Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan, published in hardcover in 2011 and then paperback in 2012 with a bonus chapter, is a necessity for any gamer, being a stimulating, cleverly written book that takes you on a journey through the enthralling tales and trivia facts behind the multibillion-dollar video game publisher Nintendo.
The first few chapters constitute Part 1, which introduces the imperious, shrewd president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi; his son-in-law and initially reluctant president of Nintendo’s U.S. division, Minoru “Mino” Arakawa; and the shaggy-haired young staff artist responsible for dreaming up Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikmin, Star Fox, The Legend of Zelda, and F-Zero, Shigeru Miyamoto. You will learn about Nintendo’s origins as a playing card company in Kyoto and the behind-the-scenes process of designing the 1981 arcade exemplar Donkey Kong. There’s even a fascinating story about the complicated proceedings of the lawsuit that MCA Universal brought against Nintendo with the claim that Donkey Kong was a rip-off of King Kong.
My favorite chapters are in Part 2, which covers the stories of 1985’s Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo Entertainment System, a sequel in Japan so unbelievably difficult (Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels) that Nintendo scrambled to redesign another game and sell it as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the U.S., Super Mario Bros. 3, the Game Boy, and Sega and its rebelliously speedy mascot Sonic the Hedgehog.
Part 3 talks about the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the infamous 1993 movie Super Mario Bros. (both Tom Hanks and Danny DeVito were considered to play Mario before the role was given to Bob Hoskins), the introduction of Mario’s evil twin Wario, and Sony’s PlayStation, among other subjects. It’s especially interesting to read about Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, released in 1995 as an ill-fated incarnation of today’s VR technology. And just wait until you reach the paragraphs dedicated to listing off the merchandise, including board games, candy, bandages, Beanie Babies, and even Mario-themed alcoholic drinks at the University of Copenhagen.
Part 4 deals with the Nintendo 64 and its revolutionary capability for 3-D graphics; the creation of the Pokémon franchise in 1995 (can’t wait for Pokémon: Detective Pikachu!); the three-way competition between Nintendo, Sega, and Sony; the additional rivalry from the Xbox, Microsoft’s first step into the gaming console domain, in 2001; and the retirement of the presidents of both Nintendo and Nintendo of America.
Part 5, the last section, offers info on the production of the DS, the Wii, the 3DS, and the Wii U. There’s a brief segment about the ways that Mario inspires fans to make art through cakes, a Lego statue of Mario, a T-shirt that displays a Super Mushroom and the phrase Grow Up, fan art, and other imaginative forms. It also spends a bit more time than previous sections on analyzing N.O.A’s commercial decisions, particularly the series of bad breaks that turned 2011 into its worst year from a Wall Street perspective. And I was intrigued by the prophetic idea that was put forth for Nintendo to supplement its business with a theme park—”prophetic” being the keyword, since Super Nintendo World will open at Universal Studios Japan in time for the Tokyo Summer Olympics in 2020.
I only wish there was a graph that collected all of the most important events and games so you could absorb Nintendo’s history at a glance. But otherwise Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America is an essential read for all members of the gaming community.
Windup score: 90/100