Welcome to the Infendo Presents: The History of Nintendo! Join us as we chronicle Nintendo from their humble hanafuda beginnings, to the dominance of the Wii and DS and beyond!
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So if you couldn’t believe that Nintendo started off making cards, it may have been even more surprising that they also made plastic toys. By the end of 1977, when both the Color TV-Game 6 and Color TV-Game 15 were released, Nintendo’s intentions couldn’t have been more clear. They wanted in on the video game market. Before their first proper entry into the home video game market, however, Nintendo took a slight detour into slightly familiar territory. The arcade.
As mentioned earlier, Nintendo’s technical first entry into the arcade was with the Laser Clay Shooting System in 1973 and later the Mini Laser Clay in 1974. The Mini Laser Clay system would be redesigned many times, making use of different 16mm projected videos.
Wild Gunman was the first of these such arcade cabinets, which was released in 1974. Soon to follow were Shooting Trainer (1976), Sky Hawk (1976), Battle Shark (1977), Test Triver (1977), and New Shooting Trainer (1978).
The 16mm projected video units would continue to garner sufficient sales throughout the rest of the 70’s, however, even as Nintendo was releasing these units into the Japanese market, they were already experimenting in another arena.
Released in 1975, EVR Race was Nintendo’s first entry into the video arcade game market. Created by Genyo Takeda, EVR Race was an extremely large unit and could be played by six players simultaneously. The premise of the game was simple: horses would race on-screen and players would predict which horse would be the winner.
Shigeru Miyamoto often jokes that Genyo Takeda is Nintendo’s first game designer as EVR Race was Nintendo’s first video game; however, many would argue that the honor should go to Gunpei Yokoi for his responsibilities in the development of the 16mm projected video units one year earlier.
After EVR Race which was deemed too difficult to maintain because of it’s mechanical nature (the game used a videotape making for lots of breakdowns), Nintendo’s next arcade cabinet would be made entirely based off of computer code displayed to a monitor.
Designed by Genyo Takeda with art from Shigeru Miyamoto, Sheriff may look familiar to all you Smash Bros. fans out there. Notice the sprite of the main character?
Released in 1979, Sheriff had players using two joysticks to control the characters walking direction and shooting direction respectively. The sheriff was tasked with shooting all 16 bandits that would appear along the outside of the play-field. Occasionally, the bandits would enter the central area, signified by a change in game music.
Who knew that Nintendo was one of the first creators of a ‘twin-stick shooter’!?
Important not necessarily because of it’s success be rather because of it’s infamous failure in North American arcades, Radar Scope was released to Japanese arcades in 1979. After finding success in Japan, president of the newly founded Nintendo of America Minoru Arakawa placed a huge order for the North American release.
Because of the very nature of manufacturing arcade cabinets, many months passed before the Radar Scope cabinets arrived in New York for it’s initial release. Much of the buzz surrounding the title had passed, leaving Nintendo of America sitting on a number of unsold units.
As the story goes, Arakawa begged his father-in-law Hiroshi Yamauchi to supply a new game which could be installed on the unsold Radar Scope units. Yamauchi took this request back to Nintendo of Japan asking employees to come up with ideas for a new game. Shigeru Miyamoto would come up for an idea that would later become Donkey Kong in 1981.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Nintendo’s legal issues regarding many of these arcade games. According to some sources, in the early 80’s many video game companies, including Nintendo, subcontracted development work to a company by the name of Ikegami Tsushinki.
Among the games that may have been developed by Ikegami are: Computer Othello (1978), Block Fever (1978), Radar Scope (1979), Sheriff (1979), Monkey Magic (1979), Donkey Kong (1981), Space Fever (1979), Space Launcher (1979), Space Firebird (1980), Heli Fire (1980), Space Demon (1981), Sky Skipper (1981), and , Popeye (1982).
Ikegami would later sue Nintendo for unauthorized duplication of of the Donkey Kong code for the use in subsequent titles. In 1983 Nintendo and Ikegami Tsushinki would go to Tokyo District Court, but the matter wasn’t settled until 1989 when the Tokyo High Court gave a verdict that accessed that Nintendo did indeed use such code infringing on Ikegami Tsushinki.
Ikegami and Nintendo would reach a settlement in 1990, the terms of which were never made public. It is possible that Nintendo doesn’t own the rights to the original code for Donkey Kong and other such titles, which may be why Nintendo has never opened up its vaults and given the world a proper arcade collection.
Of its early arcade titles, Donkey Kong was undoubtedly the most successful of the bunch. The game would eventually be ported to many of the home consoles of time including the Atari 2600, the Intellivision, and the ColecoVision. Seeing the success of others in the market, Nintendo themselves would soon enter the console market with its own unit, the Famicom.
Join us Monday as we continue our History of Nintendo series as we chronicle Nintendo’s next stab at the home console market, as well as take a glimpse at their first entry into the handheld space.