Friday, December 30, 2011

Shinjuku through the years, from 1969 to 2004

We are getting a little off-topic today, but I came across a video that is too nice not to share. It illustrates the extraordinary development Japan went trough from the 60s to the 80s of the last century; the period that coincides with Nintendo's 'toy period', which is the focus of this blog.

The video shows how Shinjuku - one of Tokyo's wards or neighborhoods - changed from an area of predominantly low-rise buildings to the current center of high-rise offices.

Demonstrated clearly is the huge increase in whealth and economic power, from a country recovering from the aftermath of the second world war, to its status as second economy in the world. At the same time, these images provide some context for the toys featured on this blog, showing the time period in which they were created.

For thirty-five years, from 1969 to 2004, some photographers regularly took photos from the same viewpoint looking at the west-side of Shinjuku.

The first picture is taken in July of 1969. In Nintendo terms, this is the time of N&B Block and the Love Tester.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Nintendo Color TV Game 15 - Service Manual (カラー テレビゲーム 15 サービス マニュアル)

In my experience, the consoles in the Nintendo Color TV-Game series (カラー テレビゲーム シリーズ) are pretty much unbreakable. Even though they are well over thirty years old by now, I have never had a problem with any of them.

But as they were produced and sold in the hundreds of thousands, of course every now and then one would break down. And this is were the Service Manual (サービス マニュアル) of the Color TV-Game 15 (カラー テレビゲーム 15) comes in.

This manual covers all you (don't) want to know about Color TV-Game 15; it shows what makes it tick. The model covered is the more common second generation (CTG-15V). Differences with the first generation (CTG-15S) are minor, though.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Nintendo N&B Block Gallery (1968-'72)

I really like the box art of the Nintendo N&B Block construction sets from the late 60s. They are great to look at, colourful and bright.

Presented below for your viewing enjoyment, a gallery of N&B Block box fronts. For more information on Nintendo N&B Blocks, check out this previous post, or this overview of all sets.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Nintendo Key Figures - Takehiro Izushi (出石武宏), inventor of Custom Gunman

Over the lasts months, many posts on this blog covered the creations and innovations by Nintendo master engineer and inventor Gunpei Yokoi. And rightly so, as his imagination has been a key force in shaping Nintendo to what it is today. But it has never been a complete solo effort by Yokoi. Great designers work in great teams, with people who help shape, hone, extend and execute ideas.

In future posts, I will also spotlight some of Yokoi's collaboraters and colleagues from Nintendo's Research and Development department.

We will start with the inventor of two of my personal all-time Nintendo favorites: Custom Gunman and Custom Lion (カステム ガンマン, カステム ライオン). These light gun targets were the last toys in the successful Kousenjuu Custom (光線銃 カスツム) series.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nintendo Block Crater (任天堂ブロック クレーター, 1969)

In 1969, the American space program Apollo reached its climax, when mankind set foot on the moon for the first time. The whole world went space crazy, and the moon landing became the television broadcast with the largest global audience up until then. In Japan it was broadcasted by NHK, using a satellite link with the United States.

In that same year, Nintendo released a space themed toy called Nintendo Block Crater (任天堂ブロック クレーター).

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Nintendo Lefty RX G.T. Sport and Proto-Type (レフティRX G.T. スポーツ, レフティRX プロトタイプ, 1972)

In a previous post on this blog, Nintendo's remote controlled racing car Lefty RX was introduced. These toy cars have the surprising feature that they can only steer to the left (hence the name). Unlikely as that may sound, it was actually a good tradeoff between play fun and affordability - and still allowed for great races to be staged between multiple cars.

All four Lefty RX car types

The original Lefty RX series, introduced in 1972, featured a slick sports coupe car (in two slightly different body versions). When this became a commercial success, Nintendo quickly released a follow-up later that same year.

Lefty RX, Lefty RX G.T. Sport and Lefty RX Proto-Type

Two new Lefty RX models were introduced, which replaced the original series: Lefty RX G.T. Sport and Lefty RX Proto-Type.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nintendo Lefty RX (レフティ RX, 1972)

An important attribute of the Nintendo design philosophy - established in large part by chairman Hiroshi Yamauchi and engineer Gunpei Yokoi - is to ride the waves of new technology in a way that creates new play opportunities that are affordable (for the customer) and profitable (for the company).

The orginal Gameboy and the Wii are prime examples of this: not the most advanced in their time in terms of technology, but great fun nonetheless. And because of their relatively friendly price point, well positioned to achieve mass success.

Nintendo's racing car series Lefty RX (レフティ RX) is an early example of this approach.

In the 70's, wireless remote controlled cars were still in the early stages of their development, very much cutting edge and highly desirable toys. And usually also very expensive, because of the advanced electronics and mechanical parts involved.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Nintendo Story (German TV Documentary)

A nice overview of Nintendo's past and future was broadcasted yesterday on German TV channel ZDF Kultur (culture channel), called "Die Nintendo Story".

ZDF program "Die Nintendo Story"

You can still watch it on ZDF's website (in German language).

