Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Was this the idea for Game & Watch Octopus?

Through blog reader Eric Ash, I was pointed to an intriguing board game, made in the USA in the 1950s.

To fans of the Nintendo Game & Watch series, it looks very familiar. It raises the question if this board game was the inspiration for the Wide Screen Game & Watch Octopus.

Octopus board game by Norton Games of New York (1954)

It all seems to match: the title (obviously), as well as the game's objective (prying bounty from an octopus protecting a treasure chest) and the board layout (with a cross section of the sea).

Friday, December 27, 2013

New Game & Watch collectors guide

A few days ago, a new Game & Watch book was released by Austrian duo David Gschmeidler and Gerhard Meyer. The book is called Der Inofficielle Game & Watch Sammer-Katalog (The unofficial Game & Watch Collectior-Catalogue), and - as this title kinda gives away - the book is written in German.

Authors Gerhard Meyer and David Gschmeidler

For folks who master the German language, or otherwise want it anyway, the book is currently available in a regular and limited edition on the authors website www.gameandwatch.at.

Update: An English version now also available here.

Regular and limited edition

It looks like an informative book for collectors. You can expect a full review here soon.

David also participated in our Meet the Collectors series.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Nintendo Companion Kotaku 'Shop Contest

A few days ago, gaming website Kotaku ran a story on the Nintendo Companion walkie-talkie, based on an earlier post here on beforemario.

There is no arguing that the Companion set contains two very cool looking 1960s-style handsets. But the box art featuring two chatty youngsters is arguably even more compelling.

Nintendo Companion

So when a Kotaku reader threw out the question "Photoshop contest?", the Kotaku team simply had to abide. Thus began the Companion 'Shop Contest 'Shop Talk. The rules are very simple: take the original box image and Photoshop it into whatever you want.

Below a selection from the entries. For credits check out the post on Kotaku.

Nintendo logo overview

Nintendo fan Gustavo Acero rummaged through my post on Nintendo's logo through the years, and created a neat little overview based on that. I quite like his result, which you can see below.

The original post of the overview by Gustavo can be found here.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Nintendo Pastel Cards (パステル トランプ, late 1960s)

I am not sure if this card product was a small stroke of genius, or the result of a lack of inspiration.

Nintendo Pastel Cards (late 1960s)

After designing hundreds of card styles, maybe one day the Nintendo creative team drew a blank? If this is what happened, then they bounced back right away.

The particular set I am talking about is called Pastel Cards (パステル トランプ).

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Bassmate Computer update

One of the interesting discoveries of 2013 was the Bassmate Computer.

This alternative Bassmate version comes in a plain white box

Although already out there for close to thirty years (released in 1984), it had never popped up in Nintendo collector circles before.

Inside a polystyrene tray with Bassmate,
thermometer, ziplock bag, batteries and manual

The Bassmate Computer does deserve a place in Nintendo history, as it was engineered by Gunpei Yokoi's R&D1 team.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Nintendo Companion manual

The Transceiver Companion (トランシーバー コンパニオン), or Companion for short, is the earliest electronic toy sold by Nintendo. It is a very rare piece of Nintendo history.

Some time ago, I was lucky to add one to my collection, and posted about it here.

The Nintendo company name is written in bold kanji on the manual:
Nintendō kabushikigaisha (任天堂株式会社)

Although the Companion I found was in very good condition, unfortunately it was missing the manual.

But a few weeks ago, I was able to track down another Companion set, this time with manual!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nintendo Miracle Trump (ミラクル トランプ, 1972) and Magic Card (魔法のトランプ, 1975)

Following the three-part post on Nintendo's Iroha Karuta, we will continue with some more of their card creations.

The sets we see here are called Miracle Trump (ミラクル トランプ).

Three variants of Nintendo Miracle Trump

It appears to be a standard set of playing cards. But looks can be deceiving.

The Miracle Trump box has a red and a blue side

The name Miracle Trump already suggests that this is not just any pack of cards, and this is true: it is a magic set.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Nintendo Iroha Karuta (いろはかるた) - part 3

Today we continue the series about Nintendo's Iroha Karuta with some oblong shaped sets.

