Mario is one of the enduring characters of my childhood, an instantly recognizable face and voice, and a character that still features in video games which can be just as fun as they were when I was six years old. There’s no way that nostalgia won’t creep its way into my review, and I’m not sure that it shouldn’t. I could not resist this book by Jeff Ryan, which delves into the history of Nintendo in America, just how Nintendo caught on with the masses at one of the worst times to release video games in history, and how they continue to captivate us as competition ramps up from a series of new competitors.
I was particularly entranced by the early sections of the book where Ryan looks at Nintendo’s history. I knew they started out in the nineteenth century as a card company, but the intervening years until the NES was released in North America were mostly lost to me. Ryan fills in the gaps and does quite a bit towards explaining just why Mario was so successful when other characters failed. He suggests that Mario’s very lack of personality, beyond the simple facts of his life, make him appealing because he is an everyman. There is a reason Mario doesn’t speak beyond “Woohoo!” because the less we know about him, the more we can put ourselves in his shoes. It’s an intriguing concept, and it’s true that Mario games the few for me which don’t actually need a story to succeed.
Ryan is clearly a Nintendo fan, which comes through in his writing, and is instantly appealing to another person who has had a Nintendo console nearby for the past twenty-five years. We didn’t get our NES until I was four, but that means I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have the ability to play a Mario game more or less whenever I wished. This book definitely succeeds in tapping into those memories and covering all aspects of Nintendo, not just Mario games.
Perhaps the only thing the book is lacking is actual hands-on interviews conducted by the author himself. A lot of it is research gleaned from a huge variety of sources, but we don’t get much insight into the personalities of the people behind Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto is of course the posterchild for cool Nintendo games; I loved hearing more about the older games that he created before Mario and how Mario changed as time went on, but would have loved even more insight from the mind of a man who can create gaming addictions at will.
I did quite like the rotating history of Nintendo’s competitors and how Nintendo has managed to innovate and remain on top for years. After the slow sales of the GameCube, many people thought Nintendo was going to be like Sega and sell only software because of the difficulties they were having. But Nintendo fought back with the Wii, which has been ridiculously successful and found a home with everyone from small children to elderly disabled.
There is every indication that the company will continue to fight back in the future, providing pure fun for all to enjoy, and in the end Super Mario was a lovely tribute to both the company and the great character of Mario himself. If you’re a Nintendo fan, you can’t go wrong with this book.
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