Nintendo is one of the oldest and most beloved companies in the entire world. They’ve managed to appeal to multiple generations and are constantly reinventing themselves. Nintendo also brought the world one of the most iconic video game characters of all time: Mario. Whether you grew up playing video games or watching your kids be glued to the screen, you know who the plumber in the red overalls is.
Nintendo has a long and interesting journey before and after Mario though. Of course, we can’t forget Luigi, but what about the janitor who invented the Game Boy or the man who inspired Mario’s name? Read on to learn about the interesting facts and history behind the iconic video game company.
Mario Has Changed Careers Twice
Mario’s creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, used overalls to make the arms more visible in 8-bit and a hat so that Miyamoto didn’t have to design hair. Since he was originally designed to traverse a building site in Donkey Kong, Miyamoto decided Mario was a carpenter.
Eventually, Nintendo accepted the fans (definitely more correct) interpretation of Mario and turned him into a plumber. In 2017, Nintendo announced that Mario had retired and gave up plumbing so he could be more “sporty.”
Tom Hanks Was Supposed To Star In Super Mario Bros.
Yes, THE Tom Hanks was originally slated to portray Luigi in the film version of the video game, Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately, we never got to see him in the role because Nintendo thought he was too expensive.
Other actors in line for the film include Dustin Hoffman and Danny Devito for the role of Mario, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Keaton to play Koopa. None of it went through though, and the film was a flop.
Donkey Kong Walked So Mario Could Run (And Jump)
Even though Super Mario Bros. was the game we all began running, jumping, and leaping in video games, they weren’t the first to do it. Nintendo actually introduced the vertical jump in 1981 with Donkey Kong.
The video game featured a little plumber jumping over hurdles to defeat the mighty gorilla, and this was the first time that a character ever jumped in a video game. It was a simple graphics act but it changed video games forever.
Popeye Served As An Inspiration For The Characters
Donkey Kong, Mario, and Princess Peach were all based on characters from the iconic cartoon Popeye. D.K. was supposed to be Bluto, Mario was Popeye, and Princess Peach was Olive Oyl. The creators tried and failed to get the license to make a Popeye video game in the late 1970s and turned to create new characters instead.
Atari ended up releasing a Popeye video game two years after the release of Donkey Kong, but critics said it was too close to the other video game and it was a major flop.
The First Mario Kart Featured Some Drinking And Driving
The 1992 release of the first Super Mario Kart game for the NES system was controversial for showing Bowser and Peach getting up to no good. If Bowser or Princess Peach wins a race, they open up a bottle of champagne and “rather messily” drink the entire bottle.
The endings didn’t sit well with parents in America who were already struggling to understand video games. The designers didn’t remove the champagne ending, but alcohol is yet to make another appearance in any Nintendo game.
If Mario Was Real, His Jump Would Be 25 Feet
The nerds who love Super Mario Bros. decided to do the math and figure out just how high Mario is jumping. According to the official Nintendo stats, Mario is 5’1″. That means Mario’s jump with no run-up is 25 feet in the air.
For context, the current world record holder for “Highest Standing Jump” is a Canadian named Evan Ungar who is 5’10” and can jump 5’3″. Mario beats Ungar’s record nearly five times over.
Their Top-Selling Video Game Isn’t What You’d Think
For nearly two decades, Super Mario Bros. held the record for being the top-selling video game of all time. Excluding all the rereleases, the original version of the game sold 40.24 million copies and is cited as one of the best video games of all time.
Nintendo broke their own record in 2006 with the release of Wii Sports. The collection of mini-games combined with the launch of their groundbreaking new Wii system meant that 82.78 million copies of the game have been sold.
Thank The Landlord For Mario’s Name
During the development of Donkey Kong, the tiny plumber/carpenter was simply referred to as Jumpman. The game designers didn’t think the name would resonate with an American audience and wanted to change it.
The inspiration for the name came after the landlord for the warehouse they were renting in Seattle, Mario Segale, came into a meeting to berate the company’s CEO for not paying rent. The game designers decided to immortalize their landlord by naming Jumpman after him.
Don’t Forget About Luigi
As always, Luigi gets forgotten and left behind. There’s no one story about how Mario’s brother got his name. One thought is that it’s a play on the Japanese word for “similar.” Others say it’s a reference to a pizza parlor near the Seattle warehouse.
One thing that we do know for sure is that the brothers don’t have a last name. Mario and Luigi were created with simplicity in mind and Nintendo believed that adding a last name would be too much for the classic characters.
