Behold, the Nintendo family tree. These consoles are the true classics (sorry, Virtual Boy) but the history of our beloved video game giant dates back a century before great-great-grandfather N.E.S.
The history of Nintendo takes off in 1889 when Fusajiro Yamauchi -the great-grandfather of the company’s current president – began manufacturing “Hanafuda” (Japanese playing cards) in Kyoto. As the card game grew in popularity, the company gained momentum and slowly expanded into the twentieth century. Eventually Nintendo began to expand to other areas of business. From 1955 to 1970, it set up a taxi company, a hotel chain, a TV network, a food company, and a cheap toy and game company; all these ventures failed, except toy making. When the company’s stock dropped to a measly 60 yen in 1968, no one would have ever guessed that Nintendo would become the world’s leader in electronic entertainment.
From Coins to Classics
In the mid to late seventies, Nintendo began to dabble in the new industry of video games. They joined up with Mitsubishi Electric to develop several coin-operated arcade games as well as the Magnavox Odyssey, one of the first home-use video game consoles. By 1980, Nintendo was in competition with several other consoles including Coleco, Mattel’s Intellivision, and Atari. In 1981 it began distribution of the arcade game “Donkey Kong.” This video game quickly became the hottest selling individual coin-operated machine in the industry. It was also the first game to introduce Nintendo’s famous trademark character Mario. However, his name did not become known until 1983 when the “Super Mario Bros. & Duck Hunt” cartridge came out for the newly-released Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Two years later NES became the most successful gaming console of its time, and in 1987 the NES achieved the status as the number one selling toy in Asia and North America. It was estimated that three out four homes with video game consoles owned a Nintendo.
“Studies in the US showed that Mario
now was as widely known as
Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse!”
NES was the first of what became known as the “next generation gaming console”, but not the last. It faced competition from several new versions of Atari, and consoles from emerging companies like Sega and Neo-Geo. However, Nintendo retaliated valiantly with the releases of a new hand-held “Game Boy” in 1989, and its Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), in 1991. This console featured 16-bit graphics and sound, much improved from NES and Sega’s 8-bit capabilities. Both sold millions in the first year, and Game Boy broke the record for America’s number one selling toy.
Sony and the 64
It was around this time the electronics company Sony made plans to create its own video game system. Most people don’t know that Sony was working with Nintendo to develop a CD-ROM add-on for the SNES, but because Sony wanted 25% of all profits from the add-on and all of its games, Nintendo terminated the contract eighteen months before its release. Instead of abandoning their research, Sony used what they had developed so far to make its first gaming console, the “PlayStation” in 1995. Apart from its sleek design, the console featured games with 32-bit and 64-bit graphics. Needless to say, Nintendo was worried; however, they were not far behind. Nintendo had been hard at work with a company known as Silicon Graphics to create a comparable system. Less than a year later Nintendo 64 was released in Japan. The 100Mhz 64 bit processor created realistic-looking 3D worlds and Nintendo introduced 3D sequels to their most popular games including Mario, Zelda, Star Fox, and more. Nintendo sold 500,000 units the first week, which calculates to almost one unit sold per second!
Although some may disagree, Nintendo has proved itself time and time again to be the greatest company in the video game industry. Even with the release of the XBOX 360 and PlayStation 3, Nintendo has seen record sales thanks to the extremely-hyped Nintendo Wii; I have no doubt that they will continue to amaze us in the near future and beyond. Nintendo continues to produce high quality Hanafuda playing cards to this day.
– Niko Matses, © North East Press 2012
Thanks for reading. To learn more about the complete history, check out this graphic novel by Bill Murdon