The story of Nintendo's rise and the beloved icon who made it possible.
Nintendo has continually set the standard for video-game innovation in America, starting in 1981 with a plucky hero who jumped over barrels to save a girl from an ape.
The saga of Mario, the portly plumber who became the most successful franchise in the history of gaming, has plot twists worthy of a video game. Jeff Ryan shares the story of how this quintessentially Japanese company found success in the American market. Lawsuits, Hollywood, die- hard fans, and face-offs with Sony and Microsoft are all part of the drama.
Find out about:
* Mario's eccentric yet brilliant creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, who was tapped for the job because was considered expendable.
* Minoru Arakawa, the son-in-law of Nintendo's imperious president, who bumbled his way to success.
* The unexpected approach that allowed Nintendo to reinvent itself as the gaming system for the non-gamer, especially now with the Wii.
Even those who can't tell a Koopa from a Goomba will find this a fascinating story of striving, comeuppance, and redemption.
Jeff Ryan is the author of A MOUSE DIVIDED: HOW UB IWERKS BECAME FORGOTTEN...AND WALT DISNEY BECAME UNCLE WALT and SUPER MARIO: HOW NINTENDO CONQUERED AMERICA. He has been published in Salon, Slate, Fast Company, Wired.com, Kotaku, and All Things Considered; and has been featured on NPR’s Marketplace, Time, Forbes, The New York Times, The Economist, The Independent, and Star Talk With Neil DeGrasse Tyson. He lives in Bloomfield, NJ, with his wife and two daughters. He swears this book was not undertaken to write off family vacations to Orlando on his taxes.
I grew up on Mario so this was a nostalgic road trip for me. Because the content was close to my heart, I enjoyed it quite a lot. But, I will warn you – unless you have an interest in video games or grew up on Mario, you will likely not enjoy this book. But, honestly, finding someone my age who did not grow up on Mario is probably next to impossible!
I was close to giving this book 5 stars, but one single element kept bugging me throughout. When discussing the American version of Super Mario Brothers 2, the author made a statement saying that all the characters were different from the first except for the heroes and Bowser being the main bad guy. The main bad guy was not Bowser! The final enemy is Wart – a frog-king who only resembles Bowser in that he has some green.
You might say, “ Hey, Matthew! That is awfully darn picky of you!”, but I don’t think it is. This is a non-fiction title, so I expect the facts to be correct. Checking this was as easy as a quick Google or a trip to Wikipedia. What worries me when I see sloppy fact checking is how much research is being done overall? What other “facts” that I don’t have experience with are actually incorrect but I am now accepting as truth?
But, that complaint aside (and with the hope that all the other facts were true), it was a fun, quick read that made me feel like a kid again!
Well this should be an interesting review if nothing else.
My wife picked this pick up for me for Christmas knowing that I enjoy computer and business history books. Most of the content I was pretty familiar with from either David Sheff’s excellent book “Game over” or any number of articles I’ve dug up on the Internet. Still, it’s fun to go through and do a review of material sometimes, right? Less so with Super Mario. Right off the bat it’s obvious that the author is a well practiced and skilled magazine writer. Ultimately that’s what this book really feels like; one really long magazine article. There’s certainly room in the world of literature for the more informal style of the magazine author, but this style, in general, becomes problematic when the need to reach a deadline supersedes the need to write something accurately and authoritatievly. There were several passages where I found myself thinking “Oh yeah, I remember reading that article on such-and-such website too, but he’s not really giving the whole story.” Worse then being incomplete, much of the information was flat out wrong. Each time I encountered a factual error, I’d dog-ear the page. What follows is all the errors that stood out to me on a quick read through. Also, to be fair, there were a 5 items I thought were errors but upon further investigation the author turned out to be correct.
Page 82 – the author describes some of the early variations on Super Mario Brothers – such as All Night Nippon – and some hacked versions of the rom for the arcade version. He also references the rom hack “Super KKK brothers” with the implication being that this version came out in the 80s. Most of the hacks listed came out in the late 90s with the advent of NES emulators and rom hacking tools. Not an outright error, but a poorly explained section.
Page 82 – “They discovered Mario could get an extra life if he jumped high enough on the level-ending flagpole.” In the original Super Mario Brothers, getting higher on the flagpole only netted you extra points. Getting an extra life was introduced Super Mario Brothers 2 (JPN) and also later used in the DS game New Super Mario Brothers. Since at this point in the book only Super Mario Brothers had been discussed, it implies this is the game that had that trick.
Page 88 – the author is describing the conversion of Doki Doki Panic to Super Mario 2. “Yume Kojo’s plot of someone attacking dreams was replaced by Bowser attacking the kingdom for a second time.” In Mario 2 the final boss is Wart, not Bowser, and the game takes place in the dreamworld of Subcon, not the Mushroom kingdom.
Page 97 – “Nintendo also expanded on its own fan club newsletter, secretly working on what would be Nintendo Power magazine. … Everyone in the fan club got a free subscription.” Every member of the fan club got a free copy of the first issue, but not a free subscription. Interestingly enough he mentions that Dragon Warrior sold better in Japan due to a write up in Nintendo Power, but doesn’t mention that a free copy of Dragon Warrior was given away with subscriptions to Nintendo power one year.
Page 111 – “The genesis sold for $189, nearly double the NES price. It was backwards compatible with the master system, which wasn’t much of a feature since few in America had one.” This is an interesting one where he’s not strictly incorrect, just incomplete. The Sega genesis contained two processors, the Motorola 68000 and the Z80 microprocessor. The most commonly used configuration was to have the 68000 do the game calculations (Graphics/logic) while the Z80 did the sound (music/sound effects). The Z80 was specifically added to the system as it was the same chip used in the Master system, Sega’s previous console. The system could set the 68000 into standby mode and run the Z80 in compatibility mode to run Master System games. This dual CPU setup is very similar to the way the PS2, GBA and Wii perform backwards compatibility. The sticking point, and the error the book makes, is it required a pin adaptor (sold separately) to insert the Master System games into the Genesis.
