Sunday, March 11, 2012

Nintendo's logo through the years

Since the conception of the Game & Watch handheld games and the Family Computer (NES) and the birth of Donkey Kong and Mario, Nintendo has slowly but steadily risen to become a household name. These days it is one of the most well-known and valuable brands in the world.

For a brand of this stature, a logo is a key asset, allowing products to be recognized instantly. The brand's characteristics and values, developed and earned over the years, are carried by the brand name and embodied in the logo.

Nintendo has used the familiar "racetrack" logo (referring to the line surrounding the name) since the early 1980s, only tweaking the design ever so slightly. The typography used even dates back to the late 1960s.

But Nintendo has not always used this logo. For the first seventy-five years or so since its start in 1889, the logo consisted of the company name in kanji.

Nin - ten - dō

These three kanji '任天堂' spell the name: 任 (Nin) 天 (ten) 堂 (dō). [For a discussion on the meaning of these characters, check out this article on Kotaku.]

Up to this day, these kanji are used in Japan as the formal company name, and they continue to appear on Nintendo's products, although the racetrack logo is always used prominently in all marketing communication.

However, the racetrack logo was not created overnight.

During the 1950s, Nintendo first introduced a logo used mainly for its Western style playing cards: the so-called Ace of Spades logo. [More about that here.]

During Nintendo's modernization in the 1960s, while it also set the first small steps on the path of international distribution, it decided to introduce a logo using the roman script; readable by a Western audience and looking more modern for the Japanese home market.

The first version, introduced in the first half of the 1960s, used a handwritten, cursive style. This logo was used on the earliest boardgames, playing cards (like the Picture Book Trump) and the first toys (like the Rabbit Coaster). Distinctive features are a big curl starting the letter 'N' and a star as dot on the 'i', although some slightly different variations exist.

Yet another version from around the same time was more stylized, with straight lines connecting the individual letters. This was less widely used, mainly for playing cards.

At the end of the first half of the 1960s, Nintendo shortly used a simple sans-serif font (for instance for the New Coaster Game as well as for playing cards).

At this point in time, Nintendo seemingly created a new logo almost every other week. It appears the designers were more concerned if the name style fitted the overall product design, rather than being consistent for a longer period of time. In that sense, these were not brand logos yet.

A more stable format was first created around 1966.

Nintendo had started selling a growing range of toys, included some licensed from the American company MB (Milton Bradley). Nintendo drew from (to some extend copied from) the MB style when it developed the grey band on the left-side of the boxes, with the 'Nintendo Game' logo.

This logo consists of a circle containing stylized letters 'NG' and the words 'Nintendo Game', in a pinkish red sans-serif font. Examples of games that carry this logo are the Ultra Hand, Captain Ultra Coaster, Picture Cutter and various board games. [For an overview of all Nintendo 'grey band' games, check out this post.]

The letters 'NG' originally stood for 'Nippon Game' (as explained in this post).

'Nippon Game' (日本ゲーム) translates to 'Japan Game'. It was a brand Nintendo used for a while to release board games with figures licensed from Disney and other US companies.

From the late 60's to the early 70s, the 'NG' circle logo was also used standalone.

You can find it on the Love Tester box, but also on chips for poker and roulette games, and embossed in the back of polystyrene packaging material of the E-clock and Kousenjuu SP targets.

In 1967 the Ultra Machine was created. Besides being a great design and one of the first commercial hits for Nintendo, this toy is also historic because it is the first to bear the Nintendo name in the style still used today.

The somewhat bulging letters, with thin horizontal lines, and the square dot on the 'i' - this design has remained virtually unchanged, even though it is already forty-five years old by now.

The first appearance of the familiar Nintendo brand style (1967)

Since its first appearance on the Ultra Machine, this typeface has been used on almost every Nintendo product.

The Nintendo name on toys and games from the 1970s

And although the choice of typography had thus been settled, the overall logo still had not found its final form.

The first try of using some sort of enclosure resulted in a hexagonal shape.

This logo was used for the N&B Block series and People House, as well as for the Ultra Machine.

Surprisingly, the racetrack design already appeared for the first time in 1972, when it was used on the Ele-conga and Autoplayer accessory. However, this remained a one-off appearance for another ten years.

Nintendo continued to experiment with its logo. In the early 1970s, the 'NG' logo was replaced by a logo with a stylized 'N', with a black bar containing the Nintendo name in the familiar font.

