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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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Mario Kart Is Coming to Your Smartphone
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Nintendo had a lot to boast about during its quarterly financial reports this week. The company’s latest console/handheld hybrid, the Nintendo Switch, has already sold more units (14.86 million) in its first 10 months than its previous console, the Wii U, did (13.56 million) during its entire five-year lifespan. That news was bolstered by the company revealing its two heavy-hitters, Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey, were massive commercial successes, with 6.70 and 9.07 million copies sold, respectively.

That’s great if you’re a shareholder, but if you’re just a gamer, the real news came when Nintendo revealed that Mario Kart will soon make its way to smartphones. Titled Mario Kart Tour, this will be the company’s fifth mobile endeavor, following games like Super Mario Run, Fire Emblem Heroes, and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, as well as the soon-to-be-defunct Miitomo app.

Since debuting on the Super Nintendo in 1992, Mario Kart has been one of the company's most reliable franchises. Even on a system that flopped like the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 managed to sell 8 million units on its way to becoming the console's top-selling game. And when that same title was ported to the Nintendo Switch, it moved another 7 million units. For both Nintendo and its fans, the mobile version is a no-brainer.

So what’s actually known about Mario Kart Tour? Well, it’ll be out in the fiscal year, which ends in March 2019. Other than that, you’ll just have to wait for Nintendo to release its patented slow trickle of news over the next few months (though you can expect it on both iOS and Android, like the company's other mobile titles). Until then, you’ll have to dust off that old copy of Mario Kart: Double Dash or splurge on Mario Kart 8 Deluxe to get your fill of blue shells and errant banana peels.

[h/t The Verge]

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6 Surprising Facts About Nintendo's Animal Crossing

by Ryan Lambie

Animal Crossing is one of the most unusual series of games Nintendo has ever produced. Casting you as a newcomer in a woodland town populated by garrulous and sometimes eccentric creatures, Animal Crossing is about conversation, friendship, and collecting things rather than competition or shooting enemies. It’s a formula that has grown over successive generations, with the 3DS version now one of the most popular games available for that system—which is all the more impressive, given the game’s obscure origins almost 15 years ago. Here are a few things you might not have known about the video game.

1. ITS INSPIRATION CAME FROM AN UNLIKELY PLACE.

By the late 1990s, Katsuya Eguchi had already worked on some of Nintendo’s greatest games. He’d designed the levels for the classic Super Mario Bros 3. He was the director of Star Fox (or Star Wing, as it was known in the UK), and the designer behind the adorable Yoshi’s Story. But Animal Crossing was inspired by Eguchi’s experiences from his earlier days, when he was a 21-year-old graduate who’d taken the decisive step of moving from Chiba Prefecture, Japan, where he’d grown up and studied, to Nintendo’s headquarters in Kyoto.

Eguchi wanted to recreate the feeling of being alone in a new town, away from friends and family. “I wondered for a long time if there would be a way to recreate that feeling, and that was the impetus behind Animal Crossing,” Eguchi told Edge magazine in 2008. Receiving letters from your mother, getting a job (from the game’s resident raccoon capitalist, Tom Nook), and gradually filling your empty house with furniture and collectibles all sprang from Eguchi’s memories of first moving to Kyoto.

2. IT WAS ORIGINALLY DEVELOPED FOR THE N64.

Although Animal Crossing would eventually become best known as a GameCube title—to the point where many assume that this is where the series began—the game actually appeared first on the N64. First developed for the ill-fated 64DD add-on, Animal Crossing (or Doubutsu no Mori, which translates to Animal Forest) was ultimately released as a standard cartridge. But by the time Animal Crossing emerged in Japan in 2001, the N64 was already nearing the end of its lifespan, and was never localized for a worldwide release.

3. TRANSLATING THE GAME FOR AN INTERNATIONAL AUDIENCE WAS A DIFFICULT TASK.

The GameCube version of Animal Crossing was released in Japan in December 2001, about eight months after the N64 edition. Thanks to the added capacity of the console’s discs, they could include characters like Tortimer or Blathers that weren’t in the N64 iteration, and Animal Crossing soon became a hit with Japanese critics and players alike.

Porting Animal Crossing for an international audience would prove to be a considerable task, however, with the game’s reams of dialogue and cultural references all requiring careful translation. But the effort that writers Nate Bihldorff and Rich Amtower put into the English-language version would soon pay off; Nintendo’s bosses in Japan were so impressed with the additional festivals and sheer personality present in the western version of Animal Crossing that they decided to have that version of the game translated back into Japanese. This new version of the game, called Doubutsu no Mori e+, was released in 2003.

4. K.K. SLIDER IS BASED ON ON THE GAME'S COMPOSER.

One of Animal Crossing’s most recognizable and popular characters is K.K. Slider, the laidback canine musician. He’s said to be based, both in looks and name, on Kazumi Totaka, the prolific composer and voice actor who co-wrote Animal Crossing’s music. In the Japanese version of Animal Crossing, K.K. Slider is called Totakeke—a play on the real musician’s name. K.K. Slider’s almost as prolific as Totaka, too: Animal Crossing: New Leaf on the Nintendo 3DS contains a total of 91 tracks performed by the character.

5. ONE CHARACTER HAS BEEN KNOWN TO MAKE PLAYERS CRY.

A more controversial character than K.K. Slider, Mr. Resetti is an angry mole created to remind players to save the game before switching off their console. And the more often players forget to save their game, the angrier Mr. Resetti gets. Mr. Resetti’s anger apparently disturbed some younger players, though, as Animal Crossing: New Leaf’s project leader Aya Kyogoku revealed in an interview with Nintendo's former president, the late Satoru Iwata.

“We really weren't sure about Mr. Resetti, as he really divides people," Kyogoku said. “Some people love him, of course, but there are others who don't like being shouted at in his rough accent.”

“It seems like younger female players, in particular, are scared,” Iwata agreed. “I've heard that some of them have even cried.”

To avoid the tears, Mr. Resetti plays a less prominent role in Animal Crossing: New Leaf, and only appears if the player first builds a Reset Surveillance Centre. Divisive though he is, Mr. Resetti’s been designed and written with as much care as any of the other characters in Animal Crossing; his first name’s Sonny, he has a brother called Don and a cousin called Vinnie, and he prefers his coffee black with no sugar.

6. THE SERIES IS STILL EVOLVING.

Since its first appearance in 2001, the quirky and disarming Animal Crossing has grown to encompass toys, a movie, and no fewer than four main games (or five if you count the version released for the N64 as a separate entry). All told, the Animal Crossing games have sold more than 30 million copies, and the series is still growing. In late 2017, the mobile title Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released for iOS and Android. It's a big step for the franchise, as Nintendo is famously selective about which of its series get a mobile makeover. A game once inspired by the loneliness of moving to a new town has now become one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises.

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