Playing with power
Would you believe me if I told you there's a game publisher that's over a century old? Seriously, Nintendo, the Kyoto based company turned 125 years old September 23, 2014, starting as a card and toy manufacturer, and then becoming part of the young gaming market in the 1970s, making some of the most celebrated games of all time. The company has millions of diehard fans, but with all that history, it's impossible for those dedicated gamers to know everything about Mario's home.
To celebrate the incredibly long-lived company, this feature combs through Nintendo past to expose the obscure facts about the game maker. Think you know every little piece of Nintendo trivia? Take a look at the following list and see if that's actually the case. Ill bet at least a few will surprise even the most informed Nintendo devotee.
The first d-pad was created for a Nintendo game
Enjoy using a simple, plus sign-shaped directional pad to get around? Then be thankful that back in 1982 the Game & Watch developers at Nintendo came up with it. Headed by Gunpei Yokoi (who later went on to design the Game Boy), the team decided on the cross shape and concave middle as the best way to control 2D movement in their G&W port of Donkey Kong. Nintendo patented the d-pad and has used it ever since, which explains why its console competitors like Sony and Microsoft use variations on that design for their d-pads, because they legally cant directly copy Nintendos.
Nintendo had the same president for more than 50 years
To current Nintendo fans the top man at the company has always been Satoru Iwata, but for gamers paying attention before 2005, they knew a different boss, one that seemed as stern as Iwata seems friendly. The late Hiroshi Yamauchi not only ran the company from the creation of the NES all the way up to the last years of the GameCube, he was in charge of the company since 1949! He was known for being a tough businessman, but also had a very keen eye for what games would end up being popular in the '80s and '90s. After retiring as head of Nintendo in 2005, he remained the companys largest individual shareholder until his death in 2013, which made him (according to Forbes) the 11th richest man in Japan, valued at over 2.7 billion dollars in 2012.
Luigi is green in Mario Bros because it matches the turtles
Memory space was at such a premium in classic arcade games that every asset included in a game had to be chosen carefully and reused as necessary. That explains why so many early arcade games featured a second playable character that was a clone of the main character, and that includes Luigi. The developers couldnt add any new colors to the game for him, so they recycled the ones used for the games turtles. And that practical decision is why Luigi is so famous for wearing green.
Nintendo got its start making playing cards
This is well known to dedicated Nintendo historians, but many still dont know that the console maker got its start more than 100 years ago selling playing cards. For the longest time it was a simple toy manufacturer based in Kyoto, Japan that made the majority of its income off playing cards and other toy fads. Once the video game boom hit Japan, Nintendo tried to cash in on the trend like many other toy makers, though obviously it ended up being the most successful. The company currently celebrates its card selling history by offering traditional hanafuda cards via its Club Nintendo consumer service.
Demos for Game & Watch games were made as paper dioramas
When Nintendo first entered the console world with the Famicom, the company not only was famous for Donkey Kong, but also had a big hit with single game handhelds/clocks known as Game & Watch. The systems repurposed cheap LCD calculator tech to create simple games, but the demo units were even simpler. As explained in an informative Iwata Asks interview, the teams responsible for those games would build test models out of paper and light bulbs before creating the games. Its amazing now to think of the modest solutions developers had to come up with in those early days.
Shigeru Miyamoto originally wanted to be a manga artist
Before he ever cared about video games, Shigeru Miyamoto dreamed of being a comic book artist in Japan, and was first hired at Nintendo as a member of its art team. Soon he used his visually-oriented mind to conceive Donkey Kong, and that games success forever established him as one of the top creators in gaming. Still, Miyamoto loves the manga medium, and has done his best to give it a boost from time to time. For example, he got celebrated manga artist Shotaro Ishinomori to create a Link to the Past comic in the early 1990s that appeared in Nintendo Power in the US, introducing many Americans to the format (even if they didnt know it).
Duck Hunt got its start as a toy in the 1970s
For millions of gamers, Duck Hunt is known as the other game that came with your NES on the same cartridge as Super Mario Bros. Few that played the shooter are aware it was a remake of one of Nintendo's more popular toys of the 1970s. That earlier Duck Hunt worked pretty much the same as on the NES, using a projector to place ducks on a wall that you would then shoot with a light gun. The ducks still fall straight down if you hit them, but no dog laughs at you when you miss, so perhaps the primitive original is the superior version.
