Nintendo has been around for a very long time–since September 23, 1889, to be exact. The Japanese company founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi has survived two World Wars, nuclear bombings, two forms of government, and competition from just about every company on earth. That’s due not only to Nintendo’s long history, but their diverse background as well.
Originally began as a card company (at a time when playing cards were banned in Japan), Nintendo quickly evolved into a toy company, and eventually a video game maker as well. But along the way, they also made stops at making furniture, baby products, and even office equipment. For a while, Nintendo had lost its way, before finding success with a handful of toys, and then their electronic toys that would go on to be international mega-hits.
Enough has been said about the modern iteration about Nintendo, but what their past? Today, we’re going to take a look at some of Nintendo’s old toys. Specifically, we’re going to look at the many, many bizarre, outlandish, sometimes weird, and sometimes interesting toys of Nintendo’s past.
Nintendo has always been known as the company that’s willing to take risks–from the virtual reality headset Virtual Boy, to a games console controlled entirely by motion controls, to the immensely successful portable console Switch, Nintendo certainly isn’t afraid to take chances. But when looking at their past catalogues of toys, you could argue Nintendo is actually more conservative today than it ever has been.
Here are 25 Weird Nintendo Toys We Can’t Believe They Made.
25 Super Mario Bros. Movie Action Figures
In 1993, Nintendo and Lightmotive released what has become known as the worst movie adaptation of a video game ever–Super Mario Bros. The Movie. While it’s not quite that bad, it was still pretty atrocious, and bombed hard at the box office.
But that didn’t stop Nintendo from releasing action figures based on the film. That’s right, Nintendo released Mario and Luigi action figures based on the likenesses of Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo. There’s also Dennis Hopper’s weird version of Koopa, a weird monstrosity pretending to be a Goomba, and two random New Yorkers who were in the movie for some reason.
24 Automatic Ultra Scope
Gunpei Yokoi, most famous for creating the Game Boy, worked at Nintendo for decades. Before the company got into the video game market, he was responsible for coming up with toy lines. One was the “Ultra” line, of which we’ll see later entries for.
The Automatic Ultra Scope, created in 1971, was little more than a periscope, something you’d see from World War I. It’s a long tube with a series of mirrors that sticks up into the air that lets you see things above you. What makes the Automatic Ultra Scope weird though is in the name–it’s automatic. The high arm containing the mirror automatically extends at the press of a button. That’s it. That’s the entire extent of this toy.
Next on our list is something a little more modern, like 2014. The Amiibo line is a series of character statues we’ve become familiar with now, but it is a strange concept in its own right. A small, plastic figure that houses a computer chip that can communicate with your game console to give you exclusive in-game content? With a community that hates DLC and microtransactions, this feels like something that would be rejected outright.
Yet here we are, four years after the product’s launch, and people still can’t get enough. Years of the product selling out has forced Nintendo to produce more of these statues than ever before, and they’re still getting eaten up.
22 Hot Wheels Super Mario Cars
Hot Wheels has released a lot of Super Mario Bros. themed cars over the years, but those were always influenced by Mario. They had Mario characters painted on the side of vans or sports cars or whatever. But this… this new iteration is something else.
Rather than painting Mario characters on the sides of these cars, Hot Wheels and Nintendo decided to actually turn these characters into the cars themselves. Mario and Luigi got off the worst, their faces stretched and contorted into the front of the vehicle, their mustaches functioning as a grill. Its horrifying.
McDonald’s loves giving out toys with Happy Meals, mostly to compensate for the fact that the food isn’t any good. It’s not surprising Nintendo would team up with the fast food chain to release some of their own toys, and by golly they sure did.
Enter what’s become known on the internet as the McMario–a rubber ball molded to look like Mario’s face. And he’s winking, as if to say “hey kid, wanna have some bad dreams tonight?” And you’d never sleep again.
20 Love Tester
The 60s and 70s were some lovey-dovey times, and if the Hip Flip wasn’t proof enough of that, enter the Love Tester, released in 1969 (because what other year could this be released in?). Perhaps what’s most surprising is that this is an invention by the legendary Gunpei Yokoi.
It “worked” like this: a couple would hold hands, and in their free hand, they’d each hold a metal ball attached to a meter. The meter would then indicate how much they love each other–but of course in reality it was just measure the current between the two. Still, it was apparently popular. I wonder why…
19 Space Ball
You know that game that’s a stick with a string attached to it, and on the end of the string is a ball, and you have to get the ball in the cup on top of the stick? What if you could play that game… but without the string?!