Page 122 – this is nitpicking I freely admit. The author is discussing the design of the new Super Nintendo Controller. “But if a designer needed six distinct buttons for six distinct actions (Think Street Fighter II), the SNES could do that. The Genesis couldn’t.” The Genesis controller bus architecture did, in fact, allow for six buttoned controllers. Sega later released a six button controller that was compatible with the then new Street Fighter II: Special Champion Edition. If you’re going to reference SF2, and this weakness of the Genesis, the six button controller is fairly relevant.
Page 123 - “What the SNES couldn’t do, though, was lift. The genesis has a beefier processor, which let Sega games run as fast as its spiny mascot. The SNES would never be able to do that, and wisely it didn’t try.” At the risk of devolving into an fanboy flame war, this is just silly more then anything else. Two points. First, the speed of the CPU (in a game console) has very little to do with how fast objects can scroll across the screen. In a typical game the CPU is used to run AI, game logic, and control the various sub-systems. The actual process of rendering the on-screen graphics and scrolling them quickly and smoothly is handled by the video chip (PPU on the SNES and the YM7101 on the Genesis). The ability to quickly, and smoothly, scroll images across the screen has far more to do with the 2d video chips used in each system and their ability to load and display tiles. The Genesis was powerful, but not quite as powerful as the SNES. The SNES, very generally speaking, had a more powerful video system that allowed for more sprites, more scrolling and graphical effects to be achieved in hardware. It is analogous to buying a modern gaming PC with a slower CPU but a much faster video card. Even this difference in “video cards” is largely moot as there isn’t a huge difference to a console between walking at 1 screen per minute and 10 screens per minute - so long as the data is either in memory or can be quickly loaded across the bus to memory. It just depends on how the game is coded. To say the SNES was incapable of making a Sonic game because the CPU was a lower clock speed is just uninformed and resonates with “Sega has blast Processing and Nintendon’t!” Second, and more anecdotal in nature, Speedy Gonzalez and Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally were two games on the SNES that emulated the Sonic gameplay style quite comfortably.
Page 124 – [discussing the design of the new Super Mario World.] “The other guiding principle was to show off what the SNES could. Certain yellow bricks spun when hit, an animation the NES would have been hard-pressed to do convincingly. “ Not at all. The spin animation is achieved by swapping out a non-animated background tile with an animated background tile. Super Mario 3 actually did the same thing in reverse when you’d hit a Question block. The animated tile was swapped for a non-animated tile. Both sets of animated tiles had 3 frames of animation and no trouble displaying dozens of them on screen. Later NES hacks would replicate this feature.
Page 125 “While Mario Stayed the same size, Yoshi started out small, and needed to be made bigger by his signature attack: gulping down enemies.” The Small/Big Mario gameplay element was retained for this game. Also, the first time Yoshi is introduced he starts out full size. Only later game play levels, and only for specially colored Yoshis, would introduce the game play mechanic where you have to feed Yoshi 3 enemies before he’s big enough to ride.
Page 133 “Topping the wish was a two-player racing game. But simply doubling the Mode 7 via split screen would make the races comically slow: no way this would ever pass as F-zero 2. But slower would work fine for a go-kart race, where no one’s expecting speed.” This is more confused than untrue. The SNES could, in fact, run an F-zero type racer split screen, but the reduced field-of-view made it difficult to distinguish the track at faster speeds. Mario Kart is paced for the size of the screen space. Furthermore, various hacks can be applied to Mario Kart to get the game scrolling at F-Zero speeds. Interestingly enough, the SNES can normally only display one rotated background at a time. So Mario Kart included a DSP chip in the cartridge to handle the second players screen.
Page 148 – “They also crank out Super Mario All-Stars, A SNES game collecting the first three Super Mario NES titles.” Mario All Stars collects the first *four* NES titles. Super Mario Brothers, Super Mario The Lost Levels (JPN: Super Mario Brothers 2), Super Mario 2 (JPN: Super Mario USA) and Super Mario 3. Worse yet, he would later say “Mario all-stars collects 4 or 5 games.” Correction: A version of Marie All-Stars was later released that included Super Mario World. So saying "4 or 5 games" is completely accurate.
Page 150 “In 1994, not many people had heard of Moore’s Law – Intel Cofounder Gordon Moore’s prediction from way back in 1965 the transistor usage could double every 2 years.” This one I wanted to post because I actually got it wrong myself when I underlined this section. I’ll let Wikipedia’s entry speak for itself “Moore's law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware: the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. The period often quoted as "18 months" is due to David House, an Intel executive, who predicted that period for a doubling in chip performance (being a combination of the effect of more transistors and them being faster).”
Page 152 - “SEGA countered in 1991, saying a CD-ROM system would be ready that year attachable to any Genesis. But it only expanded the size of the game, not the quality of the graphics. “ Not true. The SEGA CD contained a second 68000 CPU, same processor as the Genesis, but it ran at 12.5 mhz to the Genesis 7.67mhz. Either CPU could be used to run the game code, so some games (such as Sonic CD) would be able to use the faster 68000 to generate a mode 7 style effect for bonus stages. Having two CPUs was used by various games to improve/speed up the graphics and game play in various ways.
Page 156 – “Philips and Sony, pinky-swearing that no one would get between their friendship again, patched things up. They collaborated once again on a new form for a CD-Based technology, the DVD, in the hopes it would become a global standard. It of course did.” This whole section was just awful. Easily the worst part of the entire book. The author is apparently so bored by the business history feud that was the Nintendo/Sony/Phillips CD-Rom add on debacle, that he feels the need to explain the entire thing in a overworked love story metaphor. Worse yet, he never even mentions the fact that Sony and Nintendo are Japanese companies, whereas Phillips was European company (Dutch, to be specific) and that it was considered a social faux pas for Nintendo to dump a local company for a Gaijin company. But whatever. The specific gaffe here is that Sony and Phillips developed the MMCD (Multimedia Compact Disc) specification and it was the rival of the Super Density disc (Developed by a host of other companies.). IBM actually pulled Sony and Phillips into the fold and got them to agree to a derivative of the SD disc; the DVD.
