The History of Nintendo: Japanese playing card company to global videogame giant
Nintendo History

The Nintendo Co. Ltd began over a century ago as a Japanese playing card company founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Koppai.

We have compiled a timeline for you below to help understand how the transition took place from Nintendo being a small playing card company to becoming the videogame giants we know as today.

1889 - Fusajiro founds Nintendo Koppai to sell his Hanafuda cards, these cards were special collectable playing cards. The deck consisted of only 48 cards which were divided into 12 different suits - each of the twelve suits represented a month of the year and had a designated flower to identify it. These cards became a big hit and soon Fusajiro couldn't keep up with demand, he began training a few apprentices - as his company continued to expand and demand continued to rise Fusajiro knew he was onto a good thing.

Hanafunda cards or Flower cards

The name Hanafuda cards roughly translates to mean "Flower Cards".

Modern versions of Hanafunda cards featuring Nintendos own popular videogame characters

To this day Nintendo still make Hanafuda cards - now featuring characters from their own hit video game series such as the Super Mario Franchise.

1907 - The beginning of Nintendo's expansion...
Fusajiro introduced western-style playing cards to the Japanese and foreign markets, and they sold successfully! Next Fusajiro negotiated a deal with Japan Tobacco & Salt Public Corporation so that they'd sell trading cards from there stores.

1929 - Following the retirement of company founder Fusajiro the new runner of the company takes over his name being Sekiryo Yamauchi. At this point in time, Nintendo had become the largest playing card company in Japan.

1933 - Nintendo established an unlimited partnership and became known as Yamauchi Nintendo & Co.

1947 - A distribution company called Marufuku Co. Ltd. was formed. This was used to distribute there new styles of cards, such as poker decks.

1949 - Hiroshi Yamauchi took over as president of the rapidly growing company Nintendo. It would've been his father Shikanojo who took over but he ran away when Hiroshi was very young. Leaving him and his mother (named Kimi) alone. A lot of the Nintendo staff sadly held him in disregard. So he removed the people who questioned him and got new staff.

1951 - This year saw the change of the companies name once more, the company would now be known as Nintendo Playing Cards Co. Ltd. by order of Hiroshi, president of the company.

1952 - Hiroshi decided it was time things changed, he ordered for the production facilities to be optimized, he also changed the location of the HQ to a newer building on the Takamatsu-cho street.

1953 - This was the beginning of the era of plastic coated cards, this increased card value and helped keep them in good condition.

1959 - Nintendo and Disney do a deal for Nintendo to produce cards featuring Disney's characters. With some mass advertising campaigns these sold like hot cakes all over Japan. 600,000 packs were sold that same year!

1963 - The company decided expansion was on the cards (haha! the cards, get it.. sorry) they began design and production of toys and games. Nintendo tried to produce a brand of instant rice (who'd have thought it) which failed quite badly, who'd have thought a company that makes such great games would have so much problem making instant rice! Hiroshi then went on to open a 'love hotel' where rooms were paid for by the hour (your guess as good as mine), he was a very frequent customer (despite that he had a wife, and she knew all about his antics but ignored them). He also tried to branch out a taxi company known as "Daia".

1973 - a Laser clay shooting system was created by Nintendo - this would surpass bowling as a hobby/pastime.

1974 - Nintendo developed an image projection system which used a 16mm~ film projector, this was put to use in amusement arcades, they exported these to Europe and the United states.

1977 - Partnered with Mitsubishi Electric, Nintendo began to develop home use video game systems using an Electronic Video Recording player, the microprocessor was introduced to this system a year later.

Color TV Game 6 by Nintendo

Nintendo's first video game system was released in 1977, the "Color TV Game 6"

1978 - The first coin operated video game systems began to be produced.

1979 - Coin operated games became a large part of the Nintendo line of products, and they set aside an operations division for it.

1980 - Nintendo of America began selling GAME & WATCH sets in New York, these were watches, of course, that you could play games on.

