Thursday, March 31, 2011

Nintendo Kôsenjû Custom Lever Action Rifle and Scope (光線銃 カスタム レバーアクション ライフル, スコープ, 1971)

One of the more spectacular shooting toys created by Nintendo is the Kôsenjû Custom Lever Action Rifle (光線銃 カスタム レバーアクション ライフル). This item definitely lives up to the expectations created by its impressive name.

Kôsenjû Custom Lever Action Rifle (1971)

Released in 1971 as part of the Kôsenjû Custom (光線銃 カスタム) series, it is a light beam gun which can be used to shoot the Kôsenjû SP and Kôsenjû Custom targets.

It was expensive at ¥14,000. The price later dropped to ¥7,800, then ¥5,000

The Custom Lever Action Rifle is a little over one meter in length and has a healthy weight of 2.3 kg. It is made from metal and heavy plastic (with a wood-like finish) and feels like handling the real thing.

It must be one of the most realistic toy rifles out there. I am pretty sure something like this cannot be sold anymore in a toy store today. Recently one was shipped to me from Japan by regular mail, and I was surprised Japan Post accepted it, and the package made it through customs without a problem. That must be encouraging news for the arms smugglers within our readership.

The lever is used to load the rifle

Anyway, back to the riffle. Why is it called Lever Action Rifle, you want to know?

Pulling the lever pushes out the hammer

Well, easy: you use a lever to load the rifle and prepare it for action.

The rifle is loaded!

Once the rifle has been loaded, pulling the trigger will release the hammer with a nice heavy clunk. A small light bulb will flash in the barrel of the gun, beaming towards the target and hitting it. That is, if the shot was well aimed, of course.

The Custom Lever Action Rifle is capable of hitting a target at great distances, thanks to a strong flash light powered by 4 C cells. The manual claims distances between 30 and 100 meters are possible.

If we look at the box more closely, we see a telescopic sight mounted on the rifle. That could come in handy when shooting a target at these kind of distances! However, even though it is pictured on the box, it does not come with the rifle.

Wait a minute... that scope is not included!

Fortunately, the scope could be bought separately, as an accessory. Unfortunately, while the rifle itself is not very rare, the scope was sold in very small quantities, making it one of the most difficult to find Nintendo items these days.

Custom Lever Action Rifle Scope (1971)

The official name is Custom Lever Action Rifle Scope (レバーアクション ライフル スコープ). It was sold for ¥3,800.

Custom Lever Action Rifle Scope

The Scope is a high quality optical piece. It comes with two protective caps.

Magnification of 4 x 20 is provided by the scope.

Mounting the scope - step 1

The scope is mounted on the riffle using the included screwdriver. First we attach a metal slider.

Mounting the scope - step 2

As the rifle itself was already pretty expensive, most people will have skipped buying the scope accessory. They will definitely have missed something though, as the rifle with scope is looking seriously impressive, and made hitting a target at great distance an achievable reality.

Mounting the scope - step 3

We are now ready to take a sniper shot at Custom Gunman. Alternatively, take a look at this Lever Action Rifle poster.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Nintendo Ultra Machine (ウルトラ マシン, 1967-1974)

Following the creation of the Ultra Hand, Gunpei Yokoi was set to work on a follow-up that would equal its success. Baseball has long been popular in Japan - fostering a popularity not dissimilar to that which it has in the United States - and a toy related to the sport turned out to be a good idea.

Nintendo Ultra Machine (1967 version)

The toy Yokoi created was a ball pitching device. It would become Nintendo's second million seller.

Keeping with the tradition started with the Ultra Hand, the toy was called Ultra Machine (ウルトラ マシン).

"Ultra" was a popular phrase in Japan in the 60s and 70s, used amongst others in the names of popular television series like Ultra Q and Ultra Man (both from 1966).

The Ultra Machine was introduced in 1967 under the "Nintendo Game" label, for a retail price of ¥1,480.

The Ultra Machine set included a retractable plastic baseball bat and 12 ping pong like balls.

The Ultra Machine contains a small electro motor that drives a rotating arm, slinging the balls one at a time at the player.