Miyamotos first NES game never came to the US due to demonic imagery
For the longest time, Nintendo of America had some of the strictest content rules of any publisher, particularly when it came to religious imagery. Games like Castlevania and Dragon Quest had to remove crosses and such from the campaigns, while the restriction completely prevented Miyamotos Devil World from coming to the US. Released in Japan and Europe early in the NESs lifespan, it was a fairly straightforward Pac-Man clone, only it was about killing demons with the power of the crucifix and the Bible. Despite Nintendo relaxing its standards and the game hitting the Virtual Console in both Japan and Europe, Devil World still hasnt been made available officially in the US.
Mario appeared in Punch-Out!! without formal permission
Its difficult to get permission to have a character as famous as Mario make a cameo in any game, even when said game is made by Nintendo. You normally have to deal with a ton of red tape and approvals, but back in the wild days of the NES, Mario appeared as the referee in Punch-Out!! simply because artist Makoto Wada drew him as the ref. Wada didnt even bother checking with Miyamoto to get approval, which explains why Marios face is a little...off in the game.
Japan's NES Zapper looks like a real gun
When you compare the NES light guns Nintendo produced for the US and Japan, you can definitely see cultural differences between the two nations views on firearms. Nintendos home country has very restrictive gun control compared to the US, which could be a reason theres a market for very real looking toys like the Japanese Famicom Zapper. In the US, where gun ownership is comparatively lax, giving kids a convincing revolver controller would likely be cause for alarm. So it isnt surprising that the NES Zapper looks so sci-fi, particularly the second iterations orange plastic.
Kid Icarus: Uprisings box art is tougher in the US
One of greatest strengths of the long-awaited Kid Icarus sequel was its stupendous sense of humor, usually embodied in protagonist Pits many fun, fourth-wall-breaking quips. The wannabe angel is a free spirit, but apparently a happy smile is a turnoff to American consumers, at least according to the box art. The Japanese cover is virtually the same as in the US, but Americans saw his mouth closed in a determined frown, perhaps to show us what a badass he is. Sheesh.
...as is most Kirby box art
The change to Kid Icarus cover art was hardly a first for Nintendo. Almost every Kirby game released in the US alters the star on the box art, giving him angry eyes--likely in an attempt to make the character a little more edgy. Look, Nintendo, we know Kirby games are colorful adventures that star a fluffy, pink marshmallow. Arched eyebrows wont make us forget Kirbys undeniable adorableness.
Miyamoto is forced to drive to work
Shigeru Miyamoto is so important to Nintendo that the mere rumor of retirement will cause the companys stock price to drop. With such keen interest in the developer, its not surprising that Nintendo forces him to drive to work instead of walking or riding a bike as hed prefer. According to an in-depth New Yorker article, Miyamoto has been made to drive to work for the companys peace of mind, which makes you wonder what other health and safety measures are enforced. Is he not allowed to smoke or drink? Do they make sure he eats healthy? Does the company give him a monthly physical?
Kirbys original name was Tinkle Popo
Nintendo has always had some trouble selling the ultra cute Kirby to the masses in America. Apparently many of the young boys in its core audience reject the cute, pink puffball, which is their loss because Kirby is badass. But Nintendo would have had an even tougher time selling him abroad under his original name, Tinkle Popo. As revealed at the GDC 2011 keynote, Kirby developer and current Nintendo President Satoru Iwata ultimately changed it to Kirby after realizing that name would likely never sell in the US as Tinkle Popo.
Little Mac appears in Fight Night Round 2
Everyone remembers when Mario and his friends appeared in NBA Street and SSX games on GameCube, but many forget Nintendo lent its characters to a third EA Sports game. In the GameCube edition of Fight Night Round 2, Little Mac of Punch-Out!! fame is an unlockable fighter. Hopefully this was able to satisfy Punch-Out!! fans during their long wait for a true sequel on the Wii.