Although these do not use the name 'Iroha' (いろは) on the box, but simply label them as 'Karuta' (かるた), they are in fact used to play the same games as the sets we saw in blog posts part 1 and part 2.

The Nintendo name in kanji (任天堂) is used as brand logo, without any further brand name in Roman script, which is quite unusual.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Beforemario in N-Zone - Parts 1 to 3

As reported earlier, Germany's biggest Nintendo magazine N-Zone published a three part retro feature on Nintendo's pre-Famicom period, using photos from my collection.

This story ran from October to December of this year. As the last part was just released (on newsstands in Germany now), I thought it would be a good occasion to show them here as well.

Part 1 - N-Zone October 2013

Part 2 - N-Zone November 2013

Part 3 - N-Zone December 2013

I always enjoy participating in these types of publications, so if there are any journalists out there with similar plans, don't hesitate to contact me.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Nintendo Iroha Karuta (いろはかるた) - part 2

In the first part of this post, Nintendo's Iroha Karuta were introduced. This is an educational card game, that helps children learn the Japanese hiragana script.

Nintendo wasn't the only company producing these cards, and in order to beat the competition and make sure the public continued buying their sets, new designs were regularly created.

In the 1970s, Nintendo expanded its line of Iroha Karuta with a new, broad selection of themed sets that catered to many different interests, as we will see below.

Nintendo Iroha Karuta from the 1970s

This series of Karuta is recognizable by bright, colorful drawings on the box front.

Let's take a closer look at each of these sets.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Nintendo Iroha Karuta (いろは かるた) - part 1

To most readers of this blog it will be well-known that Nintendo started corporate life as card manufacturer, back in 1889. They have been producing cards ever since, up to the present day (check out the current 'other products' section on Nintendo's website for some recent examples).

As cards are such an important part of their history, the subject may have been a bit underexposed here, although I did post about them a few times before.

The cards that Nintendo produces can be grouped in four main categories:
  • Hanafuda (花札), the orginal Japanese playing cards that started the company
  • Hyukunin Isshu (百人一首), a card game based on 100 famous poems
  • Iroha Karuta (いろは かるた), a game that tests memorization, listening skills and reflexes
  • Trump (トランプ) cards, which are western style playing cards

(In more recent years, this has been extended with Pokemon cards and other video game related spin-offs like eReader cards, but we will focus on the more traditional cards here.)

Nintendo Iroha Karuta (early 1960s)

In previous posts, I already put a spotlight on some Nintendo Trump cards (see these stories about picture book trump cards, early playing cards, promotional Popeye cards, 1980s playing cards catalogue and some naughty pin-up playing cards). These only showed a minuscule tip of the proverbial iceberg. Nintendo produced so many different Trump card design that I don't dare estimate a number, but it must run in the hundreds, possibly thousands.

I plan to cover Hanafuda and Hyukunin Isshu in the future, but today we start taking a look at the Iroha Karuta.

The two examples shown here stem from the early 1960s, from the time when Nintendo had just introduced their stylish cursive logo.

Iroha Karuta are targeted at children in elementary school, who have started learning the Japanese hiragana and katakana scripts, and the pictures on the cards and overall design are tailored to this young group of customers.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Nintendo Dynamic Soccer (ダイナミック サッカー , 1970)

In the period 1965-1970, Nintendo released two soccer simulation games. In a previous post we already looked at Table Soccer (テーブル サッカー) from 1965. This game was licensed from UK toy company John Waddington.

Table Soccer is similar to the well-known Subbuteo soccer game - based on finger-flicking miniature plastic player figures and thus maneuvering the ball towards the goal, as well as defending that goal.

Nintendo Dynamic Soccer (1970)

Several years later, in 1970, Nintendo released a new soccer game, called Dynamic Soccer (ダイナミック サッカー).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Nintendo's logo through the years - part 2

A previous blog post on Nintendo's logo's through the years showed the many different logos that Nintendo went through until they settled on their current company logo.