The player returns the balls using the provided baseball bat.

The bat is around the size of a regular baseball bat and has nice embossed Nintendo branding.

Although the branding on the box and toy is in English, for the most part the Ultra Machine remained a Japan-only release. It did see some limited export to Australia, changing the name from Ultra Machine to Slugger Mate.

The battery compartment on the side houses a single D cell.

The Nintendo logo on the battery door is one of the many logos used by Nintendo in the second half of the 60s. The balls sport a "Nintendo Game" logo.

One of the balls used in the Ultra Machine, with "Nintendo Game" logo

To start the game, the balls are loaded in the blue chute which is attached to the side of the Ultra Machine. The metal spring, which will sling the arm and pitch the balls, has to be attached to the base.

The speed and angle at which the balls shoot towards the player can be adjusted by changing the location of the spring backwards or forwards.

There are two types of balls. The smooth balls will shoot in a straight line. The others are curve balls; the small indentations in the surface of these balls give them effect. This unpredictability of the trajectory of the balls makes hitting them quite challenging.

The pitching arm is about to hit the ball and sling it forwards

When the Ultra Machine is switched on, the motor starts turning the pitching arm. This pulls the spring upwards, until it reaches the top. At that point, the spring is suddenly released, slinging the ball forwards.

As soon as a ball has been fired, a new ball will roll down the chute and take position for the next shot. This continues automatically until all balls in the chute have been pitched.

Although ample balls are provided with the Ultra Machine, balls can obviously get lost or damaged. To ensure continued fun even when this happened, additional balls could be bought separately.

Ultra Machine Spare Ball sets

The extra balls where sold in packages of twelve, for a very reasonable ¥100. These were called Ultra Machine Spare Ball (ウルトラ マシン スペル ボール). Each spare ball set consisted of six straight balls and six curve balls.

The Ultra Machine proved another success for Nintendo, further cementing its ambition to make it as toy manufacturer. It remained a good seller for many years.

In 1974, the packaging of the Ultra Machine was changed, replacing the generic graphics with photos of players from the popular Tokyo (Yomiuri) Giants and Osaka (Hanshin) Tigers.

Nintendo Ultra Machine (1974 version)

The change only impacted the box. This version of the Ultra Machine was identical to the one introduced in 1967. The retail price was increased to ¥2,800.

The box lists the patents issued by the Japanese patent office for the Ultra Machine: numbers 954238, 954259 and 303513. The first two protect the concept, while the latter is a design patent.

The new 1974 box still contained the original Ultra Machine from 1967

The items were packaged more economically in the 1974 box, allowing it to be smaller than the 1967 version. The number of included balls was reduced to ten, and the bat color changed from blue and yellow to silver and black.

Nintendo Ultra Machine (1974 version)

A number of variants of the 1974 box exist, with small differences in the photos used. These versions are otherwise identical.

Spot the differences - two box versions of the 1974 Ultra Machine release

In 1977, the Ultra Machine was redesigned using a more contemporary rounded look. This release was called the Ultra Machine DX.

Nintendo Ultra Machine (right) and Ultra Machine DX (left)

To conclude this post, let's see the Ultra Machine in action!

Also check out this post about the Ultra Machine instruction sheet.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Nintendo Ele-Conga and Autoplayer (エレコンガ, アートプレーヤー, 1972)

In the early 70s, Nintendo had not yet decided to focus on (electronic) toys and games only. They were still branching into various markets, trying their luck in areas as diverse as office supplies (Uni-rack storage system, Copylas photocopier), home appliances (Candy Machine for candy floss at home) and baby gear (Mamaberica stroller and Twins seesaw).

Most of these ventures had limited success, and did not see more than one or two products per category.

The Ele-Conga (エレコンガ) is another example of this: an electronic drum machine which was more serious musical instrument than toy.

Nintendo Ele-Conga

The Ele-Conga was released in 1972 and retailed for ¥9,800. It has product code "ECG".

The Ele-Conga (short for Electronic Conga) was another invention involving resident engineer and inventor Gunpei Yokoi. It shows Nintendo getting to grips with increasingly complex electronic products (following the Love Tester, Kousenjuu light beam series and the Light Telephone).

