Nintendo Museum Exhibition

Nintendo Museum Exhibition

Osaka 2007

Nintendo has a history that is over 120 years long. A past that deserves to be shown.

There are a number of museums around the world that depict the history of video games in general, including Nintendo’s role in this. But there is no place where the public is presented the full history of Nintendo, including their days as maker of cards and toys. The only permanent exhibition that I am aware of, is the one on the second floor of Nintendo World in New York. This includes some nice items, but it is quite small and does not really do the rich history justice.

nintendo_museum

These showcases at Nintendo’s American flagship store, though modest in scale, are even an exception for this company, as they usually do not dwell too much on their (pre video game) past. They rather focus on the future and the latest, newest game systems and games.

nintendo_museum

The company history page on Nintendo’s US website even starts in 1985, with the NES! Completely skipping the first hundred year since the company started in 1889. A period, admittedly, when the focus was primarily on the Japanese home market. For that matter, the Japanese site shows the full history, but with very short statements only and without any illustrations.

nintendo_museum

In recent years, the Iwata Asks series of interviewes have given glimpses into Nintendo’s past. But overall, Nintendo provides the general public very limited options to see all the great toys and games that they produced over the course of their long history.

Up until now there has only been a single event in the world that presented Nintendo’s past in its full breadth. This was a temporary exhibition that was held in 2007, in a department store in Osaka, close to Nintendo’s Kyoto homebase.

The event was called “Nintendo Museum” (ニンテンドー ミュージアム), and Isao Yamazaki, who was featured on this blog in a recent Meet the Collectors episode, was involved in its inception. The items on display also stemmed for a large part from his collection.

nintendo_museum

In the interview below, Isao relates how this unique one-off event came about. Hearing his tale and seeing the pictures from this exhibition, I really hope a simliar event will happen again sometime in the future.


Nintendo Museum, Hankyu department store Osaka (2007)

Isao Yamazaki: “I started thinking about this event when my contacts in the Japanese monthly magazine Nintendo Dream called me.”

isao_yamazaki

“The Osaka Hankyu department store was about to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and they were looking for an idea for a fun event that could be enjoyed by all ages.”

nintendo_museum

“Because the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii were very popular at the time, the store’s staff wanted to involve Nintendo in this event. Nintendo in turn contacted Nintendo Dream to help them.”

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“As a matter of fact, a few years earlier, Nintendo Dream had organised a small event in Tokyo with a few of Nintendo’s vintage toys, taken from my collection. This event was a big success in Tokyo.”

nintendo_museum

“For the Osaka exhibition, Nintendo allowed us to show more. There were still a lot of restrictions, like the space we could use.”

nintendo_museum

“This event took place for eleven days only, from Wednesday March 28 to Friday April 6. Originally it was intended to run up to April 2, but as the visitors came en mass it was extended for a few more days. There were more people than we expected, and it was a real success.”

nintendo_museum

“Lots of Nintendo’s employees came to see, including key persons. It was a pleasure to look at their nostalgic reactions, and talk with them and hear their own memories or experiences at Nintendo.”

nintendo_museum

“You know, all the Nintendo staff told me it was a small miracle, because Nintendo usually does not like to talk about their older history. They usually do not approve these kind of events.”

nintendo_museum

“Until this day I do regret that I had not enough time to prepare an official exhibition guide book.”

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“I was very proud to be involved in such a project, and would have provided my time and collection for free. But the department story even gave me money to thank me.”

nintendo_museum

“And a funny thing: my collection was considered like and art exhibition. So the department store also paid some very expensive insurance to protect all my items.”

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“Another great memory was the fact that one of my best friends, the noted French Nintendo researcher Florent Gorges, came over to Japan especially for this occasion. He helped make the event a success, and worked with us one night straight without sleeping, to prepare the exhibition. I remember having a breakfast with him after the work was finished, and we continued talking passionately about ways to make the event even more fun.”

nintendo_museum

“It was a very happy moment for me. Florent took his video camera with him and he recorded a few hours of film; from the preparation of the event to the real public opening ceremony. Afterwards he made a nice “making of Nintendo Museum video”, which he gave me on DVD. This movie is like a documentary about this event and is for me an important treasure.”