1981 - Developed the now famed coin operating game known as "Donkey Kong", this particular game was the most sought after one in the industry at the time.

1983 - Nintendo released the Famicom or "Family Computer" this was Nintendo's first attempt at a cartridge based videogame system. The system did not take off straight away, not even in Japan - and it wasn't until the release of Super Mario Bros which sold 500,000 units in only two months that they realised the potential of this new system.

The Famicom

The Famicom enjoyed a good level of success in the Japanese market.

1984 - Began to design a unique 2 screen arcade console known as "Vs. System".

1985 - Released a home version of the famed video game system "Family Computer" (Famicon) onto the USA Market, known as the "Nintendo Entertainment System", it included games we still hear of today such as Duck Hunt and Mario Bros. Mario and Luigi are good examples of the innovative and creative characters that helped Nintendo become the worlds favourite video game company as we know it today.

Nintendo NES

Nintendo re-designed and re-released the Famicom to the rest of the world as the Nintendo Entertainment System which would soon become a part of videogame history and one of the most popular consoles of all time.

1989 - Nintendo released the Gameboy; an 8-bit handheld console; it first came out in Japan on April 21st 1989 followed in North America in August 1989 and finally in Europe on September 28, 1990. This was the second handheld console released by Nintendo (the first being the Game & Watch series). Although the Gameboy was less advanced than the Sega Game Gear, Atari Lynx and TurboExpress it was a huge global success with over 118 million units being sold between the Gameboy and its successor the Gameboy colour.

1990 - The SNES "Super Nintendo Entertainment System" was first released in Japan in 1990 where it was known as the "Super Famicom". The console was then released on the 23rd of August 1991 in North America and followed in Europe and Australia in early 1992. This system evolved from the NES. This was the most successful console of the 16-Bit era and continued to be popular well into the 32-bit era. Many Super Mario titles on the SNES have since been re-released due to their huge popularity; example being Super Mario Allstars 25th Anniversary edition on the Wii.

1995 - The Virtual Boy was supposedly the first console that could display "true 3D graphics". It came out in Japan in July, 1995 and followed shortly after in America, because the console did very badly in terms of commercial sales a PAL (European) version was never released.

Nintendo 64

(Left) Nintendo 64 logo, (Right) Standard Nintendo 64 console and the different coloured controller variations.

1996 - Nintendo released the Nintendo 64 in June 1996 in Japan, September 1996 in North America, March 1997 in Europe then eventually followed in Australia in September 1997. The Nintendo 64 aka N64 was so named because of its 64-bit processor. Launch titles included Super Mario 64 and Pilot Wings 64.

The Nintendo 64 although moderately successful and the most technologically capable of the 64-Bit era was held back by the fact that it still used cartridge based medium whereas some of the more advanced consoles in competition at the time had begun to use compact disc's which had more storage capacity.

Limited edition versions of the Nintendo 64 console

Different variations of the N64, from left to right: Pikachu Ltd Edition PAL/JAP console, Pikachu Ltd Edition JAP console, U.S Ltd Edition Gold Toys R Us Edition console, AUS only Pokemon Edition console.

2001 - Nintendo released the Gamecube known as NGC in Japan and GCN in North America and Europe. It first arrived in Japan on September 15th 2001, then into North America on November 18th 2001 and then finally Europe and Australia on May 3rd/17th respectively. The Gamecube was the first Nintendo home console that used optical discs and finally stepped away from the cartridge medium we had been so used to seeing utilised by past Nintendo consoles.

This was the first home Nintendo console to offer internet multiplayer capabilities; although they were limited to only a handful of games and required the GameCube broadband adapter and modem adapter which were sold separately. The main competitors in this sixth generation of console were; Microsofts XBox and Sony's Playstation 2; additionally Sega had also released the Dreamcast but this had been written off before the GameCube even made its release in North America. The GameCubes total global sales fell just short of 22 million units. Another feature of note is that the GameCube offered connectivity with the Gameboy Advance; in some games resulting in access to exclusive features which could only be reached by connecting the two consoles.

