-priced editions to hook their new audience on the classics. Even the console itself was redesigned with a cheaper, less sophisticated model that, unlike the original NES, deliberately mimicked the toylike lines and colors of the Famicom.

Meanwhile, third parties continued to mine the NES market even as it faded away. With more than 30 million systems in homes, there was plenty of money to be made for those with the fortitude to ride out the market to its final state of obsolescence. And some of those late-era NES games were amazing, both in a technical sense and in terms of design.

Gamers who didnít immediately abandon their NESes upon tasting the sweet succour of 16 bits were insiders to one of gamingís most secret clubs: People who knew about games like Kirbyís Adventure and Little Samson years before the rest of the world stumbled across them... and, possibly, those who bought some of the eraís rare, low-run masterpieces back when they were standard retail price rather than hundreds of dollars on eBay.

Few consoles have ever enjoyed such a lively post-retirement lifestyle. But then, few consoles have been as huge as the NES.

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