Unveiling the Legacy: How NINTENDO's Toss-Up Set the Stage for a Gaming Revolution

A product no one had heard of becomes a household name. This is the story of Nintendo’s first US commercial, for a handheld game called Toss-Up. By telling this story, we’ll find out how one of the most recognisable names in gaming found its place in the US market – and what it meant for the industry at the time.

The Humible Beginnings of NINTENDO in the US

NINTENDO's Silent Debut

Bear in mind that, in 1980, Nintendo was not the gaming giant it is today. Its first products to cross the Pacific were decidedly not the event that the company we know so well would make of it. Its US debut was a handheld game called Toss-Up, part of the Game ∧ Watch series. The teaser ad that introduced the game to the US audience doesn’t even mention either Nintendo or Game ∧ Watch. It was literally as if Nintendo had come ashore and no one had even noticed.

The Toss-Up Revelation

It’s this commercial for the now-resurrected Toss-Up that makes it so wonderful. The Game and Watch series of which it was a part were simple, self-contained LCD handheld games. They are the progenitors of more complex systems but they carved out a market niche nonetheless for themselves in the early-‘80s. In the US, the games were originally marketed under a licensing deal with a company called Mego as ‘Time-Out’.

NINTENDO's Game-changing Moves

Beyond the Simple LCD Games

Toss-Up and the Game ∫ Watch series might not have kicked off any earth-shattering transitions, but it was like taking baby steps that one day would turn into giant leaps. Keeping games so simple and, more importantly, so portable was Nintendo’s first contribution to the wonders of gaming, a little sparkle that shone more brightly as Nintendo grew from these primitive beginnings to more complex and immersive gaming systems.

Building the NINTENDO Empire

Toss-Up serves as a reminder of Nintendo’s humble origins, a vindication of the truism that great things often have small beginnings. Even from these early, unnoticed US steps, Nintendo would soon ascend to its present stature, bringing new worlds and characters to the forefront of popular culture. The beloved characters and franchises of today were soon to follow.

The Evolution of NINTENDO's Marketing Strategy

Learning from the Past

The tumultuous roll-out of Toss-Up and the company’s first marketing stumbles provide a master class in the importance of brand identity and strategy. Nintendo’s quiet US debut stands in stark contrast to its eventual marketing assault. The company would grow adept at leveraging its brand, producing frenzied yet recognisable and predictable campaigns for its goods.

A Brand Built on Innovation

Had it not been for the constant innovation, from the simple games of Toss-Up to the cutting edge consoles of today, Nintendo wouldn’t be where it is now. However, the company also changed its approach to marketing. Instead of creating a product and hoping for best, Nintendo continually innovates, releasing products at the best possible time to stay ahead of the competition.

The Impact of NINTENDO on the Gaming Industry

We all owe Nintendo a debt of gratitude for presenting the raw, unadulterated pleasure of play in terms that ordinary people could easily grasp. And we owe Nintendo a debt of gratitude for teaching the rest of the multi-billion-dollar gaming industry to think of itself as a storytelling, world-building, socially charged experience that attracts and even addicts human beings, rather than just transposing games from the arcade into our living rooms or pockets. Please note that the sonorous voice in this verse is a blend of those of the late Johnny Gilbert, a beloved celebrity voice-over artist who announced NBC’s Saturday Morning Cartoons, and Orson Welles, who famously introduced the Toss-Up commercial.


Looking back at the story of Toss-Up and Nintendo’s first steps in the US, we can see how Nintendo has always been a company that innovates, finds room to be creative, and connects with its audience of gamers. From its first games like Toss-Up made out of simple LCD games to now being a representative for the gaming industry, Nintendo has placed itself in the hearts and minds of the gaming world by pushing the boundaries of what video games can be and how a video gaming company can connect with a consumer and bring video games directly to them. Nintendo doesn’t just create games for gamers, but for all those connecting with the digital world. With every new product, Nintendo opens up a new world and brings in new experiences that will continue for generations to come. At the end of the day, what will Nintendo bring next? Whether it’s new technology, storytelling or just something as simple as gameplay, one thing is certain: Nintendo will still have a place in the heart of the gaming conversation for many years to come.

Jun 16, 2024
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