Monday, February 28, 2011

Nintendo Custom Gunman and Custom Lion (カスタム ガンマン, カスタム ライオン, 1976)

Arguably the most spectacular toys in the Nintendo Kousenjuu series are Customer Gunman (カスタム ガンマン) and Custom Lion (カスタム ライオン).

"Kousenjuu Custom Gunman Set"

The US Patent for Custom Gunman and Custom Lion is credited to Takehiro Izushi.

The targets were released in 1976 and sold in two versions each, retailing for ¥5,000 and ¥7,500, respectively.

All versions of Custom Gunman and Custom Lion, together with Custom Gun

One version, shown on the left in above picture, contained only a target, and was aptly called Custom Gunman Target (カスタム ガンマ ターゲット) and Custom Lion Target (カスタム ライオン ターゲット). The other version, shown on the right, contained both a target and a Custom Gun, and was called Custom Gunman Set (カスタム ガンマ セット) and Custom Lion Set (カスタム ライオン セット).

The Custom Gun (カスタム ガン) was also sold loose, for ¥2,500.

As an aside: as you can see, there was no price difference between the set and the loose target and gun. This would both cost you ¥7,500. I have found this to be typical of how prices are set in Japan, whereas in other cultures buying a set would provide you with some form of discount. I personally like the Japanese way; there is no push, no advantage in buying more at the same time. You can buy the various parts when you feel like it, without spending more.

Back to the gun. This Custom Gun is a new type, different to the Kousenjuu SP Gun from 1970. They can be easily distinguished, as the Custom Gun has a brown handle, as opposed to the white handle of the Kousenjuu SP Gun. The newer gun also has a slightly lighter feel, which is explained by the plastic trigger mechanism which has replaced the metal mechanism of he older gun.

More importantly, by using a different type of light source and a focal lens at the end of the gun, the new Custom Gun is capably of hitting a target at a far greater distance. The Customer Lever Action Riffle from 1971 uses the same technology, and can also be used to shoot these targets. The Kousenjuu SP Gun will not work on the Custom targets.

The Custom Lion target is slightly bulkier, and comes in a bigger (higher) box.

Both games feature nice drawings on the front and sides, showing the game action.

The Custom Gunman Set and Custom Lion Set include the Custom Gun

I am not sure why that lion is looking so happy, while it is being hit in the gut.

Maybe it is just doing a bad job looking surprised?

Custom Gunman is a cool dude, mustache and all. But first, let's get him out of his box.

We load the Gunman with 2 C-cells and the gun with two AA batteries.

Note how the light sensor is placed strategically in the cowboy's heart area.

After switching on the game, it starts producing a quite frightful whirring sound, as the Gunman self-erects. When it is fully standing up, the sound stops.

Now, nothing remains but silence. The Gunman is squinting, staring us in the eye. Are you looking at me?

We take aim, and fire. The Gunman, hit, falls to the ground.

After laying dead for a few precious seconds, he recomposes himself and stands up again. Ready for another showdown.

The base of the game contains a clever mechanism, which pulls the two metal cables in the legs of the Gunman to erect him. When the sensor detects a hit, these cables are suddenly released, making the guy fall. The cables also double as wiring to the light sensor in his torso.

Custom Gunman Target and Customer Lion Target, without gun

For those who already had a gun but wanted to get an additional target, they could also be bought loose.

As most people bought the set with target and gun, the versions with just the target are much rarer these days, as they were produced in much smaller quantities.

These games were the last of the Kousenjuu light gun targets produced, and I believe Nintendo saved the best for last. You could say the series ended with a bang.

Recently some information surfaced about US releases of Custom Gunman: Sharp Shooter, Glaring Gorilla and Shoot Em Ups. It is not clear of these were officially licensed, but they are most likely illegal clones.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nintendo Rabbit Coaster Game (ラビットコースターゲーム, mid 60's)

After decades of being a specialist in the field of producing and selling playing cards, in an effort to grow the company, Nintendo entered the toy market in the mid 60's, with a quickly expanding array of toys.

The marble-race like "coaster" games are among the earliest (if not the earliest) of Nintendo's toys from this period. Their exact release date is unknown, but they are believed to be from around 1965.

In total five different versions of "coasters" exist. Well, actually there are seven, if you also count the one in the Mini Game Series and the N&B Block version. Below we will take a close-up look at one of these, called Rabbit Coaster (ラビットコースターゲーム).

Nintendo Rabbit Coaster

The game came in a nice box, which measures around 30 by 40 centimeters. It cost ¥800.

The front of the box shows the game in a fantasy environment, which resembles some kind of a race track.

The box features the name of the game in both Japanese and English. An early version of the Nintendo logo can be seen on the side of the box.

The game has to be put together before it can be played. Assembly instructions are given on the inside of the lid.

Included with the parts is a small bag with two sheep and some fences, which will be used to decorate the bottom "meadow" section of the race track.

Also included, some glue to put the various parts together, a small piece of metal to be used as screwdriver, and a little bag with the "beans" which we will use for the race.

The plastic beans contain a lead ball, which will make the bean flip over and over as it comes down the track. The wobbly effect this creates is part of the fun of this game. It also make the beans run slower down the track than marbles would, prolonging the race and adding to the suspense.

Once assembled, the race track consists of 4 layers on top of each other. During the race the beans will work their way down to the finish line at the bottom right.

To prepare for the start of the race, the beans are placed in a holder which forms the starting line. To start, one of the two levers attached to this holder is pressed, releasing the beans.

The beans now start tumbling down the sloped track.

Each track piece contains holes at the end, allowing the beans to drop one level down.

After traversing down three track pieces, the beans arrive at the bottom; the final stretch.