When I gathered the visuals for that article, I was surprised of just how many different styles Nintendo had used in the period from around 1965 until the early 1980s.

Some of the many logos that Nintendo has used over the years

That article however failed to mention an important logo that Nintendo had used for a number of years from the 1950s to the mid 1960s: the 'Ace of Spades' logo.

Nintendo's 'Ace of Spades' logo introduced in the 1950s
(image courtesy of GameScanner)

This logo obviously stems from the period in their history when Nintendo was still primarily a playing card manufacturer. It has two specific style elements: the white spikes that are drawn around the inner spades shape and a circle in the middle with a gothic-style letter 'N'.

So, Nintendo already used a big 'N' in their logo years before they themselves would be addressed as "The Big N". I think this is called destiny.

Typical trump cards sold by Nintendo in the 1950s

It was introduced around the time when they increasingly started selling Western style trump card sets, many of which were illustrated with Disney characters.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Nintendo Mini Game update - Space Ball

For a long time, I believed there were 48 different games in Nintendo's 1970s Mini Game Series. Over time I managed to add 47 of these to my collection, only missing Diving Shot (ダイビングショット).

But this week one popped-up that I had not heard about before: a Mini Game version of Space Ball (スペースボール). Bringing the total for the series to 49, and increasing my wanted list to two.

Mini Game Space Ball
(Image from auction by Yahoo user szbh_suki)

Friday, October 4, 2013

Half a million views!

In September of 2011, I reported that beforemario had passed the 50,000 views mark. I had started the blog 7 months earlier in February of 2011 and I was surprised that it attracted a steady number of visitors.

Two years on and the interest has only increased. Yesterday we hit 500,000 views!

To me this shows that the efforts put into the posts on this blog are appreciated by many around the world. The story about Nintendo's history exalted on these pages also crossed over to other media like books, magazines (like Retro Gamer in the UK, Game Master in Mexico and recently N-Zone from Germany) and television programs.

And most importantly, the blog provided me with a platform to get in touch with some great folks from around the world, which in turn allowed me to post about their wonderful collections, so you could meet them as well. The Meet the Collectors series has become my personal favorite posts on this blog.

Thank you to all readers for your continued interest and to all folks who contributed and helped me along the way!

Now, on to 1 million!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Nintendo Bee Hive Game (ハチの巣ゲーム, 1971)

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Nintendo licensed many games from various Western toy companies.

Nintendo's Bee Hive Game is a typical example of this.

It was released in Japan in 1971, in a box adorned with two (rather freckly) Western kids and a Japanese boy.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Beforemario in N-Zone

This month's issue of N-Zone features a retro special on Nintendo's history before they made video games. N-Zone is Germany's biggest Nintendo magazine.

N-Zone #198 - October 2013

This special is the first in a series of three parts. The first part focusses on the period from the start in 1889 to the introduction of the Ultra Hand.

The images that illustrate the piece may look familiar to regular readers of this blog, as they were provided by beforemario. I gladly support these kind of publications that contribute to spreading the story about Nintendo illustrious past.

The N-Zone team returned the favor by including a QR code with a link to my blog.

The next two parts will appear later this year, in the N-Zone of November and December.

Check out all three parts here.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Retro Game Experience 2013

About a week ago, in the weekend of September 14 and 15, a game event called Retro Game Experience was staged by the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision located in the Dutch town of Hilversum.

The program looked very promising, so I headed to Hilversum on Sunday. I took my two daughters along, and hoped they would also appreciate the original arcade experience that was recreated there (they did).

The event was divided in three main areas. One the ground floor you could find a set of Japanese arcade games from the 90s and 00s and a large selection of home consoles and home computers. One floor up was the best part of the exhibition: a full-fledged arcade room with many games from the 1980s, including - obviously - a healthy selection of Nintendo arcade games.

It was a really hands-on affair; all that was on display was playable as well. The event attracted a good crowd but it was not too busy, so you did not have to wait too long to play.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Spreading Mr. Yamauchi's legacy

The passing of Mr. Yamauchi earlier this week was a sad moment; the definitive end of an era in the history of Nintendo. It also provided an opportunity to reflect on his many achievements and the big impact Nintendo has had on popular culture globally. For some this will evoke nostalgic feelings, but for many others it may have been an introduction to previously unknown parts of Nintendo's past.