2006 - The Nintendo Wii arrives to compete with Microsofts XBox 360 and Sony's playstation 3. The Wii was the first console to utilise wireless controller devices with movement sensitivity; detecting the movements of the user. Some versions of the Wii were also backwards compatible with its predecessor the GameCube and were capable of playing GameCube games.

A reconfigured edition of the console known as the "Wii Family Edition" was later released in Europe and North America that did not have backwards compatibility with GameCube titles. The console broke the record for most videogames sold in December 2009 in the USA.

Super Mario Allstars 25th Anniversary edition

Super Mario Bros; the most prominent Nintendo character franchise celebrates its 25th birthday in Retro style.

2010 - Nintendo Celebrates the 25th Anniversary of the Super Mario Bros with the re-release of classic SNES Super Mario titles; Super Mario Bros 1,2,3 and Super Mario Bros the Lost Levels. (these titles were previously released as a compilation called Super Mario Allstars for the SNES in 1993). They were re-released as Super Mario Allstars 25th Anniversary edition on the Wii.

2011 - The Nintendo 3DS; the first handheld console that gives 3D Graphics without the use of any sort of 3D graphics is released; this console has backwards compatibility with the Nintendo DS and Nintendo DSi. This eighth generation console was to compete with the Sony PlayStation Vita. After 6 months of being released the price of the console was dropped quite significantly globally due to disappointing sales. Later on in 2012 a modified version of the Nintendo 3DS the 3DS XL would be released, this was fundamentally the same console but with a much larger display.

Wii U Controllers

(Left) Wii-U white "basic", (Right) Wii-U black "deluxe".

2012 - The Wii U arrives to succeed the Wii, first released in North America on November 18th, 2012 and then in Europe on November 30th. The first entrant into the eighth generation console market and the first console to allow full 1080P HD display output. The Wii U was released in two versions a "basic" white version with 8gb of flash storage space and a "deluxe" black version with 32gb of storage space. The deluxe version also includes a stand which charges the controller. The Wii U is backwards compatible with its predecessor the Wii. Launch titles included New Super Mario Bros U.

The gamepad for the Wii U was the first of Nintendo's home console controllers to feature touch screen; the controller also features an accelerometer, gyroscope, camera and two analog sticks with a built in sensor strip and microphone.

The Wii U had an extremely slow start in terms of sales for a number of reasons including weak advertisement of the console and its concept, to the point where there was actually some ambiguity as to whether the Wii U was a console in its own right or an addon for the original Wii console. Further compounding the Wii U's problems was a very weak game catalogue.

Meanwhile in July 2012, the 3DS XL was released, a 90% larger screened version of the original, it had been released globally by the start of August 2012.

Nintendo 3DS vs. Nintendo 3DS XL

The Nintendo 3DS (left) and the Nintendo 3DS XL (right)

2013 - The Year of Luigi, this Year celebrated the anniversary of the 30th year since Luigi appeared in a videogame - and the previously understated bro had a year of marketing, starring appearances in games, special cameos and much more increasing his popularity as a character exponentially (or maybe just realising how popular he already really was) - Read our Timeline of the Year of Luigi for more information.

The Nintendo 3DS & XL continued their steady sales success and domination of the handheld market whilst the Nintendo 2DS, a budget version of the console aimed at first time gamers was released in the U.S, Europe and Australasia on the 12th of October, 2013. The Nintendo 3DS adds popular games to its catalogue including: Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros and Luigi's Mansion 2: Dark Moon.

E3 2013 saw some renewed hope for the fortunes of the Wii U, with the announcement of major first party titles such as Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World and Super Smash Bros for both the 3DS and Wii U although competition from rivals Sony and Microsoft remained fierce.

