By now, most gamers realize just how big a presence Nintendo has in the video game industry. The company has been around for decades now, riding high on the success of its own hardware (particularly the Nintendo Switch), as well as franchises like Super Smash Bros., Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, Pokemon and, of course, Mario.
But things weren’t always that way. Despite the company’s recent history in video games, it’s actually been around for a lot longer, and got its start in a much smaller industry – 128 years ago. No, we’re not kidding. Let’s take a look now at the history of the company that built Mario and other legends, becoming a major force in the industry as a result.
Nintendo actually got its start wayyyyy back in 1889, when Fusajiro Yamauchi founded the company to create hanafuna playing cards. The company rode high on this success for years, and then tried to venture out into other areas in 1963, including cabs and…love hotels. (Yeah, how great would it have been to go to a Nintendo-branded love hotel?!).
But it was when the 1970’s came around that the company decided to try its hand at video games, opening up a new venture that would deviate from its card business. And it’s here that it would begin to cement its legacy in the gaming world.
In the late 70’s, the company gave handheld gaming a try with its line-up of game & Watch games, created by the late Gunpei Yokoi (who would also work on the company’s highly successful Game Boy handheld in 1989). The line-up did well, but it was when the company tried its hand at arcade gaming that things began to get interesting.
Following its release of its first coin-op, EVR Race, in 1975, the company would try the more contemporary Donkey Kong in 1981. The game became an immense success for years to come, and introduced the world to two major gaming forces – the plumber Mario, who would attempt to rescue his beloved Pauline from the clutches of the evil ape; and designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who would be a force in the company – and the industry – for years to come.
Following its line-up of Game & Watch toys – which would gain novelty with the Nintendo elite – Nintendo decided to give the home gaming market a try with the release of the Famicom (Family Computer) console in 1983. It ported a number of its popular arcade games to the system at the time – including Donkey Kong – but it would take a while for Nintendo to consider the U.S. market, especially with the video game crash of 1983.
But in 1985, the company moved forward with its launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System, bundling it with select titles like Gyromite and Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. As you might guess, the Mario bundle did way better, and became a major selling point for Nintendo – and brought back the home gaming market as well. Other competitors jumped into the fray, including Atari and Sega, but none could keep up with Nintendo.
Nintendo found some major competition over the years, with the Sega Genesis gaining speed as the first “true” 16-bit console, as well as other systems like the Turbo-Grafx 16 and the Game Gear. But it would maintain its lead with the release of key technology.
In 1989, it released the Game Boy, a handheld system that scored major points with audiences, thanks to games like Tetris and Super Mario Land. It also gained attention in the 16-bit realm in 1991 with the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, a console that thrived with games like Super Mario World and F-Zero, amongst other hit releases.
In 1993, Nintendo put together a CD-ROM add-on for its Super NES that would bring its technology into the CD realm, under the code name “Play Station”. Sony partnered up with them on the project, before Philips stepped in later. However, Nintendo opted to cancel the project, instead working more on a cartridge-based system, known as the Nintendo 64.
While the N64 did very well on the market, Nintendo didn’t realize just what kind of competitor it was creating. In 1995, Sony created the PlayStation system from the remnants of the cancelled project, and soon became a major competitor to Nintendo – and it’s still dominating the industry today, thanks to the PlayStation 4.
That said, Nintendo kept its stance in the industry, thanks to memorable N64 games like Super Mario 64 and Star Fox 64, amongst many others.
While Gunpei Yokoi gained fame for his Game & Watch and Game Boy inventions, he also gave Nintendo its first failure in 1995 with the Virtual Boy system. Meant to provide 3D gaming experiences in an on-the-go format, the system was at first hailed for the use of its technology, as well as innovative games like Mario Tennis and Teleroboxer.
But the fame was short-lived. People became nauseous with the red-and-black 3D display, and the system had limited third-party support. As a result, Nintendo closed up shop on it, and Yokoi retired shortly thereafter.
It served as a lesson that not everything Nintendo produced was gold – and even with the greatest franchise stars, the system needed more to go on.
Nintendo would continue success over the years with its Game Boy reiterations – including the Color and the Advance – as well as the GameCube, its first CD-based console, which was a hit for several years, despite having to keep up with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.
However, things would change dramatically for the company in 2006 with the introduction of the Wii. This motion-based system was a big hit with fans, thanks to games that utilized the tech brilliantly, like Wii Sports (the pack-in) and Super Mario Galaxy.