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Monday, June 13, 2011

Nintendo Space Ball (スペースボール, 1971)

In the 60s and early 70s, space was a high profile topic in science, politics and the media. It was fueled by the so-called space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. After a number of ground breaking events (including the first man in space), it culminated in the period 1969-1972 with six successful manned landings on the Moon.

Nintendo Space Ball (1971)

This preoccupation with the galaxy and space travel also reflected on popular culture. In this period, space themed toys were launched faster and more frequent than rockets took off for outer space. Space was cool. Space was where the future was heading. And almost every boy wanted to be an astronaut.

Nintendo also got on board of this craze, and developed a number of space related toys, including a N&B Rocket set and board games with space as subject.

In 1971, a simple but fun toy was released, called Space Ball (スペースボール).

Juicy katakana script adorns the front and two sides of the box. Of course, no modern Japanese toy could do without and English name, even though it was only sold in Japan.

The game cost ¥800, which was slightly less than - for instance - an Nintendo SP Gun released around the same time.

The Space Ball set comes with the Space Ball itself (本体), two discs (円盤) and a battery.

A leaflet is also included, with the operation instructions and some play tips.

Space Ball manual

The items are displayed nicely in a plastic frame inside the box. Quite sophisticated for its time.

A large yellow and small blue disc are included. In keeping with the space theme, they resemble the planet Saturn with its rings.

This brightly colored, plastic, motorized (we will get to that) space toy must have appealed very much to a generation of children who saw men walking on the moon and countless space adventure stories on television. Not sure if it would have been considered as cool as - say - a (toy) laser gun, but it definitely lends itself to more kinder but still exciting play, as embodied by the boy on the box.

The included battery (a C type dry cell) was manufactured by Toshiba. (As an aside, Toshiba was the nickname of the company called "Tokyo Shibaura Denki", until the company adopted that name formally in 1978.)

The battery has to be inserted in the bottom part of the Space Ball.

The bottom part of the Space Ball is the battery compartment and the top houses an electric motor.

After the battery has been inserted, the top and bottom part need to be aligned (as indicated by the arrows on the exterior) to ensure the current of the battery is passed to the motor.

In the top part, a white socket is visible which is connected to the axle of the motor.

The protruding part of the yellow and blue discs fit precisely into this socket.

When the red button on the front is pressed, the motor start turning fast, spinning the disc placed on top at great speed. When the disc has reached its top speed, a gently upwards flick will launch it in the air. The objective of the toy is to land the spinning disc on one of the three "landing pads".

Two of these pads are mounted on either side of the Space Ball; the smaller one obviously being more difficult to use. When you successfully land it on one of the pads, because of its great turning speed, the disc will continue to stand steady for a long time, though you do have to control the Space ball carefully to keep the disc from falling off.

The third and most difficult landing area is the bottom of the Space Ball. Not only is this the smallest area, but it also requires a full 180 degree twist of the Space Ball after launching the disc in the air.

Landing pad #3 - difficult, but very satisfying if you manage it

Besides trying to land the spinning disc on the Space Ball itself, you can also aim it on table tops and other flat surfaces.

Space Ball was also included in Nintendo's Mini Game series.

Mini Game version of Space Ball (front and back)

This repacked version of Space Ball is identical to the original, except that it only includes the blue disc. Although the yellow disc is shown on the package design, it apparently was too big to include both in the blister pack.

Although this toy from the space-age was created forty years ago, it has not lost its appeal and is one of the items from my collections which today is still played occasionally by my internet-age children.

Space Ball picture included
in the Gameboy Camera

In the international version of the 1998 Gameboy Pocket Camera (called simply Gameboy Camera in the West), Nintendo paid a small tribute to this toy, by including a photo of the box art as an unlockable in the picture gallery.


  1. Neat! The Space Ball packaging is also in the international version of the Gameboy Camera ( )

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. I was not aware of this reference. Have added it to the post.

  2. I had the GB camera and ALWAYS wondered why they included that pic!

  3. I can't be the only one who sees a motorized Kendama...