Nintendo has been around since the late 1800s, no matter how hard to believe that sounds. Starting with manufacturing playing cards and toys, they eventually found their way to video games and have delivered countless masterpieces, along with technical and creative revolutions to the industry to the point that they’re rightfully referred to as the “Disney of video games.”
With beloved characters like Mario and Link, and a reputation of family-friendly fun for all (for better or worse), the world and the video game industry are a better place because of Nintendo.
It may come as a surprise, then, to know just how much darkness festers under the bright-and-sunny exterior of the company.
From brutal and cruel themes in some of their catalogue to downright tyrannical legal and management practices, Nintendo is chock-full of truly unsettling and villainous secrets that many are entirely unaware of.
Like master propagandists, they’ve molded their image and censored their past (and even their present) in order to uphold their current status as the conservative, friendly face behind everyone’s favorite plumber.
Because of that, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to construct our list of 15 Crazy Secrets You Didn't Know About Nintendo, not to disparage them, but to add another dimension to their sanitized history.
15 They Ran "Love Hotels"
Nintendo is the face of family-friendly entertainment. Super Mario is more recognizable than Mickey Mouse, their systems appeal to children (plus adults), and they’ve had a long history in the toy market.
During the initial run of the NES, and even beyond, Nintendo enforced a strict code of content allowed on their system, often censoring violent or religious imagery in an attempt to be as inoffensive as possible.
It should come as a shock, then, that they ran “Love Hotels” in the '50s and '60s.
In case you don’t know what a love hotel is, they charged hourly rates, and were used for… well, they weren’t for family vacations, let’s just say that.
Thankfully, this somewhat skeevy business venture was short lived, because the idea of the future creators of the most recognizable video game characters catering to adultery and street workers is a fairly disturbing thought.
14 Nintendo Enjoyed Vengeance In Court
Howard Lincoln was an important figure for Nintendo after he won the court case directed against Nintendo by Universal over the arcade hit Donkey Kong.
He became senior vice president in 1983, and rose to chairman before leaving the company in 2000. He did some truly amazing things during his tenure, which helped further cement Nintendo as the masterpiece-making juggernaut they’re known as today. He was also kind of a monster.
After Tengen sued Nintendo over their refusal to allow Tetris on home systems, Lincoln exploited a loophole that obliterated the errant company by forcing them to recall every copy they produced.
Lincoln was ecstatic: “We knew we had those [expletives] by the balls. We knew we were going to make a fortune on this product and they … were going to get kicked in the head.”
Yes, someone with a major position in Nintendo actually said this.
13 They Rabidly Hunt Down Fan Projects
Nintendo has a bad reputation with fan communities because they adamantly oppose piracy of any kind. On the surface, that sounds perfectly reasonable, but if we take a deeper look, the merciless practices that Nintendo inflicts upon their biggest fans are downright disturbing.
Notoriously against emulation (despite using “illegal” ROMs in their own Virtual Console), Nintendo obsessively claims that even if you own the physical copy, you shouldn’t be allowed to use ROMs.
They’re also infamous for shutting down fan projects, notably AM2R, which was a lovingly crafted remake of the then-dormant Metroid series. Of course, Nintendo did eventually release their own excellent remake of the same game, but their treatment of the project left a bad taste in many mouths.
It’s a shame that they don’t take the same approach as SEGA, which embraces fan projects and creators to the point that they hire them.
12 Yoshi Is Constantly Abused
In the enormous pantheon of adorable Nintendo characters, Yoshi usually comes out on top. The iconic green dinosaur with the stretchy tongue and a taste for fruit made his first appearance in the highly-lauded Super Mario World, where, as a resident of Dinosaur Land, he would hatch from eggs to help Mario by acting as a loyal steed.
Aside from his enhanced jumping abilities and iron stomach, Yoshi also served a far darker purpose: players would often use the innocent dinosaur as a way to jump in mid-air, which involved dropping the poor thing into an endless pit and launching Mario off its back.
If that isn’t bad enough, the original animation that was used when Mario ordered the dinosaur to fire out his tongue was not the current fist-pump, but a punch to the back of the head.
Mario is a plumber, princess-saver, and a dinosaur abuser. Great.
11 Nintendo's Success Is Thanks To The Yakuza
In ancient Japan, “hanafuda” cards were created in response to a ban on gambling using European card games. Hanafuda was able to slip past censorship because its slower pace and lack of numbers made it seem like it had minimal potential for gambling.