Above pictures of the Nintendo Museum by kind permission of Kris Vanderweit.
For more on the Nintendo Museum, check out these the-making-of pictures. If you want to find out more about Isao’s collection, please check this previous post.

Donkey Kong: The start of a collection

Donkey Kong: The start of a collection

It may appear that we are going somewhat off-topic with this post. Strictly speaking, Donkey Kong, the game that is Mario’s birth-ground, does not seem an appropriate subject for a blog titled beforemario.

But it is not too farfetched, to state that without Donkey Kong this blog would not exist. And it is therefore more than appropriate to put a spotlight on Miyamoto’s premiere master piece; the start of my fondness for Nintendo, as well as the start of my collection.

With that in mind – let’s dig in.
Donkey Kong collection

It is not my intention to introduce or explain Donkey Kong. That would be silly. Unlike many of the Nintendo toys and games featured on this blog, I can safely assume that you know all ins and outs of the game’s origin, have played its four levels a zillion times, and watched The King of Kong more than once. Right?

What I would like to show you instead, is my first – ever – Nintendo game. The first piece of what would become a mountain of games. The first snowflake of an eventual collecting avalanche.

Here it is: the actual first Nintendo item I bought, almost thirty years ago.
Donkey Kong collection

Let us rewind three decades of time, to the Summer of 1982. For months, I had been pumping quarters (well, actually, guilders) into Nintendo’s arcade revelation Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong collection

I did not own a video game console at the time, and got all my pixelated kicks at the local arcade.

Now, I must admit that I had never really liked the Atari VCS 2600, which was the big home video game daddy around that time. I had played it occasionally, but could not get over the difference between its game play and what was on offer at the arcade. As a result, it never made it to my ‘must have’ list.

I remember seeing Atari’s home conversions of Space Invaders and especially Pac Man (two of my favorite games at the arcade) and not warming to these versions at all.

Then one day, I walked into a toy store, and saw a stack of brochures laying on the counter. It featured a new game console about to be released: CBS’s ColecoVision.
Donkey Kong collection

The scan shown above is from the actual copy I picked up that day, thirty years ago. Given the many times I have thumbed through it (and drooled over it), in the months that followed that moment, it looks surprisingly fresh.

The main selling point of the ColecoVision was a mouth-watering home conversion of Donkey Kong. A screen shot of it was put prominently on the front of the brochure. With the yellow high-light behind it, it stood out more than the actual console itself. And with reason. This was its killer app.

Donkey Kong collection

Inside the brochure, three pictures told a clear story, with a simple side-by-side comparison of the three home versions of Donkey Kong, for the ColecoVision, theAtari 2600 and the Intellivison.

Donkey Kong collection
Never mind that Coleco had handled all three conversions, and possibly given the version destined for their own hardware platform maybe a little bit of extra attention and TLC. The difference in quality, foremost visually, was staggering.
Donkey Kong collection

The ColecoVision version of Donkey Kong was no pixel-perfect conversion either. The first level, for instance, was missing one platform (it had five, instead of the original’s six). And more was missing, as I would soon find out. But it was close.
Donkey Kong collection

So, long story short: desire swelled up in me. I had to have it.

And after months of saving up, I became the proud owner of a ColecoVision.
Donkey Kong collection



Unlike in the US, where Donkey Kong came packed with the console, in Europe you had to buy it separately. Which I did, obviously.

Donkey Kong collection
A magical moment. Look at it. Hours of fun, packed in a black piece of plastic.
Donkey Kong collection

I slotted the cartridge into the machine and started playing.

Donkey Kong collection
Initial amazement at the feast of color and sound was suddenly replaced by confusion. After three levels the game started again at the first. Wait a minute… where is the factory level?

