Friday, April 6, 2012

Nintendo Ultra Machine DX remakes by Nichiten and Tenyo

In the early 1980s, Nintendo decided to focus completely on video games, only keeping a small side-business in playing cards. The production and sales of all other toys and games, which already had winded down a lot since the late 70s, was stopped completely.

All of Nintendo's creative minds who previously had designed toys were set to focus solely on video game hardware and software, with many of them creating their best work after this switch to the digital world, building on the experience and expertise gained as more traditional toy makers.

From a commercial point of view this made perfect sense. Video games were clearly the area where to find future growth and profit; a place where Nintendo had the opportunity to dominate the market. Keeping a toys line alive next to this was more trouble than it was worth.

So, all of Nintendo's toys disappeared from the toy stores' shelves, never to return.

Original Nintendo Ultra Machine DX (left) and Nichiten remake (right)

However, in recent times there has been a small number of toys from Nintendo's past that have made a comeback, when Nintendo licensed or sold their designs to other companies. An example of this is the Ultra Machine shown here.

Ultra Machine remake by Nichiten (version #1)

This Ultra Machine remake was based on Nintendo's Ultra Machine DX from 1977.


The company that released this remake, under the name Ultra Machine (ウルトラマシン), was Nichiten (ニチテン). Nichiten was no new business partner; they had previously already licensed some of Nintendo's Mini Games.


This Ultra Machine was a faithful copy of the original. It even looks like the original molds were used for the plastic housing. These molds are expensive to make, so it is logical that they were re-used.


The Nichiten Ultra Machine set contains the Ultra Machine itself, 15 plastic balls (10 regular and 5 curve balls), a baseball bat and a cardboard home base plate. This home base was a nice, simple addition, not included in the original Ultra Machine sets.

Ultra Machine remake by Nichiten (version #1)

The two-part extendible plastic bat is completely black (the original was two-toned silver and black), and sports the Nichiten name in cursive script, simliar to the Nintendo original.

Nichiten name on the bat

The instructions can be found on the bottom of the box.


The Ultra Machine remake shown above was not the first version produced by Nichiten.

Two of the versions of the Ultra Machine remakes by Nichiten

At least two different versions had already appeared before it.

Ultra Machine by Nichiten (version #2)

One of these is shown here. Its official name is actually New Ultra Machine (ニュー ウルトラマシン). This version had a different box, but was otherwise identical - except for the number of balls included; this one had only ten.


All these versions contain generic box art. Nichiten decided to do without the well-known baseball stars that had featured on Nintendo's original Ultra Machine boxes.


This obviously reduced the production cost, removing the need to pay image rights, and ensured a longer shelf-life, in a world where stars come and go.


The third Nichiten version has yet another design style applied to the box, but is otherwise identical (more pictures of this version can be found here.)

New Ultra Machine remake by Nichiten (version #3)

And yet another Ultra Machine remake exists, that is barely distinguishable from one of the Nichiten versions.

Ultra Machine remake by Tenyo

This is the most recent of them all, and it is produced by the company Tenyo (テンヨー). The same company that recently also released a remake of the Nintendo Love Tester.


Apparently, Tenyo acquired the rights to produce this Ultra Machine from Nichiten.


The Tenyo version only differs in the name on the box.


And the name on the bat.


Otherwise it is complexly identical, design and content wise. None of the pictures of the Tenyo box were re-done, and if you look closely you can see that the bat pictured on the front of the box still has says 'Nichiten'.

The fact that Nintendo passed on the plastic molds to Ninchiten (and subsequently to Tenyo) becomes apparent when we take a look at the copyright mark on the side of the Ultra Machine.

Nintendo original

In the original Nintendo version, the copyright message appeared embossed on the side.

Nichiten version

The Nichiten version shows a new label, completely covering he original Nintendo copyright message. Because this required milling away material in the original plastic mold, the message now stick out somewhat.

Tenyo version

When the plastic molds passed on from Nichiten to Tenyo, yet another label appeared, covering the Nichiten label. More milling was required, and this label sticks out even further.

After this bit of toy forensics, I feel I am almost ready to apply for a role in C.S.I.!

The original rubbing shoulders with some of the Ultra Machine remakes

Anyway. Some questions remain: what was the exact year of release of these remakes, and is the Tenyo version still regularly available today? And if so, where?

If you know, please let me know.

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting, especially the little detective work about the molds and the copyright information! I`ll have to keep an eye out for these!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Sean.

    If you ever come across one, please let me know. Although these are only between 5 and 10 years old, they are harder to find than Nintendo's original ones from the 70s!

    And yes, I was rather pleased with myself when I noticed how these molds had evolved while they passed hands. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is some interesting stuff. Wasn't even aware of something like this in Nintendo's history.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm amused Nintendo got a U.S. Patent for the toy as well, though I don't suppose they ever found a distributor around here for it.

      Delete