Page 160 - “Yamauchi want Mario’s face to appear as often as possible, anywhere it could. To encourage this, he took the counterintutive step of prohibiting any Zelda or Link merchandising. If someone wanted a Nintendo character for a doll or mug, it was Mario or Nothing.” This isn’t entirely incorrect. Though it’s nothing I’d ever heard of before. I found a couple of online interviews making allusions to this order. Either way, this order didn’t last long and Zelda was licensed for cereal, board games, trash cans, all within a few years of the first game being released. It seems odd that the author would go on to mention the Mario products from that same time frame, but make the implication that the Zelda never existed.
Page 167 - [discussing the game Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island] “Miyamoto used the Super FX chip to augment the game’s graphics, but in subtle ways: some villains were 3-D, and the chip helped the graphics have finer resolution.” The Super FX chip is a RISC based mathematical co-processor. It has NOTHING to do with the resolution output by the PPU nor the resolution of various sprites. What it was used for, with this title, was to render some 3d environmental hazards (NOT 3d enemies), rotate and resize sprites without using a mode 7 effect, and apply distortion effects to various sprites for an animation style dubbed “Morphmation.” Maybe I’m just nitpicking minor details here - who really cares if the special chip made higher resolution graphics or if it was actually used for a new animation style? The trouble is that this very passage, and much of this book, is devoted to how Nintendo and Miyamoto used existing hardware to create new and artistic ideas without needing top-end hardawre. It’s ridiculous to be discussing this, then say “this chip was used to make higher resolution graphics.”
Page 178 - [discussing Super Mario RPG] - “The SNES, boosted by the super FX chip, would display everything isometrically.” - Super Mario RPG utilized the SA-1 chip, not the super FX chip. The Super FX chip functioned as a math co-processor, whereas the SA-1 was a general purpose CPU that was clocked higher then the SNES main CPU. It was used for a number of graphics and game logic enhancements.
Page 180 - [Discussing the merits of a CD versus ROM based game consoles and specifically how a rom cartridge based system would have less texture memory available] - “One way to avoid the texture-shading problem was to use something call Gourad shading, which resulted in a bouncy, cartoonish look.” Sort of... It’s true that proper shading can help flesh out the look of an object above and beyond what the texture originally shows. This isn’t wrong per se, but it’s confused what the purpose of each element is used for. Gourad shading is merely an interpolation calculation that is applied to polygons with real time lighting. This shading process smooths out the lighting across multiple polygons producing a more uniform and less flat look. Texturing is applied before the lighting process.
Page 209 - “F-Zero: Maximum velocity was MIyamoto’s Mode 7 SNES launch game, with a little polish.” This line does seem to be largely editorial, but I’d feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention that the title had brand new tracks and not ports of the SNES tracks. But, again, his comment seems to be largely editorial about the quality of the title.
Page 222 - “Go is a devilishly complex game, in which an opponents all-black can be turned snow white with just a few perfectly placed white stones.” In Go, when a section of stones are surrounded, they are captured and removed from the board not flipped to the opposite color. I believe the author is thinking of Othello (AKA Reversi on Windows 3.1).
Page 231 - [discussing the first generation Nintendo DS] - “Puzzlingly, there wasn’t room for a headphone jack: anyone who wanted to listen on a train had to buy a headphone adaptor.” This is true of the Game Boy Advance SP, but not the DS. The DS launch system had a ⅛ inch standard headphone jack at launch.
Page 237 - discussing Sony’s new PSP game console - “Its memory was big: it had 16GB of flash storage.” Not sure what he was thinking of here. The PSP-1000 had 32mb of flash memory and could accept a 16gb (or larger) memory memory stick. The PSP-go would later launch with 16gb of flash memory built in.
Page 241 - [discussing the new Wii console] - “It was designed to be small and sleek, no bigger then three DVD cases, and so efficient it didn’t need a cooling fan.” One could make the argument the Wii doesn’t need a cooling fan, nevertheless it does have one.
Page 247 - [discussing the Mii creator on the Wii] - “There are strange omissions- no red hair? No Dark Skin Tones? No Body customizations other then height and width?” Check the Mii editor for yourself. There are dark and light skin tones.
I’ll confess that my familiarity with video games is much stronger in the 8 & 16 bit era, so who knows how many other errors slipped by unnoticed? That’s the part that’s most troubling about this book is how can I trust anything, even the narrative, if the author can’t be bothered to research the materiel properly? I will say that his analysis of Nintendo’s profitability is pretty spot on from the perspective of re-hashing games and offers a perspective I hadn’t considered. Otherwise it’s a sloppy bit of magazine grade writing that looks like a rough draft at best.
I like video games, but I am not a gamer. Gamers scoff at me, because the only current generation system I own is the Wii, which everyone knows is for little kids and nursing homes and your mom (How much does your mom love Wii bowling?). No, I am not a gamer.
But I freaking love Mario games.
If a new Mario game is released, be it 3D or old school, I will buy it and play it and play it until I have unlocked every secret bonus. Then I will play it some more, this time with my wife, provided it isn't one of the 3D ones, because she sucks at those and quits after three levels. If a new system comes out and that is the only way I will get to play the new Mario game, I will buy that system. Or more accurately, tell my brother I want it for Christmas, and then he will arrange me getting it as a gift. Not in a mafia way. More in a "he has always been better at mooching off my parents" sort of way. Yes, I am an adult. No, I am not proud of this. But I did get a new laptop as a wedding/birthday gift. (Thanks Josh.)
According to Jeff Ryan, I am but one of many, and Nintendo has built decades of success on the backs of Mario fans like me -- we are not necessarily the most casual of gamers, but we aren't hardcore either. We might play other kinds of games, but if you give us a choice, we will pick Mario every time (number two choice: Zelda).
This book takes a very Mario-centric look at the founding and growth of Nintendo, and suffers a bit from the limited scope. The early days portions are the best, filled with well known but well reported accounts of the creation of Donkey Kong, of Mario, of the Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros., of how Mario got his name, of lawsuits with Universal and Atari... Ryan is a reporter by trade, and even the best chapters of the book rarely stray from the category you might call "very robust Wikipedia entry." That's ok. I was still interested, entertained even.