After some moments of disbelieve, and re-reading the manual, I had to take in the truth: there was no factory level. My favorite level had been sliced during the conversion process. Alas, no running on conveyor belts. No jumping over pies.

Donkey Kong collection
After recovering from that somewhat disappointing news, I was still very happy with my own home arcade, and played Donkey Kong for hours on end.
Donkey Kong collection

After this first Nintendo purchase came another, and another, and another, and another. But thirty years on, this one remains one of the most special.

Nintendo Color Screen: Game and Watch Table Top

Nintendo Color Screen

The most spectacular games in the Nintendo Game & Watch series are the Panorama and Table Top games. Combining the excellent LCD based game-play that shines throughout the entire series with full color images, these were innovative as well as fun to play.

Nintendo Color Screen

The Table Top games were shaped like mini arcade cabinets, with joystick and all. In the 80s, owning one of these must have been close to being in handheld nirvana.
Nintendo Color Screen

The original name under which these games were sold in Japan was Color Screen(カラースクリーン), with strangely enough no reference to Game & Watch, although they are clearly part of that family. They were introduced in the rest of the world asGame & Watch Table Top.
Nintendo Color Screen

Four Color Screen titles were produced in total. The first two, introduced in early 1983, were Donkey Kong JR (ドンキーコングJR) and Mario’s Cement Factory (マリオズセメントファクトリー), pictured in this leaflet.

Later that same year, the range was extended with games featuring Popeye and Snoopy.

Even though the Color Screen had a bright (color!) screen, it consumed very little energy. It cleverly used a combination of regular black liquid crystals with sunlight projected through a mirror to create the images. According to this leaflet, it was able to run for three years on two C batteries without ever being switched off. It did not even have an on/off switch.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

Nintendo Computer TV Game

In 1980 Nintendo released a home video game based on the Computer Othello arcade machine, which they had released two years earlier.

It was called Computer TV Game (コンピュータ TV ゲーム), and had model number CTG-HC10.

Nintendo Computer TV Game
The manual of one of the rarest game machines around

The game can be played head-to-head by two people, or against the computer. The algorithm the machine used to play Othello against a human opponent was quite sophisticated, for its time.

The technology wasn’t really ready for this kind of commercial home release, but Nintendo went ahead anyway, believing there would be market for it. The company achieved the conversion by simply incorporating a complete arcade board, resulted in a big, heavy machine that required a fat power supply that weighed more than 2 kilograms alone. It was expensive too, retailing for ¥48,000, for a machine that only could play Othello. Three years later the Family Computer, able to play hundreds of different games – including Othello – could be had for less than a third of that price.

Unsurprisingly, the machine was produced, and sold, in limited quantities. They are rarely offered for sale these days and command high prices. After years of absence, one was on sale on eBay in 2009. It sold for US$2,000.

Nintendo Computer TV Game
242.000 yen? Are you sure?

And today (February 2011) another one was sold on Yahoo Japan Auction. According to the seller it was unused, and surely looked nice. The final bid was a steal for ¥242,000! That is almost US$3,000 in today’s dollars the lucky winner had to part with in order to call it his.

Let’s take a look at this rare and desirable machine; the most obscure of all Nintendo’s video game releases.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

The name Computer TV game is pretty generic, for a machine that can only play Othello. The image on the front does give a hint in that direction, as it shows an Othello game in progress. The top flaps of the box can be folded, so it can be carried more conveniently. No luxury, as it is big and heavy.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

On the side we see the name of the item in katakana,  the model number, the kanji version of the Nintendo logo, and the suggested retail price of ¥48,000.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

On the top of the box is printed what should be in it: the game machine, a power supply and an RF switch. Also shown are the instructions on how to fold the top flaps.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

The machine is well protected by styrofoam. We have just taken off the top part, to reveal the treasures within. The carton on the right holds the power supply.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

Here it finally is, in all its splendor. All in all an impressive looking machine.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

A close-up of the power supply (CTGA-1255) reveals what a power hungry fellow this game is.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

The orange and blue buttons on left and right side are for player 1 and 2. The small orange buttons move the cursor, the large orange button confirms a selection and the blue one allows a player to pass. The buttons in the middle are used to select game type and difficulty level.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

With these buttons the game type is selected: option A and B are head-to-head games for two players, option C and D are games against the computer. Note how the options are read from right-to-left, in the traditional Japanese way. This indicates that this is a serious game, not a toy.

