It’s impossible to talk about the history of video games without taking notice of the contributions of Japanese gaming giant, Nintendo. From its roster of iconic characters to single-handedly saving the entire video game industry in the United States, there isn’t much that Nintendo hasn’t done. Being such a high-profile company means that the eyes of an entire industry are consistently fixated on the gaming juggernaut, but that doesn’t mean all of Nintendo’s secrets are common knowledge.
Ever the pioneer, the Nintendo company has experienced a lot of success, but also a good share of failures with their ventures, specifically in their earlier years. Never one to be left behind in terms of technology, Nintendo has made a career out of its willingness to try new and exciting things.
Regardless of how you feel about them, their track record has made it clear that there isn’t a whole lot that the Nintendo company isn’t willing to at least try. Nintendo's long and rich history means that even the most devout fans can be surprised by little known facts about the company.
With all of this in mind, let’s check out 15 Things You Never Knew About Nintendo.
15 Nintendo Is 127 Years Old
While best known for their efforts in the video game industry, Nintendo has been around as a company for over 127 years now, having been founded in 1889. In its early history, the company we know for making some of the most beloved video games in history was called the Nintendo Playing Card Company. While originally optimistic about the future of the company, a meeting with the United States Playing Card Company changed the direction of Nintendo forever.
As the story goes, when Nintendo officials saw that the largest playing card company in the world was still working out of a small warehouse, they decided that they were focusing too much of their attention on the wrong industry. After this realization, Nintendo shifted its focus to other endeavors, most notably a taxi service, television network, food company, and even a chain of love hotels.
While most of these ventures have faded away to history, Nintendo does in fact still produce playing cards in their native Japan to this very day, though these are now often adorned with some of their most popular video game characters.
14 The Original D-Pad
Anyone who's played a video game at some point in the last few decades will recognize the familiar sight of the directional pad. This thumb operated control may seem like commonplace today, but when Nintendo introduced it on their original Family Computer system, it revolutionized the video game industry forever.
Before the Famicom, the Japanese equivalent to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), most video games, found in both arcades and consoles functioned by way of a joystick to move around. While the joystick allowed for most flexibility, the d-pad excelled in different areas that the joystick simply couldn’t compete with.
The precise button inputs made the d-pad far more accurate and the ease of use made it much easier to maintain than its joystick counterpart. Furthermore, since the d-pad laid flat along the controller, it offered a more streamlined appearance that was easier for transport.
The NES’s cross-shaped d-pad is so strongly associated with the company that Nintendo filed for a patent on the design way back in 1983. This is why every other video game console’s directional pads look slightly different from Nintendo's original design.
13 Totaka’s Song
Nintendo has some of the most devout and obsessive fans of any company in the world, video game or otherwise. With this kind of fandom, it shouldn’t be a surprise that people have found a lot of hidden easter eggs in various games over the years. One of the video game giant’s most recurring easter eggs is a short, 19 note melody simply known among fans as, Totaka’s Song.
When it comes to legendary Nintendo employees, few are as well known and respected as composer, Kazumi Totaka. Joining the company back in the early 1990s, Totaka has worked on a number of popular titles, such as Mario Paint, Yoshi’s Story, and most notably the Animal Crossing series.
Still, with all of Totaka’s accomplishments, it’s a single song that has become his lasting legacy amongst determined gamers. The short track simply called, Totaka’s Song can often be found hidden in various games that the composer has worked on, but can often only be heard after discovering it through some sort of secret method.
With over a dozen confirmed appearances of Nintendo’s legendary secret song, we can only assume there’s more still waiting to be discovered.
12 The NES Could Connect To The Internet
Nintendo has made a living off of being ahead of their competitors when it comes to technology and trends in the industry. If you need proof of this, you need not look further than some of the company’s earliest peripherals, such as the Famicom Network System. Believe it or not, the Japanese equivalent to the original NES featured an add-on that allowed for internet access.
Released as a Japanese exclusive in 1988, the add-on modem was marketed towards adults who didn’t have access to a personal computer. The Famicom Network System allowed users to access stock trading, horse betting, weather forecasts, and even featured downloadable content. Bizarre as it sounds, the Famicom Network System was yet another example of Nintendo’s ability to foresee the future of gaming and somehow get there before any of its competition were even thinking about it.
While primitive in its design, Nintendo was clearly far ahead of its time with the Family Computer Network System.
11 The Reason Behind Mario’s Design
When most people think of Nintendo, it’s hard not to think about the character that’s served as their mascot for over 30 years. Mario, the short Italian plumber has saved the Mushroom Kingdom from the diabolical tyranny of Bowser on countless occasions. While his character has evolved as technology has advanced, his iconic design has remained mostly the same since his first appearance in the original Donkey Kong arcade game (1981). As popular as the character of Mario has become, it may surprise you to learn that his design wasn’t necessarily based on creative choices, but rather, technological limitations.