But there are some problems. Specifically, Ryan, despite calling himself a lifelong gamer, doesn't do too well when he tries to write about why people like gaming, and why people are drawn to Mario specifically. More often than not, he quickly falls back on broad clichés about Japanese culture and Buddhism; Mario, with his readily identifiable traits but no real personality, is "every man" and yet "no one," blah blah. Screw that noise. Mario games are awesome because they are masterpieces of design on every level. Mario the character is obviously a big part of the equation, but bad games don't sell just because they have Mario in them, mostly because Mario games (the flagship titles, the ones Ryan is really writing about) are never bad. They are Mario. They are... fun? I just don't hear the passion in Ryan's writing. I don't believe he has stayed up until dawn (on a workday) trying to find that last blue coin ahh it's impossible why do they make the game SO CHEAP AND HARD GODD... YES!!! I got it! IT'S A ME, MARIO BITCHES!
Then there are the dubious assertions (PlayStation beat out Nintendo 64 because the system could easily be hacked to play stolen games... yeah, I'm sure the 1 percent of gamers with a soldering iron and electrical knowhow enough to risk voiding a warranty really put Sony over the top by 40 million units), the obfuscations (reading this, you'd think Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto is the only person working at Nintendo) and blatant errors (a princess is the one who tells you "Our princess is in another castle"?
Weird looking princess. Bowser is in Super Mario 2?
Turtle, frog. Whatever.)
Am I nitpicking? Maybe. But I didn't write a book called Super Mario, did I?
Once the book shifts to the mid-1990s and the game market fractures (and especially once Microsoft comes on the scene), Ryan gets bogged down in comparing the consoles via long strings of meaningless tech jargon, totally losing the Mario-centric narrative (and much of my interest). It's a fun book, and a short one, but it's hardly hitting the top of the flag pole.
Very enjoyable and enlightening look at Nintendo's early days, rise to power, holding and then sharing the throne while maintaining relevance. I'm not a gamer, but I do remember those bitchin' early days of rad arcades and game consoles. From Pong to Space Invaders, along with a billion other "space" shooting games, and then along came the game-changer, Donkey Kong with its Mario-but-not-Mario hero "Jump Man." Ryan does a great job relaying info and staying on topic. His asides are quick, poignant, and pleasurable. I thought I might get bored once the book got into the Nintendo vs Sega vs Sony, discs or cartridges, etc wars, but I didn't. This kept my attention throughout!
It is very hard to write a book about Nintendo for various reasons. Firstly, the company is still powerful today; continuing to crank out fantastic games and be on the cutting edge of gaming. Secondly, it was a trailblazer in the early 1980s and people of that generation (like myself) think of it fondly. In fact, we may even think of Mario as one of our childhood friends. Lastly, it is a company that was built on fun and entertainment with little to no scandals. It is because of this that a book written about Nintendo and Super Mario must tread lightly in order to not offend the company in its current state, not offend the children (now adults) who grew up loving Mario and hating Bowser, and to make the story compelling enough to be readable. Jeff Ryan makes a concerted effort it fill all of these requirements though at times he falls short.
First and foremost, I have to out myself as an adult who adored all things Mario when I was a child. Because of this, I may be bias when it comes to literature on the topic. For the first two parts of the book, I thought that Ryan did an excellent job. He told the reader about the founding of Nintendo in the 1800s as a card company and the struggles that they faced to the point that they almost began marketing Popeye ramen noodles. Fortunately, the president of the company hired his son-in-law to help Nintendo get off its feet and hopefully thrive…one day. I believe we all know the rest of the story from here: first an arcade game was created followed by a console that could be played at home. The consoles sold like hot cakes and decades later we now have the Wii, of course with many other products in between.
Ryan makes the company’s history enthralling to the point that I was unable to put the book down. However, as he began to write about Nintendo’s more recent projects the story became boring and dull. Towards the last two parts, it seemed as if the author was just giving a plot summary of each game produced by Nintendo. Of course he mentioned the other gaming systems at the time and the competition between those and Nintendo, but even that didn’t spice up the book. Being that many of Nintendo’s games are updated versions of past games, the book becomes a bit repetitive (to no fault of the author).
Additionally, Ryan's writing style did get on my nerves from time to time. His excessive use of clichés, metaphors, and similes made me feel at times like I was reading an SAT prep book. Some of his statements were humorous while others attempted to draw connections between things that held no common significance. Also, he seems to be in awe of Nintendo and therefore believes that Nintendo (and Mario) will always win out over other gaming systems. Overall, this is a good book for Mario lovers but doesn’t have much depth. It lacks interviews with employees or even users. There is some critical thinking on the author’s part which makes me feel as if I am reading a dissertation instead of a published piece of nonfiction. If it does nothing else, it will make you want to brush the dust off of your old console and make that little plumber save the princess.
Audiobook: Ray Porter does a fine job. As a nonfiction book, there isn't really much a narrator can do to impress. He has a clear and easy to hear reading voice, and the volume quality was fine. That's about all you can ask really. This is a fine option for audio, but not a must listen.
Full Review In my continuing trend of supplementing my mostly SFF diet of books, and craving for nostalgia, I was excited to see this come up as a daily deal on Audible.
It's a short listen at 8.5 hours, but I blew through largely because I enjoyed it so much. Nintendo is a rather secretive company, so Mr. Ryan can be forgiven for not having all the details. I found the history both informative and entertaining.
1) It actually had details about Nintendo, whereas that book had very little considering it has it in the title. 2) Mr. Ryan doesn't make up fake conversations to tell the story.
This book does jump around in time a bit, but that's largely because he focuses on different parts of Nintendo with each chapter. He covers mostly consoles for much of the book, and then circles back to talk about Gameboy later in the book.
In my 20's I abandoned Nintendo as they seemed to be stuck in the past, and I wanted new games and better variety. After buying every system from NES to Gamecube, I was now an XBox person.
Now in my 30s, I find myself wanting to play Mario, Link and Donkey Kong again. I've been awfully tempted to buy a Wii U over the Xbox One.
