20 Things You Didn't Know About Nintendo

A boy playing a Nintendo game.
Nintendo is one of the oldest games. Ted Horowitz / Getty Images

When it comes to video games, Nintendo is the oldest player in town and I mean that quite literally. The company entered the industry in the 1970s, but has actually been around for more than 125 years, beginning life as a card and toy manufacturer long before making the jump to video games. Any company with that kind of longevity is bound to have some fascinating history behind it and Nintendo is no exception, to the point where an entire book was written about their competition with Sega in the early 90s. Still, there’s much more to the company’s history than one console war and I’ve collected 20 fascinating bits of trivia about the company and its games that you can pull out at the next party you go to and alienate yourself from everyone in the room (just kidding!).

Here are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Nintendo, starting with:


20. The Game Boy Creator Started Out as a Janitor

The late Gunpei Yokoi lived a pretty interesting life, especially when it came to his career trajectory. Believe it or not, the man who would go onto create Donkey Kong, Metroid, and the Game Boy started working at Nintendo as a member of the janitorial staff! He moved up into a position on the assembly line next, but was much too brilliant a mind to stay there for long. After tinkering with some gaming inventions on the side, Nintendo higher-ups began to take notice and Yokoi quickly started ascending the ranks. Over the next twenty years, he would come up with the aforementioned products and eventually serve as Nintendo’s general manager.

Sadly, Yokoi’s life was tragically cut short in 1997. After being involved in a minor car crash, Yokoi got out of his car to assess the damage, was struck by another vehicle and died shortly thereafter. This was also not long after Yokoi suffered arguably his greatest product failure with the Virtual Boy but fortunately, his legacy as an important pioneer in the games industry lives on to this day.


19. Donkey Kong was the First Game to Feature Jumping

The ability for a character to jump makes up the foundation of many a retro game, but it may surprise you to learn that it took nearly a full decade after the release of Pong for a game to feature this mechanic. Fittingly, it was Nintendo’s arcade classic Donkey Kong that pioneered the move, as it was the primary ability of the game’s playable character Jumpman, better known as Mario today(well, technically he’s Mario and Luigi’s father, but whatever).

While Donkey Kong is very simplistic by today’s standards, back in 1981 it was a pretty impressive technical feat for a game to feature a character pulling off a graphical jump over hurdles, not to mention climbing ladders. Essentially, Nintendo created an entire genre just by giving Mario the ability to jump, so it’s no surprise that the company continues to put out the best quality platformers to this day.


18. The NES Zapper Looked Like a Real Gun in Japan

It’s a scientific fact (not really) that anyone who owned the Nintendo Entertainment System also loved Duck Hunt, which made use of a lite-gun device called the Zapper. Everyone remembers the Zapper’s distinctive red and grey color scheme, but the original design was much more realistic, to the point where it looked just like a revolver. That’s right, the Zapper that Nintendo releadonkey sed for the Japanese Famicon system could easily be confused with a real gun, which is why the peripheral was redesigned when it eventually made its way to the United States. Of course, it’s quite possible that the Duck Hunt game itself turned a whole generation of children against ducks forever, but at least their poor parents never would have mistaken the Zapper for a dangerous weapon.


17. Miyamoto’s First Game Never Released in the US

Shigeru Miyamoto, the mastermind behind the original Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda (and a host of other classics) is considered gaming royalty at this point, but he didn’t actually get his start with either of those games. In fact, his very first game, Devil World, never even made it stateside! Back in the day, Nintendo of America had some pretty strict policies on content in games, especially when it came to religious imagery.

For example, the developers of Castlevania and Dragon Quest were forced to remove crosses and other religious iconography from their games, while Miyomoto’s Devil World was outright banned from being sold in the US. The game itself was little more than a Pac-Man clone, but with gameplay that included killing demons with crosses and the Bible. Even though it’s made its way to both the Japanese and European Virtual Console service, it’s still never been available officially in the US.


16. Nintendo Makes Miyamoto Drive to Work

As previously mentioned, Shigeru Miyamoto is kind of a big deal at Nintendo. In fact, he’s so important that even rumors of his retirement have caused the company’s stock price to drop in the past. As such, Nintendo has taken measures to ensure that Miyamoto keeps coming in to work his magic, to the point where they’ve actually mandated that he drive to work, as opposed to walking or riding a bike as he’d prefer, as per an in-depth New Yorker profile from 2010.

It’s unclear if Nintendo also dictates what he can and can’t eat or drink but at the same time, it’s hard to fault the company for wanting to protect one of its greatest assets in whatever way it can. At 64, Miyamoto appears as spry and vital as ever and there’s no reasons to think he won’t be making hits for Nintendo for years to come.


15. Kirby’s American Box Art Tends to Have More “Attitude”

The Japanese and American sides of Nintendo’s business don’t always see eye-to-eye and one of the less noticeable, but interesting differences between the two divisions is how they present certain box art. There’s a noticeable trend wherein US box art tends to have more “attitude” than its Japanese equivalent. Kid Icarus: Uprising for the 3DS has some subtle differences in this regard, but pretty much every Kirby game released in the US alters the pink puffball to appear angrier by arching his eyebrows.