Third on the credit list, just after Nintendo and Sony - not bad! :-)

The documentary uses some imagery and videos from this blog. I am always happy to share information on Nintendo's illustrious past.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

New List of Toys and Games page

This blog's List of Toys and Games page was becoming a bit boring, with only reams of texts and links.

Today I added thumbnails to all the entries in the list, making it more fun to scroll through. It now provides a nice chronological overview of Nintendo's toys and games. The list is not complete yet. But it will be, one day. And getting closer to this point, one blog entry at a time.

The new and improved List of Toys and Games page

So, what do you think of the new page?

Coming soon... The Lefty RX Story

I am currently compiling an overview of the Nintendo Lefty RX (レフティRX) racing cars series.

Nintendo Lefty RX series (1972)

Read all about it in this post.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Nintendo Disney Baseball Game (ディズニー野球盤, 1960)

Some time ago, this blog featured a vintage Nintendo sports simulation game, called Nintendo's Baseball Board (任天堂の野球盤), dating from around 1965.

An earlier Nintendo game with the same baseball theme is Disney Baseball Game (ディズニー野球盤, which translates to Disney Baseball Board). Released in 1960, this is a candidate for Nintendo's earliest toy.

Disney Baseball Game by Nintendo (early 60s)

The art on the corrugated cardboard box shows Mickey Mouse in baseball attire, and the slogan「カーブがかかる!」, which means "Catch the curve [ball]!".

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nintendo People House (ピープルハウス, 1968)

In the 60s and 70s of the last century, Nintendo made many toys with typical boy's themes, like racing cars (Mach Rider) and guns (Kousenjuu SP Light Gun series). The advertising of these toys also featured boys exclusively.

And although Nintendo also produced many games that were family oriented - aimed at both boys and girls alike - there is only one Nintendo toy series from this era created specifically for girls.

Nintendo People House series (1968)

This particular toy series is People House (ピープルハウス), released in Japan in 1968.

People House brochure

People House are themed play sets with small dolls, that came in plastic house-shaped carry cases.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Nintendo's Baseball Board (任天堂の野球盤, ca 1965)

The 1967 baseball pitching toy Ultra Machine was one of Nintendo's first million sellers. But it was not their first baseball inspired game.

Nintendo's Baseball Board (ca 1965)

A few years earlier, when Nintendo just started moving from cards and boardgames into a broader field of toys, they made two related games: Disney Baseball Game (ディズニー野球盤) and Nintendo's Baseball Board (任天堂の野球盤).

There can be no mistake: this is a Nintendo game

An exact release data of Nintendo's Baseball Board is unknown, but it is believed to date from around 1965, possibly slightly earlier. The game cost ¥950.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nintendo Crossover (任天堂 クロスオーバー, 1981)

While Nintendo's head of Research and Development Gunpei Yokoi was busy overseeing the roll-out of the Game & Watch silver and gold series, he still found time to create a follow-up to his very successful Ten Billion puzzle: the Nintendo Crossover (クロスオーバー).

Unlike the Ten Billion, which was sold in large numbers worldwide, only a small quantity of Crossover puzzles was produced, making it one of the more rare and sought-after Nintendo items from the toys and games era.

Nintendo Crossover (1981)

The Crossover was advertised using the phrase「偏光スクリーン」, which means 'Polarized Light Screen'. The official English sub-title was 'Polarized Light Puzzle'. Why this is, we will get to in a minute.

Crossover was released in 1981, in three color variants: green, red or purple. It cost the same as the Ten Billion puzzle: ¥1,000.

Television commercial for the Nintendo Crossover

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Nintendo N&B Block - Introduction (任天堂 ブロック, 1968-72)

In the late 60s in Japan, Nintendo created a range of construction sets with colorful plastic blocks. It was called Nintendo Block (任天堂 ブロック), which was shortened to "N&B Block" or just "N&B".

Assortment of models built with Nintendo N&B Block (1968-72)

The Nintendo N&B Block series was copyrighted to Nintendo, without any license from LEGO, however it was clearly "inspired" by the bricks from the Danish toy manufacturer.

Nintendo N&B Block leaflet

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nintendo N&B Block - Overview (任天堂 ブロック, 1968-72)

Today we are going to take a look at all sets in the Nintendo Block (任天堂 ブロック) series, also known as Nintendo N&B Block. A separate post gives an introduction to this range of building sets.

Mixed (ミックス) set NB 1400-MX, includes a good mix (as the name suggests) of blocks and some construction examples to start your imagination.

The Mixed (ミックス) sets came in four different sizes, with different mixes of round and rectangular blocks. Pictured below are NB 800-MXB, NB 1400-MXB and NB 1800-MXA.

A special mixed set is the Universe Set (宇宙セット), with product code NB 2800-MX.

This set is the biggest of all N&B Block sets. It contains a large variety of blocks, and building plans for five space themed items.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Nintendo Custom Gunman - alternative versions - Shoot Em Ups

Around three weeks ago, I posted a message asking for information regarding alternatives versions of Nintendo Custom Gunman.

This quest was initiated by a message from US reader Joe, who was looking for a toy he had found under the Christmas tree many moons ago, but which he had since lost and forgotten the name of.