Legendary video game creator Shigeru Miyamoto created the player character for the Donkey Kong arcade game that eventually became known as Mario. His now classic design, adorned with bright red and blue wasn’t an attempt to compare the character to well-known heroes like Superman or Spider-Man, but actually just a decision made due to graphical limitations. The red and blue contrasted best against the game’s dark background and the red cap was simply added so Miyamoto didn’t have to draw hair. As for Mario’s trademark mustache, it was the only way for the design team to give Mario a distinguishable nose.
No matter the reasoning behind it, it’s hard to imagine Mario looking any other way.
10 The Nintendo Satellaview
By the time 1995 rolled around, Nintendo had already tried their luck with integrating internet capability to their consoles with the Famicom Network System. For the Super Famicom, however, Nintendo again decided to take a crack at an innovative, new internet peripheral.
The Nintendo Satellaview was a satellite modem and was a truly unique service that consisted of a partnership between Nintendo and the Japanese WOWOW television station subsidiary, St.GIGA. The way the system functioned was similar to a traditional television schedule. This schedule would broadcast magazines, audio dramas, and of course, video games. In order to play the games, users would need to enter an in-game hub and walk into various buildings to download games to be played at specific times.
While an interesting concept, the Satellaview never found its way to markets outside of Japan. Still, it stands as yet another example of how ahead of its time Nintendo has always been, providing a service that allowed users to download games way back in 1995.
9 The Famicom 3D System
Everyone remembers the utter failure that was the Nintendo Virtual Boy. Its steep price, headache-inducing red and black color scheme, and poor overall design have made the Virtual Boy an infamous piece of video game history. While the Virtual Boy tends to be remembered as one of Nintendo’s biggest failures, it wasn’t the first time that they made a foray into the third dimension.
Back in 1987, Nintendo decided to make their first attempt at a 3D gaming system with the Famicom 3D System. That’s right, back on the original Famicom, the era of the NES Zapper and the Power Glove came the Famicom 3D system. This accessory was compatible with the Famicom and utilized an electronic shutter system adapted into a pair of goggles. Unfortunately for Nintendo, the Famicom 3D System failed to make sales just like the Virtual Boy would, years later.
The amount of similarities between the Famicom 3D System and the Virtual Boy are eerily similar, which is surprising since you'd think they would have learned something when the 3D System wasn’t successful enough for the company to ship it outside of Japan. At least they finally learned from their mistakes and delivered a good 3D-capable console with the 3DS.
8 The SNES’s Color Scheme
When the Super Nintendo Entertainment System hit the shelves in North America in the summer of 1991, it was already behind the Sega Genesis by about two years. Not only was Nintendo late to the 16 bit party, but Sega had made the bold move to directly attack their main competitor head on. “Sega does what Nintendon’t” was all over the marketing for the Sega Genesis and Sonic’s team wanted to make things clear that the Genesis was to be taken seriously and was far more than just a kid’s toy.
When it finally came time to release the SNES, the team at Nintendo of America made the decision to once again redesign the system for western audiences. While the Japanese version of the SNES, the Super Famicom sported a similar top-loading design, it’s significantly more colorful. While the main color is gray, like its American counterpart, the buttons and accent colors utilized a bright, primary color-based design.
Afraid that these bright colors would make the SNES appear like nothing more than a child’s toy, Nintendo of America made the decision to go with a more subdued purple and gray color scheme. It’s unclear whether or not the color scheme made a difference when it came to sales, but it’s worth noting that Nintendo decided to change their product based on pressure from a competitor.
7 The Nintendo Play Station
You didn’t read that wrong at all. The Nintendo Play Station (spelled as two words) was a planned CD-based add on that would have been compatible with the Super Nintendo, similar to how the Sega CD interacted with the Sega Genesis. The supplemental console attachment was to be the result of a joint venture between Nintendo and Sony that would have seen the two Japanese companies working together on the project.
The partnership worked well at first, but the two eventually hit a wall when it came to who would retain the rights to the games on the console. What happened next, changed the landscape of gaming forever.Instead of simply ending their partnership with Sony, Nintendo went behind Sony’s back and agreed to a partnership with Sony’s main rival, Phillips.
Everything went down at CES 1991, where Sony held a press conference announcing their partnership with Nintendo and the upcoming Play Station console. Sony then had the rug pulled out from underneath them when Nintendo took the stage the next day and announced that they were releasing the Super Disc, as made by Phillips, not Sony.
As you can imagine, the Sony team wasn’t happy and would go ahead and create their own CD-based console without Nintendo, the Sony Playstation (one word) and the rest, as they say, is history.
6 Mario’s Namesake
Everyone knows Mario as the mascot of Nintendo, but the story of how he came to be named Mario isn’t as well known. A lot of fans are aware of the fact that when Mario made his debut in the original Donkey Kong arcade game (1981) his name was Jumpman. When the team at Nintendo of America were in the process of adapting the game for western audiences, they decided that they needed a traditional name for their star. The way they landed on “Mario” for a name, however is quite the interesting little anecdote.