Luigi first appeared in a Game & Watch game
2013 was the 30th anniversary of Luigi, but it turns out that his first appearance wasn't technically in the Mario Bros. arcade game like many think. While it's very likely that the arcade classic was in development first, the earliest game released with Luigi was the 1983 Game & Watch handheld, titled Mario Bros. as well. Luigi is still wearing his trademark green in the box art, but Mario and Luigi are working in some sort of bottling plant, a far cry from their plumbing business. Perhaps they were moonlighting?
The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess began as a direct sequel to Wind Waker
History has since proven Wind Waker to be one of the best games ever, but a vocal group had such a poor reaction to the cartoony graphics when it released that many worried the series had gone too kiddie. Even the Zelda development team had concerns about the reaction to Wind Waker, because the devs scrapped plans to make its next game a direct sequel on the GameCube. (Clearly they enjoyed it themselves, because direct sequels are rare in Link's history.) As Zelda mastermind Eiji Aonuma explained it, the company chose to go in a totally different direction, redoing the graphics and story to make Twilight Princess the most realistic entry to date. Who says Nintendo doesn't listen to its fans?
Cruis'n USA was created by the same man as Defender and Robotron
Most creators of early arcade games shuffled off into obscurity for one reason or another, often unable to keep up with a rapidly growing industry. But Eugene Jarvis wouldnt disappear so easily. After creating iconic arcade games like Defender and Robotron, Jarvis stayed in the gaming industry long enough to help Nintendo create Cruisn USA, a proto-N64 game meant to showcase what the graphics of that upcoming console would theoretically look like.
Nintendos earliest toy hit is referenced in multiple games
Gunpei Yokoi is one of most important people in gaming history, thanks in part to his strong influence on the creation of the D-pad and portable gaming. But his greatest creation might just be the Ultra Hand, an extending reaching tool that the kids of Japan just loved. It was Nintendo's first big toy success, setting the playing card company on a path that would lead to arcade games 20 years later. And Nintendo still pays tribute to this important item, giving it multiple cameos in games like WarioWare and obscure Wii downloadable Grill-Off With Ultra Hand.
Fire Emblem: Awakenings map connects it to the earliest games
Fire Emblem has some history of creating direct sequels, but more often than not, a new entry means a fresh collection of warring nations. The 3DS entry, Awakening, initially seems unconnected to any previous release--but eventually, references start getting thrown in that allude to the earliest games in the series. And while Awakening never says it outright, when the maps of the first two Fire Emblems are placed next to Awakenings, its clear that all three games take place in the same universe, separated only by centuries.
Luigi's Mansion was once planned as a 3D game
Luigis Mansion got a long-overdue sequel on the 3DS, but the reasoning for the series moving to handhelds revealed an interesting secret from Nintendos history. The sequel came about after the original Luigis Mansion stages were rebuilt on the 3DS to test out the 3D. Why choose that game to test the new feature? Because the GameCube was originally intended to have optional 3D visuals, and Luigis Mansion was initially developed with those capabilities in mind. The functional 3D version of the 'Cube never left Nintendos internal testing, but Luigi got to reach his full graphical potential in the sequel.
Totakas Song has been found hidden in more than a dozen Nintendo games
Though Nintendo mainstays Koji Kondo and Hip Tanaka are two of the most famous Nintendo composers, Kazumi Totaka has recently gained some fame after working on Nintendo games for decades. The inspiration for Animal Crossings K.K. Slider, Totaka is now known for the simple melody that hes snuck into more than a dozen games. As this informative video series details, the song has been found in titles like Luigis Mansion, Mario Paint, and Links Awakening. Who knows where it will be found next?
Marths voice in Smash Bros. Melee comes from the Fire Emblem anime
Fire Emblem had long been a success in Japan when its first hero, Marth, joined the roster of the GameCube Smash Bros. entry--but he was a stranger to Americans. Thankfully, Nintendo chose to include him in the US release, and they even kept his Japanese voice actor, Hikaru Midorikawa. Perhaps it was because Hikaru had experience with the role, since he also played Marth in a short lived anime based on Fire Emblem.