During his fact finding missions, Marc Zablotny has covered all of Nintendo's big hitters from Mario to Pokemon and Zelda but what about the company behind these classic series? That's right, it's time to discover more about Nintendo as we present 8 amazing Nintendo facts and secrets. After a brief history of Nintendo...
Nintendo was founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi as a playing card company, making and marketing Hanafuda cards in Japan. The playing-card business continued and expanded under Yamauchi's successor, his son-in-law Sekiryo Yamauchi, until his death in 1949 following complications from a stroke. It was Sekiryo's grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi, who would take over as president of Nintendo, allegedly only agreeing to accept the role if he were to be the only member of his family working at the company. Hiroshi Yamauchi, despite his youth and lack of experience, made an effort to expand and move the company forward in the way he felt was necessary.
Though Nintendo continued to see relative success with cards, such as with a deal with the Walt Disney Company to produce Disney-themed playing cards, Yamauchi began to lose confidence in the future potential of the business, seeing it as profoundly limited. As a result, he began to attempt to diversify the company and was responsible for the many ill-fated ventures that you may have heard about. These included a taxi firm and a... erm... love hotel chain (the less said about that one, the better). These repeated failures placed Nintendo in financial peril, but all would not be lost.
Enter Gunpei Yokoi, a maintenance worker and engineer at a factory manufacturing Hanafuda cards. Though there are some variations, the basic story goes like this... during a visit to the factory, Yamauchi spotted a device that Yokoi had apparently created for his own amusement during breaks, an extendable arm/claw device. Impressed with the product, Yamauchi ordered Yokoi to create a more refined version of the toy that could be sold, leading to the creation of the Ultra Hand and solidifying Nintendo's movement into the toy-making industry.
The Ultra Hand was a massive success and Yokoi was subsequently hired to a new department in order to develop new toy ideas. The Ultra Hand continues to appear in Nintendo games today, such as Mario Power Tennis and the WarioWare series. Nintendo continued to produce toys and electronic-based toys for many years, including a Love Tester, the Ultra Machine (a ball launcher, which also was given a cameo role in the Warioware series), building blocks to compete with LEGO, and the Ele-Conga, an electronic drum device that some believe may have been a precursor to or inspiration for the Donkey Kong bongo peripheral for the GameCube.
Seeing potential in the emerging market of videogames, Yamauchi directed Nintendo to producing and distributing videogames and consoles. Yokoi, after apparently seeing a bored man playing with a calculator, got the idea for the Game and Watch, a device that would double up as a videogame and a watch, enabling one to keep and kill time. It was a big success. Meanwhile, Nintendo were producing arcade games in US and Japan, many of which, such as Block Fever, Space Fever, EVR Racer, and, more famously, Radar Scope, were of rather poor quality, leaving Nintendo under pressure to produce something groundbreaking. It was with the hiring of Shigeru Miyamoto, who was overseen by Yokoi, that Nintendo would see tremendous success with Donkey Kong in 1981.
You know (or should know) the rest! Nintendo established themselves as big name in the videogame industry with the outstanding success of Donkey Kong, then subsequently the success of the Famicom/NES, SNES and Game Boy/Game Boy Color consoles thanks to Shigeru Miyamoto, Gunpei Yokoi and many more. It can't be denied that things faltered a little on the home console front during the era of the N64 and GameCube, with Nintendo's technical choices and other factors contributing to a loss of third party support and the inability to keep up their competitors as much as they'd have perhaps liked. However, by reaching out the casual market and providing new ways to play with the Wii and DS, Nintendo saw great financial success during the seventh generation of consoles.
Shigeru Miyamoto remains an influential figure at Nintendo to this day. Yamauchi was president of Nintendo for around 53 years, and, despite some failings along the way, is largely responsible for transforming it from a small card company to the videogame giant it is now. During his later years at Nintendo, he purchased the Seattle Mariners, a baseball team, after Minoru Arakawa, founder and first president of Nintendo of America and Yamauchi's son-in-law, was asked by the team to find a Japanese investor to prevent the team being moved out of Seattle after being put up for sale. He is still the owner.
Yamauchi was succeeded in 2002 by Satoru Iwata, who is the first president of Nintendo not to be related to Fusajiro Yamauchi somehow. Gunpei Yokoi continued to work for Nintendo, being involved with the Game Boy Pocket and Virtual Boy until he left the company in 1996. Sadly, he died in a car crash in 1997 at the age of 56.