Although maybe unfortunate that the general press often needs to be triggered by somebody's death before they realize their legacy, it was good to see the many stories in the mainstream press that reported the various facets of Mr. Yamauchi's life, his lifelong involvement with the company and the pivotal role his leadership and decisions have played in shaping the video game world in particular.

I was approached by the BBC to contribute imagery to a historical overview that illustrates the far reaching influence of Mr. Yamauchi's presidentship. I gladly participated in this, as it allows a broad public to learn about Nintendo's path to current fame, which is a topic close to my heart.

I was even more pleased that the BBC also created a History of Nintendo slideshow on their CBBC portal, especially targeted at children.

This was a great chance to introduce a new generation to the many wonderful games and toys that predate Wii U and 3DS. And through this, honour Mr. Yamauchi.

Links here:

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Hiroshi Yamauchi 1927-2013

Today Hiroshi Yamauchi died, aged 85.

Mr Yamauchi led Nintendo from 1949 tot 2002 as company president, and was chairman of the board from 2002 to 2005.

Without him, Nintendo as we know it today would not exist, and the gaming world would be totally different.

It is simply impossible to comprehend the many many hours of pleasure and joy he and his team have given the world.

Thank you, Mr Yamauchi! ありがとうございました山内さん!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Meet the Collectors - #7 - Alex Crowley

In previous episodes of this blog's Meet the Collectors series, we have already seen some of the best collections out there that are dedicated to Nintendo's history.

But even though these consisted of wonderful displays of Game & Watches, vintage toys and retro video games, there is one department that has been seriously underexposed here so far: arcade games.

Arcade games are an important part of Nintendo's history and heritage. Key Nintendo characters and game franchises were born in the arcade. Many of today's Nintendo collectors first got exposed to Nintendo through these games. Most of us love them for it. I know I do.

But collecting arcade games is a different matter altogether. They are big and heavy. Their monitors and printed circuit boards are sensitive to technical problems (contrary to consoles and handhelds, which are virtually indestructible). Most arcade game have been out in the field for many years, resulting in wear and tear. So they usually require tender love and care to restore, get working and maintain in top shape.

It takes some special dedication to build your own home arcade. In today's episode we will meet Alex, who has done just that. Even more exciting is the fact that he created a Nintendo arcade! Alex loves his arcade so much that he gave up an extensive collection of Game & Watch for it. Talk about dedication!

Alex posing justifiably proud in his personal hall of Nintendo arcade history

"Hi! My name is Alex Crowley. I am from Twickenham London, 42 years old and I am a brickwork specialist."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Nintendo toys in Animal Crossing New Leaf

As regular readers of this blog will know, Nintendo has a long and intriguing history that spans close to 125 years. Since the 1960s, the company has developed a culture that remains to this day: a strife for innovation mixed with an understanding and appreciation of its heritage. Nintendo as a company never forgets where it comes from and what went before, and this is passed on to new staff when they enter the company.

One of the ways that Nintendo honors and celebrates its past is by including references to it in new games. Most recently, this happened in the 3DS game Animal Crossing New Leaf (とびだせ どうぶつの森), released in Japan in November of last year and in the rest of the world in June of this year.

Animal Crossing New Leaf - Japanese box art

In this popular life simulation game, many items can be earned or won by performing certain activities at certain times. Included in the huge selection of items are five vintage Nintendo toys, that are great representatives of the entire "toys period" of Nintendo, from the mid 1960s to the early 1980s.

Some of the items that can be won in Animal Crossing New Leaf,
including the five vintage Nintendo toys (items D to H shown here)

The vintage Nintendo toys included in Animal Crossing New Leaf are:
  • Ten Billion (テンビリオン) originally released in 1980,
  • Love Tester (ラブテスタ) from 1969,
  • Ultra Hand (ウルトラ ハンド) from 1966,
  • Ultra Scope (ウルトラ コープ) from 1971, and
  • Ultra Machine (ウルトラ マシン) from 1967
Although they may look a bit dated now, each of these was very innovative in their time.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Meet the collectors - #6 - Fred (update)

It is time for another episode of Meet the Collectors. We are once again traveling to France, where we meet Nintendo collector Fred.