So, what can this machine actually do? Let’s find out.

The rules of Othello are pretty straightforward. From a start position with 4 pieces in the middle of the play area (two for each player), the two players take turns placing one piece at a time. When pieces of the opponent become enclosed (horizontally, vertically, diagonally), they are swapped for pieces of the other player, thus increasing the number of pieces this player has on the board. When all places are filled, the player with the highest number of pieces on the board wins.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

The manual provides some strategic advice, and indicates the good and bad spots on the board to place your piece. Obtain the corners is pivotal to success.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

Do we want to play a game (ゲーム)? Sure!

Nintendo Computer TV Game

Which one? Let’s select “rank” (ランク) C , and see what happens. We will be playing against the computer.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

We play using the plus sign, the computer uses the square. We take turns placing pluses and squares on the board, and soon the computer is ahead.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

The computer remains very polite: “please decide” (ハンテイ ドーゾ), but by the looks of it, it has already beaten us.

Nintendo Computer TV Game

When no moves are possible anymore,  the computer counts the squares and pluses to determine who has won. It was close, but we did lose. Not satisfied with a single win, the computer immediately begs us for another turn: “reset please” (リセット ドーゾ).

Nintendo Computer TV Game
Advertisement in the Computer TV Game manual for other Nintendo consoles

In the back of the manual of the Computer TV Game, the four consoles in the Color TV Game series are advertised.  You could buy all four of them for the price of just the Computer TV Game, and still have around ¥5,000 to spare.

So, there you have it. There are cheaper ways to play Othello. But there is arguably no Nintendo item that is more valuable.

Eric V showcases and celebrates the toys and games Nintendo created in the period from the mid 60s to the early 80s, starting with the first board games up to the launch of the Family Computer in 1983. You can see his awesome blog here – Before Mario.

Nintendo Color TV Game Series

Before Nintendo released the Family Computer in 1983, it had already created five home-use TV video game machines in the Japanese market. Between 1977 and 1979 four games were released in the Color TV Game series. The fifth game was Computer TV Game (CTG-HC10), which came out in 1980.

Though the Color TV Game series (カラー テレビゲーム シリーズ) was successful, contrary to the other Nintendo toys and games of the era, not too much effort was put into creating a unique experience. For the most part, these machines adopted concepts developed by Magnavox and Atari.

The four Color TV Games released between 1977 and 1979
The four Color TV Games released between 1977 and 1979

Atari’s home version of Pong was released during the holiday season of 1975, and in 1977 Nintendo was ready to take a slice of the Pong clone pie when it released the Color TV Game 6 (カラー テレビゲーム 6) and Color TV Game 15 (カラー テレビゲーム 15), offering 6 and 15 Pong-style game variants respectively.

The machines were co-developed by Mitsubishi Electronic and did not prominently feature Nintendo branding on the casing.

Nintendo video game consoles of the 70s
Nintendo video game consoles of the 70s

These first TV Games were followed by two somewhat more original creations:Color TV Game Racing 112 (カラー テレビゲーム レーシング 112) in 1978 and Color TV Game Block Kuzushi (カラー テレビゲーム ブロック崩し) the following year.

Racing 112 is a racing game that could be played by a single payer, using the provided steering wheel, or by two players using the paddles.

Block Kuzushi is clearly inspired by Breakout, and featured six game variants with some original ideas.

In upcoming posts we will take a closer look at each of these four games, and their power adapter accessory: