Home » Technology » The first US Nintendo commercial might not have been from Nintendo at all

Share This Post


The first US Nintendo commercial might not have been from Nintendo at all

The first US Nintendo commercial might not have been from Nintendo at all


And it doesn’t mention Nintendo at all.

Share this story

See our ethics statement.

Picture of a person with an arm in a sling playing the game while sitting at a table.

a:hover]:text-gray-63 [&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-black dark:[&>a:hover]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a:hover]:shadow-underline-gray [&>a]:shadow-underline-gray-63 dark:[&>a]:text-gray-bd dark:[&>a]:shadow-underline-gray”>Screenshot: YouTube

Nintendo is a gaming juggernaut today, but it wasn’t really on anyone’s radar in the United States in 1980. And what was possibly the first US commercial for hardware produced by the company — a handheld called Toss-Up, from its “Game & Watch” series — certainly didn’t help, as a newly-restored copy shows. That’s because there’s no mention of Nintendo at all, or even Game & Watch.

Game & Watch games were simplistic standalone handheld LCD games not unlike the cheap licensed Tiger Electronics games seemingly every kid had in the 1990s. And in the US, those games were initially licensed to a company called Mego (pronounced “mee-go”), and sold as a series called “Time-Out” instead, according to The Video Game History Foundation in a blog post Time Extension spotted.

The ad was dated June 25th, 1980 — only “a couple of months after Nintendo of America was incorporated,” Gaming historian Chris Kohler, who found the 16mm reel containing the ad on eBay, told the foundation. The hardware was still apparently embossed with a Nintendo logo on the back.

Kohler lent the reel to the foundation, which turned to a company called Movette Film Transfer to digitize the film. It had to be restored because its dyes had faded significantly, leaving it with a magenta hue that will be familiar to anyone that’s seen obscure, unrestored movie prints. (I saw plenty of these in Austin, Texas at Alamo Drafthouse’s once-free-at-midnight “Weird Wednesday” exploitation films series.) The foundation pointed to this “potato quality” version of the commercial that was uploaded to YouTube six years ago to illustrate the differences:

The commercial entreats mostly older, trendy youths (except for the goofy nerdy one because ha, ha, nerds) to enjoy an “electronic sport” when they can’t do real ones. You know, like when you’ve got fallen arches or tennis elbow, or you’re entirely wrapped in a full-body cast. That’s pretty different from Nintendo’s own commercials a few years later! Those tended to focus on kids and families and certainly didn’t have close-ups of butts in skin-tight shorts. Like this one:

The Game & Watch games also came in other form factors besides the one Nintendo resurrected for its standalone collectible versions of the NES Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda games a few years ago. Like this dual-screen one:

The company has referenced those designs in its other handhelds over the years. That one looks a whole lot like the Nintendo DS Lite, for instance. And the Nintendo 20th anniversary edition of the Game Boy Micro bore a strong resemblance to the gold and red design used by Toss-Up.

Share This Post