The Company Is Over 100 Years Old
Nintendo was founded in 1889 by Fusajiro Yamauchi. It might seem strange that a video game company could be over 100 years old, but that’s because they didn’t start out with technology. Yamauchi originally produced handmade playing cards by himself.
It didn’t take long for the playing cards to become popular which forced Yamauchi to hire assistants and satisfy demand. By 1949, the playing cards were so popular that they adopted the name “Nintendo” and even hel a tournament called the Nintendo Cup.
They Were Almost A Love Hotel Chain
In 1956, Yamauchi’s grandson took over the company and visited the United States. It was there that he realized that the playing card business wasn’t going to take them very far. After that, Nintendo tried to branch out into quite a few wild adventures. Some of those different ventures included a TV network, an instant rice company, and a love hotel chain.
The one successful side business they did have was a taxi company called Daiya, but it became too expensive to run after the labor unions got involved.
A Janitor Invented The Game Boy
Gunpei Yokoi is the man behind the iconic Game Boy handheld video game device, but he started out as a janitor for the company. Yokoi applied for an electronics position in Nintendo in 1965, but the only position available was as a janitor. He worked this position for five years while tinkering with electronics and machines.
While tinkering away, Yokoi invented the Ultra Hand, an extendable toy arm which marked Nintendo’s transition from playing cards to a toy manufacturer. With one success under his belt, Yokoi went on to be a chief inventor for Nintendo and in 1989, helped release the Game Boy.
Nintendo Used To Own The Seattle Mariners
Nintendo’s home base in America, Seattle, found themselves with an MLB team after the league expansion in 1977. Unfortunately, the team did terrible in their first few seasons and forced the CEO to call out to Seattle businesses for help.
Nintendo CEO Yamauchi bought a majority stake in the Seattle Mariners with his personal fortune, not because he liked baseball, but as a gesture of appreciation for everything Seattle did for his company. Yamauchi called it a matter of pride. In 2016, Nintendo announced they would be selling their majority share for more than $660 million.
The Legend Of Zelda Changed Video Games Forever
It might seem like a minuscule change today, but when The Legend Of Zelda was released in 1986, people were overwhelmed by the fact they could save the game. Rather than previous games like Super Mario Bros. where you played until you died or got tired, Zelda allowed you to pick up and continue the next day.
Zelda also allowed you to move Link any which way you wanted to on the screen, which was a step ahead of the usual left, right, up, down character controls.
The GameCube Isn’t An Actual Cube
Yes, we regret to inform you that everything you thought you knew as a child was a lie. The iconic Nintendo GameCube is actually 5.9 by 4.3 by 6.3 inches. Despite Nintendo lying to everyone’s face, they proved through marketing that the dimensions didn’t make a difference.
The GameCube was highly successful and sold 21.74 million units. The name worked well with the memorable graphic of the rotating cube that morphs into the GameCube logo.
The Original Duck Hunt Zapper Was Super Intimidating
Most American kids wouldn’t even recognize the original Zapper used to shoot down the ducks in Duck Hunt. The first version of the game was released exclusively in Japan on the Japanese Famicom system. The gun used to shoot looked almost exactly like a real revolver.
When Nintendo decided to release Duck Hunt in America, they realized The Zapper could easily be mistaken by police as an actual gun. They changed the outer shell fo the gun to look much more like a toy space blaster.
Their Game Controllers Have Won Awards
Nintendo is known for innovating in all areas of video games, but especially their controllers. Their NES controller was the first to feature a directional pad. The Nintendo 64 controller wasn’t the first to do so, but it was credited for popularizing thumbsticks.
The Wii system was the first of its kind to introduce motion control, and it, plus the DS system, even won an Emmy Award for “game controller innovation.”
Nintendo Owns The Right To Adult Parodies
Adult film star Ron Jeremy says that Nintendo has bought the rights to two adult films that he created that are parodies of Super Mario Bros. If you’re at all curious, the films are Super Honrio Brothers and Super Hornio Brothers II.
Nintendo was hoping that by buying the rights to the films, they would never see the light of day and tarnish the name of their beloved plumber. Unfortunately, just the image of Ron Jeremy in overalls is enough to tarnish the name.
A U.S. Court Got Involved With Donkey Kong
In 1982, Universal City Studios sued Nintendo because they argued Donkey Kong held too much of a resemblance to King Kong. They wanted a piece of the Donkey Kong action and Nintendo took it all the way to the federal courts.