When Nintendo was founded years later, their main product was hanafuda decks, but they were having trouble successfully selling them. Enter the Yakuza, the Japanese mob.
Finding the market for gamblers willing to use hanafuda, the Yakuza were likely Nintendo’s biggest customers, and would apparently purchase hundreds of decks a week for their various gambling dens.
This enormous surge in the game’s popularity, and the Yakuza’s endless deck purchases, made the company exceedingly rich, and although this part of history is seemingly glossed over now, it’s likely that Nintendo wouldn’t be anywhere near as successful as they are today without the initial push from organized crime.
10 Kirby's Dream Land Is Earth's Nightmare
Ranking high on the cuteness scale is the pink puffball known as Kirby. Despite his innocent face and appearence, Kirby is a determined warrior and easily one of the most powerful characters in all of Nintendo’s ranks, with his ability to absorb and combine the powers of nearly every foe that he encounters.
Hailing from the planet Popstar, Kirby has gone on all sorts of adventures throughout his world and beyond. One particular planet of note is the Shiver Star in Kirby 64.
The planet is covered in ice, lacks a population, but is overrun by robots and is home to bizarre animal experimentation. Worse yet is that it’s clearly our Earth, since its surface bears all of our continents and it even has the moon orbiting around it.
So while Kirby was acting all cute eating tomatoes a few planets over, Earth was facing an extinction level event. Chilling.
9 Link Inadvertently Deals Illegal Substances
For all the praise and accolades that Ocarina of Time accrues year after year, it is lacking in a few departments, namely side quests.
The only major quest is to acquire the game-breaking Biggoron sword, and it happens to have a bizarre and perplexing plotline that may or may not feature Hyrule’s equivalent of a drug addict, who Link tries to “help”... by getting him his fix.
Part way through the quest, Link runs across Grog in the Lost Woods. He’s emaciated and in a daze, with sacks of who-knows-what next to him. He’s also craving Granny’s “Odd Potion,” which Link dutifully seeks.
Sadly, he’s too late, with Grog supposedly becoming a Stalfos, leaving us with more questions than answers regarding his need for the potion, his state of mind, and his relationship with Granny.
As it stands, Granny seems like Grog’s dealer, and Link was briefly part of the scheme.
8 Captain Olimar Selfishly Sacrifices Thousands Of Fiercely Loyal Slaves
The Pikmin franchise, while reasonably popular, still remains as one of Nintendo’s more under-the-radar hits. Featuring a brilliant blend of RTS action and puzzle-solving, the first game follows Captain Olimar on his quest to repair his crashed spaceship and escape the toxic environment.
A group of indigenous, plant-like beings called Pikmin volunteer their services to help achieve this goal. They fight, die, and do heavy-lifting for Olimar, without ever asking for anything in return.
Olimar and the Pikmin grow close and, using their help, he’s able to head home.
He returns shortly after, though, with far different intentions. Tasked with finding treasure to bail out his employer, he takes advantage of the Pikmin, who are no longer helping Olimar survive and escape, but are simply his pawns to do his bidding and help fill the coffers of The President.
Thousands unflinchingly die for this ignoble cause, and Olimar doesn’t care.
7 They Hold An Iron Grip On Youtube Content Creators
Streaming video games has become a huge business on YouTube and other platforms like Twitch. Content creators that do this have made exorbitant amounts of money, and most game developers appreciate all the free publicity that their games get from the millions of people who watch the videos.
Nintendo, on the other hand, does not.
Smacking down up-and-coming Youtubers and well-established creators alike, they devised an unfair system called the “Creator Program,” which puts serious shackles and restraints on the types of videos and games that can be made or covered, while also taking a portion of whatever money the creators make on the finished product.
This is an upsettingly draconian set-up, and just another way that Nintendo burns the bridge with fans and their own self-interests.
6 Nintendo Intentionally Underproduces In-Demand Products
Nintendo has had major successes from projects and products aside from their mainline system and game releases. The Amiibo figurines, for example, sell like hotcakes, as did the NES and SNES Classics. Heck, even the Wii was an improbably huge success.
You’d think that Nintendo, recognizing the enormous demands for such products, would dutifully produce more in order to meet said demand, but you’d be wrong. In fact, they do the complete opposite.
Sure, they may claim that they were unprepared for such successes, and that they had manufacturing issues, but they can only use that excuse so many times before it becomes an obvious fiction, and that’s the point that we’re at now.
