It was 35 years ago today that Nintendo of America first let loose the angry ape Donkey Kong on the American public, but the company history goes back far earlier than that. Founded in 1889 in the historic Japanese city of Kyoto, Nintendo Koppai started off making hanafuda cards, then moved to American style cards at the turn of the century. In the 1960’s, third Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi and former maintenance man Gunpei Yokoi would steer the company into toys and electronics. Yamauchi eventually set up an American games division selling Nintendo arcade games, putting his son-in-law Minoru Arakawa in charge.
Nintendo of America struggled to move arcade product such as Sheriff and Space Fever. Radarscope was a particular turkey, struggling to move out of the NoA warehouse as the Galaxian fad faded in U.S. arcades. In order to use up surplus Radarscope circuit boards, Yamauchi directed artist Shigeru Miyamoto and the veteran Yokoi to create a new game based on the hardware. What they came up with would help revolutionalize the game industry and put Nintendo on the road to riches.
Donkey Kong became the biggest selling arcade game of 1981, giving even Namco’s powerhouse Pac-Man game a run for its money. The star of the game, a little rotund, mustachioed man later named Mario, would eventually become more recognizable than Mickey Mouse.
So happy birthday to Donkey Kong, Mario, and Pauline. Without you, the video game industry just wouldn’t be the same.
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