Looking Back at Nintendo’s 125 Year Legacy

By Maxime Chiasson – 23rd September 2014
Looking Back at Nintendo’s 125 Year Legacy

Today, September 23, is Nintendo’s 125th anniversary of existence. Yes, the Japanese video game juggernaut we have all come to love was founded as Nintendo Kopai on September 23, 1889 by Fausajiro Yamauchi in Kyoto, Japan. At the time, the company specialized in production and marketing of Hanafuda playing cards, which translates to “Flower Cards” in English. They are still very popular in Japan to this day. Another interesting thing to note about Nintendo is with the origin of its name; it is based on the combination of three Kanji characters in “Nin” “Ten” and “Do”, which translate the name of the company to “Leave Luck to Heaven” in English.

However, this small origin story is not why Nintendo is the most recognizable video game company of all time; it’s because of the video games it created from the 1970s onward. The company had some small success here and there with the very first games it produced, but the release of Donkey Kong in 1981, designed by the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto, is really what opened the doors for Nintendo as it led to many licensing opportunities and a massive boost in its revenue. Though, what’s probably the most important thing about the release of the arcade classic was that it introduced the very first iteration of Mario, known as Jumpman at the time, which eventually became the company’s mascot.

Contrary to popular belief, Nintendo’s very first produced console was not the Nintendo Entertainment System, or the Famicom as it is known as in Japan. It was the Game & Watch, a portable LCD screen with a single game attached to the hardware, in 1980.

It was only three years later, on July 15, 1983, that it launched its Family Computer, hence the Famicom, home video game console in Japan with some of its popular arcade titles. Featuring 8-Bit graphics and game cartridge support, it became the best-selling console in Japan by 1984 and enticed the company to distribute it to the North American market. This is when we saw the official arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, on October 18, 1985. A lot of people claim that the NES helped revitalize the video game industry in the U.S. following its crash in 1983 and that video games wouldn’t be the same today without this console. To this day, 61.91 million Nintendo Entertainment Systems have been sold worldwide with the best-selling game on the console being Super Mario Bros. with 40.23 million copies sold.


The North American video game market owes a lot to this gray plastic box

Over the years, Nintendo has developed and produced many other consoles such as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, GameBoy, Nintendo 64 and multiple others with excellent franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Star Fox and Donkey Cong Country. But its biggest console ever was its Wii, which sold over 101.15 million units worldwide. It is the fourth best-selling console of all-time with its best-selling game being Wii Sports with 82.24 units sold. Not only was the Wii a commercial success, it also revolutionized the gaming industry with its motion-based controls, which then became an industry standard as both Sony and Microsoft introduced motion detection devices in the future.

Now, in 2014, Nintendo is suffering from financial difficulties ever since the launch of its Wii U that has been struggling to pick up sales-wise in North America. Though things are looking a lot better since the release of Mario Kart 8, Nintendo’s success was solely based off of its 3DS handheld, which has sold 44.14 million units worldwide in three years. Obviously, we can expect those numbers to change really quickly with the upcoming release of the latest Super Smash Bros. on Wii U and 3DS as well as the solid 2015 line-up it has in store for us.

As of March 31, 2014, Nintendo reports all-time sales of over 670.43 million hardware units and 4.23 billion software units. Those are some very impressive numbers.

Looking Back at Some of Nintendo’s Greatest Franchises

Note: Obviously, I am missing some excellent franchises from this list, the games listed below are the ones I found the most influential throughout Nintendo’s existence. The list could literally go on forever.

  • Super Mario Bros.


Considered as the best video game of all time by a lot of people, the original Super Mario Bros. is the pioneer of video games as it is undeniably the most influential title of all time. Like it was mentioned earlier in this article, the NES was the reason for the revitalization of video games in the U.S. in 1983, but it was mostly because of Super Mario Bros. and its ridiculous success. These days, you can ask anybody if they have ever heard of Mario and they’ll most likely say that they have. Not only is Mario is the biggest video game mascot of all time, but it is also an entire brand now with a wide variety of products inspired by the Italian plumber.  And it was all because of the classic 8-Bit platforming game that came out at the same time as the Nintendo Entertainment System. The Super Mario franchise is the best-selling video game series in history with over 262 million copies sold.

  • The Legend of Zelda


In 1886, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka created a top-down adventure game, titled The Legend of Zelda, that revolutionized the Adventure/RPG genre as it served as the template for future games. It was mysterious, challenging and one of a kind at the time, which then led to many other sequels, prequels, spin-offs and other RPGs. It set the bar for the Hyrule and Triforce stories we have come to know and love, and is now one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises of all time. Many gamers consider a lot of its installments to be the greatest video games ever made. The original game has sold over 6.5 million copies worldwide with the franchise selling over 67 million copies. It is my personal favorite video game franchise of all-time.

  • Metroid


Though it isn’t Nintendo’s most popular franchise, Metroid is certainly one of the most highly acclaimed franchises in the history of video games. Heck, it even has a genre, Metroidvania, based on its legacy. While the initial games consisted of 2D Platforming Exploration experiences, the latest entries in the franchise switched the perspective to a First-Person point of view in a 3D space while still capturing the sense of discovery and mystery of the original games. Not only is Metroid one of the best Sci-Fi franchises ever made, it is also known for introducing the very first woman in a male-dominated role. The main protagonist of the series, Samus, is considered by many as the very first breakthrough for females in video games and one of the greatest twists of all-time for the medium. As of September 2012, the Metroid franchise has sold over 17.44 million copies worldwide.

  • Pokémon


The Pokémon franchise is the pinnacle of handheld gaming with its highly addicting gameplay, sense of exploration and amount of content within each of its games. So much, that it is the second best-selling video game franchise of all-time with 245 million copies sold since 1996. The franchise sparked many inspired products such as toys, trading cards, and even a TV show, but has always been known for its great Turn-Based Strategy mechanics and Non-Linear exploration. The newest installments in the franchise, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, which are remakes of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, will release on November 21, 2014 and are some of the most anticipated titles this year.

  • Mario Kart


Anyone that has ever played a video game has played a Mario Kart game alone or with a group of friends. It is the ultimate Multiplayer experience. Ever since its original debut on the SNES in 1992, Mario Kart has only gotten more popular and is considered as the best racing franchise of all-time. It is the perfect blend of competitive gaming and arcade racing mechanics. The series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide with Mario Kart Wii being the best-selling installment and fifth best-selling game of all-time with 35.53 million units sold.

  • Super Smash Bros.


The Smash franchise simply proved that Nintendo is able to make any kind of game they want using its beloved video game mascots. Once again, this is one of the best competitive Multiplayer experiences ever made with Melee being used at international tournaments more than 10 years after its original release. Now, people are eagerly anticipating the release of Super Smash Bros. 3DS  and Wii U, which will release later this year.


What are some of your best Nintendo memories? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, stay tuned to Gamer Headlines for all things gaming.

Maxime Chiasson

Based in Montreal, Canada, Max is a 20 year old Social Worker who has loved video games ever since he was a little kid. He is also Gamer Headlines' Senior Reviews Editor, so if you have any comments/complaints regarding the section of the site, feel free to tweet to him @Max_Chiasson, or e-mail him at [email protected]

  • Megan Payette

    Geez 125 years? Dang, is Nintendo old or what?