You’ve no doubt read at least a little bit about the recent passing of former Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi. To honor his contributions to the video game industry, I thought this week it would be fun to look at some of the more curious non-video game creations that came from Nintendo over the years. (No, not love hotels. You can read about that odd chapter in Nintendo’s history elsewhere.)
To learn more about all things Nintendo in the pre-Famicom era, I highly recommend the website Before Mario, which was the primary source for most of the information in this post. Warning: you may spend a lot of time there!
Long before the Roomba, there was the Chiritorie, an early device designed by legendary engineer and Game Boy creator Gunpei Yukoi. Advertised as a remote-controlled vacuum cleaner, this tiny toy was really more of an R.C. vehicle that happened to pick up a little bit of dirt and dust while in use. Given its small size, weak engine and battery consumption, it is probably just slightly more effective at housecleaning than using a Wii U controller for the same purpose. Hey-ooo! It was also featured in the Wii game WarioWare: D.I.Y. Showcase.
I wrote about the Ultra-Hand previously in describing the Wii game that attempts to simulate this object-grasper / arm extender. Like the Chiritorie, it was designed by Yukoi as a toy that could ostensibly serve a useful purpose with more robust manufacturing… like, I dunno, a solid steel Ultra-Hand for turning logs in a fireplace?
After Yamauchi failed to secure Japanese distribution rights to Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life, he directed his company to come up with this clone of sorts. Considered one of the very rarest of Nintendo products, only a handful of complete copies of Destiny are said to exist, including one a museum in Osaka. Of course, “rare” does not always mean “valuable”, as I found a copy of Destiny on eBay from a couple years ago that sold for just $74.
Speaking of clones, Nintendo’s N&B blocks were a shameless rip-off of LEGO, sold by Nintendo until 1972. They came in a variety of interesting sets, but ultimately legal pressure from the LEGO company led to their demise.
Kousenjuu Guns and Rifles
WHAT! Nintendo made GUNS? Not just the NES Light Gun or Super Scope 6 or Wii Zapper but honest-to-goodness, actual firearms? ...No, they didn’t. But these electronic target guns sure look like the genuine article, don’t they? Anyone carrying these around in the street in the wrong neighborhood could end up getting shot by the police or something. You could rob a bank with one of these and be charged with assault with a deadly weapon (in most American jurisdictions, a gun doesn’t have to be real for an ADW charge). But for Nintendo, at the time, attention to detail and realism were the first priority. It was a simpler time, I guess.
Opto-electronics Light Telephone
This, too, was a toy that would be fairly useless as a functional consumer product, but which was probably great fun for kids back in those days when children had much longer attention spans. Basically it’s a modified set of flashlights that can transmit audio over a beam of light. It’s also very similar to an earlier toy, the Infrared Industries Astro-Phone. I’m not sure what to make of the people on the box cover there — they look like they’re shooting a movie or looking for speeders on a highway.
BONUS: Game Boy Pocket Fishing Sonar
Got a Game Boy Pocket? Got a boat? You can get a fish-finder sonar! This utterly absurd accessory for Game Boy Pocket came not from Nintendo but pre-Namco merger Bandai. You plug this device into the Game Boy cartridge slot, drop the sonar bit into the water, and wait for fish-like images to show up on the screen. All this for just $115 in 1998 dollars. (It was sold only in Japan.) Even Link didn’t need this for success on the pond.
For more interesting Nintendo novelties, I again recommend Before Mario. Here’s a great starting point.