Shoot Em Ups arrives one Christmas morning in the 70s

Joe just contacted me with the news that he had been able to track one down! It is called Shoot Em Ups.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Nintendo N&B Block Coaster (N&Bブロック コースター, 1968)

The construction set Coaster (コースター) is one of the sets in the Nintendo N&B Block series. With this set, you build your own tumbling bean racing game.

N&B Block Coaster was released in 1968 and cost ¥1,200.

Nintendo N&B Block - Coaster (1968)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A moment of reflection, while we hit 50k views

When I started this blog, I did not image it would attract a lot of visitors. I hoped it would reach fellow enthusiasts, but did not expect there would be many out there.

Although Nintendo is a popular brand, there are zillions of sites and blogs already dedicated to it. I believed the particular angle I choose (toys and games from 1965-1983) would be of limited interest in this videogame day and age.

We passed the 50,000 blog view mark today!

However, 7 months and 43 posts later, the page counter passed the 50,000 views mark. Surpassing my expectations by far!

beforemario on Kotaku

From the start there has been a steady increase in the number of readers. After beforemario was featured on Kotaku some time ago, this increased even more.

The post on the Nintendo Light Telephone also proved very popular. It was reposted on many sites, including and sites from Germany (here and here), Spain (here) and Russia (here).

beforemario on

The blog draws a diverse readership from all corners of the world. To all of you I would like to say: thanks for reading!

I would also love to hear your feedback about the blog so far. What do you like, what can be improved. What's your favorite bit and what are you missing? Do you read it occasionally, or religiously?

So, what do you think? Please post your comments below. Thanks!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Nintendo Ten Billion (任天堂 テンビリオン, 1980)

In 1980 Nintendo released a toy that would become a hit in their Japanese home market as well as abroad. Some of Nintendo's toys and early arcade games had been sold internationally before, but noting on the scale of Ten Billion.

Nintendo Ten Billion (1980)

The Ten Billion (テンビリオン) is a 3D puzzle (立体パズル). It was a response to the phenomenally poplar Rubik's Cube, which Nintendo's great inventor Gunpei Yokoi used as inspiration to come up with his own original puzzle.

It was not their first 3D puzzle. Many years earlier, Nintendo had already released Fifteengame and the Challenge Dice, both much simpler puzzles.

The Ten Billion came in a plastic case, and was sold for ¥1,000.

The top of the case contained a gold colored sticker with a "N", obviously referring to Nintendo. The Nintendo name was also included in the top and bottom of the game itself.

Nintendo copyright on top of the Ten Billion

The Ten Billion barrel is filled with 23 balls: four balls for each of the five colors (yellow, orange, red, blue and green) and 3 black balls.

The objective of the Ten Billion puzzle is to get all balls back into their original spot inside the barrel, after they have been thoroughly mixed by rotating the two drums (ドラム) in the middle of the barrel while moving the black plunger (プランジャ) up and down.

The Ten Billion owes its name to the 10 billion (10,000,000,000) different permutations in which the balls supposedly can be mixed. When counted properly, the number of permutations is actually around 450 times higher (4,509,264,634,875).

Front of Ten Billion Manual

The two middle sections of the barrel can be rotated independently, which moves ten balls at the same time.

The black plunger has three protruding pieces pushing against the balls. When the plunger is moved, three of the five columns move with it (moving a total of no less that 15 balls at once).

If you compare the image above with the one below, you notice that the column in the middle (with the two yellow balls and one orange and blue ball) did not change when the plunger was moved to the right, while the other two columns moved to the right with it.

Because of the large number of balls that move at the same time, solving this puzzle is very tricky. Nintendo provided to retailers a leaflet (解説書) with information on solving the Ten Billion.

Leaflet with instruction on solving Ten Billion

The leaflet shows step by step how to solve the puzzle, starting by moving the three black balls into the correct position, and then moving the colored balls in their right column, one column at a time.

For people not content with "just" aligning the balls in their original configuration, a final section in the leaflet provided sixteen additional challenges with various nice patterns for the colored balls.

Alternative patterns for the balls in Ten Billion

As mentioned, the Ten Billion was an international success and exported to many countries around the world.

German edition of Ten Billion, called "Teufelstonne"

In Germany and The Netherlands Ten Billion was sold under the name "Devil's Barrel" ("Teufelstonne" and "Duivelston", respectively).

In the United Kingdom, it was distributed by a company called CGL, which also distributed Nintendo Game & Watch games.

Teufelstonne Manual

For many people in the West, including me, Ten Billion was the first exposure to Nintendo's ingenuity. It was a serious brain twister with a high quality design.

Box in which Ten Billion was shipped to retailers

At the time, though, not many will have recognized and remembered the Nintendo brand name, as it was still very much unknown outside of Japan.

Of course, that would change very soon thereafter; an ape-centered video game and an avalanche of Game & Watch games made sure of that. But that is a different story.

Nintendo did create a follow-up to the Ten Billion: the Crossover. An equality interesting puzzle, but commercially much less successful.