I already posted some pictures of Fred's collection yesterday, but he has just sent some more recent pictures. So here's an update, with the promised interview.

The core of Fred's interest is Game & Watch. But that is not all. There is more. A lot more. His collection includes many of the older Nintendo games and toys. There is so much to see here, your eyes are not sure where to look.

So, let's go meet Fred.

"My name is Frederic, I'm 42 and I live in the south-eastern part of France, near Nîmes."

"I am passionate about Game & Watch and Nintendo, but I also collect motor bikes (I have a dozen Japanese motorcycles) and French and German cars from the period 1960-80."

"Back in 1982, when I was 11 years old, I received a Game & Watch Donkey Kong as a Christmas present. This was the only Game & Watch that I had at the time, and I played it for hours and hours on end!"

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Nintendo Copilas - part 3 (コピラス, 1971)

In two previous posts on this blog, the 1971 Nintendo Copilas (コピラス) photocopier was introduced and its use demonstrated.

This machine was sold at a then revolutionary price of only ¥9,800, barely providing a profit margin on the hardware. Like many printer companies these days - that practically give away printers in order to make handsome profits on the ink cartridges - Nintendo also intended to make most of the money on providing a continuous supply of paper and developing agent to the Copilas users.

The initial standard Copilas machine was produced in quite large numbers, so finding one these days is not very difficult (various follow-up models were created that are much rarer). However, finding original supplies needed to run it is much more difficult now. These were either used back then or discarded. So, I was happy when I was able to add some of these to my collection a little while ago.

Nintendo Copilas photo sensitive paper

The photo sensitive paper (感光紙) was sold in two standard sizes: B4 and B5.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Meet the collectors - #5 - Sander Slootweg

After meeting some great collectors from around the world - from France to Australia and Japan, we continue our Meet the collectors series. This time I did not have to travel far, as the collector we visit today lives quite close from me; in fact, at biking distance.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting fellow Dutch collector Sander Slootweg, who gave me a tour around his game room. As we will see, Sander's collection spans many interests, including - most definitely - a love for Nintendo and Gunpei Yokoi in particular.

This is going to be long post, but I am sure it will be well worth the read, as Sander's collection is nothing short of amazing.

Sander and his pride and joy: a full Game & Watch collection, beautifully displayed

Sander's game room is a mix of arcade machines, carefully arranged display cabinets brimful with collectables and great wall decorations. The special lighting arrangements and overall attention to detail give his room a museum-like quality.

Nintendo Popeye Trump cards - San.o Popeye Ramen sales promotion (early 1960s)

A lesser known chapter in the history of Nintendo is their period as producer of packaged food.

In the early 1960s, Nintendo was part of a three-company consortium that was called San'ō syokuhin (サンオー食品株式会社). The other two members in the consortium were the University of Kyoto and the Omikenshi Company.

Nintendo had set up this consortium as a response to the tremendous success of Cup Noodle, the instant noodle dish invented by the Japanese firm Nissin in 1958. The Nintendo led consortium's purpose was to take a piece of the growing market for convenience food. In order to do this, they developed a new product: instant rice. They would later also produce instant noodles (ramen).

The San.o products did not become a big success (lore has it that they did not taste very well) and because of the very nature of these perishable goods, very limited evidence of them remains today.

Original envelop that was used to send the sweepstake prize

Recently I did find one of their sales promotions. This promotion was an effort to boost sales for San.o Popeye Ramen (ポパイ ラーメン). Apparently, a prize draw was held for customers of this brand of ramen, with the lucky winners receiving a pack of playing cards.

With Nintendo involvement in the San.o consortium, it was almost inevitable that the sales promotion would use one of Nintendo's own products, which at this time were still predominately playing cards.