From Christmas of 2009 and Beyond: The History of Nintendo Co., Ltd.


Ariana Duckett

Copy Editor & Senior Staff Writer

With a new Nintendo Switch game, “Mario vs. Donkey Kong”, coming out on Feb. 16, I’ve been reminiscing about the first Nintendo console I received, a medium-red DSi, on Christmas of 2009. Smaller than a checkbook, it had been released worldwide several months before, and my five-year-old self had no idea about the unique history of the company who made it.

Founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi, the company debuted in 1889 and was originally called Nintendo Koppai. It started manufacturing a Japanese card game called Hanafuda, which had been invented almost a thousand years prior. According to Sakuraco, a Japanese manufacturer of snacks, Hanafuda was a game of comparing the “quality” and “uniqueness” of “various collected objects” such as “fans, paintings, and especially shells” in the most imaginative way possible. Poetry and songs were used to creatively describe the objects. 

In the 14th century, gold-painted shells became the dominant form of playing pieces, and the game was renamed kai-awase (貝合わせ, “shell-comparison”). The game evolved once more with the rising popularity of Portuguese trading cards, which were more accessible for the lower classes, and took on the name 花札 (Hanafuda, which can be translated as “flower cards”). By this time, Hanafuda had become primarily associated with gambling and subsequently banned from use. This ban was revoked in 1885, four years before Nintendo’s founder began manufacturing his own.

Given the expensive cost of Hanafuda cards, Yamauchi began producing cheaper playing cards which he named Tengu. Its name was a skillful choice to attract more gamblers. According to the video game blog Kotaku, “Tengu was already a symbol for playing cards and illegal gambling. The … Tengu character has a long nose, and the Japanese word for ‘nose’ (hana) is pronounced the same as the word for ‘flower’ (hana). … those visiting the pleasure quarters of Osaka and Kyoto would rub their nose as a sign that they were looking for gambling games. For card players, ‘ten’ meant ‘Tengu,’ which meant ‘gambling.’” 

The first semblance of Nintendo’s renowned gaming consoles came in 1977. Their first console, called Color TV-Game, featured built-in games to be played at home. They released four models, each equipped with an array of dials, detachable paddles for multiplayer use, and joysticks. Volleyball, tennis, hockey, and two types of ping pong games were playable. Several years later, Game & Watch was released, a computer-shaped console from which popular hits such as “Donkey Kong” and “Mario Bros.” were created, whose characters will now battle one another in the new Nintendo Switch game. The success of the Switch, circa 2017, can be attributed to the popularity of the Game Boy, Nintendo DS, and Wii platforms in previous decades.

“New Super Mario Bros. (NSMB) was one of my first games, and though defeating Bowser over and over again cost much of my sanity, I appreciated the creative worldbuilding. World 5 resembled a winter wonderland with cheery bells ringing like it was Christmas as you slid across icy hills on your stomach. I loathed the ghosts in Bowser’s castle that would move when you weren’t looking at them, and definitely took issue with Lakitu throwing Spiny Eggs at me from his smiling cloud in desert-themed World 2. In every world, climbing through hidden tunnels to collect coins felt very rewarding.

“Scribblenauts Collection WB Games Inc.” was as fun as NSMB but with half of the gamer rage and twice the problem solving (a more ideal game to give a young child). The main character, Maxwell, has a notebook that creates whatever he writes in it, and solves puzzles by summoning objects with it. When not navigating puzzles and coming up with bizarre adjectives to pass each level, there was an open world where you could do whatever you wanted. 

I own eight games in total. “Animal Crossing: Wild World” is a social simulation game to prepare children for capitalism, since players simply raise money to pay off an eternal mortgage that a sleazy store owner has over them. You can chat (or argue) with fellow villagers: colorful animals with a range of personalities. There are also two stores, one town hall, the animals’ houses, and your own house to visit. Maybe what I most fondly remember are the random animals that would visit every so often: a shipwrecked pelican, a fashion designer giraffe, a warthog selling radishes. They certainly added more flavor to the town besides the monotonous cycle of shaking trees for Bells — the town’s currency which grows on trees — and getting stung by bees living in the trees instead.

The dumbest game I own by far is “Winx: Magical Fairy Party,” where all I did was click through dialogue for an hour. “Super Princess Peach” was a more aggravating game than NSMB since I could never figure out how to utilize her umbrella to its full potential. 

In 2018, I bought myself three discounted DS games from GameStop. Yet none of them were as fun as the games I originally owned: The NSMB-style game “Phineas and Ferb Across the 2nd Dimension,” came with every level complete; I felt weird playing through a completed save file, but I didn’t want to reset the game either since it would’ve taken so long to redo everything. “Dream Chronicles” is a hidden object game with a cute storyline and cottagecore graphics, but I couldn’t even pass the first level. “Big Hero 6” was the most heartbreaking; I fought a variety of evil drones with the movie’s characters before coming across an unbeatable robotic tiger. Though any of the game’s superpowered characters could supposedly defeat it, none could. 

I had an unredeemed gift card for GameStop from 2016 that I had wanted to use that day. Coincidentally, neither my phone nor my friends’ phones could get any signal, so I couldn’t open the email with it. 

To this day, the gift card sits in my inbox, staring at me, waiting to be used. However, I’m satisfied with my childhood games, occasionally revisiting them for old times’ sake, and may never redeem it.