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).
The final stop in the ‘Splatoon madness’ journey is in Nintendo’s home town, at Kyoto Aquarium. A semi-educational Splatoon-themed event called ‘Suizokukaan’ ran for summer, with a focus on squid and jellyfish exhibits.
The aquarium was outfitted with Splatoon branding throughout.
And featured special Splatoon art as temporary signs for each relevant section.
The educational info compared what’s seen in the game with the actual marine life.
And what would a tourist trap be without copious volumes of exclusive merchandise! Murch would be proud.
The aquarium itself is pretty standard stuff, but quite modern with some nice exhibits.
There are some cute Japanese touches too.
The main event is a Splatoon themed water fight for kids, in the seal pool between hourly shows. Kids get themselves a Splattershot…
And shoot water at a squid target.
It’s a competition for who can hit the highest level, green vs pink.
While parents/grandparents/people waiting for the seal show look on in various states of amusement/boredom.
The best part is the music. Tracks from the first game play while the race is on.
And right at the end they drop a waterfall on all the participants to the tune of ‘Now or Never’ – Squid Squad version.
All a very silly diversion but fun for the kids. And just shows the depth of the cultural relevance of the brand in Japan.
Splatoon 2 launched on a Friday, so most people were at work. Shops in Akihabara open at 10am, and many were ready for early buyers.
Some larger stores like Sofmap, Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera set up shopfront stalls, selling the game and related products.
There were some small lines
But there was plenty of stock to go around, so it was easy enough to get the game and related items, like Amiibo and neon green/pink joycons. If you were lucky, there were also a few of the licensed (in-game brand) Forge headsets available.
The bigger stores were very busy however – there was a 20+ minute wait at the counter at Yodobashi for example.
While the game was easy enough to obtain, it’s not so easy to get a Switch console in Japan. This is what you see in most places at the moment:
Demand is off the charts and all Switch consoles sell out instantly. Stores only get a certain allotment of consoles, and to determine which customers get a chance to buy one, they run lotteries.
Literal lotteries. Customers are asked to line up at a certain location from 8am and take a number. Later in the day, they draw numbers, and the winners now have an opportunity to buy the console.
This was the line to take a number at the Akihabara Bic Camera store.
After getting your number, you can go about you day shopping, and return for the results announcement.
The results are posted at the front of the store.
The Splatoon 2 booth was quite busy with buyers at this point, and combined with the rush to see the Switch lottery results, a crush took place.
Bad luck if you didn’t win, try again tomorrow.
Or you could buy from scalper stores for double the price!
More Splatoon store displays
After a long day of observing the craziness, I finally got home to get playing myself.
While Japan got ready to do it all again a week later for Dragon Quest XI!
While I mostly focus on retro stuff on this site, I’ve recently gotten back into modern Nintendo games. And there is nothing more modern, more Nintendo, and more Japanese than Splatoon, a game about punk-rock fashion-conscious highly evolved transforming squid children playing ink-shooting games in a post-apocalyptic future world. Oh, and it features singing idol girls and is set in a suspiciously Shinjuku/Harajuku looking city. The first Splatoon was huge in Japan, despite the fact the console it was released on, the Wii U, was not. It was a crossover cultural hit with huge merchandising success, and is easily the highest selling home console game in the current generation in Japan, selling more than even huge names on PS4 like Final Fantasy and more recently Dragon Quest.
On top of this, Nintendo’s new system, the Switch, is also a huge hit, having been constantly sold out since launch. Recently these two things combined with the release of Splatoon 2 on Switch. And as expected, Japan has gone crazy for it.
Nintendo has gone all out with ads for the game, with many TV spots, ads running in trains…
…and standard posters around the city.
But what sets the Splatoon 2 campaign apart are these: Fashion ads for the in-game brands.
You can’t really go anywhere that sells toys or games or trinkets of any sort without coming across Splatoon merchandise. It is everywhere in all cities countrywide.
Many companies without a licence are using the ‘rainbow paint’ motif to sell their gaming wares too.
In store displays and ads
You can buy all sorts of licenced snacks and drinks
7-Eleven has a promotion to get exclusive in-game gear if you buy the game from them (they sell download code cards) or with certain product purchases.
You get a Splatoon badge and a code which can be redeemed on the Switch eShop, and the gear gets dropped off as a package in Inkopolis Square in the game.
The biggest tie-in with a store is probably Tower Records.
The initial Japanese pre-release Splatoon demo was itself a tie-in, as Tower Records sold the in-game t-shirts for the Rock vs Pop theme.
The Shibuya store in particular looks like this:
And had a performance tie in with Wet Floor, an in-game band.
While not nation wide, there is a possibly even larger Splatoon tie-in event with Kyoto Aquarium, which I’ll cover in a future article.
Outside of the known ‘game districts’ in Tokyo and Osaka, specialist video game shops are a bit harder to come by these days. You have Yodobashi and Bic Camera for new games, and all the HardOff/HouseOff/BookOff variations, but you have to look a bit harder for specialist stuff.