After a mad dash they arrive at the finish line.

Pink the clear winner. Please note the Nintendo logo on the finish line piece.

Because of the way the beans tumble and wobble, the race is quite unpredictable, which make it genuinely exciting.

Let's race one more time!

The other Coaster games are Rabbit Coaster Game (different version), New Coaster Game, Ultra Coaster Game and Captain Ultra Coaster and N&B Block Coaster.

Nintendo Electro Safari and Electro Bird targets (エレクトロ サファリ, エレクトロ バード 1970)

The Kôsenjû SP series of light-beam toys was introduced in a previous post. Today we will take a closer look at two of the targets in this series: Electro Safari (エレクトロ サファリ) and Electro Bird (エレクトロ バード). Depending on your taste, they are either the most flamboyant of the series or the most kitschy. In any case, they are a lot of fun. These targets are also another nice engineering feat by the Nintendo team, as you will find out below.

Electro Safari and Electro Bird - two targets from the Kôsenjû SP series

The targets cost ¥5,900 each, a require an Kôsenjû SP Gun or Riffle to be played (sold separately). The targets are quite big (55cm by 45 cm) and so, naturally, are the boxes. The box-art is well designed: it explains the purpose of the game very well, in an inviting way.

Let's take a look at the Electro Safari first.

Kôsenjû SP Electro Safari

Of the two, I like this design the most. That boy with his safari helmet on immediately gets you in the mood to shoot some prey.

The target is a framed wildlife scene, showing a wild animal popping through the lush vegetation. The white (plastic) frame may not be to everyone's taste, but the game definitely gives you the feeling you are on a safari.

Instruction taken from the manual: aim at target and shoot

You would hang the target on a wall, and take aim with either your Kôsenjû SP Gun or Riffle.

You can see the light sensitive sensor sitting just below the black panther. Hit it and the poor animal will plummet behind the scenery: dead, or at least badly wounded.

But hitting one animal is just the start. As soon as the panther disappeared, another animal appears. A lion!

Shoot the lion, and a cheetah is up next. You can already see it lurking behind the rock on the right. When you have successfully struck the cheetah, the black panther appears again (it apparently made a quick recovery), and the fun starts all over.

Kôsenjû SP Electro Bird

The second target, Kôsenjû SP Electro Bird, works similar, but this time it features three birds instead of cats.

The frame is identical to the Safari game, but here we have a rough mountain scene.

Surely you have become curious by now, about how this targets actually works. So let us take a peak inside. Hope this doesn't spoil the mystery for you. If it does, quickly look away.

It is a good thing toys from this age are simply screwed together, and can be easily taken apart. We have loosened the back from the frame, and removed the front to expose the innards. On the left, you see the backside of the scenery. The wiring to the sensor has been cleverly guided behind the painted tree branch to make it invisible from the front.

In left-bottom corner of the back plate we see the battery holder (the black box, which takes 2 C-cells and a 9 volt block) and right to this a motor which move the birds. Above the battery box sit the electronics which control the motor when a hit is detected by the sensor.

The birds are attached to a transparent disc, which moves 120 degrees counter-clockwise each time the target is successfully hit. This moves the next animal into view, keeping the rest of the mechanism hidden by the scenery. The birds aren't fixedly attached to the disc, but are mounted on axles that allow them to spin. When the disc turns, the birds stay level by a little lead weight at the bottom of the bird.

Underneath the bird on the left sits a clever mechanism which makes the bird spin when the disc is moved. This caused the dramatic tumbling-to-its-death effect.

To conclude this post, here you can see it in action.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Nintendo Love Tester (ラブテスター, 1969)

In 1969 a Nintendo toy aimed at a more mature market saw the light of day. Advertised to be 'for young ladies and men', the Electronic Love Tester (ラブテスター) was another brainchild of Gunpei Yokoi.

The Love Tester retailed for ¥1,800 and runs on a single AA battery. It came with a black plastic (leather-like) carry pouch.

Although the simple circuitry in the toy most likely only measured the level of conductivity of the couple, rather than love, this did not stop the toy from bringing Nintendo another hit. The Love Tester was the first Nintendo produced item to contain electronics, albeit quite rudimentary technology. [A few years earlier, Nintendo was already selling a walkie-talkie set, called Companion. However, these were manufactured by Sharp.]

To use the toy, a couple would hold hands with one another while holding one of the two metal cups each. The meter in the Love Tester would then indicate the 'level of love' that existed between the couple, using a scale of 0 to 100.

Trade flyer advertising the Love Tester

In the Sixties in Japan, dating etiquette was still pretty strict, and the excuse the toy brought to hold hands and break the ice was surely part of its success.

The Nintendo logo and copyright on the back of the Love Tester

Some years after the initial release, the Love Tester was sold as one of the toys in the Mini Game Series.

Mini Game Series version of Love Tester

At the end of the Sixties, Nintendo set its first steps in the world of export and international distribution. Although Nintendo did not sell any product in large quantities abroad until the Ten Billion puzzle and Game & Watch, international versions of some earlier products do exists.

"How good a lover are you?" Use the Love Tester to find out!

One of these is this American (?) release of the Love Tester. It came in a small box, without the carry pouch.

The international release of the Love Tester which surfaced in the USA

Not much is known about this release, except that they apparently were "great fun at parties" (as advertised on the box), and extremely rare today.

"Terminal Knob". I like that phrase.

A second American release was through a company called Lido Designs Inc. They sold the Love Tester in the original packaging, with an English language leaflet. 

More information about this Lido Designs version here

Love Tester remakes

In recent years, two different remakes of the Love Tester have been released in Japan, keeping this great toy alive.