Kirby games have traditionally not been huge hits for Nintendo in North America — although you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise given the sheer number of Kirby games there have been — so perhaps this is Nintendo’s way of trying to make the character appeal to an audience who tends to reject his cutesy appearance.


14. Kirby’s Original Name Was Ridiculous

Speaking of Kirby, the pink puffball probably would have fared even worse in America if Nintendo had stuck with the character’s original name which, I kid you not, was Tinkle Popo. You truly can’t make this kind of stuff up! This isn’t a mere urban legend either, as the late Nintendo President Satoru Iwata confirmed at the company’s GDC 2011 keynote that Tinkle Popo was indeed Kirby’s original name and that it was ultimately changed to Kirby after Nintendo realized that the name wouldn’t play well with American consumers. This was probably a wise move and also leaves the door open for a Tinkle Popo spinoff if Nintendo ever becomes so inclined.


13. Final Fantasy VII Was Originally A Nintendo Game

Final Fantasy VII is arguably one of the most important games ever made and helped establish the original Sony PlayStation as the gaming console to go to for deep, cinematic experiences in the late 90s. However, any Final Fantasy fan will tell you that the popular RPG franchise was synonymous with Nintendo for quite some time, as the first six games were all released on Nintendo hardware. Therefore, it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to learn that FFVII began life as a Nintendo game and was originally going to be released on the SNES.

So what convinced Squaresoft to jump ship to Sony? Well, the game had to be pushed back after development on Chrono Trigger took longer than expected, prompting Squaresoft to start planning FFVII as a next-gen release. In fact, the game was first publicly announced as a Nintendo 64 title, but after learning that Nintendo was sticking with cartridges for the console, Squaresoft went to Sony to take advantage of the PlayStation’s CD-ROM format, which provided extra storage for the game’s lengthy cutscenes and soundtrack. The rest, as they say, is history.


12. Wii Sports Golf is a Remake of NES Golf

I don’t care what anyone says, Wii Sports was a blast back in the day and if you say you didn’t enjoy it, you’re lying to yourself. While Wii Tennis was by far the most popular game in the package, Wii Golf was surprisingly fun as well and although it didn’t advertise it, was essentially an unofficial remake of Golf for the NES. Both titles were launch games for their respective systems, it’s true, but Wii Golf’s connection to its retro predecessor goes much deeper, as each of the game’s nine holes are recreations of the ones found in the NES game, updated with cleaner graphics and motion controls (see the full breakdown here).


11. Cranky Kong is the Original Donkey Kong

The original Donkey Kong Country is notable for many reasons, but one of its greatest accomplishments is turning DK into a hero after his villainous turn in the original arcade game. Believe it or not, the reason for this has nothing to do with a change of heart, but rather because they’re not actually the same character! As a nice bit of world-building on Rare’s part, the developer introduced the world to Donkey Kong’s belligerent grandfather Cranky Kong, who it turns out IS the original Donkey Kong.

To be fair, the game never explicitly confirms this, but Cranky does make several references to the “good old days,” and even brings up the Donkey Kong arcade game at several points. This would seem to indicate that Donkey Kong Jr. is the father of Donkey Kong Country’s DK, but it’s unclear if this is true or not.

10. Meet Diskun, the Failed Nintendo Mascot

Mario has been Nintendo’s mascot for decades but before the portly plumber came along, the company tried out a few different ideas. One of these failed mascots was Diskun, aka Mr. Disk, a yellow character who represented the Famicom Disk System (which explains why American audiences likely have no idea who he is).

The Disk system was an add-on for the Famicom that used rewritable floppy disks, and Diskun was the logo that appeared on each game. He was actually featured in some ads for the device but once Nintendo ditched the system, Diskun went with it. Nowadays, Diskun is relegated to the occasional cameo in Nintendo games, such as a collectible trophy in Super Smash Bros. or as a hat that your Mii can wear on 3DS.

9. The Nintendo 64 Got a Disk Drive Add-On

The Nintendo 64 had a pretty short life span, all things considered, but that didn’t stop Nintendo from releasing all sorts of peripherals for the console. You’re probably familiar with the Rumple Pak and Expansion Pak, but did you know that Nintendo made a disk drive add-on called the 64DD? Intended to address the N64’s cartridge problem, the 64DD supported CD-ROMs, thereby increasing the system’s memory significantly. However, the device bombed in Japan and was never released in the US.

In fact, the 64DD failed so dramatically that games like Pokemon Stadium, Majora’s Mask, Paper Mario, Animal Crossing, Banjo-Tooie, and even Resident Evil 0 — which were all originally intended to be released on it — had to be radically changed in response to the 64DD being discontinued.

8. Paul Rudd Was in a Power Glove Commercial!

I’ll be honest, I’m just including this on the list because it’s awesome. As it turns out, one of actor/ageless wonder Paul Rudd’s earliest roles was in a 1991 commercial for the Super Nintendo, which features him playing games like F-Zero and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past at a drive-in movie theater that looks like it was ripped out of an 80s horror film.

In other words, it’s totally awesome and you need to watch it.

