Nintendo reigns supreme at Science Museum’s ‘Power UP’ exhibit
Entering the London Science Museum’s Basement Gallery, you’re greeted by an uncomfortable warmth that often accompanies gaming events, but that’s soon forgotten when you cast your eyes over the sea of consoles on the prowl. We’re all so used to seeing old gaming systems locked behind glass, perched on a stand with just enough lighting to give them an almost awe-inspiring presence. But what the Power UP expo understands, however, is that consoles are meant to be cheek.
With 160 consoles in total, the exhibition hosts everything from the Binatone TV Master to the Nintendo Switch. Everything is out in the open and ready to be played. You can try classic platform games like Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog, moving on to the fighting section with a bit of Street Fighter II and Super Smash Bros. Melee, try classic racing games like Mario Kart: Double Dash!! and Gran Turismo, before ending with the sensory majesty of PSVR. Certainly, with a focus on providing age-appropriate content, you won’t find more challenging games like Mega Man 2 or Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, or the kind of adult games like Mortal Kombat that would make the likes of Jack Thompson grumbling in disgust; it’s a family business in every way.
The main attraction was undoubtedly the 30-year physical timeline of consoles from 1976 (Binatone) to 2006 (Wii). Each console came with a brief description of its history, as well as a brief synopsis of the game the systems were loaded with. Again, everything here can be sampled and played, and it’s a stark reminder of the NES revolution with its controller. Everything before felt like a weird experience; a strange quirk that – unless you grew up with these systems – seems completely alien. When you consider that every controller since 1985 (or 1983 with Japan’s original Famicom) is simply an evolution of Masayuki Uemura’s design, the feeling that evolution in the flesh is a miraculous experience.
So it’s a shame that such a fascinating look at the history of video game consoles feels like it’s tucked away in the back of the room. It is something that should have been in the foreground, as soon as you enter the exhibition. Indeed, given the exhibit’s emphasis on fun and entertainment for children, we have a feeling many will have bypassed this part of the room altogether, content to sit at a desk in the opposite corner of the room playing a round of Street Fighter, which is not a bad thing in itself!
Again, we guess this allows us old morons to enjoy the most “boring” section of the exhibit, as there’s little chance of playing anything else with all the kids hovering around the screens.
As for how Nintendo itself was portrayed, however, it’s safe to say that it was the show’s star. There was plenty of variety on offer, with Mega Drive, PlayStation, Xbox and Atari all having their chance to shine, but Nintendo really felt like the dominating presence. There were N64 consoles connected with four controllers and a copy of GoldenEye: 007, NES and SNES consoles lined up in rows, GameCube consoles with everything from The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess to Super Monkey Ball 2, and small circular desks with Game Boy Advance systems connected (although these desks were often occupied by bored parents browsing FaceBook or, ironically, playing a mobile game).
What was also fascinating to see was how little patience young audiences have with a game like Super Mario Bros. Despite the general consensus among fans that World 1-1 is pretty close to a perfect tutorial for the rest of the game, we saw kids immediately drop the first Goomba enemy, dropping the pad on the desk for the next kid to try. Oddly enough, we’d later see the same kids glued to the screen playing a game of Fortnite, a game that — in our eyes, at least — has a lot more disparate mechanics and systems to learn in open 3D space.
This is perhaps a stark indication of how gaming tutorials have evolved in recent years and how modern titles bombard players with rewards. For a young person playing Super Mario Bros., falling at the first hurdle can only bring them deep feelings of frustration, and we’ve seen it firsthand.
Still, seeing everyone from middle-aged parents to young toddlers take part in what is essentially a celebration of gaming history is a wonderful sight to behold. With Nintendo in particular, it’s easy to get a taste of their legacy games today through games like Nintendo Switch Online, but actually playing them in their original form is something more casual audiences will never be able to experience in any other environment. . It’s a great reminder of how far the medium has come and the potential yet to be realized.
The “Power Up” exhibition is now open at the Science Museum in London until Tuesday, April 19. Tickets start at £8 and can be purchased through the official website.