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Celebrating Nintendo’s 130’s Birthday

Video gaming fan since 2000. I have a collection of almost all the old consoles and a bunch of retro video games.


Still Very Young

Dare I say it, the leader of the gaming industry for 130 years. The history of Nintendo is a transformation of a small company looking for a niche in the service and entertainment market into a giant corporation that has influenced the lives of several generations and defined gaming. The Nintendo story is the story of Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Metroid, Star Fox, Kid Icarus, and many other characters who have become popular trademarks. Nintendo takes its own path and offers us its own special take on video games. Let’s recap the journey of the company.

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Everybody starts somewhere

Nintendo entered the market in 1889 and initially sold Hanafuda, Japanese playing cards with Western illustrations. At first, they were painted by hand on the bark of a mulberry tree, but the demand grew, so over time, mass production was launched.

In 1953, the Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. was the first company to be a success in the mass production of plastic playing cards in Japan.

In 1959, the company launched playing cards with Walt Disney characters and opened a new market for playing cards for children, which marked the beginning of a new boom.

At the turn of the 1970s, Nintendo realized that they would not go far to sell playing cards, so they decided to pivot and take over the electronic games sector. Despite the relative obscurity, once the combined sales of all versions of Color TV-Game proved it to be one of the most successful first-generation consoles.

In the 1970s, Nintendo opened its own toy factory. They even manufactured a cotton candy machine and a radio-controlled vacuum cleaner.

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Then, Game and Watch emerged: a series of handheld devices, each of which supported a single game on a tiny LCD display. About sixty modifications and 43 million copies were sold from 1980 to 1991.

Getting closer to the Nintendo we know

And now, I’d like us to move on to things more familiar to us. The real success came to Nintendo with the launch of Family Computer (or Famicom) in Japan in 1983, and then the release of its American version we all know as the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System).

In 1989, the Game Boy pocket console was released. This was the next generation of handheld consoles - far more advanced one than the Game & Watch. The first model was equipped with a black and white screen with a resolution of 160 × 144 pixels and even stereo sound. A Sharp LR35902 DMC-CPU processor with a clock frequency of 4.194304 MHz was used. The thing that I was surprised with was Game Link function - two consoles were connected with a cable for playing in multiplayer mode. Nintendo’s strategy was the following: As soon as Game Boy sales started to decline, the company was releasing a new version.

The star is born

Nintendo’s first video game hit was the arcade game Donkey Kong, which was developed for the US market as a replacement for the failed Radar Scope. According to the original concept, the plot of the game was supposed to be built around a love triangle between Popeye the Sailor, the lady he loved, and the villain who kidnapped the lady. But due to licensing problems, the main characters were replaced - the villain turned into a huge gorilla, and the popular sailor turned into an unnamed… carpenter.

In the English-language advertising materials and instructions for the game, the main character eventually received two names: Jumpman and Mario (legend has it - in honor of the landlord of the American Nintendo warehouse, Mario Segale).

It was in Donkey Kong that the basic gameplay principles (for instance, jumping as a way to escape danger) of the entire series of Mario games were formed. Moreover, a Mario character portrait was developed. These principles are still in gaming used all over the world - even if it has nothing to do with Mario and consoles overall.

Here’s an interesting fact for you: Mario’s iconic red cap appeared as a way to simplify game development - it was much easier to portray the cap on screen than the character’s hair and forehead.

The NES peaked in 1990 and 91. Super Mario Bros was released in 1990. And by the end of the year, seven million copies of it were sold. An unprecedented figure for that time!

To sum up

The right tactics allowed Nintendo to take over nearly 90% of the American video game market by 1990, being directly involved in building a more than $10 billion market we now know.

© 2020 Rick Ortiz

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