How Super Mario Helped Nintendo Conquer the Video Game World

Super Mario, one of the most iconic characters in video game history, made his inauspicious debut in 1981. He wasn’t much – just a handful of colorful pixels on a grainy screen, a character trying to save his girlfriend from a giant ape named Donkey Kong. But by the time the 1990s rolled around, Mario hadn’t just saved his beloved from her simian kidnapper; he had become the face of Nintendo itself.

It all started a century earlier in 1889, when Fusajiro Yamauchi founded a small company named Nintendo Koppai to manufacture hanafuda, a popular type of Japanese playing card widely used for gambling. (The word Nintendo roughly translates to “lucky charm,” or a place where your fortune is placed in the hands of the gods.) but when Yamauchi’s grandson Hiroshi took over in 1956, he started looking for ways to diversify the sources of income for the business.

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