7. Nintendo and Namco Had Beef in the 80s

If you were making games in the late 1980s and actually wanted them to be successful, you pretty much had to release them on the NES, which was by far the dominant console on the market at the time. Unfortunately, this also meant that you had to play ball with Nintendo’s strict guidelines, which limited how many games a third-party publisher could release in a given year and how many copies of each game would be manufactured. Namco played ball with Nintendo, but its executives were pretty unhappy about the whole thing and eventually turned to American publisher Tengen for assistance.

You see, Tengen had found a way to make and sell NES games without Nintendo’s approval and Namco wanted a piece of the action. Understandably, Nintendo was not happy about this and ended up suing Tengen for illegally breaking the NES security system. The case was eventually settled out of court, but would cause friction between Nintendo and Namco for many years, although it would appear that they have patched things up since then, seeing as how Namco developed the most recent Super Smash Bros. titles for 3DS and Wii U.

6. Nintendo Once Owned the Seattle Mariners

Ever wonder why there were so many Ken Griffey Jr. games on the SNES? Well, it probably had something to do with the fact that Nintendo’s then=president Hiroshi Yamauchi purchased a majority stake in the Seattle Mariners baseball team back in 1992. Apparently, it all had something to do with Seattle, WA being Nintendo’s base of operations in the US for so many years and Yamauchi wanting to show his appreciation. Weirdly, Yamauchi wasn’t even much of a baseball fan, as he reportedly never went to a single Mariners game at any point before his death in 2013. However, he also bankrolled the team and prevented them from moving to a different city, something that Mariners fans seem to quietly appreciate.

Nintendo doesn’t actually own the team anymore, as Howard Lincoln, the former Chairman of Nintendo of America, stepped down from his role as CEO of the Mariners in 2016. However, Nintendo still retains a 10% stake in the team.

5. GoldenEye’s Multiplayer Was a Last-Minute Addition

As good as the single-player campaign was in GoldenEye 007, the game is considered an N64 classic almost exclusively due to its addictive split-screen multiplayer. It may come as a shock then to learn that the game almost shipped without it! In fact, if it wasn’t for a few Rare employees breaking protocol and working on it without Nintendo’s blessing, the game would have just included the campaign.

Rare employee Steve Ellis and a few of his coworkers created it only a few weeks before the game was due to be shipped, but managed to put it into the game as experiment. They had no idea how influential it would actually be and it’s safe to say that without its classic multiplayer mode, GoldenEye wouldn’t be anywhere near as fondly remembered as it is today.

4. The Nintendo DS Almost Had a Very Different Name

Nintendo has given its many gaming devices both incredible names and ones that just make you scratch your head (they’ll never live the Wii U down). Fortunately, there have been times in the company’s history where clearer heads have prevailed and avoided giving a product an otherwise regrettable name. Case in point: the Nintendo DS, which of course stands for “Dual Screen,” or “Developer’s System.” It’s simple, it’s elegant … and it’s a hell of a lot better than the Nintendo City Boy, which is an actual name floated around for the handheld at one point (oh god, we can just imagine the commercials set to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” now). Admittedly, there is some debate as to whether Nintendo ever seriously considered going with the City Boy name, but an official filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office says otherwise.

It still wouldn’t have been as bad as “Wii U” though.

3. Mario + Koopa = Luigi

Most Nintendo fans know about Mario’s origins (he was named after Mario Segale, Nintendo’s surly American warehouse landlord), but what about his brother Luigi? Well, it turns out that Luigi was a byproduct of hardware limitations, as a lack of memory space made it so that Nintendo couldn’t add any new colors to the 1983 arcade game, Mario Bros.  When it came time to design the game’s second playable character, the developers opted to recycle assets who used the same character model as Mario, but with the green color of the game’s Koopa turtle enemies. In other words, Luigi is the lovechild of Mario and Koopa, which makes him Mario’s … son? It’s best not to think about it.

2. Nintendo Invented The D-Pad

While it’s hard to go back now that we’re all so used to analog control sticks, the D-Pad was an important hallmark of pretty much every early gaming controller and it was Nintendo who came up with the first design. It was actually our good friend Gunpei Yokoi who helped design the original D-Pad, as he headed development on the Game & Watch hardware introduced in 1982.

The team decided to go with a cross shape and concave middle to best control 2D movement in the G&W port of Donkey Kong. Nintendo ended up patenting the D-Pad design and used it in their controller designs ever since, which is why companies like Sony and Microsoft have had to use different designs with their own controllers’ d-pads.

1. The NES is the Longest-Lasting Gaming Console

The NES is one of, if not the most important console ever made, so it’s hardly surprising to learn that it was on the market for a long time. And when I say a long time, I mean that it holds the record for the longest-lasting gaming system in history. Originally launched in Japan in 1983 and North America in 1985, Nintendo of America discontinued the system in 1995 following a decade on the market, but the story was much different in Japan.

The NES lasted almost a full decade longer in the Land of the Rising Sun, with Nintendo finally calling it quits in 2003, a full twenty years after it was first released! And yet, the NES Classic was only on the market for six months. Nintendo, what gives?