This logo was used consistently for all of Nintendo's 1970s boardgames, as well as for many toys from 1972 to 1975, like Time Shock, Lefty RX and Mach Rider. The different background colors applied have a real 70s feel.

Before Nintendo settled, at least for a few years, on this new design, a single game (Wild Gunman Game) had shipped in 1972 with yet another stylized 'N' design.

Logo used only on Desert Gunman Game (1972)

At around 1973, Nintendo started using a katakana version of its name ('ニンテンドー').

Nintendo's name in katakana: Ni (ニ) n (ン) te (テ) n (ン) dō (ドー)

This only lasted for a couple of years, after which Nintendo reverted back again to signing their products in Japan with the familiar kanji ('任天堂').

Then, in 1982, the racetrack version of the logo appeared (reappeared, if we take the one-off use in 1972 into account), on a pretty successful arcade game known by the name of Donkey Kong.

And a year later, in 1983, this same logo could be found on the front of a silver colored box.

A box containing the landmark Family Computer.

From that moment on, the racetrack logo has remained Nintendo's constant brand icon.

If you enjoyed this post, also check out the story of Nintendo's Ace of Spades logo.


  1. Epic post. You should post an hi-res PDF of this logos for reference, for future generations!

  2. Thanks Vitorio!

    I am also happy about how this post turned out.

    I like your suggestion, but making a hi-res file is a bit difficult, as these logos are quite small. I already had difficulty getting the right quality for the blog-post, and used smaller size pictures than usual.

  3. Fantastic post and a very interesting topic. I think the logo from the early 60s is my favorite with the cursive style. I will have to hunt down some of those toys (the Ultra Machine is my oldest Nintendo toy).

    I love the photos too, very colorful and well balanced.

  4. Thanks Sean.

    Someone just pointed out to me that the Ultra Machine not only features the new logo, but also still uses the cursive style: for the logo on the bat. So, in that respect you already own a toy with this logo.

    The Ultra Machine is actually a real logo jumble, as the 'NG' logo is shown on the balls.

    Anyway, be careful before you start hunting more of these toys. Once you have this collectors bug it is hard to shake.

  5. dorkly chair of the institute for space politicsMarch 18, 2012 at 4:46 AM

    Great stuff as always!

  6. Jeez. They can't keep that thing consistent for the life of 'em. What always bugged me growing up was that even the racetrack logo was tweaked several times. For some reason, the earlier version of the logo's typeface we all know seems more geometric to me. The thickness of bowls on the letters, as well as eyes are just all over the place. But I love it nonetheless. It's managed to stand the test of time without becoming boring or dated...

  7. its must be so hard to pick because there are so many choices and trends during those decades changed a lot, I like seeing all the changes through time, awesome post!

  8. What's interesting was that the logo in kanji also appeared in the original version of Kirby's Dreamland 3. Wonder why they did that there.

  9. I think that the first logo that Nintendo used would have bankrupted the company had they continued using it, as it is very similar in appearance to an even more famous logo, namely, the logo of Marlboro cigarettes, and R. J. Reynolds would not have been all too happy with some Japanese company having a logo that looked too much like their logo. However, aside from the hexagonal Nintendo and race track Nintendo logos, I like the ones with the stylized "N," the scripted Nintendo logo, and the one that reminds me of retro diner writing the most.

  10. actually the first logo they used was a circle with the kanji "fuku" in it. it is called "marufuku". it is still used to this day in their hanafuda or hanafuda-related products.

    of course they did use the kanji for nintendo, but it was a name, not a logo. also, the font for the kanji of nintendo was not consistent back then; the current font of the kanji for nintendo didn't appear until 1968 with the N&B block (or possibly the same time the familiar font of the romaji nintendo logo appeared)

    also, the current nintendo ace of spades logo did not appear until around 1960.
    nintendo did have 2 other nintendo ace of spades logo before that (the ace of spades that appeared during the 1950's was the 2nd one, and they used it from as early as 1933 to as late as 1960), but they were copycats of ace of spades from U.S. playing card manufacturers with the "marufuku" logo or the letter N slapped on it (the first one was copied from perfection playing card company and u.s.p.c.c., while the second one was copied from russell playing card company). the 3rd one, based on what i've seen, is an original nintendo design. but i'm not sure.