Nintendo ended up winning the case because they argued not only was King Kong in the public domain, but there was no reason for people to mistake the two apes. The court agreed that indeed, D.K. and King Kong were two very different monkeys.
Doctors Prescribed Playing Nintendo As Eye Treatment
The effects of video games on kid’s eyesight was relatively unknown at the time, but some doctors actually started using it as a medication. Specifically, one patient named Isabelle Wurmser was told to play NDS as part of her treatment for her lazy eye. The video games forced her eyes to focus on one central spot.
Don’t you wish you knew this for all those times that your mom told you not to sit too close to the TV because it would hurt your eyes?
Nintendo Almost Created A Gaming Phone
Every once in a while the internet will explode with the images of a possible device that is a phone on one side, and a handheld Game Boy system on the other. Nintendo actually considered making this type of gaming smartphone in 2014. They even had a designer draw up some sketches.
Unfortunately, the idea didn’t go through. There would likely be too many limitations on memory and space for both phone and gaming functions.
Nintendo Had To Cut A Lot Of Corners In Game Design
The limits on game memory in the early video game days changed just how creative they could get. For example, you might have noticed that that bushes and the clouds in Super Mario Bros. are the exact same. That’s because the multi-use objects allowed them to get creative elsewhere.
Even the character Luigi is all borrowed material. He’s just a copy of Mario with the yellow and green color pallet of Koopa.
One NES Console Was Voice-Activated
Long before Nintendo brought out the motion-activated Wii, they had the voice-activated NES. The version of the NES that was released in Japan included a microphone embedded into the controlled.
If you were playing Legend of Zelda and wanted to kill a certain type of enemy, all you had to do was yell a phrase at the controller. The feature didn’t translate into English though and a lot of early NES users were disappointed when the voice activation didn’t work.
There’s A Real Life Mario Kart Racetrack
If you love the video game but you’re also a gear head, then you might want to travel down to Texas and try out the real-life Mario Kart racetrack. A lab built the racetrack using regular go-carts and RFID tags. The carts slow down, speed up, or spin out depending on which sensors you drive over.
It sounds like a fun time but if you can’t throw bananas at your opponents then what’s the point?
Princess Zelda Was Named After A Famous Feminist
Miyamoto, the creative mind behind The Legend Of Zelda, admitted that yes, the character is named after Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. He admitted that she was “a famous and beautiful woman by all accounts” and that he just “liked the sound of her name.”
As for Link, his name doesn’t mean much of anything. He might be one of the most well-known characters but his name has no backstory and in the first video game, he didn’t even have spoken dialogue.
Pizza Serves As The Inspiration Behind Pac-Man
One of Nintendo’s first big game release was the Pac-Man arcade game. The employee who invented the game, Toru Iwatani, took the idea for the game from a pizza with a slice missing. Iwatani said the idea caught on for a second wave because the shape is a rounded version of the Japanese character for the word “mouth.”
The name of the game comes from the phrase “paku-paku” which is similar to the English word for “chomp.”
A Game Boy Survived The Gulf War
Nintendo released their Game Boy handheld video game played in 1989 and it was a hit among kids, adults, and even military service people. The official Nintendo store in New York City has a Game Boy on display from the 1990 Gulf War. The Game Boy was believed to have survived the bombing of a military barracks.
Believe it or not, the Game Boy still works! It might be even more resilient than a Nokia phone.
Zelda Was Meant To Be A Miniature Garden
While other games like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. played off simplicity, The Legend of Zelda did quite the opposite. In fact, Miyamoto tried to cram as much detail and beauty into the game as he could at the time.
The game’s creator said that he wanted to make players feel like they were in a “miniature garden.” The inspiration came from his own wandering through forests and caves as a child.
The Konami Code Is Iconic With Creators And Players
The Konami Code, better known to players as the iconic “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A” that allows you to get full power-ups was actually created just for the game designers.
The code originally allowed for creators and designers to skip through the game to get to the parts they needed to edit. Over time, it turned into the perfect code for power-ups that your older brother never told you about.
The Former President Was Super Rich
Hiroshi Yamauchi, the grandson of Nintendo’s founder and visionary behind the video game company, was the president for fifty years. By all accounts, he was a tough businessman who liked to strike deals, make hard decisions, and give back whenever he could.
He retired and left Nintendo in 2012 and at that time, he was considered the 11th richest man in the world. Forbes estimated his net worth to be $2.7 billion.