As the story goes, the Nintendo of America team was hard at work in their office, trying to figure out what to change Jumpman’s name to when their landlord bursted into the room. Nintendo wasn’t nearly as successful as they are now and the reality of the situation at the time was that they were behind on their rent. Their landlord demanded the money that was rightfully his and after some reassurance from the Nintendo team, he left, trusting that his money would get to him soon.
Care to guess what their landlord’s name was? That’s right, Nintendo’s mascot got his name from their old landlord, Mario Segale.
5 Nintendo Home Banking System
Back on the subject of crazy console peripherals that Nintendo created way back when, the Nintendo Home Banking System was a real thing for the Super Nintendo (SNES). Created as an add-on to the SNES, the Nintendo Home Banking System was exactly what it sounds like, it allowed users to manage their banking accounts from the ease and comfort of their Super Nintendo.
During the late 1990’s, a Canadian company called TransDirect Holding created the Nintendo Home Banking System. The idea was simple, you would connect your Super Nintendo to a phone line, insert the cartridge and plug in the special banking controller to get your work done. You could manage your accounts, set up an easy pay schedule, as well as perform a variety of other services on the system. A strange concept, to say the least, but another fantastic example of how far ahead of its time the company truly was.
When it was all said and done, however, the Nintendo Home Banking System never hit the shelves and it remains little more than an interesting footnote in the company’s history.
4 Nintendo’s Seattle Mariners
We’ve already made it clear that Nintendo is a company that is willing to go out into other industries beyond video games. What may surprise you to learn is that this trend of Nintendo venturing into other industries didn’t end with the success of their video game consoles. Beginning in 1992, Nintendo of America had been the majority owners of Major League Baseball’s Seattle Mariners.
According to an official statement from Nintendo, Yamauchi purchased the Mariners in order to show appreciation to the U.S. for helping Nintendo do business in the country. The purchase insured that the team would stay in the Pacific Northwest and continues to contribute to the region to this day.
As of April of 2016, Nintendo sold the majority of its shares in the Mariners to First Avenue Entertainment, retaining a 10% minority ownership in the team.
3 NES Knitting Machine
Just when you thought there weren’t any crazy peripherals left for Nintendo to try, you stumble upon the NES Knitting Machine. That’s right, Nintendo actually planned and made a prototype for an add-on to the NES that would let you knit things straight from your video game console.
“Now you’re knitting with power,” a phrase I never thought I would hear in reference to a Nintendo product, but it almost came true. The NES Knitting Machine never made it to retail, but a former Nintendo employee recently shared an excerpt from an old brochure. The image revealed that the add-on would have included a cartridge of some sort that would allow users to design a garment that it would then knit for you.
Unfortunately for gamers who enjoy knitting, the NES Knitting Machine prototype didn’t test very well and it has now been relegated to nothing more than whispers and rumors amongst the most devout of Nintendo fans.
2 Nothing Stops the Game Boy
Anyone who had a Game Boy back in the day will attest to just how durable the handheld console truly was. Whether you’re talking about the Game Boy’s tremendous battery life or just how the big gray brick could withstand anything that children would put it through, the Game Boy never seemed to give in and stop working. Think about it, it’s a handheld gaming device for children, it was inevitable that this thing was going to be dropped and occasionally thrown in frustration from time to time. If you’re looking for a true test of just how durable the console was, however, you needn’t look any further than the Gulf War.
An American soldier took couldn’t bear to go off to fight the war without his trusty Game Boy by his side. Who could blame him? With its library of great games, it surely would make the down time fly by a little bit quicker. Unfortunately, when the soldier’s barracks was attacked in a bombing raid, this particular Game Boy unit was hit in the explosion.
Miraculously, despite excessive damage to the console’s exterior, the Game Boy was still completely functional. Today, the Game Boy that survived a bomb is on display for all to see at the Nintendo World Store in New York.
1 The First Console Played in Space
On the topic of the Game Boy, the best part of the revolutionary console was that it allowed gamers to enjoy their favorite video games on-the-go. The Game Boy found its way to schools, offices, public transportation, and much more. With all the locations that the Game Boy found its way into, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the first video game console to be played in space was none other than the big gray brick itself.
Aleksandr A. Serebrov, a Russian cosmonaut during the 1980’s and early 1990’s was truly a Nintendo fan. During a mission in 1993, Serebrov made sure to pack his trusty Game Boy with him. This particular Game Boy console spent nearly 200 days in outer space and managed to orbit our planet over 3000 times.
It’s fitting that the Russian cosmonaut made sure to bring a copy of arguably the most famous video game to come from his country, Tetris. After all, is there a better video game to keep you occupied for nearly 200 days?