Most people recognise Nintendo as one of the world’s most successful video game publishers, fuelled by a creative genius that gave us Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.
That said, the Kyoto based company turns 122 this September. By contrast, rival Sony celebrated its 65 year anniversary this past May.
Both parties deserve praise for surviving in these uncertain times, but Nintendo is without question the biggest success story. It’s one thing to become one of the heavy hitters in the billion dollar games industry, but to also be one of the oldest companies in history is quite an achievement.
Of course, the video game craze didn’t occur until the mid 70s, and Nintendo didn’t produce its own hardware until 1977. What did the company do before that time?
Turns out, quite a lot. Not only did it invent some popular gadgets consumers still use today, but the publisher also attempted (and failed) to launch a handful of businesses.
On that note, here are some of Nintendo’s less famous products.
Hanafuda Cards (1889-present)
No Nintendo collection is complete without an authentic set of Hanafuda cards.
Nintendo initially manufactured Hanafuda, Japanese playing cards featuring pictures of flowers instead of numbers; the name Hanafuda translates to “flower cards”, and the game dates back to the 1500s.
Hand-painted on mulberry tree bark, the cards were widely used throughout Japan, most notably by the Yakuza in gambling parlors.
The Club Nintendo exclusive Hanafuda card set.
Surprisingly, Nintendo still produces these cards more than 100 years later. In fact, Club Nintendo members can exchange 800 gold coins for an exclusive deck featuring characters from Super Mario Bros.
Love Hotel (between 1963-1968)
Love Hotel not owned by Nintendo.
Surprisingly, the same company behind family friendly entertainment opened a chain of Love Hotels. These oftentimes windowless buildings offer affordable rooms for couples engaging in sexual activity, and offer discreet methods of payment, entry and exit.
Thankfully, Nintendo eventually abandoned this venture and turned its attention to toy making, but not before trying its hand at the following:
A taxi cab service
A food company selling instant rice
A TV network
Ultra Hand (1966)
Without Ultra Hand’s big sales, there may have been no Nintendo video games.
After playing card sales (and Nintendo’s stock) plummeted, the company was in desperate need of a win. Legendary game designer Gunpei Yokoi delivered with the Ultra Hand in 1966. This incredibly successful device features several crisscrossed pieces of plastic and claw that, when squeezed, allows the user to grab objects they couldn’t reach normally. The device was a huge hit, selling in excess of 1.2 million units.
Nintendo paid homage to its invention in the Club Nintendo exclusive Wii video game, Grill-Off! With Ultra Hand! It also appears in the company’s WarioWare series.
Ultra Machine (1967)
Nintendo continued the “Ultra” brand with a device that automatically launches soft balls that users presumably hit with a baseball bat. Similar to the Ultra Hand, it too sold over a million units. Nintendo even included it in WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$ and WarioWare: Smooth Moves for Game Boy Advance and Wii, respectively.
Love Tester (1969)
What if you receive a score of 12? Relationship’s over, that’s what.
You’ve probably seen variations of Love Testers inside arcades and at carnivals. The device, which first appeared in 1969, measures the level of affection a couple has for each other. Both people hold hands, then use their free hands to each grab and hold onto metal spheres. From there, the Love Tester produces a numerical “Love” score, from one to 100.
In the end, your significant other either gave you a big kiss or walked away angry.
Lefty RX (1972)
We don’t need no stinking right turns.
Nintendo’s RC car probably wouldn’t fly in today’s toy market. To keep costs low, the company used a single frequency. The result? The cars could only turn left.
Power Lift (1973)
Building our children’s future, one car at a time.
For kids aspiring to be auto mechanics and forklift drivers, Nintendo had just the toy to get them started. The Power Lift was just that, an electronic device that let users lift objects via remote control.
Chiritory (AKA Chiritorie, 1979)
Not coming to a Walmart near you.
Long before the Roomba captivated clean freaks, Nintendo released this remote controlled and battery operated vacuum cleaner that later appeared in the WarioWare video game series.
Fun Fact: The Chiritory came bundled with an sheet of stickers featuring eyes, hands and feet.
10 Billion Barrel (1980)
How difficult could it be?
Gunpei Yokoi struck again with the perplexing 10 Billion Barrel, a puzzle game that sort of reminds us of Rubik’s Cube. Here, the object is to manipulate the cylinder so that each of the five columns contains balls of the same colour.
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