Once again, they’re hurting no one but themselves by driving up demand with little supply, as scalpers are making four or five times the amount that Nintendo initially charges, with the company seeing none of the profit.
5 Their Treachery Created Their Greatest Rival
Like many of the problems that plague Nintendo, their fierce competition with Sony was borne from their own hand.
Sony and Nintendo had a positive relationship during the run of the SNES, to the point where Sony designed and manufactured the system’s beloved sound chip. This relationship became so close that Nintendo and Sony decided to work together on a CD/cartridge hybrid console called “the PlayStation.”
While Nintendo was striking this bargain with Sony, they went behind their back and made a more favorable deal with Phillips, Sony’s rival.
This was announced to a totally bewildered crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show, with Sony present, thoroughly embarrassing the prospective partner.
Thus, the absolute worst Nintendo games ever created were born, and Sony recouped their losses by manufacturing their PlayStation concept and entering the market, with devastating results for Nintendo.
4 Metroid Is A Series Based On Exterminating An Entire Species
Metroid is a dark series when compared to the majority of Nintendo’s beloved staples. Its brooding atmosphere, menacing soundtracks, and the heavily Alien-inspired concept give it an identity of its own.
Much of the series follows Samus’ battle against the Space Pirates and the titular creature, the Metroid, which is an organism that siphons the life force from its victims.
Eventually, Metroids are determined to be too dangerous to be left alive, and Samus is hired to exterminate them.
Think about that for a second: A Nintendo game explicitly features a plot where you, the protagonist, are tasked with mercilessly eliminating an entire species.
That’s some pretty heavy stuff. Sure, Samus eventually meets up with a baby Metroid and feels some connection with it, but that still doesn’t excuse her being paid to play God.
3 Nintendo Threw SEGA Under The Bus In Front Of The US Senate
We already mentioned that Howard Lincoln, the former chairman of Nintendo, was a monster in the courtroom, delighting in getting revenge against rival companies who struck out against his own.
The savagery didn’t end in the courtroom, though, as his love of utter humiliation and cutting assaults were on display before the US Senate during the height of the video game violence controversy.
While the entire industry was threatened during this period, Mr. Lincoln took his moment in the spotlight to disparage SEGA, Nintendo’s most notorious rival at the time, with a petty attack on their “adult games” that corrupted children (unlike Nintendo, of course.)
If that wasn’t enough, Lincoln also decided to write a belittling poem to Tom Kalinske, SEGA’s president at the time: “Dear Tom, Roses are red, violets are blue, so you had a bad day, boo hoo hoo hoo. All my best, Howard.”
2 Their Mascot Steals The Lives Of The Innocent
Everyone loves Mario. He’s a man of many hats: an acclaimed athlete, plumber, and all-around jovial and friendly guy, always saying “yippee!” and “yahoo!”
Of course, behind that overly happy veneer, Mario is hiding a monumentally evil secret: he has ended many lives.
How many Goombas and Koopas has Mario stomped on over the years? How many has he scorched alive? These aren’t just mindless animals, either; they’re sentient citizens with their own cultures, and Mario just hoots and hollers as he crushes them under his feet.
What about all these bricks that Mario smashes with his fist? They’re just bricks, right? No, they’re not. According to the original Super Mario Bros. manual, they’re the innocent populous of the Mushroom Kingdom, transformed by Bowser.
So, yeah, Mario might save Peach, or Daisy or whoever, but the trail of bodies that he carelessly leaves behind is truly harrowing.
1 Control Freak Tendencies Ruined Third Party Support
Nintendo’s relationship with third parties has traditionally been pretty strained, but it wasn’t always that way.
Sure, it could be chalked up to Nintendo’s weird choices of media formats, like cartridges or mini-discs, or perhaps their adherence to under-powered consoles, but the core reason can be traced back to the stranglehold Nintendo had on the industry during the reign of the NES.
Here, with full control and little-to-no competition, Nintendo slapped exclusivity policies on third parties, even limiting the amount of games that could be released by them. Much of this continued through the SNES era, too.
Later, with the pot sufficiently poisoned, the advent of Sony’s Playstation, and the N64’s cartridge format, third-parties jumped ship from the juggernaut, severely wounding them in the process.
Nintendo has started successfully making amends, but they only have themselves to blame for this particular problem in the first place.
Can you think of any other secrets that Nintendo is trying to hide? Let us know in the comment section!