Nintendo – the almost 90-year history of the gaming empire

From playing cards to a global corporation

By Andreas Kötter | May 26, 2022 at 6:50 p.m

Tempo handkerchief – this is probably one of the first thoughts that comes to mind when you think of Nintendo, after SuperMario. What does a tissue have to do with Nintendo? Quite simply: the Tempo cloth was one of the first products whose brand name quickly became a generic term. If you think paper handkerchief, you think speed – and vice versa. And it's the same with Nintendo, at least if you're over 30 years old. When you think of a game console, you see one of Nintendo's iconic consoles in front of your eyes. However, it was a long way to becoming the market leader.

Early Beginnings

The history of Nintendo Co. Ltd goes back much further than the invention of the million-selling games console would suggest. Even up to a time when the computer didn't even exist as a utopia. As early as 1889, the Japanese Fusajiro Yamauchi began to produce "Hanafuda", which are Japanese playing cards, in Kyoto. Three years later, in 1902, Western-style playing cards were added. Originally intended for export, these cards quickly became very popular in Japan.
In 1933 Yamauchi Nintendo & Co. was founded. In 1947 the sales company Marufuku Co. Ltd. follows. In 1951, the original company changed its name to Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. and only two years later, a Japanese company succeeds in mass-producing plastic playing cards for the first time.

Super Mario is born

In 1959, Nintendo started selling Walt Disney character cards; a clear sign that the western lifestyle has also arrived in Japan. Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd was first listed on the stock exchange in Osaka and Kyoto in 1962. Another name change followed in 1963, in Nintendo Co., Ltd. In addition to playing cards, the company also produced games from then on. For example, from 1970 the "Beam Gun" series. This is how electronics found their way into the Japanese toy industry. Then, in 1974, an image projection system for arcades was introduced, which was also exported to the United States of America and Europe.
When those responsible for setting up Nintendo's US headquarters in New York met the office's landlord, Mario Segali, they thought they saw a great resemblance to Jumpman: that was the birth of (Super)Mario. In 1984, the Famicom system came onto the market in Japan, which was later renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES for short) in view of its worldwide release. Available titles included Excitebike, Super Mario Bros., Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and Punch-Out; Super Mario Bros. becomes a worldwide success in a very short time. The next big name followed in 1986: "The Legend of Zelda" was released for the NES at the time. With 19 games to date that are part of the main series, Zelda is one of the largest series.

The Game Boy makes history

The same goes for another icon of the company. In 1990 the Game Boy was introduced, Nintendo's portable console, which quickly stole the hearts of a worldwide player base. In the same year, Nintendo of Europe was founded as a wholly owned subsidiary of Nintendo. Headquarters of the subsidiary at that time: Großostheim in Germany, Nintendo Europe only moved to Frankfurt in 2014. In 1991, Europe got the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) console, which has sold more than 46 million units worldwide to date. The Super Game Boy followed in 1994, and Nintendo supported the development and implementation of an industry-wide game rating system in the USA.
Also Read: The 10 Most Popular Game Boy Games of All Time

Gotta Catch 'Em All!

In 1996, Pokémon, a new gaming phenomenon on the Game Boy, saw the light of day in Japan. To date, the series is one of the most well-known and popular in the world. A year later, in 1997, the Nintendo Game Boy was the best-selling console of all time with more than 100,000,000 units.
Nintendo UK was formed in 2001 and the way is clear for new Pokémon characters coming to Europe with Pokémon Gold and Silver for the Game Boy Color. Both games were released on April 6, 2001 and sold a million copies within the weekend of their release. This makes Pokémon Gold/Silver the fastest-selling game in Europe.
In March 2005, sales of the Nintendo DS started in Europe, three months later one million units had already been sold. At the end of 2006, around Christmas, the next iconic gaming console followed, the Wii, which came with games like WarioWare, Smooth Moves, Endless Ocean and Big Brain Academy. In 2011, the Nintendo 3DS gave players the opportunity to experience stereoscopic 3D graphics without special glasses.

The Nintendo Wii U and Switch

Another development step followed in 2012 with the Wii U. The unique selling point of Nintendo's first HD home console: the tablet-like controller (Wii U Gamepad). This has a touchscreen so that two screens are available for image output; the TV and the gamepad. In 2013, Super Mario 3D World was released as the first HD & multiplayer edition of a Mario 3D platform game. Mario Kart 8 followed in 2014 for Wii U in HD quality, selling 1.2 million copies in just one weekend.

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Also read: This is what the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service offers

Clear criticism of Nintendo from Greenpeace

Not only die-hard Nintendo fans are sure to know that the highlights mentioned here represent only a fraction of the activities with which the company has delighted its fan base over the past 40 years or so. Especially since it should not be concealed that even Nintendo is not entirely untouched by criticism.
First of all, you have to know that the environmental protection organization Greenpeace has regularly denounced the environmental sins of the large electronics companies with the “Guide to Greener Electronics” since 2006. But Nintendo of all people didn't want to be looked at on their fingers or in their devices. Nintendo refused to provide information on the points of energy efficiency and avoidance of electronic waste, so that it repeatedly ended up at the bottom of the list. Greenpeace said: "Nintendo deserves a dubious honor: So far, no company has managed to get zero out of ten possible points." That doesn't necessarily mean that the group processes particularly harmful substances. "But Nintendo strictly refuses to provide information about recycling programs and chemicals used," said the environmental organization.
It should be clear to everyone that Nintendo didn't want to leave it like that. “Nintendo takes its environmental commitments very seriously: all environmental and product safety laws that affect the company are strictly adhered to. This includes avoiding the use of hazardous substances in the manufacturing processes as well as ensuring safety when disposing of or recycling the materials used,” the company explained. The Wii TV console is known as the most energy-efficient device of its generation. They have also improved the design of some of the latest products to minimize their energy consumption during use.
"Nintendo has set strict standards to control environmental requirements and is supported by all 340 manufacturing partners who work with the company," the company said. Where exactly the truth lies is difficult to say.
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