May 6, 2023

The Great Cartridge Debate: Why Nintendo Stuck with Cartridges and Paid the Price

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The Great Cartridge Debate: Why Nintendo Stuck with Cartridges and Paid the Price

By Nick | May 6, 2023

In the 1990s, gaming consoles were in the middle of a technological revolution - CD-based games were fast becoming the norm. But Nintendo, the gaming giant, had other ideas. While the rest of the industry moved to CDs, Nintendo stuck with their tried and true cartridges for their Nintendo 64. This decision puzzled many gamers and industry experts. But there were reasons behind this choice, and we'll explore them in this post.

The Great Cartridge Debate: Why Nintendo Stuck with Cartridges and Paid the Price

More Speed But Less Data

The argument for Nintendo's use of cartridges was two-fold. First, cartridges were faster than CD-ROMs. Loading times were much quicker, and cartridges allowed for more immediate data transfer, which was especially important for fast-paced games. This meant less waiting and more gameplay. Secondly, cartridges were much cheaper to produce than CDs - a crucial factor that helped Nintendo sell its console at a more reasonable price.

However, there were downsides to cartridges. While they were faster than CD's, they could not hold as much data as CDs. This led to limitations in the size and content of games. Moreover, the cost issue became significant as games became more complex and required larger cartridges which ultimately led to higher production costs.

But it was not just about technical specs and costs either, as there was an emotional aspect to it as well. Cartridges had been the backbone of the gaming industry since the beginning. For veterans and loyal gamers alike, cartridge-based games, with their iconic plastic casings and unique artwork, held a special place in their hearts. Nintendo recognized this sentiment and sought to leverage it in their favor.

Nintendo's decision to stick with cartridges came at a price, however. Third-party developers were not too happy with the limitations of cartridges, and many of them chose to develop games for Sony's PlayStation, which was entirely CD-based. This led to a loss of many great games that could have been on the Nintendo 64. Moreover, the limitations of cartridges, especially the storage limitations, meant that Nintendo struggled to adapt to the newer, more sophisticated games being released on other platforms.

CD or Not CD

While the choice to stick with cartridges may seem misguided in hindsight, it made perfect sense for Nintendo. The faster load times, lower production costs, and nostalgia factor made them a viable option at the time. However, as the industry advanced and games became more sophisticated, the limitations of cartridges began to hinder Nintendo's growth.

Though they succeeded with the Nintendo 64, the console ultimately fell short compared to its competitors, whose more excellent storage and capabilities were far more impressive. Regardless, the cartridge-based era of gaming holds a special place in our hearts, and as we look back, we are reminded of Nintendo's decision to stick to what they knew best.


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