Personally, I still feel like Nintendo would do better going the route of Sega by putting their IPs on as many platforms as possible and leaving the hardware business behind. Shows what I know though. This book talks about how the Wii absolutely crushed the Xbox 360 and PS3 for many months. Nintendo seems content in letting Microsoft and Sony to fight over the hardcore adult gamers and focus on kids, casual fans, and the Mario/Link/etc diehards.
If you're like me and grew up on the NES/SNES and want to revisit your childhood gaming, this seems like a good book to do it with.
A pretty fun read, but only for people who have a history with Nintendo games. Ryan is mainly very good at expressing how innovative Miyamoto is and how that has lead to some of the best videogames of all time. Besides that several pretty well-known rumors are confirmed/debunked, although they are not really backed up by sources.
There is a pretty big issue with this book though; I came across quite a number of factual errors that I know for certain to be not as described here. If I caught those, how reliable is the rest?
As long as you take that into account this is a pretty entertaining summary of the history of Nintendo until the Wii era.
it was a really fun history of the company Nintendo and how their character Mario changed gaming and the world!
totally fun, had a blast reminising. there's a few errors throughout the book, but only noticeable to a gamer....which is the target audience....lol...
there was one particular comment the author made that pissed me off. when referring to the gap between legend of Zelda a link to the past and Ocarina of Time....he said little boys everywhere had to wait 5 years before they could play a new Zelda title. I'M A GIRL. ZELDA WAS (is) LIFE.
Growing up, my family always had Nintendo products. Whether that’s because they were always cheaper than the competitors, had more family friendly games, or it gave my parents a sense of nostalgia from the early 80’s, I don’t know, but regardless, Nintendo has always been a part of my life. That doesn’t translate to me being a “gamer”, but my love for books, nonfiction, and the fact that Super Mario highlights the game systems I grew up with felt like a perfect combination.
And it was.
Super Mario is a fun romp through Nintendo’s radical history, full of its meteoric rise to fame, it’s incredible longevity, it’s commitment to quality and decent price, and, of course the titular character who’s carried them through 8 (or is it 9?) generations of video games. Ryan does a fantastic job of keeping things simple and easy to follow, yet his easy style keeps the story engaging throughout its entirety.
My one complaint comes at the cost of this book’s age. Written in 2012, it’s already 13 years old and gets dated extremely fast. When the book closes on Nintendo’s (relative) failure of the Wii U and Japan’s struggles with the 2011 earthquake, there’s an entire decade’s worth of info that can’t be highlighted (though Ryan’s predictions about Nintendo’s rebounding with a new system (the Switch) and exploring how important a Nintendo theme park could be) are eerily prescient.
Recently had a LOT of spare time on my hands and someone close to me gave this book while I weathered a particularly nasty storm. Because of this, my review might be a tad biased.
I really enjoyed this book largely because I grew up playing Super Mario World on my parents SNES when I was a kid. Mario has always been a sort of background character in the zeitgeist even when he seems to be absolutely everywhere. I wanted to understand then where Mario came from, who were the people who made him, why has he lasted as long as he has, and what, ultimately, made him the face of gaming.
Jeff Ryan answers at least of the questions digging into the corporate history as well as the larger cultural history. However his tone is often a little much, and a great deal of the text is simple summarization of various consoles and games, what they look like, and how they operate. This isn't to say this book is derivative or silly, it's got a solid passion and wonderful research behind it. The reader just needs to understand that this book is an encomium, a love-letter to Mario and it rarely tries to tackle the injustices performed by the Nintendo corporation.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book, not simply for nostalgia but for the fact that the character who has spawned literally hundreds of games continues to capture some hidden energy or passion in the masses who buy his games and journey with him through kingdom after kingdom hoping they'll finally save the princess.
A short history of first seven generations of the gaming consoles with a focus on Nintendo - the company with three best selling consoles of the generations (NES, SNES and Wii). Seems that I have unknowingly also aided them on their success and maybe even with failures, because I never had a N64, GameCube or Wii U that didn't really appeal in any way.
"A late game is only late until it launches, a bad game is bad until the end of time." - - Shigeru Miyamoto
Fun fact: Nintendo didn't want Tom Hanks as Mario, maybe that made Hanks' career and he received an Oscar for Forrest Gump!
Great book for Nintendo fans. I can't say how people who didn't grow up with Nintendo would feel about it because, well, Nintendo was like a second father to me. Actually, more like a first father. Nintendo, for all it's dusty-cartridge issues, was still a lot more reliable than its biological competition for World's Best Dad for most of the 90's.
The thing I really love about this is that I think it points out some of the things that Nintendo has done that other game makers haven't, or that they embraced later. One of my favorites was the story of the virtual boy. This was one of the more maligned Nintendo products, and if you want to know why, watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsBOqp...
Basically, you could only play it for about a half hour before getting a pretty bad headache. I recall it actually being packaged with a warning to that effect, and not a friendly warning like the Wii's, "Hey, it's a nice day outside, maybe we should not play so much Wii?" No, it was much more like a sign that you would see in a warehouse that warns how you will ABSOLUTELY BE CRUSHED BY THE BALER IF YOU STAND IN THIS SPOT AND NO ONE WILL MOURN YOUR PASSING.
It was a flop for a number of reasons, many which had to do with a lack of patience, such as being unwilling to wait for multicolor LED's to come down in price.
However, Virtual Boy is credited as being the first console to have the gamepad that also featured dual joysticks, which is the absolute standard these days. PS3, Xbox360, all of them have the dual joysticks, and all of that started with Nintendo's big flop.
Nintendo was always way ahead of the game. In fact, the Japanese version of the NES, which came out in the 80's, was INTERNET-READY. Designers had wild ideas that people would do things like check stocks and access other forms of entertainment through their Nintendo. What a wacky idea...until maybe 30 years later when half the people I know were streaming movies one way or another.
What I also love about Nintendo, though, is that they have a true sense of care for the complete gaming experience. Probably my favorite tidbit from this book was that at one point Nintendo had to recall a bunch of consoles. They had the consoles shipped to them, then they were retrofitted with the right parts, and when consumers got their consoles back they were not only repaired, but that the stickers, which I guess a bunch of people stuck to their consoles, were replaced in the correct spots as well.
