The 1969 Electronic Love Tester is Nintendo’s first electronic toy. Designed by Nintendo legend Gunpei Yokoi (the man who sent Nintendo into toys with the Ultra Hand and later created the Game & Watch and Game Boy), it’s a novelty device ‘for young ladies and men’ that alleges to test the ‘love’ between a couple by measuring their electrical conductivity.
It’s presented in a box with oh-so 60s styling, and comes with the device, instructions, and faux-leather carry case.
The instructions show how to play and how to set it up. It’s powered by a single AA battery.
It is possibly the most 60s looking toy ever made, right out of The Jetsons. This one still has the original metal ties for the cords. The cords are a bit stiff after over fifty years, as is the vinyl case.
The cords unwind and couples take one sensor each in hand, and hold hands with their other to get a reading.
To change the battery and access the internals, it’s much like an old transistor radio from the same era, and requires removing the back plate via a single screw. Internally it’s very simple of course.
The Love Tester makes a cameo appearance in the Gamecube and Wii game Pikmin 2, described by Captain Olimar as a ‘Prototype Detector’.
And like many of the older Nintendo products, appears in the WarioWare series, as a souvenir in WarioWare Twisted on Game Boy Advance, and as a minigame in WarioWare Gold on 3DS.
There was also a 2010 re-release, which came in a recreation of the original box. You can tell the new one by the additions to the box design.
You’ve likely heard the story of R.O.B. ‘The Robotic Operational Buddy’ for the NES. The story usually goes like this: when Nintendo wanted to bring their successful Family Computer console to America in 1985, the stores wouldn’t take it because they were afraid of losing money on video games, as there had just been a big video game market crash. So in order to get toy stores to stock the console, Nintendo initially bundled the NES with a toy robot and marketed it as an electronic toy instead.
Some of the story might be true, but R.O.B. was actually released in Japan first, as the Family Computer Robot.
Nintendo was a toy company before they were a games company, and there were many existing examples of the company combining electronics and toys before this. Among the most notable are the original electro-mechanical light gun games: at home (Electro Safari and Electro Bird) and in the arcade (the original versions of Wild Gunman and Duck Hunt).
So really, the robot and its accessories were just part of a long toy/game continuum that continued throughout the Famicom era with peripherals like the Power Pad and all the way through to today with Amiibo and Labo.
The games that were compatible each came with a veritable toybox of additional parts, and are essentially complex mechanical games that use the robot as a central item. Only two games were released, Robot Block and the more elaborate Robot Gyro.
The Family Computer Robot uses pretty much identical technology to the light guns of the day, but in reverse, so instead of the screen responding to the peripheral, the peripheral responds to the screen. Like light guns it relies on the screen scanning display technique of a cathode ray tube, and so will not work on modern fixed pixel screens, even via a scaler.
So for robot games, a CRT is required, luckily I keep one on hand for just such an occasion.
Essentially the robot needs to be positioned so he can see the screen clearly in order to respond to the commands he is sent.
The robot can receive commands from the screen and execute a simple movements based on them. He can move his arms up and down, left to right, and can open and close his grip. This movement set allows him to pick up and move objects.
The two games approach the concept of ‘robot which can pick up items’ differently. Robot Block primarily makes the physical element of the game the primary one, integrating the Famicom software into the mechanical game. Robot Gyro is essentially a regular video game which includes the robot (and gyro) functionality as a physical gimmick.
Robot Block (ロボット ブロック)
Robot Block is the simplest of the two games, in both set-up and software. It comes with a series of attachments which are slotted into the robot’s base, some discs which sit in these attachments and can be stacked on each other, and some hand attachments which can grip the discs.
The physical game involves manoeuvring the robot to pick up the discs and stack them in a particular order.
The game itself features a robot testing tool, and three game modes: Direct, Memory and Bingo.
All the games involve a little professor jumping around the interface. Direct is the simplest, you have to stack up the discs in a certain order as shown on the screen.
In Memory you must set up a series of moves for the robot to execute in order to achieve the required physical result. Bingo is a one or two player game where you have to fill in rows or columns in order to execute commands.
Essentially the software is useless without the accessories, since it’s really just a tool that is used to play with the robot and pieces. It’s also not very fun beyond the 80s robot novelty.
