Nintendo's well-known cross-shaped design of the D-pad was actually the first of it's kind. Developed in 1982 by Gunpei Yokoi, it was first used for the stand-alone Donkey Kong handheld game. Shortly after, it was refined and used on the NES and Gameboy as everyone knows it to be.
Before this, many systems had joysticks resembling arcade controls. A few even had similar shaped controls like the D-pad but they were disconnected. Nintendo brought the connected, easy to transition Directional pad to the spotlight.
Many consoles and handhelds have innovated directional input since the D-pad but Nintendo pioneered the mold that is used to this day.