The book is full of little stuff like that. Okay, maybe one more.
When Mario was created, his creator, Miyamoto, purposely made him to be an average sort of guy. Nothing really special about him. He's a mustachioed working man who even today still has a pot belly. But that humble beginning, it's like a metaphor for the entirety of that company. It's all about regular people who get to have incredible adventures.
I cut my gaming teeth on the NES. I have fond memories of playing Mario Bros. with my parents. I was very excited to jump into this book and learn more about Nintendo.
The short of it is: if you’ve read Console Wars (or anything detailing Nintendo’s history), you’ve already read the majority of this book. There are some details about Nintendo’s history I didn’t know (like Gunpei Yokoi creating the WonderSwan after he left Nintendo). But Jeff would, at times, feel the need to list out every piece of Mario or Nintendo memorabilia as if he was trying to convince you that Nintendo and Mario is a big deal. It was annoying and came off as lazy fluff.
The book had some truly rough sentence structure issues that broke the flow of reading. Along with that, Jeff never really shows how Nintendo “won” America. To be honest, the way everything is presented would make you think that Nintendo lost to Xbox and PlayStation. The title is misleading.
Overall, it’s an ok read but Console Wars was more enjoyable, in my opinion.
Covering Nintendo's extensive history, Super Mario expertly shows the immense success Nintendo has had over the past few decades with this truly quintessential character. And I never realized how many Nintendo products and games I've owned over the years, proof of Mario's popularity and success. Great book.
It’s past midnight as I write this review, but I just wasted 2 weeks of my life reading this poor excuse for a book, and this needs to be said. Harsh? Maybe, but that’s nothing compared to the verbal abuse I suffered at the hands of the author. Where do I begin? From the beginning, the author comes off as pretentious, arrogant, and all around not the kind of guy I would want to be spending my free time with. In the introduction, he tells us how he sort of stumbled upon the position of writing about video games, and how he “studied video games in a way very few others have.” Has he ever even met a gamer? I brushed this off initially, because let’s face it, a lot of video game writers tend to have this sort of tone. However, unlike reading a snarky article in GameInformer, Jeff Ryan made me feel excluded and inferior. I didn’t laugh along with him, I was insulted. (This probably wasn’t helped by his myriad of obscure references and metaphors – it felt like I was reading Ready Player One and being treated as a moron for not knowing the characters from [insert cult classic here]). Not only was Ryan’s approach to his audience irritating, but he continually lost credibility throughout the book, making me wonder how much of his word I could actually rely on. I’ll concede that I don’t know much about Mario’s history (other than videos from Game Theory and Did You Know Gaming?), but I do know a lot about the Pokémon and Legend of Zelda franchises. Perhaps I was being nitpicky and defensive, but the more I noticed he got wrong about these series, the less I trusted his work as a whole. When talking about the original Pokémon games that were released in Japan, he mentions that they were titled Red and Blue. Those were the originals in the United States, but in Japan, the first Pokemon games released were Red and Green. Blue was later released as an additional version, but when the games were brought to the states, Nintendo just released Red and Blue. Also, the games have more significant differences than the two characters (Ash Ketchum and Gary Oak) that Ryan mentions. In fact, only one of those characters is related to the games at all, and isn’t even a point of difference between the versions (190-191). Ryan also demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of The Legend of Zelda franchise as a whole – as much as this book is about Mario, it is also about Nintendo, and you can’t talk about Nintendo without talking about its other flagship franchise. This is inexcusable. “Link, on the other hand, is a teenager after the girl of his dreams.” (149) Link, the Legendary Hero, did not save Hyrule just to be known as a teenager with a crush. The plot of these games are so much greater than that. “But Zelda was never about plot.” (156) Without repeating what I’ve already said above, this is garbage. He also goes on to say that the Zelda series is a “constant retelling” rather than a linear plotline of sequels. I suppose the truth isn’t necessarily common knowledge, but someone who writes about games for a living should probably have some level of understanding of how one of the most well-known and beloved video game franchises works. Though this book did provide some interesting information, it was not an enjoyable read. If you want a look at gaming history in an entertaining way, you’d be better off reading something else (or watching some Did You Know Gaming? Videos).
As a video game nerd, and lifelong video game lover, this book was awesome to read. I loved learning the history, the ups and downs of the company in Japan, and the ups and downs of their expansion into America. If you've a fan of video games, and are even marginally interested in their history, this is a great read.
You knew when my sisters and I were playing Super Mario Brothers — you could hear it.
Every time pudgy little Mario accidentally fell off the ends of the earth into a gaping black nothingness or was singed by a fire spitting cactus or impaled by a hammer-throwing Koopa, you’d hear an agonizing scream — as if we were the ones coming to an untimely end.
I still remember the day my parents went out and got an NES — this after months of obsessively playing Super Mario Brothers on our cousin Oliver’s system; similarly, I remember picking up a Nintendo DS state-side in pink; and later still, buckling and buying the Wii (which sees periods of intense play even though there are now no kids around).
All of this being said, I’m not much of a gamer — for one thing, I’m startlingly, astonishingly bad.
What I love best about Super Mario Brothers for the Wii is that you can have up to four players and three better-skilled players can at least “save” me when I invariably die from a really dumb mistake.
I’d be astonished to find someone who hated Super Mario — that’s like saying you hate Mickey Mouse.
Do you want to know what I found the most fascinating about Jeff Ryan’s “Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America”?
You can be a non-gamer and only a passing interest in Nintendo and Super Mario but still get sucked into reading this book; it’s definitely well-written enough that you find yourself marveling at how Super Mario came into being and changed the face of the gaming industry.
Nintendo — which, interestingly, means “leave luck to heaven” or “we do what we can” — and Super Mario’s success was in large part due to three men: Shigeru Myivamoto, a 29-year-old designer plucked out of obscurity to quickly slap dash together a project that wound up being one of the most pouplar games of all time; billionarie owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who ran Nintendo with dogged determination and a singular focus on success; and Yamauchi’s son-in-law, Minoru Arakawa, who didn’t even want to be in the family business, but once a part of it, dared to follow his instincts instead of his father-in-law’s demands to steer the American division to success.
