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Article 45—Nintendo Tetris Announcement Flyer (1989)

Click to View: Flyer

The licensing coup that gave Nintendo the console-game rights to Tetris is well-documented elsewhere, most notably by author David Sheff in his book Game Over. But I have never seen this particular piece of Tetris ephemera reproduced anywhere
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else, so I thought I would scan it for posterity. It’s a one-sided flyer that was printed and distributed by Nintendo to announce that it had secured the exclusive rights to market the Russian-made puzzle game worldwide.

Note the alternate spelling of Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov’s name. The third Cyrillic character in his surname is transliterated as “zh” in all of the most common Romanization systems, but Pajitnov’s preference for the “j” spelling was made clear in the late 1980s when he used it on the title screen of an early MS-DOS version of Tetris. This spelling was further reinforced by Sheff’s book when it was published in 1993.

For me, the most interesting element of this flyer is the following sentence: “No other company in the world is now, nor has ever been, licensed to market the Tetris home video game title.” See how it’s underlined, italicized and set into its own paragraph for extra emphasis? The words “nor has ever been” are clearly taking a shot at Tengen, the Atari Games subsidiary that was left in the lurch when its own license to produce Tetris cartridges was suddenly deemed invalid in the wake of the Nintendo/Elorg agreement. It was around this time that industry insiders and the business media started to use the
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term “900-pound gorilla” to describe Nintendo and its machinations; what we see here is a good example of that gorilla thumping its chest, like Donkey Kong would do after taking out a carpenter with a flaming oil barrel.

Regarding this flyer’s artwork: I don’t think the figure on the left is supposed to represent a specific person. But if the overgrown eyebrows and military decorations are any indication, the artist’s reference files must have included a photo of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev shaking hands with an eggplant.

Another observation: Note how Mario’s white-gloved hands are depicted in the style of Mickey Mouse, with a thumb and three fingers instead of four. I’m no expert on the number of fingers Mario was supposed to have at any given time, but I do know that many years passed before Nintendo finally nailed down the character’s official “look.” His features and the color of his clothes were changed repeatedly for almost a decade after he made his first appearance in the Donkey Kong arcade game in 1981.

Not to go off on another tangent, but the fact that Mario is wearing gloves at all is a point of interest. I don’t think he wore them in any video game prior to 1990, the year after this flyer was printed. In fact, an American artist named Leslie Cabarga was the first to depict Mario wearing white gloves. He did so in the artwork he produced for the original North American Donkey Kong arcade flyer in September of 1981 (and again in his illustrations for Ralston’s Donkey Kong Cereal and the packaging for Topps’
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Donkey Kong sticker packs). This haberdashery started to appear in official Mario artwork from Japan in the mid-1980s...but Mario didn’t actually wear gloves onscreen in a video game until the release of Super Mario World for the Super NES.

In addition to his skills as an illustrator and graphic designer, Cabarga is something of a golden-age animation historian. In 1976, he wrote The Fleischer Story, a book about the history of the studio that produced the Popeye and Betty Boop cartoons in the 1930s. He also played a key role in the revival of Betty Boop as a pop culture icon in the 1980s. It was Cabarga’s admiration for the Fleischer Studio’s design sensibilities that inspired him to draw Mario with white gloves, exactly like the ones worn by Betty Boop’s canine pal Bimbo and countless other classic cartoon characters. I think there’s something poetic about the fact that a Fleischer devotee was chosen to create official artwork for Donkey Kong, which—if you know your Nintendo history—was originally conceived as a game featuring Popeye!

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© 2012 Chris Bieniek. Certain video game images, characters and logos on this Web site are copyrighted or trademarked by their respective publishers.