Ele-Conga Manual

The Ele-Conga came with three removable legs and a carry strap.

A pretty power-hungry animal, the Ele-Conga required no less than eight batteries to operate: 6 C cells and 2 AA batteries. Thankfully, as is customary for most products sold in Japan, the batteries were included. The bottom of the Ele-Conga needs to be removed to insert the batteries.

When switched on, the Ele-Conga can produce five different electronically generated (analogue) drum sounds. Each of the five buttons on the top represent a single sound. Multiple buttons can be pressed at the same time.

The speaker is located just below the buttons on the top.

The five sounds the Ele-Conga can produce are: (S) Snare, (M) Maracas, (C) Claps, (HC) High Congas and (LC) Low Congas.

The manual includes a number of rhythm patters that can be played with the Ele-Conga, showing which buttons to press to produce a Mambo or Cha-Cha.

Rhythm patters are provided on the back of the manual

On the side of the Ele-Conga, you can find a volume dial and a line-out to connect the Ele-Conga to an external amplifier.

The bottom connector allows the Ele-Conga to be connected to the Autoplayer: a clever accessory for people who are somewhat rhythmically challenged.

Ele-Conga Autoplayer manual

The Autoplayer (アートプレーヤー) was sold separately for ¥1,200. It has product code "ECG-MX".

Ele-Conga advertisement: Latin Rhythms for ages 10 and up

Ele-Conga Autoplayer

The Autoplayer set includes the Autoplayer itself, eight programmed rhythm discs, ten blank rhythm discs and a hole puncher.

Ele-Conga Autoplayer set, including rhythm discs

When using the Autoplayer, it was no longer necessary to press the buttons of the Ele-Conga at the right time to produce a rhythm. The Autoplayer would do this for you.

Ele-Conga Autoplayer manual

The Autoplayer has a dial on the side, which is used to turn the rhythm disc placed on the top.

The rhythm discs work simliar to old fashed computer punch cards. On the left side of the top of the Autoplayer, you can see five contacts. The holes in the discs contain the rhytm pattern to be played. If a hole in the rhythm disc passes one of these contacts, the corresponding sound would be played by the Ele-Conga.

The eight rhythm discs that came with the Autoplayer include: Beguine, Bossa-Nova, Cha-Cha, Chindon-Ya (a Japanese March), Mambo, Rhumba, Rock and Samba.

Two of the eight rhythm discs that came with the Autoplayer

By turning the dial of the Autoplayer by hand, the Ele-Conga would produce the rhythm programmed into the disc.

I mentioned this was an accessory for the somewhat less musical, but it still requires the dial to be turned at a steady pace to produce a tight beat.

It is also possible to create your own rhythm discs for the Autoplayer.

The manual explains how to create your own rhythm pattern

You create your own rhythm disc by punching the desired holes in one of the blank discs, using the provided hole puncher.

Blank rhythm disc for the Ele-Conga Autoplayer, with hole puncher

The Autoplayer's cable is connected to Ele-Conga, using the port on the side of the Ele-Conga.

Ele-Conga and Autoplayer

The bottom of the Autoplayer fits neatly on the top of the Ele-Conga.

Combining Ele-Conga and Autoplayer into a single instrument

The Ele-Conga was produced in three colors: yellow, red and green.

All three Ele-Conga colors

The Autoplayer also came in matching yellow, red and green. However, every color combination of Ele-Conga and Autoplayer works just as well.

All three Autoplayer colors

The Ele-Conga was a high-quality product and quite advanced for its time, given that drum machines had only become available to a more mainstream audience as part of organs in the 60s.

You can see it in action in the video below. And you can hear and download the sounds here.

Besides the N&B Block Ringer, the Ele-Conga would remain Nintendo's only endeavor into the music business. Well, that is, if you do not count Wii Music.

The entire Ele-Conga family

[2020 Update] I further expanded my Ele-conga collection, when I added the original carry Soft Case, which was sold separately as an option.

Ele-conga Soft Case

More on that neat accessory in this post.

[2022 Update] For a restored version of the Eleconga manual, check out this post.