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A Brief History of 125 Years of Nintendo

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This year marks the 125th anniversary of Nintendo, the beloved Japanese video game company responsible for a whole slew of consoles that you’ve probably played more times than you can count (or are willing to admit—it’s okay, we love Mario, too). One hundred and twenty-five years is certainly a big birthday, especially for a company best known for their forward-thinking modern gaming systems. But if video games weren’t created until the middle part of the twentieth century (most video game historians point to the Cathode Ray Tube Amusement Device, created in 1947, as the first true “video game”), what exactly did Nintendo do in its early years?

Turns out, quite a bit.

Counting Cards

The company that would become “Nintendo” was founded in 1889 by entrepreneur Fusajiro Yamauchi as “Nintendo Koppai” (also known as the “Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd.," so you can probably guess where this is going), and was styled as a playing card company (see!) that mostly made Japanese playing cards called “Hanafuda.” The so-called “flower cards” have been a part of Japanese gameplay for centuries, and Nintendo had great success in manufacturing and marketing them. (The company still makes cards to this day.)

Despite the company’s success with playing cards, Yamauchi’s grandson Hiroshi eventually realized that Nintendo had probably gone as far as anyone possibly could with just cards. In 1956, the young go-getter was astonished to see that the massive United States Playing Card Company was run out of a small office. If that’s what they were working with, what could Nintendo possibly aspire to?

First up: character cards. Nintendo (quite sagely) picked up the rights to the Disney cabal of characters, putting them on their cards and driving sales, but that wasn’t quite enough. They needed to think bigger.

More Is More

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The early sixties weren’t too kind to the ever-expanding Nintendo empire. The company, hellbent on mixing things up and pushing past just playing card sales, stretched itself too thin by getting involved with everything. Well, nearly everything.

Between 1963 and 1968, Nintendo began dabbling in such disparate industries as transportation (a taxi company), hospitality (a love hotel chain), and food (they specialized in ramen) under the umbrella of “Nintendo Co., Ltd.” None of these attempts at expanding into different industries worked out, and Nintendo soon needed to find something new to embrace.

Toy Story

After the mixed bag that was the '50s, Nintendo turned its attentions to toys, including the carnival-like “Love Tester” and the popular “Kousenjuu” light gun games, which paved the way for the company to turn their attentions to more light gun-based gaming. Slowly, the company moved towards more electronics-heavy games and toys, even though they couldn’t initially keep up with big names like Bandai and Tomy.

The Electronic Age

Nintendo steadily worked their way into the video game realm, but things really changed in 1974, when the company bought the distribution rights for the Magnavox Odyssey video game console. In 1975, the company set about making their own video arcade games, with Genyo Takeda’s “EVR Race.” By 1977, the company was making its very own consoles, originally styled as five different kinds of the “Color TV-Game.” (The first Color-TV Game console is responsible for bringing six different takes on Pong to the world.)

These consoles were partially designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, who would go on to design Donkey Kong for the company in 1981, a game-changer through and through. Once Donkey Kong hit the market—allowing Nintendo to enjoy licensing their own products to other companies—Nintendo had established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the burgeoning video game sector.

Once Nintendo’s dominance in the industry was recognized, the company began churning out inspiring new creations, from the handheld “Game & Watch” game series, to the “Family Computer” for home gaming (eventually launched as the NES outside of Japan), to the smash-hit that was the Game Boy (invented in 1989). The company’s success continued in the late eighties, thanks to the release of the Super Nintendo (SNES), which also helped kick off the infamous battle with rival Sega.

In 1994, Nintendo celebrated the sale of one billion game cartridges (a tenth of them attributed to Mario games alone). A series of missteps marred the rest of the '90s, including the disappointing Virtual Boy in 1995, but the company quickly rebounded with the Nintendo 64, the Game Boy Pocket, and the Game Boy Color.

To the Future

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The aughts proved to be similarly fraught for the company with the disappointment of machines like GameCube and Game Boy Micro. This was briefly tempered by the success of the Nintendo DS and the New Super Mario Bros. game in 2006.

If there’s one thing that’s really changed things for the company, though, it’s the Wii, first introduced in 2006. The motion-controlled system has proven to be especially successful for Nintendo.

Next up for the company? A heavier reliance on glasses-free 3D displays, an interest in video compression, and games that fold in advanced face and voice recognition.

Happy 125th, Nintendo!

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Nintendo Is Releasing a Special Gold Famicom Mini, Which Will Come Pre-Loaded With 20 Games

Nintendo’s renewed focus on retro gaming continues as the company is slated to release a manga-focused edition of the Famicom Mini in Japan on July 7. The Famicom—short for Nintendo Family Computer—is the Japanese version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System, and this new device will come with 20 games pre-loaded onto it.

