Monday, April 9, 2012

Nintendo Twister Game (ツイスターゲーム, 1966)

In the 1960s, Nintendo acquired licenses to a number of games from American company MB (Milton Bradley). One of these was the party and exercise game Twister.

Nintendo released this game in Japan around 1966, under the title Twister Game (ツイスターゲーム).

Nintendo Twister Game (1966)

When it was introduced, this game was considered quite risque. It required close physical contact by the participants, something that was generally frowned upon very much in the United States, but even more so in Japan.

After a slow start, and doubts by MB executives whether they should continue selling the game (wondering if it was not too 'raunchy'), the game became a big hit in the US, after appearing on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, in May of 1966.

Of course, Nintendo hoped to replicate this success in Japan, where the game was promoted claiming the physical exercise would improve both "beauty and health" (美容と健康).

The box design of Nintendo's Twister Game was based on the MB original. It was one of the games that used the 'grey band' design, common for most Nintendo games from around this time.

Nintendo manufactured the game locally, in Japan. The retail price was ¥800.

In the US, Twister was pitched towards young adults. The original box front shows, what appear to be, a bunch of college students. The slightly tantalizing aspect of the game was subtly underscored by the girl on the right, who's sweater is only hinging on a single button.

Twister - original box by MB
[Source of above image:]

However, Nintendo decide to market the game along a somewhat different route. The front of the Nintendo Twister Game box was altered from the MB original, now showing the game in action in what looks like a family setting, involving both adults and children.

Twister Game - Nintendo box

The two outermost figures were changed from collage students on the original box to children on Nintendo's version. The guy on the left lost his tie and glasses and ended up with short trousers.

The college girl on the right was transformed into a younger girl, in much more decent attire, with her two-button-row sweater firmly closed.

The Twister Game box contains a play mat, a board with spinner and a manual.

The front of the manual shows a lady using the mat for exercise purposes.

Twister Game manual front

But the real reason people were drawn to this game, obviously, wasn't gymnastics.

It's main attraction was the prospect of getting up and close personal with members of the opposite sex.

In the 60s in Japan, with strict dating etiquette being still the norm, this must have been very liberated and exciting.

Given the widespread global success of Twister, approaching its fiftieth anniversary, I don't think it is really necessary to spell out the game rules for you. Right?

But in short: one of the players operates the spinner while the others (usually in pairs) take position on the mat, wearing socks. The spinner is given a whirl, and the outcome dictates the color of the circle on the mat to place your left (左) or right (右) hand (手) or foot (足).

All left hands on yellow, now.

The mat has twenty-four circles in four different colors; red, blue, yellow and green.

The operator of the spinner gives new instructions where to place foot or hand next, based on the outcome of each new turn. Soon the players will be 'tied up in knots'. This continues until one of the players loses their balance and falls.

Some time after the initial release of Twister Game in Japan, Nintendo redesigned the box.

Nintendo Twister Game (box version #3)

Instead of the drawn image on the front of the first version, this new Twister Game box shows a picture of the game being played in a Japanese family living room.

Perhaps this new design was intended to address the somewhat doubtful (sexual) image attached to the game. This box sent the message that this game was suitable for regular Japanse folks, and not just lewd Westerners.

A large version of the well-designed 'tie in knots' graphic is also pictured on the front of the box.

The photo gives a nice little peek into the style of a typical modern 60s Japanese living room, with classy dark wood panelling.

Although the box was slightly larger than the first version, the contents were left unchanged. The game's price remained ¥800.

Nintendo Twister Game advertisement (early 1970s)

The drawing from the original box's front, now appears on this version's manual.

Twister Game manual front (box version #3)

The manual is expanded with some exercise instructions, attempting to take the dual use of the mat (play and exercise) more serious.

Next to this wholesome family play and train purpose, Nintendo also continued to reach out to the core audience of the original US version: young adults interested to cop a feel or take a peak up a skirt.

There was an intermediate box design released prior to the third version, that was designed specifically to appeal to this market segment.

Nintendo Twister Game (box version #2)

The photos one the second and third version appear to come from a single photo shoot, taken in the same living room.

Of all three of Nintendo's Twister Game versions, this second version is the most difficult to find these days, indicating that it was available only for a short time, in small numbers.

For more information about the version, and the team-up with fashion magazine Men's Club and fashion brand VAN, check out this post

Twister Game manual front (box version #2)

After carrying the game for about ten years as part of their catalogue, Nintendo relinquished (or lost) the license to produce the Twister Game. These days Twister is sold in Japan by Tomy.

All three box versions of Nintendo Twister Game

Besides selling the MB designed Twister Game, Nintendo would also create two original games that are loosely based on it: Aka Kage Game (赤影ゲーム) from around 1968 and Challenge Ball (チャレンジボール) in 1970.


  1. What about those "VAN" t-shirts on the box photo? A proto-in game advertisement?

    1. (sorry for the late reply) I believe it was actually the other way around, Nintendo trying to gain sales by associating with an established hip fashion brand. More on this in a new post