I’ve recently been travelling in Hokkaido, and came across this tiny slice of old-school Akiba in Sapporo – Game Shop 1983.
It’s a tiny place, packed with stuff in that haphazard ‘run by an enthusiast not a businessman’ way. The guy who runs it is nice though, and the prices are not insane.
All eras are represented, from Famicom through to modern stuff.
It’s so cramped and…unkept… it reminds me a lot of the game shops in the Golden Arcade in Hong Kong more than most Japanese shops.
In a cute touch it seems you can get a papercraft version of the shop. They were all out at this moment however.
Not much more to say about the place, but it’s worth a visit just to see this: the Dreamcast Karaoke unit version of the ‘Tower of Power’
Nintendo’s Micro Vs. System series was the cutting edge way to enjoy multiplayer gaming on the go in 1984, combining the multiplayer fun of the Famicom with the portability of the Game & Watch line.
With (semi) detachable controllers for player 1 and 2, each unit only played one game, but quality engineering made the whole thing very cool.
Thirty three years later, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The idea has been reborn as one of the key features of the new Nintendo Switch.
If there’s anything Nintendo loves, it’s revisiting old ideas. Dual screens, stereoscopic 3D, and now on-the-go multiplayer have all made multiple appearances in the company’s history. The hybrid Switch has finally fulfilled the promise of the Micro Vs. idea.
Similarly, in the 80s, handheld Zelda was a massive compromise. Now there is no compromise.
In a sense, all of Nintendo’s gaming history has been pointing here. Exciting times.
No? How about a high quality production made by Nintendo themselves?
Okay so the concept of a ‘mini Famicom’ isn’t exactly unique. There have been quite a few ‘mini Famicom’ systems released over the years by Nintendo and others, including two Famicom versions of the Game Boy Advance SP, the fancier one on the left being a super-exclusive run of only 200.
But here’s the latest mini Famicom – the Nintendo Classic Mini Family Computer.
It’s a tribute console, built as a small Linux computer running an emulator with thirty pre-installed classic games. It powers via USB and outputs a 1280×720 pixel picture, upscaling the original 256×240 resolution of the games. It’s the Japanese counterpart of the Nintendo Classic Mini NES, and much like the western equivalent appears to have been a huge hit.
The thirty built-in games cover the entire run of the original Famicom, but there is definitely a focus on earlier titles.
Right from the start this one is a classy affair, with the packaging and presentation matching up to the original as perfectly as possible.
Even the manual is a tribute.
Without context, a photograph of the device itself could be confused for an 80s Famicom even by a fan.
Nintendo has done some vintage style television commercials for the new console
It’s not quite as small as the NES Mini, at around a 2/3 scale of the original.
The obvious reason for this is that unlike the NES Mini’s full size replicas of original controllers, the Mini Family Computer controllers are also scale models.
It’s a take on the mid-period Family Computer, as it has round controller buttons, but lacks the Famicom Family ‘FF’ branding on the left of the front faceplate that Nintendo introduced to the console in 1988.
While the controllers are tiny they remain perfectly usable – the directional pad and buttons are identical in size to those of a Game Boy Micro.
From the front the system is almost identical, but it is missing the instruction stickers for power and eject buttons and expansion port cover. Which begs the question: did Nintendo mean for owners to remove these stickers on the original models?
Of course the major change is the back of the system, with new micro USB power and HDMI video output replacing the ancient original selections.
Just like the original, it is designed for the players to sit near the console to play since the controller cords are very short. The reset button is used to switch games on the mini, so it makes sense here to use long HDMI and power cables and sit near the console.
Like the western NES Mini, games are selected from a menu, and boot pretty much instantly. There is a save state feature, allowing saving at any time into four slots per game with various cute animations. A brand new mid-80s style 8-bit tune plays in the menu, it’s the same one as the NES Mini and will get stuck in your head.
There are three scaling options for the games, all of which have issues. 4:3 is the default and displays the games in the correct aspect ratio, but you end up with minor scaling artefacts when scrolling. A pixel-perfect mode allows for no scaling artefacts, but the graphics are stretched vertically.
And there’s a ‘vintage’ mode which applies a scan line effect as well as approximations of various composite/radio frequency noise that you would experience on original hardware. The vintage mode is actually very well done, but more of a novelty since half of the point of a new device is to get a cleaner picture.
There are some minor emulation issues such as sound lag (and a couple of frames of overall lag), but the presentation is pretty solid overall. It’s not going to replace an RGB modded Famicom and Framemeister combo for dedicated retro enthusiasts, but is still very well done for the price.
Here’s the original Nintendo trailer, which covers most of the basic features in depth.
It’s a very cool toy, and a great collectors item. However in my opinion the classiest ‘mini Famicom’ ever remains the Famicom Game Boy Micro, as that thing is a work of art.
The biggest, and perhaps coolest of the Color-TV game range, 1978’s Nintendo Color-TV Game Racing 112 (カラーテレビゲームレーシング112)
It’s a huge game, due to the realistic wheel and gear stick. The wheel is removable for transport so it can fit in a smaller box, but the box is still huge, here it is next to a Famicom for scale.