Back when the NES Classic hit U.S. stores in 2016, Japan got its own Famicom Mini, which featured a slightly different selection of games from its Western counterpart, including Mario Open Golf and Downtown Nekketsu Kōshinkyoku: Soreyuke Daiundōkai. This new edition of the Mini will be gold-plated and is being released to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the manga magazine Weekly Jump, according to Kotaku.

To go with the theme, the games on the system will be ones based on the popular manga at the time like Dragon Ball, Saint Seiya, and Fist of the North Star, as The Verge reports. These are games that most Western audiences would have never experienced for themselves in the late '80s and early '90s as the manga/anime culture had not yet spilled over into the States much, and companies would rarely waste the time and money on localizing them for an unfamiliar fanbase.

In the rare instances that these games did come stateside, they were usually altered to appeal to a different culture—the most famous example is Dragon Ball on the Famicom arriving in America as Dragon Power in 1988 with box art looking more like something from The Karate Kid than a manga series.

Now that American audiences have embraced manga, there might actually be a market for this tiny package of retro gaming in the States. Unfortunately, there's no word on a U.S. release, meaning you’ll likely have to head to eBay or your local boutique video game store in order to have a shot at landing one. If you want a consolation prize, the original NES Classic will be heading back to stores on June 29—though if history is any guide, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to get your hands on that, either.

[h/t: The Verge]

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8 Clever Ways to Recycle Your Old Nintendo Equipment
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For retro game players looking for a simple fix, the recent arrivals of Nintendo’s official NES Classic and Super NES Classic game systems have been an exciting purchase. The systems—when you can find them in stock—boot up dozens of classic games via an HDMI port. That’s left a pretty big inventory of original consoles and cartridges collecting dust in attics.

If you’re crafty and you dig the Nintendo aesthetic, check out these ideas for how to repurpose your old game gear into something new. (A word of caution: Modifying electronic components carries risk of electric shock, so we recommend being careful and using good judgment.)

1. AN NES ALARM CLOCK

A Nintendo console is shown after being modified into an alarm clock

Instructables user arrmayr0227 uploaded this tutorial on a better way to wake up. You’ll be splicing together a gutted NES console with a digital alarm clock, then rewiring the controller to set the time. The reset button acts as a snooze bar and the power button sets the alarm.

2. AN NES LUNCHBOX

Video game artisan Fluctifragus offered a step-by-step breakdown of hollowing out an old NES console to make room for your tuna sandwiches. The interior components can be removed with a screwdriver; the remaining screw posts can be clipped and filed down with a rotary tool. Two small hinges will keep the top and bottom tethered together.

3. A CONTROLLER WALLET

(Or coin purse, if you prefer.) Instructables user Zenilorac detailed a controller hack that involves separating the part by removing the back screws and then gluing a fabric-based zipper around the edges.

4. A ZAPPER LASER CAT TOY

Lehmeier at Instructables perfected a new way of antagonizing your cat by rigging a laser diode and 9-volt battery into the NES’s light gun accessory. Pulling the trigger will allow power to pass from the battery to the diode.

5. A CARTRIDGE WALL CLOCK

For Mario, it’s always time to eat mushrooms. Your schedule is probably a little less predictable. He can still help you tell time with this tweak from Instructables user BeanGolem. The clock hands are spray-painted, while the cartridge is split in half to allow for a clock mechanism (available at most craft stores) to be installed.

6. ADVANTAGE CONTROLLER GUITAR PEDAL

A Nintendo Advantage controller is used as a guitar pedal
wenzsells, Instructables // CC BY 2.0

The joystick-equipped Advantage controller was one of the earliest peripherals available for the NES. Using this guide from Wenzsells, it’s the perfect size to double as a chassis for a pedal kit. The “turbo” knobs control volume, while the A button acts as power switch.

7. A SUPER NINTENDO CARTRIDGE WALLET

A Super Nintendo cartridge is used as a wallet
stalledaction, Instructables // CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

Who doesn’t want to show a bartender their ID by flashing a Super NES game cartridge? Instructables user Stalledaction crafted this conversation piece by fitting a transparent plate to the front and adding space for keys and a USB drive.

8. A GAME PAD MOUSE

A Nintendo controller is operated as a computer mouse
Courtesy of Ryan McFarland

Ryan McFarland came up with a novel use for an old controller: turn it into a PC interface. An optical mouse is inserted into the chassis, while the A and B buttons serve as the left and right selectors. You’ll need, among other things, a Dremel tool, a hot glue gun, and about four or five hours’ worth of patience.

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