The History of Nintendo, Vol I (1889 – 1980)

by Kevin on

Quick. What did Nintendo do before the company made video games?

Oh, listen to you, cocky. “They made playing cards, dummyface.”

After that. What did Nintendo make between when they made playing cards and when they made video games?

Some of you readers probably know the answer to this. I didn’t. I had assumed that one day, Gunpei Yokoi and Shigeru Miyamoto and a few others got bored with cards and decided to make the Nintendo Entertainment System. Maybe there was a short period of time where they made a few light gun games, and Donkey Kong. That happened.

I definitely knew nothing about the 40 years of game and toy manufacturing. I knew nothing about the Nintendo Lego knock offs, the puzzles, the paper models, and the remote control cars. I knew nothing about the magic sets, the cotton candy machine, and the Nintendo baby stroller. Now I do know, because of a book that I 100% endorse and you should 100% purchase as soon as possible. Thank you, Florent Gorges and Pix’n Love Publishing, for putting out The History of Nintendo, Vol. I (1889 – 1980) ($25), a gorgeous, dense book that chronicles our favorite video game manufacturer right up until they started doing the thing that we actually know them for.

This book has 252 incredible pages that are so full of words and pictures that you have to hold the book up to your face to read what’s crammed into each corner. Every product that Nintendo released from its inception in 1889 to 1980 is covered with multiple pages dedicated to all of the board games, card sets, and light guns put out by the company. Descriptions and images from the television advertisements for the products are given special attention, giving an eye to how Nintendo branded itself in the 60s and 70s. It is a book that you can open to any page and find something wonderful.

[![]/20110522-napoleon_hanafuda.jpg "Able was I ere I saw Elba")
The book starts with a description of the early history of Nintendo founded by Fujisaro Yamauchi as a company that manufactured and sold hanafuda cards. The original card sets, called Daitoryo (“President”), were marked with a smug-looking Emperor Naploeon on the back, potentially (according to Gorges) because of a mix-up between the American President and Napoleon in Yamauchi’s mind. The book goes on to cover important sets of Nintendo playing cards, including western cards, and licensed cards, such as those showing Popeye, or Bugs Bunny. In 1959, Nintendo secured a contract with Disney, and produced Disney branded cards, which were a huge success. Also, if you like boobs, Nintendo produced some racy naked-lady-backed cards under their “Arts, Animals, and Travel” series. That’s right, this book has a little porn in it.

The History of Nintendo, Vol I moves on to describe Nintendo’s foray into the toy and game market, which started when the young and mischievous maintenance manager Gunpei Yokoi was caught horsing around with a tiny extendable grabbing arm made from spare parts. Instead of being reprimanded, he was asked to design a toy model, the Ultra Hand, which went on to become a monumental toy success for Nintendo. The book features pictures of the different packaging and advertising for the Ultra Hand, even detailing how the hand stayed closed when retracted thanks to the attached string. The book is actually really great if you are a fan of smiling Japanese children from the 60’s and 70’s (I DEFINITELY AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE). There is page after page of the coolest kids in the coolest clothes playing with the coolest toys.

[![]/20110522-hip_flip_small.jpg "Seriously, this is the sexiest party game ever.")
I mean, look at this Nintendo Hip-Flip here. Here’s a party I want to be invited to.

The book ends with Nintendo’s initial entries into the video game market, showcasing their arcade games, light gun parlors, and consoles. The 1977 Color TV-Game 6 featured six variants on Pong, and was Nintendo’s first home console, co-created with Mitsubishi. The price, ¥9800 (From what I can calculate, this is around 200 American Presentdollars, adjusted for inflation), was well beneath the price for competing units. Descriptions of the other early home consoles round out the book, which ends with a tease for Vol. II, by showing pictures for each of the early Game and Watch handhelds. I want to reiterate that this a book that I find absolutely mesmerizing and yet it does not actually describe anything I have ever actually had any experience with.

The book does an excellent job, too, at demonstrating how Nintendo peppers its games with references to this long period of their history. Wario Ware is chock full of mini-games featuring their toys like the Ultra Hand, the Chiritori, and the Ultra Machine / Slugger Mate. Super Mario Land 2 had an N&B reference. It’s interesting to be let in on the knowing side of Nintendo’s wink-wink knudge-knudge jokes they have put in their more recent video games.

If you are, or know someone who enjoys Nintendo, this is an amazing book to own, not just as a coffee table conversation starter, but as a pictorial reference, and a book to have sitting next to your bed for before-sleep reading. I cannot recommend this book enough. I’ve only scratched the surface of the intricate history that is described in these pages. Florent Gorges had the coolest research project ever, and this work succeeds. I CAN’T BE MORE GLOWING HERE. THIS IS A GREAT BOOK.

[![]/mrface5.jpg "Mr. Face say this book AWESOME. Mr. Face never wrong!")

*Mr. Face say this book AWESOME.

Mr. Face never wrong!*