Last weekend, I had the privilege of visiting the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York. While the museum normally houses a number of amazing pieces of video game memorabilia, the primary purpose of my trip was to check out the museum’s current exhibit entitled “Playing with Power: Celebrating 30 Years of the Nintendo Entertainment System.” I was excited for the opportunity, but unprepared to see such an impressive tribute to the company.
A joint production between the Strong’s International Center for the History of Electronic Games and the Ritsumeikan Center of Games Research, “Playing with Power” takes visitors on a tour through the history of Nintendo. It would be easy to start that tour with NES, but the exhibit begins by featuring some of Nintendo’s earliest products, as well. A Love Tester Device, Hanafuda cards, a Game & Watch handheld, and many other artifacts are prominently displayed at the start of the exhibit, showing the company’s modest origins. Of course, any discussion of the NES would be incomplete without showcasing the Famicom and its Disk System attachment. The Disk System is also displayed with a pair of launch titles: Baseball and The Legend of Zelda, which was of course converted to cartridge format for international release.
From the Power Glove to the Zapper, the exhibit features nearly every peripheral from the NES era. As both a gamer and a long-time contributor to this site, I was unprepared to see or learn anything that I didn’t already know about the NES, but there was one particular peripheral that I had never come across before: the NES Hands Free. The device was specifically created after a child with paralysis requested a way to play video games. The company made 2,000 units, which were sold at cost ($179). Several other rarities are housed in the exhibit as well, including the debut issue of Nintendo Power. There’s even a copy of the Nintendo World Championships cartridge, which regularly fetches more than $100,000 on the aftermarket!
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the exhibit was the oversized screen and NES controller on display. The original Super Mario Bros. can be played in the exhibit, though it can be a bit more difficult given the sheer size of the controller. Despite the increased difficulty, younger fans lined up for several minutes to experience the classic title. It was amazing to see that, 30 years after its original release, Shigeru Miyamoto’s classic game can still prove so enduring.
The focus of “Playing with Power” is primarily on NES, but the exhibit concludes with a look at some of Nintendo’s more recent products. Wii U, 3DS, and Amiibo have a prominent display case, in an effort to show how these characters and themes have evolved since their debut. Also playable in the exhibit is Super Mario Maker and a Mario Kart arcade unit from Namco. The former title seems like a natural fit, perfectly marrying the history of the NES and Nintendo’s current console.
While the exhibit should be more than enough to excite Nintendo fans of all ages, the Strong Museum of Play has a number of other attractions on display that should provide more than enough incentive for gamers to pay a visit. The museum’s collection of video games and related materials is the biggest in the United States, and one of the biggest in the world. Games can be found throughout the entire museum, from the most famous (Pong, Doom, Super Mario 64) to some of the most infamous (the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man). Several games throughout the museum are free to play, but the museum also houses a very reasonably priced arcade stocked with titles such as X-Men, Street Fighter II, Donkey Kong 3, and many more. The museum also has a plethora of memorabilia. Displays spotlighting the merchandise of Mario and Pac-Man (pictured below) are a particular highlight.
If there’s one minor gripe I had with the exhibit, it’s the fact that the museum boasts no merchandise for fans to take home. I expected to see the exhibit’s excellent design on t-shirts, posters, or some other paraphernalia. With the amount of awesome video game merchandise on display, this seemed like a real missed opportunity. Still, gamers that are able to make the trip will find that it’s more than worth it.
The exhibit “Playing with Power: Celebrating 30 Years of the Nintendo Entertainment System” runs at the Strong Museum of Play through April 24. You can find more information on the museum’s official website. For more images from my trip to the Strong Museum of Play, check out Nintendojo’s Instagram account!