That must have been the thought process behind 1971’s Space Ball. The toy is a plastic base you hold your hand with a button on it that launches a spherical piece up into the air, spinning. Your job is to make it land on back on top of that piece, simple as that.
18 Monster Copy
Monster Copy, released in 1971, wasn’t really a toy so much as it was a piece of office equipment. It was a plastic shell that had a tray for storing photosensitive paper, and two clear windows above it. You would place a piece of the photosensitive paper in between the two windows, as well as a picture that you wanted to copy. You’d then hold the device up to the sun or any powerful light, and let it sit. You would then take the negative copy, and place it on the developing sheet, which contained chemical fluids that would develop the picture.
17 Ultra Hand
Who doesn’t love a good gag gift? Possibly the person receiving it. Regardless, one of the classic gag gifts is one of those extending hands things that lets you grab things off a shelf.
But what if a company made that device into a legitimate toy? That’s what Nintendo did in 1966 with their Ultra Hand. It was aimed at kids, and came with a set of balls and stand for practice. With this “toy” you could grab things that were really far away. Somehow it was immensely popular, and was the first Nintendo product to sell one million units.
16 Power Lift
What could possibly more exciting to 5 year olds than forklifts? Quite a lot, one would imagine, but kids aren’t known for taking interesting in the coolest things in the world. Enter Nintendo’s Power Lift.
The Power Lift was a forklift toy operated with a control box, and came with a couple of shipping pallets. It could lift small toys up a few inches off the ground, and that’s it. It’s hard to see this toy holding the attention of a kid for longer than 5 milliseconds, but it was released in 1973 and what else is a kid going to do back then? Read a book?
15 Light Telephone
The Light Telephone, another of Gunpei Yokoi’s inventions, is strange for a whole lot of reasons. Using light sensors, this device that looks like a video camera from the 80s actually transmits sound via visible light. You’d hook up headphones to the device, find somebody with another unit, and aim the light at their device. The sensor would then pick up the light and carry your voice through the built-in microphone.
It’s strange though because it had a limited range, so you might as well not bother with it. Plus, you know, the whole carrying sound via light is weird too.
14 Magic Roulette
When kids in 1970s Japan grew tired of their realistic weapons, they could turn to games! Magic Roulette is a Roulette wheel with a twist. You put your chips down on a number you think the ball will go into, as you would in a standard game, but there’s a twist.
The first difference is that there are five balls going at a time instead of one. The second is the way the balls move. Since this isn’t actually a wheel, the balls start in the middle. When you pull the plunger, they start moving on their own around where the wheel would be at random, before falling into their holes.
It cannot be understated enough how bizarre Nintendo’s latest toy/gaming peripheral is. The Labo, designed to work in conjunction with the Switch, is cardboard. Literal cardboard that you strap to yourself and/or the unit, and pretend it was a robot, or golf club, or whatever else. It’s such a bizarre concept, made almost heinous by the ridiculous $70 price tag for literal cardboard. Only Nintendo could do something like this, because only Nintendo would dare think it was a good idea–and yet somehow people love it.
12 Paper Model Series
The Labo isn’t the first time Nintendo tried something like that. In 1977, they started selling model toys that you could build yourself. They were made out of paper.
That’s right, the Labo could very well be inspired by Nintendo’s own past when they started selling kids toys made of literal paper. To be fair, it was the kind of paper you’d get on trading cards, but paper nonetheless. Giraffes, battleships, race cars, and more were only a handful of options, as this was something Nintendo kept selling and adding new models to for years.
Okay, the Chiritori kinda wasn’t a toy, but it’s impossible not to mention it here. The Chiritori was in fact a remote control, self-operation vacuum cleaner released in 1979, pre-dating the Roomba by a good two and a half decades. And it was so useless it might as well be a toy, so hey!
The Chiritori (Dustpan, as it translates to English) was small and had a weak fan. It was intended more as a toy for kids, but it could technically function as real a vacuum cleaner. It would just take all day due to the size and low power.
What if you could combine boys two favorite toys–weapons and cars? You’d probably end up in jail, but you might end up with Nintendo’s Shotracer.
