Nintendo always knows how to play the game

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Nintendo always knows how to play the game

Starting in 1977, the video-gaming pioneer's story is a plot full of twists. Our tech whiz dredges up his memories of computer games from grade school when MS-DOS was in

By Alvin R. Cabral

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Published: Thu 9 Mar 2017, 6:00 PM

Last updated: Thu 9 Mar 2017, 9:19 PM

When I was in grade school, I desperately lobbied my mom to buy me a Family Computer - the Xbox, PlayStation and Wii of those times. Unfortunately, she refused every time I asked, because (a) she was worried about my eyes deteriorating at an early age because she believed that I had had my fill of computers at her office during weekends (you know, those DOS-powered contraptions that had black screens and boring green text that needed a 5-1/2-inch floppy to run anything from WordStar to Pac-Man), and (b) she had an idea that I would be unstoppable with those things.

KT illustration by CHRISTIAN AVALOS
Then, one fine day (I honestly can't remember which year), to my shock, a little package arrived at home from my aunt in the US. Inside? A Nintendo Entertainment System, complete with two controllers and the Zapper, plus Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Super Mario Bros 2.
Game start for me; game over for my mom.
For me, that was the beginning of my history with Nintendo. But the Japanese company's story - unknown to me at that time - started way back. Over 100 years at that time, September 23, 1889, to be exact.
That was when Nintendo Koppai was established by Fusajiro Yamauchi to produce handmade playing cards called Hanafuda ('flower cards'). The name 'Nintendo,' it is widely assumed, means 'leave luck to heaven' (nin means 'entrusted'; ten-dou means 'heaven'). The cards gained popularity, but pretty much nothing happened after that, except for the company being renamed Yamauchi Nintendo & Co in 1933; a company, Marufuku Co Ltd, created to distribute the cards in 1947; and apparently a merger in 1951 that created Nintendo Playing Card Co Ltd.
The turning point
A trip to the US in 1956 by Yamauchi's grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi - who was now at the helm - made him realise that the playing card business may not be viable in the long term. In 1959, Nintendo struck a deal with Disney to allow it to use the latter's characters on its cards; it was successful, with more than 600,000 packs sold in over a year. This prompted Yamauchi to make Nintendo public in 1962.
In 1963, the company was renamed Nintendo, and with more cash flowing in, the company ventured into other businesses, such as food (rice, to be specific), a short-stay hotel chain, taxis, Chiritori vacuum cleaners and toys.
Guess what, all of them didn't pan out well - except for the last one.
One day in 1966, Yamauchi was at a Hanafuda facility when he saw a robotic arm, built for self-amusement by some dude named Gunpei Yokoi, who was working as a maintenance engineer at Nintendo. Yamauchi plucked Yokoi from the plant and told him to make some toys for Christmas; the Ultra Hand was born, along with some other electronic toys, which would be a hit among consumers.
The genius of Yokoi would soon be legendary; he would go on to make the Game & Watch, create the ubiquitous Control Pad and design the original Game Boy. He also produced critically-acclaimed game titles, including Kid Icarus and Metroid, as well as mentored Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of the Mario and Legend of Zelda franchises.
Seeing an opportunity, Nintendo took the plunge into the video game console world. After some collaborations, it came up with the Color TV Game in 1977, which would eventually be the platform for Donkey Kong, Miyamoto's first project. The Game & Watch would follow in 1980.
Nintendo would go full-blown in 1983 with the release of the Family Computer in Japan, which would later be transformed into the NES in 1985 and released in North America. The NES is credited with bringing the industry back to life after the disastrous North American video game crash of 1983.
The rest, as they say, is history. Nintendo would follow up the NES with the Game Boy in 1989, the Super NES in 1990, the (failed) Virtual Boy in 1995, the Nintendo 64 in 1996, the Game Boy Advance and GameCube in 2001, the Nintendo DS in 2004, the Wii in 2006, the Nintendo 3DS in 2011, the Wii U in 2012, the throwback NES Classic Edition in 2016 and the Switch just last week. For good measure, Nintendo also came up with a Game Boy-like Pokemon Mini in 2000, as well as a Tamagotchi-esque Pokemon Pikachu in 2000. And they also finally - finally - entered the mobile gaming world with last year's Super Mario Run.
Legacy sealed
Among the top 10 best-selling video game machines of all time, Nintendo proudly owns five (and nine out of the top 20) - the NES at tenth, the Game Boy Advance at eighth, the Wii at fifth, the Game Boy at third and the Nintendo DS at second. (Sony, which owns four spots, has its PlayStation 2 on top; one place goes to Microsoft.)
It's also home to the original versions of some of the most iconic video game franchises, including Mega Man, Double Dragon, Gradius, Ninja Gaiden, my favourite Castlevania and many others. These titles would be the inspiration for several ones we know of today. And while it's facing some really tough competition in Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo, in its own right, has held its ground.
To put things into perspective against its main rivals - consoles and handhelds combined - Nintendo has released 15 gaming machines; Sony's PlayStation line has 10 (though there are several variants to this, such as slim models), while Microsoft only has four (counting the Xbox One S, and no handhelds; a fifth one, the highly-anticipated 'Project Scorpio,' is coming up this year).
Nintendo has also decided against releasing upgraded models of their consoles, showing the kind of spunk and confidence they have in their product.
In over a century, its business has had its fair share of ups and downs, but, just like the games we play on their consoles, it's as if it's all part of the storyline. Nintendo will forever be etched in the video gaming world's heart; let's hope it doesn't reach the game over screen.
Alvin doesn't play video games as often as he'd like. But when he does, he can stay awake for days

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