Robot Gyro (ロボット ジャイロ)
Robot Gyro is both the better game, and has the better toys. It also has a much more elaborate set-up. First of all there is a bracket on which the Famicom player II controller sits, with a levered mechanism which can hit the A and B buttons.
There is a powered gyro spinner which gets two tops spinning at high speed.
The robot can pick up the tops from the spinner…
…manoeuvre them over the button levers…
…and release, which presses down on the matching button on the controller.
There’s also a slot over on the right to keep the second top when not in use.
Here’s a closer look at the mechanism to hit the buttons. The mechanisms are coded in blue and red, which ties into the game.
The set up is actually a pretty fun toy in and of itself, due to the spinning tops being pretty fun and the whole set-up being nicely done. But what about the game?
Well it’s a pretty standard 80s puzzle action platformer (think Lode Runner or Crazy Castle), where the same professor character from Robot Block has to collect all the dynamite in the stage while avoiding the critters.
The gimmick is that the stages are full of red and blue pipes which move up and down when the red and blue switches have been hit. In order to get the robot to do this, you essentially pause and issue instructions. It can often take several moves for the robot to slowly get the top to the right button.
Actually playing with the robot is tedious, but the game itself is a decent puzzler if played without it in two player (with the other player hitting A and B). So while the robot toys are fun to play with, and the game is decent, together they are less than the sum of the parts.
Overall, while not being the most fun games to play on the Famicom, the Family Computer Robot games are fun pieces connecting Nintendo’s toy and video game eras.
In preparation for Nintendo’s return to producing toys made out of cardboard, I thought I should try out a similar item in my vintage Nintendo collection. In 1974 Nintendo entered the paper craft market, with a series of simple cardboard DIY projects known as the Nintendo Paper Model series (ペーパーモデル).
There are dozens of designs available and I personally own around 15.
My favourite is probably the Johnny Walker licensed bus, but most of the houses look quite nice too.
Since I was going to open an item that had been in the packaging for 44 years, I wondered if my niece Emma was interested in helping…
…I took that as a yes.
We started after dinner. Emma chose the French Castle (フランスのお城 – Furansu o-jo) as our project.
In a nice coincidence 城 is one of the first Kanji I was able to recognise thanks to 悪魔城ドラキュラ(Demon Castle Dracula) – the Japanese name for Castlevania!
Here is the card laid out. It is not pop-out and requires some intricate cutting and gluing.
It was here that we realised this was actually much too fiddly for young kids. I had to do many of the cuts with a knife, and assembly was also going to be very fine work. Emma kept drawing while I did most of the grunt work (continuing after Emma’s bedtime), and we glued it together the next day.
The final result: not bad!
The design seems largely based on Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, which is situated on a river.
As such, Emma grabbed some extra paper from her craft supplies and prepared some grounds and a pond, complete with reeds and ducks.
Final result with grounds and pond:
All in all, we had a decent evening/afternoon of fun. But here’s hoping Labo will be easier for kids to be involved at each step!
This is my oldest Nintendo item, a set of original Nintendo Hanafuda. There is no way to tell the exact date of manufacture, but it is in the pre-war wooden packaging, in fact the seller said the kit was purchased ‘pre-war’. However given the superb condition and the direction of the kanji script, they are from quite late in that prescribed period.
The set is contained in an unassuming wooden box.
In which fit the gambling paraphernalia and cards.
I have no idea if the the non-card items are Nintendo made, but the kit is clearly built around the box of Nintendo cards and it all fits together very neatly.
Various chips for gambling.
Under the main card box is a tray of other gambling related items.
The card with the woman on it says 百本 or something like ‘a hundred points’.
The small Hanafuda box itself is where we can see the original Nintendo branding.
任天堂 – Nin Ten Do – in the original kanji logo.
The lid lifts off to reveal the beautiful Hanafuda (花札) – literally ‘flower cards’.
The cards themselves are quite beautiful and well made.
These three cards are branded. The left card has the Nintendo Playing Card logo, and the middle is branded with 任天堂 Nin Ten Do, left to right (which as a clear sign it produced around the war period as this was when the orientation changed from right to left officially).