The release of Super Mario 3D World in November 2013 saw a small spike of Wii U pre-Christmas sales, but nothing major enough to turn things around & make the console profitable.

Probably as a result of the marketing ambiguity which harmed the Wii U launch so badly Nintendo vowed to make a much greater effort with marketing, advertising and getting themselves and their franchises back into the public eye in 2014.

Mario Kart 8 made a major impact to the Wii U's fortunes 

Mario Kart 8 is the biggest selling title on the Wii U to date, and increased sales significantly across the globe on its release.

2014 - The hype train for Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros 3DS / Wii U continued with frequent teaser videos, screenshots and facts about the game as well as regular Nintendo Direct updates.

A plethora of promotions and special offers on Nintendo consoles, games and specially put together bundles began, to help tempt those 'on the fence' gamers over to the Wii U and 3DS. Nintendo also began to sell merchandise on their own websites stores including models, figurines and clothing where traditionally they have only really sold games and consoles there. They also licensed much more official Super Mario merchandise in neglected areas such as the UK & Europe which has scarcely seen more than an overpriced plush toy or small figure set in decades.

Nintendo also made a much better effort on marketing, striking the first deal since the early 90's with McDonalds for Happy Meal toys featuring Mario and the gang, as well as holding lots of live events and publicising them with the help of their partners, independent media sites and increased television advertising. There was particular emphasis on the advertising and marketing of Mario Kart 8, with lots of Nintendo Direct coverage, a multitude of TV commercials, a free game promotion and even a Mario Kart 8 themed car at the Charlotte Speedway NASCAR races driven by Matt Kenseth.

Mario and Luigi admiring the Mario Kart 8 themed NASCAR driven by Matt Kenseth

The arrival of Mario Kart 8 at the end of May 2014 gave the considerable sales boost that Super Mario 3D world was unable to provide (despite being an excellent, critically acclaimed game in its own right), selling over 1.2 million copies in its first weekend. Mario Kart 8's arrival increased Wii U hardware sales by around 600% - an impact that even the Xbox One's mighty Titanfall didn't match.

Super Smash Bros for the Wii U and 3DS soon followed which was relatively succesful selling 8.72 million units on the Nintendo 3DS and a further 5.2 million units on the Wii U. The Wii U had pretty much achieved what it was going to achieve by this point though Splatoon for Wii U did reasonably well to move 4.5 million units on a console which was, despite it's big first party games being pretty successful was nstill earing the end of it's life.

2015 - After many years of loyal servitude Toad finally got his first starring role in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker for Wii U. The still very popular Nintendo 3DS & XL version were re-released with a number of enhancements including increased processing power.Toad

Tatsumi Kimishima became the president of the Nintendo Co Ltd in September, 2015. Another landmark of note is that Super Mario Maker released this year and for the very first time fans of the Super Mario series were able not only to play their way through preexisting levels but to craft their own and share them with the world.  The year continued to be a success for the globally loved Nintendo 3DS with major titles such as The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask being remastered in 3D for the console.

2016 - In November, 2016 Nintendo released the Nintendo Mini Classic NES which sold out all over the place seriously quickly and shows no sign of being restocked in a hurry. Want one? like myself you should've been quicker... these retailed at 60USD / 60GBP and can now be obtained basically via eBay for the bargain price of £189.99 as I write this now. The console contains 30 games and Mario fans certainly weren't left out with Super Mario Bros 1,2,3, Dr. Mario all being included. 

Nintendo Switch Console

2017 - Nintendo unveiled the Nintendo Switch as it's next console at a press event in Tokyo on January 13th, 2017. The console was launched less than 3 months later on March 3rd, 2017 with the best first party title being The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild which is highly regarded by critics and players as one of the great games of all time. In terms of Mario we didn't get much new on release other than the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Edition.

Join our free mailing list

Signup for our newsletter to receive updates, game news and information.