When Ryan writes the following, you can’t help but feel like it was fate that brought this popular game into being: “…Mario’s abiogenesis would have never happened if Radar Scope was a bit more popular, if Arakawa had swallowed the financial loss, if Yamauchi had given the reconfiguration project to experienced designers, if Yokoi hadn’t given Miyamoto free rein to design, or if Miyamoto had decided to just make a game — instead of telling a story.” (p.32)
One fascinating chapter covers the lawsuit that Universal brought against Nintendo, claiming that Nintendo’s Donkey Kong was a rip-off of Universal’s King Kong — but Nintendo, instead of buckling in the face of Universal, had the nerve fight back and turn Universal’s own words against them and win the lawsuit, you can’t help but admire the people who run Nintendo.
Ryan takes us through Nintendo’s various reinventions before arriving at the most recent iteration out on the market, the Wii.
And throughout it all, it’s a fascinating read that allowed me to plow through the pages with relative speed.
Jeff Ryan conta a história da Nintendo, que nasceu uma “empresa familiar” e sexista. ⠀ Não ficou muito claro o quanto ricos eles já eram, mas pareceu que competir internacionalmente era coisa de qualquer um fazia. ⠀ ⠀ No início, ainda na era da abundância dos fliperamas, a Nintendo se destacou lançando produtos, que compreendia um conjunto de jogo e hardware. Existia dificuldades em colocar seu primeiro jogo. Sua inovação foi investir na parte artística do hardware: o fliper (a cabine) em si; ⠀ ⠀ A Nintendo sempre foi pautada em apostas de glamour cultural. Outro autor, Andy Hunt, escreveu no seu livro “why right brainers will rule the world (2006)” discute essa abordagem de investir em cultura e beleza frente ao atributos da era da abundância. Ele fala em 2006, mas essa característica é presente na história da Nintendo desde a década de 80, perpassando todos os momentos comerciais.⠀ ⠀ Como distribuídora de jogos, a Nintendo usou prática fordista e ganhou mercado. O mais interessante é que ela vem da terra do “toytismo” e recebeu prêmio superando a própria toyta devido a seus resultados.⠀ ⠀ Antes distribuidora de jogos em fliperamas e depois em consoles, também terceirizou a classe artística e ganhou volume de títulos. A Nintendo manteve-se a produtora do proporia mascote para lançamento de consoles e foi detentora da sua própria revista que enaltecia o mercado.⠀ ⠀ Evitou plataforma PC e consoles com base em CD. Neste último caso, a justificativa era sobre qualidade, não perder velocidade e evitar pirataria. Até o Nintendo 64 não havia consoles mais velozes. ⠀ ⠀ Esse é um livro que remete a infância dos anos 80 e 90, a gente participou da guerra comercial da Sega e da Nintendo e foi muito interessante reviver isso como adulto nesse leitura.
I have't spent as much time playing video games as I have reading, but video gaming cuts seriously into my reading time.
Most of my video gaming happens on some flavor of a Nintendo system. I haven't had all of them, but I've had enough of them to know the characters, games, and Nintendo executives that make up this story of "How Nintendo Conquered America," and in truth, it did.
I've played the NES, owned the SNES, a Game 'n Watch game (Fire), N64, Gameboy Pocket, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy AdvanceSP, and now a Wii. I've been a subscriber to Nintendo Power, and know that The Great Miyamoto has a fascination with owls (about which, incidentally, no information is to be gleaned in this book).
But I didn't know much of the history of the company and their game development. I probably could have bought a lot of stock in the company if I'd stowed the quarters that went into Donkey Kong, Jr. in a jar instead of sticking them in a slot.
Super Mario explains everything you ever wanted to know about the history of video gaming, including marketing and development, and isn't shy about enumerating Nintendo's misses along with the hits. The Wii, about which I would have liked to have known more, gets short shrift in the concluding chapters ... but the focus is on the early days of gaming. There's a bit of speculation about the future of gaming, but my expectation about Nintendo is that it will be something unimagined.
There is an unfortunate tendency to draw comparisons to other pop culture icons, but like Bowser's repeated kidnappings of the Princess, I decided to accept them as part of the story.
Wow I loved this book so much. Every day I would tell Hunter all of the fun little facts and tidbits I learned. This is the first audiobook in a while that I actually made time to listen to it. I'm finally understanding people who listen to audiobooks to clean. The narrator is the same person who reads Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World's Most Wanted Hacker, and I think his voice and expressions are really well suited to the casual tone of the book. Obviously this book is probably aimed at people who are into games, but it is written in such a way that you don't need to know a lot about games to understand. I mean he doesn't use weird gamer slang or anything like that. This book is also interesting from a business perspective, explaining what Nintendo did to become so successful and dominant despite not always having the flashiest or most powerful systems.
When reading the parts that took place from 2000 onward, I enjoyed remembering events the author described. Like, I remember when certain games came out or were announced, and being excited about certain systems, things like that. For gamers I'd say this is a must-read, but honestly I think it's a really engaging story even if you've never even played a console game.
When there are typos and spelling errors in a published book, I am immediately suspect of how factual the facts are within it. I don't mean one or two, this had the quality I would expect from a self-published e-book. Unfortunately(?) I'm not an expert on Nintendo, so I'm not sure how the book stacks up on the factchecker scale, though a quick perusal of other GR reviews confirm my intuition. Having read this immediately after "The Ultimate History of Video Games" which is full of first-hand quotes, I did notice some discrepancies between the two. It seems like the book with info from the horses mouth would probably be the correct info, and it was published a decade before this book, so it's not like it wasn't available for reference.
The style of the writing in this book is rather colloquial, like a blog or magazine article. Sometimes this familiarity works in the author's favor, just as often, it doesn't. Colloquial + typos= a feeling that I'm being fed info from a Nintendo fan hipster that's had a few PBRs. Unfair prejudice? Maybe.
Finally, I ended up skimming the last third to half of the book, I don't blame this on the author or his editor. For me, there's just not a way to jazz up the N64, Wii, DS, 3DS etc.; I'm just more interested in the early years.