The centrepiece of the system is obviously the wheel.
On the right side of the system is the game modes panel. You can select between one or two player modes, track width, speed level, enemy car behaviour (zig zagging or straight lines), if hitting the barriers counts as a crash, road hazards, and if there are one or two opposing cars at once. Down is the easier position for each of the option switches. The red button is reset/start.
And on the left is the two position gear shift.
In terms of design, it’s pretty much a straight clone of Taito’s 1974 arcade game Speed Race, which was the first ever game with a scrolling background effect. You view the track from above, and steer left and right to avoid the other cars on the road. It scrolls quite smoothly, the moving effect being provided by trackside ‘stripe’ markers.
Personal side note: I remember playing Speed Race in a local (ish) arcade in the late 80s/early 90s. The arcade, know as ‘Funland’ opened in 1970 as a pinball parlour (even before there were video games) and collected and maintained games from every era over the years. I didn’t appreciate at the time, but that arcade’s maintenance of old machines gave me some early gaming history lessons!
Back to Racing 112. There are two major variations of the one player game, with wide and narrow roads. You must pass the other cars without hitting them, and last as long as you can. The feature switches allow you to adjust speed, number of cars on the road (one or two per screen/wave) and the way the cars move (straight or in patterns).
Just like the paddles in the previous Color TV games, the Steering wheel is an analogue controller, so the steering speed changes based on how far you turn the wheel. The gear shift is digital, and simply allows you to move between two speeds
It’s pretty basic, but compelling, and the basic gameplay formula remained popular well into the mid 80s with the likes of Midway’s Spy Hunter, Konami’s Road Fighter, and Sega’s Action Fighter.
The two player mode doesn’t use the steering wheel, but instead two paddle controllers, which you can pull out from storage slots on the back. You stay at only one speed in two player, but while all game modes remain intact, it’s basically just a head to head for score, as the two players stay on their own track and do not interact with each other.
Just like all the other consoles in the CTV series, it connects via a hardwired RF cable and tunes to the same Japanese channels (1/2) as a Famicom, and uses an external 9V power supply which was sold separately and compatible with all models. A Famicom compatible power supply works perfectly too.
The Color-TV Game 6 had six Pong variations, and and the Color-TV Game 15 had either seven or about 20 Pong variations depending how minor a variation counts. Does Racing 112 have one hundred and twelve racing game variations? Technically yes, something like that. In an era where adding a feature like zig zagging cars might mean a whole new release (Super Zig Zag racing Turbo III!) saying there were over 100 game variations isn’t actually false advertising.
The Color-TV line ended the following year with the awesomeBlock Breaker, which was also the first game to feature the Nintendo brand on the casing. But for going all-out, it’s hard to beat the Racing 112.
A small confession: My Wii U is not a Japanese model.
There were a few more minor revisions of the consoles along the way – FF logo/non FF logo Famicom, output changes, different coloured consoles of various sorts (even shapes like the Pikachu N64), but these are all the major Japanese revisions. The Wii Mini revision was not released in Japan.
There’s one major item missing – the Computer TV-Game.I’ll almost certainly never get one of these. This ‘console’ is incredibly rare, insanely expensive, and its questionable if it was even a consumer product since it was literally an arcade game with TV out. It sold for ¥48,000 in 1980. For comparison the Color TV Game Racing 112 was selling for ¥5000 in 1980, and the Famicom launched in 1983 for ¥14,800.
The Sega set is on its way, but will take a few more years I think. So many revisions…
Released one week after the Color TV-Game 6, the Color TV-Game 15 was the ‘deluxe’ model. Or perhaps the 70s equivalent of the NES ‘Action Set’.
It was apparently designed to be the more profitable of the two consoles, offering more features for ¥15,000, vs ¥9,800 for the Color TV-Game 6. It dropped to half the price eventually, and outlived the CTVG6, as can be seen from the updated price listing in the later Color TV-Game Block Kuzushi manual.
It’s not too much larger, but has a more stylised design and detachable controllers for a more comfortable playing session. The first model was made of orange plastic that matched the orange CTVG6. This is the second model, which is a reddish orange colour.
The controller cords are the standard Japanese controller cord length (short) so you still needed to sit near the console to play. The controllers are pretty decent paddle controllers, definitely higher quality dials than the original white version of the CTV6.
You can still power the console by batteries or a standard 9V power supply.
The 15 in the name is something of a misnomer. There are really about seven Pong variations, adding various board options, along with additional paddle number, size and speed changes. There are far more that 15 game types if you count every possible variation, so I’m not sure why they drew the line at 15.
Here’s a look at the basic board variations:
It doesn’t quite have the cachet of the ‘first Nintendo’ CTVG6, and isn’t anywhere near as cool as the beautiful Block Kuzushi. But it’s still a nicely engineered Pong game which is more comfortable to play and has more game options, so can be a fun retro afternoon sometime.