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

Nintendo is a Japanese manufacturer of game consoles and video games. To date, the company has sold more than 5.3 billion games and over 800 million consoles worldwide. A great success story – but even such a joy dispenser does not always do everything right.

Tempo handkerchief – that, after SuperMario, is probably one of the first thoughts that comes to mind when thinking of Nintendo. What does a paper handkerchief have to do with Nintendo? Quite simply, Tempo tissue was one of the first products whose brand name quickly became generic. When you think tissue, you think Tempo – and vice versa. And it’s the same with Nintendo, at least if you’re over the age of 30. If you think game console, you see one of Nintendo’s iconic consoles in your mind’s eye. It’s been a long road to becoming the market leader, though.

Early beginnings

The history of Nintendo Co Ltd goes back much further than the invention of the million-selling game console would suggest. Even to a time when the computer did not even exist as a utopia. For example, the Japanese Fusajiro Yamauchi began producing “Hanafuda”, Japanese playing cards, in Kyoto as early as 1889. Three years later, in 1902, he added Western-style playing cards. Originally intended for export, these cards quickly became very popular in Japan as well.

In 1933, the Yamauchi Nintendo & Co. was founded. In 1947, the distribution company Marufuku Co. In 1951, the name of the original company changed to Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd. and only two years later, a Japanese company succeeded in mass producing plastic playing cards for the first time.

Super Mario is born

In 1959, Nintendo started selling cards of Walt Disney characters; a clear sign that the Western lifestyle had arrived in Japan. Nintendo Playing Card Co. Ltd landed on the stock market for the first time in 1962, in Osaka as well as Kyoto. Another name change followed in 1963, to Nintendo Co., Ltd. In addition to playing cards, the company also produced games from then on. For example, starting in 1970, the “Beam Gun” series. This marked the entry of electronics into the Japanese toy industry. In 1974, the company introduced a picture projection system for arcades, which was also exported to the United States and Europe.

In 1977, the development of video games for the home followed in cooperation with Mitsubishi Electric, Nintendo’s first home video game machines were created: “TV Game 15” and “TV Game 6”. In 1979, Minoru Arakawa, son-in-law of Hiroshi Yamauchi, founded Nintendo of America in New York City. In 1980, Ninendo introduced what would become “Donkey Kong,” in which the hero – originally named Jumpman – tries to save his girlfriend Pauline from an angry monkey.

When executives building Nintendo’s U.S. headquarters in New York met the office’s landlord, Mario Segali, they thought they saw a strong resemblance to Jumpman: That was the birth of (Super) Mario. In 1984, the Famicom system was launched in Japan, later renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES for short) in light of its worldwide release. Titles available included Excitebike, Super Mario Bros, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda and Punch-Out; Super Mario Bros became a worldwide success in no time. In 1986, the next big name followed: “The Legend of Zelda” was released for the NES at that time. With 19 games to date that are part of the main series, Zelda is one of the most extensive series.

The Game Boy makes history

The same goes for another of the company’s icons. 1990 saw the launch of the Game Boy, Nintendo’s portable console, which quickly won the hearts of a worldwide player base. That same year, Nintendo of Europe was also founded as a wholly owned subsidiary of Nintendo. At that time, the subsidiary was based in Großostheim, Germany, and Nintendo Europe moved to Frankfurt in 2014. In 1991, Europe received the SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) console, of which more than 46 million have been sold worldwide to date. In 1994, the Super Game Boy followed, and Nintendo supported the development and implementation of an industry-wide game rating system in the United States.

read also: 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 this day, the series remains 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 sold.

In 2001, Nintendo UK was formed and the way was cleared for new Pokémon characters to come to Europe with Pokémon Gold and Silver for Game Boy Color. Both games were released on April 6, 2001, and by the weekend after launch, they had already sold a million units. This makes Pokémon Gold/Silver the fastest selling game ever in Europe.

In March 2005, sales of the Nintendo DS started in Europe, and three months later, one million units had already been sold. At the end of 2006, for Christmas, the Wii was the next iconically revered game console, which came with games like WarioWare, Smooth Moves, Endless Ocean and Big Brain Academy. Then in 2011, the Nintendo 3DS gave gamers the ability to experience stereoscopic 3D graphics without special glasses.

The Nintendo Wii U and Switch

As early as 2012, another development step followed 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, they released Super Mario 3D World, the first HD & multiplayer edition of a Mario 3D platform game. This was followed in 2014 by Mario Kart 8 for Wii U in HD quality, which sold 1.2 million copies in just one weekend.

2015 was then a year to celebrate. Super Mario Bros celebrated its 30th birthday and the festivities included, among many other actions, the fans. Under the banner “Let’s Super Mario” hundreds congratulated with self-recorded videos. 2016 literally continued with Pokemon: Pokemon Go was released. The mobile game took the popular concept of catching pocket monsters to the next level. March 2017 saw the release of the new home console Nintendo Switch, the latest milestone from Nintendo to date. The flexible handheld console continues to enjoy great popularity and many old Nintendo classics are now also available for the Switch. But new titles especially for the console, such as “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”, also caused a sensation.

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Clear criticism of Nintendo by Greenpeace

Now, not only die-hard Nintendo fans know that the highlights mentioned here are only a fraction of the activities with which the company has delighted its fan community over the past 40 years. Especially since it should not be hidden that even Nintendo is not completely unscathed by criticism.

First of all, you have to know that the environmental protection organization Greenpeace has been regularly denouncing the environmental sins of the big electronics companies since 2006 with its “Guide to Greener Electronics”. But Nintendo, of all companies, refused to let Greenpeace take a closer look at its products. Nintendo refused to provide information on energy efficiency and the avoidance of electronic waste, so that it repeatedly landed at the bottom of the list. Greenpeace commented on this as follows: “Doubtful honor goes to Nintendo: So far, no company has managed to get zero out of ten possible points.” This does not necessarily mean that the company processes particularly harmful substances. “But Nintendo strictly refuses to provide information about recycling programs and chemicals used,” says the environmental organization.

That Nintendo did not want to let it stand like that should be clear to everyone. “Nintendo takes its obligations to the environment very seriously: all legal regulations concerning environmental protection and product safety that affect the company are strictly adhered to. This includes the renunciation of hazardous substances in the manufacturing processes as well as the safety in the disposal or recycling of used materials,” the company explained. It said the Wii TV console is known as the most energy-efficient device of its generation. It said it has also improved the design of some of its latest products to minimize their energy consumption during use.

“Nintendo has established strict standards to control environmental protection requirements and is supported in this by all 340 production partners who work with the company,” they billed. Where exactly the truth lies now is hard to say.

Imminent closure of Nintendo eShop for WiiU and 3DS.

Another criticism of Nintendo, this time from customers, concerns the service and is just a few weeks old. Shortly before, in early February 2022, Nintendo announced that they would close the eShop for WiiU and 3DS no later than March 2023. For the users of the store, this means that “around a thousand video games” for Wii U and 3DS will then no longer be available anywhere, at least according to the estimate of Video Games Chronicle, a US trade magazine. For Nintendo, this decision is nothing more than “part of the natural life cycle of any product line,” as Spiegel Online quoted the company. However, it should also be clear that many fans of these games see things quite differently and are anything but ‘amused’.


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