Until the NES console gaming was dead in the US. Atari had self-destructed in a welter of lousy unfit-for-purpose games (a mistake team NES were rabid about not repeating) Sega had yet to be born and Coleco was shuffling towards the wings, taking it's 70s-style pixelated graphics with it.
I'm convinced that without NES there would be no console gaming industry. Popular corporate wisdom in the US was that console gaming was a dead-end technology that had run its course. NES basically won the day by the owners taking their own road (no-one wanted a license deal at first as I understand it).
I don't know why people are down on NES these days. The games were a mixed bunch, and I didn't "get" some of them. Others turned out to be too simplistic when ported from the arcade version (Spy Hunter for one). The only buggy cartridge I owned was the earliest version of Pacman that was rendered unplayable by a joystick status bug that meant Pacman was prone to not obeying the stick.
That was an Atari game though, and Atari didn't seem to get the quality control required of NES games. Some of the games put out by them for the NES were appalling. If the graphics were good, gameplay was terrible. If gameplay was great, graphics sucked.
Top game experiences on the NES for me:
1) Super Mario Bros. 3
2) Super Mario Bros.
3) Legend of Zelda (massive timesuck)
6) Arkanoid (still have mine in the box with the special paddle controller)
7) Burger Time
8) Spy vs Spy
10) Legend of the Five Kingdoms