The Shotracer came with a plastic gun, toy cars that resembled bullets, a ramp, and a target. You’d load the bullet-car into the weapon, shoot the car out towards the ramp, and then watch it go up and hit the target. The car could get up some massive speed, probably too massive, but it was the 70s–if a toy didn’t cause bodily harm, it wasn’t any good.
9 Ten Billion
In 1980, the Rubrik’s Cube was taking the world by storm. Every toy manufacturer under the sun was trying to ape the successful puzzle box, and Nintendo was no exception. Enter–once again–legendary creator Gunpei Yokoi and the Ten Billion.
Like the Rubrik’s Cube, Ten Billion is a 3D puzzle in which you move objects around. The difference is that Ten Billion is contained in a small plastic barrel, and you move the pieces around using two black paddles on top and bottom of the toy, as well as rotating two sections of the drum in the middle.
8 Hip Flip
The world was rapidly changing in the 1960s thanks to the hippy movement. It was all about peace and love, and not always the storybook “happily ever after” kind of love. Sometimes it was just about getting crazy, and even the toys of the time reflected that. You think Twister was intended as just a silly children’s game?
Enter Nintendo’s Hip Flip–a game where you and another person put plastic clamps in the shape of hands on your lower belly, and must move your hips towards one another to keep a rope with a ball at the end spinning between you.
7 Jumping Bottle
Weapons were also very popular during this period. And Nintendo’s 1970 toy The Jumping Bottle shows that. The toy comes with a realistic looking revolver (not that last time we’ll see that) and a plastic glass bottle. The bottle comes in two pieces, with a spring in the bottom half.
The object of the game is to shoot the bottle with a pellet, which will activate the spring, ejecting the top half of the bottle into the air. It’s literally just that tutorial section in the opening of Fallout: New Vegas.
6 Bee Hive Game
In 1971, Nintendo essentially “published” the Bee Hive Game in Japan by creator Neuhierl GmbH & Co. Bee Hive Game, or hachi no su geemu as it was called in Japan, is a strange board game in which you and at least one other player must smash a bee moving around on honeycombs, without knocking all the honeycombs down at once.
It’s basically horizontal Jenga, in that you can only remove one piece of honeycomb at a time. It’s a strange concept, especially considering the fake yet extremely life-like bee that comes with the game, strangled in a plastic bag.
5 Picture Cutter
Hey kids, do you like model toys? Yes? Well, has Nintendo got the toy for you! Instead of actually assembling the model together yourself, you instead have to cut the finished model away from its molding using a sharp piece of wire held by a plastic fork which heats the wire and cuts the model out!
The Picture Cutter, released in 1966 was just that. The kit included shapes on a piece of polystyrene, and you had to cut the shapes out using a super-heated wire. That’s 1960s toys in a nutshell–boring and dangerous.
Nintendo released the Punchbuoy in 1975, and it was only one of a handful of outdoor toys from the company. The strange exercise toy was a string with a set of handles on either end. In the middle, was a big, plastic sphere. Requiring two people, each “player” would continually pull and push the rope forward and backward, which would push the plastic sphere towards the other player. Once the sphere reached the other player, they lost.
3 Smart Ball
I came across the “smart ball” while doing research for this article, and couldn’t find any information about it. It was just this lone image (above) on Pinterest. It’s impossible to guess any information about the device, other than it’s clearly one of those cheap ball toys where you aim the ball into holes. But look at it. Why is there a clown boy riding a yellow dog? Why is there a kangaroo in the corner that appears to be pregnant with the front half of the Titanic? And why does that green ball say SOS? So many questions, so few answers.
2 Kôsenjû Weapons
In the 1960s, kids liked their toy weapons. Even in Japan, ultra-realistic toys were everywhere. Enter the Kôsenjû range of toys by Nintendo. Yes, Nintendo made a line of toys that looked exactly like weapons.
Rather than air weapons or cap weapons, these toys were light guns, precursors to the NES Zapper. It fired a beam of light that was picked up by essentially an electronic dartboard, and certain segments lit up when (or if) you hit them, giving you points.
1 Key-ring Playing Cards
Playing Cards let you play a lot of games, but only when they’re a decent size. If they’re too small, they’re really only good for the novelty factor. Enter the early 1960s Key-ring Playing Cards by Nintendo.
Calling back to the company’s roots as a playing card manufacturer, these playing cards were exactly what their named after–tiny cards that you kept in a steel case on your key-ring. No bigger than a quarter (0.5 x 0.8 inches), these cards were cute, but were practically useless when it came to playing cards.