Founded 130 years ago this week, Nintendo remains one of the most beloved video game companies around. For the past 40 years, the company has been synonymous with its video game entertainment systems, but for nearly a century before that, it was a playing card manufacturer.
Since switching to the electronic market, Nintendo has created some of the most recognizable characters and franchises in the world. Mario and Pikachu are just as iconic and recognized the world-over as Mickey Mouse or Batman. In celebration of the company's 130th year in business, let's take a look at some of its biggest achievements and historic moments.
THE EARLY YEARS
Nintendo didn't enter the video game business until the '70s. In 1889, Nintendo was founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi, who manufactured Hanafuda cards from his headquarters in Kyoto. He soon started to manufacture Western playing cards, too, which, shortly after, became hugely popular throughout Japan. By 1953, Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd.'s mass production of plastic cards was a historic first for Japan.
From its infancy, Nintendo was a gaming company with a focus on putting iconic characters on its products. In the late '50s, it managed to gain the license to Disney characters, who were then printed on its card sets. In the '60s, however, Nintendo rebranded itself, moving into the distribution and creation of its own games.
It wasn't until 1970 when Nintendo developed an optoelectronic shooter -- the Beam Gun series -- that it entered the world of electronics. With the success of what would later develop into the Light Gun system fans of the old NES are familiar with, Nintendo advanced, incorporating projectors into Japanese arcade systems, microprocessors, and so on. It would later enter a contract with Mitsubishi Electronic to create its first video game console: 1977's TV Game 15 and TV Game 6.
THE GAME & WATCH AND NES
Given the success of the TV Game series and a later home plug-in port of the game Othello, Nintendo (opening up a branch in America) created a hand-held system called the Game & Watch in 1980. This handheld system featured an LCD screen and microprocessor, making it one of the first portable consoles of its time. While the game is more famous today for the creation of the Smash Bros. fighter of the same name, this served as an important success for the company.
At the same time, a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto started work on an arcade game you may have heard of: Donkey Kong. The game would be released the following year, in 1981. It introduced both the titular adversary as well as its hero: "Jumpman." Many employees at Nintendo of America noticed a distinct visual similarity between Jumpman and the company's landlord, Mario Segali, leading to the team renaming Donkey Kong's hero after him. And the rest is (Nintendo) history.
From there, Nintendo started work on both a split-screen Vs. System for arcades as well as a new home console. However, before its console, the Famicom, could be released, the video game industry crashed. Sales for the Atari 2600 and its games plummeted. Cartridges that stores couldn't sell famously overflowed from landfills. Nintendo, it seemed, had missed the video game console craze.
However, the Famicom released in 1983 to stupendous acclaim, thanks in part to one particular game: Super Mario Bros. The game became an immediate blockbuster hit. From there, Nintendo added more games to the console's library: Duck Hunt, Punch-Out!!, The Legend of Zelda and several more. Americans wouldn't be able to buy the Famicom until 1985 and Europeans the year after, where it was renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System, aka the NES.
THE CONSOLE WARS
The NES managed to revitalize interest in the video game industry, which led to other companies trying to enter the industry to compete. The most notable among them was Sega. When Nintendo released its follow-up to the NES in 1991 called the Super NES (or Super Famicon in Japan), Sega threw down the gauntlet by releasing the Sega Genesis.
This began what many refer to as the "Console Wars," where the two companies competed for its audience -- well, rather, Sega attempted to keep up with Nintendo. The Super NES' library of games, which included Super Mario World, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid and Star-Fox, drew in tons of fans.
Sega created its own mascot to compete with Mario: Sonic the Hedgehog. But when even Sonic proved to be not enough, Sega released add-ons to the Genesis. Nintendo, rather, just released good games. By the time Nintendo released its N64 in 1996, Sega still couldn't compete, nor could Sony's PlayStation. Nintendo appeared to have already won the console war, consolidating its victory with the release of Mario 64.
THE HANDHELD MARKET
In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy. This handheld console proved to be, at the time, the most accessible portable gaming console of all time. The Game Boy was followed up by the Game Boy Color and, later, Game Boy Advance.
This console would introduce fans to even more iconic characters, namely through Kirby's Dream Land and Pokémon Red and Blue.
That's not to say Nintendo didn't stumble along the way. Of note, the handheld VR console the Virtual Boy remains one of Nintendo's biggest failures in its history. However, its successes eclipse its shortcomings.
Nintendo would remain virtually unmatched in the field of handheld games until Sony released the PlayStation Portable. However, Nintendo's brand recognition helped the Nintendo DS outsell Sony's portable system. To this day, Nintendo's handheld consoles remain some of its most successful ever.
Following the soft landing of the Nintendo GameCube, Nintendo decided to reinvent the gaming wheel again. Enter the Wii: one of Nintendo's most innovative consoles around. Drawing, perhaps, from its early '70s success with its Beam Gun series, Nintendo decided to create a motion-sensitive controller that could affect what happened in-game.
The console, aided by a brilliant, family-focused marketing campaign, managed to be one of the company's top sellers. However, its following console, the Wii U, proved to be one of its weakest, as many casual fans didn't know the Wii U was a separate console from the Wii.
Nintendo's most recent console, the Switch, has proven to be another huge success again, with Nintendo combining its handheld and console gaming to create a masterful blend.
After over a century, Nintendo is still one of the most innovative and creative gaming companies around, in part due to its pure drive to create games that offer a unique entertainment experience. Hopefully, fans can look forward to many more years with Mario, Link, Pikachu and the rest.