Monday, April 6, 2015

Nintendo Punch Race (パンチレース, ca 1965)

In the mid 1960s, Nintendo started producing plastic toys and games. One of its earliest is the racing themed marble action game shown here.

Nintendo Punch Race (ca 1965)

The game is called Punch Race (パンチレース). The retail price at the time was ¥500.

The exact release date is unknown. There is no year listed on the box or manual, but the style of the game, box art and logo indicates it is from around 1965, possibly early 1966.

The front of the box depicts two cars that look a lot like the Jaguar E type, which was one of the hottest sports cars of the 1960s.

The box art also contains a large white curly shape that enhances the feeling of speed, with the name of the game flying out on the side of the box.

In the right bottom corner of the front, you can see a small drawing that gives a sneak peek of the game as it is played.

Inside the box, we find two plastic race track parts, one blue and one yellow.

Both tracks contain the name of the game and an embossed Nintendo logo. The style of the logo is the same as the ones included in the plastic parts of Rabbit Coaster Game and New Coaster Game, two other early Nintendo toys produced around the same time.

The two track parts connect together, to form a double racing circuit.

Also included are two bags with five small plastic cars, in red and white. Another bag contains two heavy plastic marbles, like the cars colored red and white.

The game is played by two players, who sit at opposite sides of the racing circuits, facing each other.

One player controls the white cars in the blue track, the other player controls the red cars in the yellow track.

At the start of the game, five cars sit at each of the starting lines on the top of the tracks, with the noses of the cars pointing down.

Both players shoot a plastic marble up on the right side of their tracks.

The marble is launched by pulling back a plastic pin that is mounted on a metal spring, then letting it go.

After the marbles race to the top of each the tracks, they roll down in one the five lanes. If there is a car in the lane, the marble will push it down to the bottom. When the marble has reached the bottom, with or without a car, the play continues with a next turn.

The objective of the game is to push all five cars to the bottom, in the least number of turns. The player that manages to complete this first wins. Although there is quite some luck involved, timing the release of the spring offers some control over the marble, adding an element of skill to the game.

Punch Race was not originally designed by Nintendo. The game is a based on the game Drag Strip! by American toy company Milton Bradley (also known as MB). Drag Strip! was released in the US in 1965.

Drag Strip! by MB (1965)

Nintendo's version is almost identical to MB's game. The main difference - besides the name - is the fact that Nintendo added a fifth lane (and fifth car), which increased the time to complete the game and added some extra suspense.

Drag Strip! has four lanes per player, while Punch race has five

In the 1970s and 1980s, MB continued to sell the game around the world under a new name: Dragster.

Dragster by MB (box version from 1980s)

Dragster had a slightly redesigned race track, but kept the number of cars to four per player.

Punch Race does not contain any signs that it was officially licensed from MB. However, given the business relationship that existed between Nintendo and MB at the time (resulting in Nintendo versions of MB games like Twister, Skill-It and Pro Bowling), it is likely that Nintendo did acquire the rights to produce a version of Drag Strip! for the Japanese market.

I think Nintendo did a great job localizing the game, replacing the drag race theme by sports racing cars that were more familiar to the Japanese audience.

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