Nintendo Company Limited, known worldwide as Nintendo, is a Japanese multinational corporation founded in 1889 as a maker of playing cards and children's toys. The company evolved into one of the world's largest producers of home video gaming hardware through the mid-1980s and beyond. As such, the Nintendo brand has become synonymous with video games as an industry.
While Nintendo played a key role in revitalizing the video game industry after the devastating meltdown of early video gaming through the Game & Watch and the Nintendo Entertainment System, it was the company's behind-the-scenes work with notable franchises such as Mario, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid that made it a household name. Further, Nintendo developed a strict system of licensing and quality control, also forging solid relationships with early third-party developers so that they would benefit from mutual recognition in the burgeoning market.
Partnering with Square
Nintendo and Square Co. Ltd, another Japanese developer, would collaborate on the auto-racing simulator Rad Racer, a first-of-its-kind game prominently featured in early Nintendo World Championships tournaments. While innovative and well-received, Rad Racer alone could not lift Square from near bankruptcy; it took another game that would become Square's most successful franchise, Final Fantasy, to do just that. The 1987 title was a mega-hit in Japan that spawned two more sequels; and though rival Enix had debuted Dragon Quest one year earlier, Final Fantasy would become a cult success when it hit the US in 1990.
Through the Golden Age
Often dubbed the "Golden Age of RPGs", the 1990s were. by some estimates, Nintendo's most successful. With the Super Nintendo Entertainment System came updates to most of the company's core franchises. For RPG makers such as Square, the system was exceptionally fertile soil for their wares; Square released three more Final Fantasy games in the era, bringing the franchise to six games total, of which two more were released in the West. Yet, more obscure titles would appear later in the system's life, including the first title to receive the Mana brand in Secret of Mana. Secret of Mana was very well-received and, like Final Fantasy before it, earned a reputation as a cult classic in the West. By 1996, however, this Golden Age lost its luster as developers parted ways with Nintendo. Square left for the upstart Sony having glimpsed the potential of the CD-ROM used in the PlayStation, ironically a cast-off of a failed joint venture between Nintendo and Sony. Meanwhile, the Game Boy was well on its way to dominating the handheld space despite increasing challenges in the home console market.
To the modern era
The fall of the SNES ushered in a period of alternating highs and lows for Nintendo; their next console, the Nintendo 64, was welcomed poorly. Next came the GameCube and Game Boy Advance, both modest successes despite mixed critical reviews. By 2003, Square would also return as an independent developer under a new name: Square Enix. Though Final Fantasy was still first and foremost, the newly-merged former rivals would release a reboot of the Game Boy title Final Fantasy Adventure as Sword of Mana.
The Wii followed in 2006, with its novel motion controls and, for the first time in a Nintendo device, built-in Internet connectivity. Though a number of publications in print and online would criticize the unit for a dearth of quality third-party games, the Wii was popular among casual gamers and families, selling 90 million units overall. At the same time, the Nintendo DS continued the company's then-unbreakable dominance of portable gaming.
In 2011 and 2012, Nintendo kicked off the eighth-generation era with the Wii U and Nintendo 3DS, the former being an upgrade to the Wii. In part due to confusion over the nature of the console and its redesigned touchscreen controller, and in part due to failed marketing by Nintendo itself, the Wii U only managed 13 million units. Low-quality games and a series of management miscues by the company did little to bolster the unit, and so it was discontinued after only five years on the market. The console's failure underscored a fundamental flaw in Nintendo's attitude toward gamers at large; and the failure to read or anticipate change in the market as a whole has led the company to lose much of its installed home console base to competitors.
Even so, Nintendo seeks to recapture some of its former glory with a hybrid console/portable device, the Nintendo Switch, released March 2017.