It was so much fun to learn about the history of video games with the emphasis on Nintendo games like Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. To learn the details on how the early games were designed was fascinating. For instance, the reason why they chose Mario for the name of the good guy in Donkey Kong was funny. It's fun to hear details about games you played as a kid and just sort of accepted without thinking about what was really going on. To read about how Super Mario Bros. was the first game to have a character travel between worlds and experience so many levels was amusing because I had never thought about it before. The later history about the competition between Sega, the Playstation, and XBOX was interesting too because I never understood what really went on with video games during that time. This book is hard to put down for anyone with happy memories of classic video games.
I checked out this book because my 7 year old is obsessed with Mario video games, so I thought it would be neat to regurgitate fun facts to him about Mario. So far it has been a resounding success. It is a little dated, because it ends after the Wii, and has nothing about the Switch. Good, easy, and fun book
Güzel kitap ama aralarda nasıl gözden kaçtığı anlaşılmayan hatalar var. Panasonic ile Philips sürekli karıştırılmış mesela. Sony PSP'nin dahili 16GB depolama alanı içerdiği iddia edilmiş. Bu gibi yanlışlar nasıl kitaba girebildi ve düzeltilmedi anlamadım.
This book felt like I was learning the backstory behind everything I loved about gaming as a kid. The history of the consoles and games were both fascinating, and the story reminded me why I love Nintendo. Great read.
Being an avid fan of Super Mario, Nintendo itself, and "making of" type notes and documentaries, Jeff Ryan's book Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America was a shoo-in (which, shouldn't that be "shoe-in"? As in, a shoe in the door?) for my small personal library. Immediately upon holding it for the first time, I was filled with the nostalgia and youthful bliss. Memories of Super Mario Bros. 2, Donkey Kong Classics, and of course, the original Super Mario Bros. (the version attached at the hip with Duck Hunt, of course). That unmistakable blue hue of a NES palette sky and the classic Little Mario leaping sprite (which has been raised into 16-bit here, sporting a more modern look for the spaghetti squire) were just as welcoming and enticing as any old-school start screen. All it was missing was a demo reel when you let it sit too long.
Regrettably, it seems video game lit. has only barely evolved beyond the 2600 era. While the book is interesting and features a fairly detailed history of the Nintendo company and its execs., I can't feel confident that any of the new information I acquired is accurate. I'd love for it to be, because there's really some quite interesting stuff that made me pop an eyebrow or two, but the book is riddled with so many simple mistakes that I wonder if Mr. Ryan did much homework at all. Now, I'm not just talking about typos (although such things are both rampant and inconsistent, such as occasionally spelling "Goomba" as "Goombah", messing Konami into "Komani", and not once failing to misspell Kotaku as "Kokatu"), but jarring factual errors that the most basic of gamers would never get wrong. Things like confusing the Panasonic and Philips companies made reading confusing and difficult to keep track of, but are a little more forgivable since they're kind of out of the way of the main topic. However, being totally off the mark about the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2, being so wrong as to confuse the great Wart for Bowser and Subcon for the Mushroom Kingdom, are inexcusable errors. For a book named after, and focusing on, Super Mario, it really screwed up the pasta-pummeler's history.
Now, I did look up a few things that sounded odd to me which turned out to be true (one of which was about a little game called Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car, which I took as being a misconstrued version of the Japanese exclusive Sonic Drift. Turns out I was wrong), so at least some of Ryan's information is correct. It's just unfortunate that figuring out just how much will require doing enough research to write up your own back, which is sad for a book which is supposed to educational itself.
Honestly, I wouldn't be able to recommend this book for educating yourself or others in video game history. It's too... wrong in too many places. While the title might be easier to bite into than some of the heavier, more dull reports on the topic, it kind of presents the anti-intellectual fallacy bandied about in the American educational system: teach them the easiest understanding possible, then unteach it to them later. You have no idea how challenging it can be to unlearn something, and I know that was one of the wort parts of school for me. "Hey, remember how we told you the Pilgrims were the first people to reach America? We lied to ya, buddy!"
I didn't learn that the word "pilgrim" wasn't exclusive to the group of Mayflower settlers until ninth grade. That's a dangerous thing to do. People tend to hold onto the first bits of knowledge they get, and if it's wrong, that person is going to have a hard time readjusting the fundamental layer of their thinking. Hell, Brontosaurus is still how it's spelled in my book!
But enough beating, because Ryan really isn't a bad or even mediocre writer. His editing team needed to be a little better, and he's gotta work on that research if he wants to write non-fiction, but he seems to have a gift with making it interesting. See, that's half the battle, especially with text like this. You might come out with a book that's really informative and gets it all right, but if your prose is drab I'm going to drop you like a day-old sock. Jeff Ryan has a voice derived from years as a journalist. Sometimes this makes Super Mario read a little too much like an issue of Nintendo Power magazine, but then again, I subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine (a moment of silence, please).
There are bits of sarcasm and bite to his voice which are all-too common among the smug pop-culture journalist crowd, and there were times when it got to be a little much. Skip the parentheticals, and you'll manage to dodge most of that (I seem to have picked a little something up from this book after all. Sorry, Jeff). However, his natural voice and inability not to characterize something lends itself wonderfully to drawing the audience into history as it unfolds before them. Anybody who picks this one up will already know about Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata, and they sure as hell better known Gunpei Yokoi, but Ryan's text does more than just let you know what these men did and why you should know them; it turns them into characters, and welcomes you along on their journey as they develop from unknown young men into celebrated pioneers of the digital era.
The book is divided into parts which seem to follow along with the evolution of Nintendo's consoles, despite some overlap. The first part is the arcade era, you get the NES era, SNES, N64, GCN, and finally Wii. Each part is divided into several chapters, all of which are puns on various Mario games, and used in ways which reflect the general tone of the chapter. It's something aficionados will get a chuckle out of, and it's the kind of fun I imagine Nintendo would themselves have with a self-styled history book.
For the most part, Super Mario is an interesting read. The last chapter, however, is kind of a Shyamalan-style tone-twist. We go from praising Mario and the Nintendo company to a diatribe about how Chinese workers slave away in sweatshops (and often commit suicide) to make it all possible. It kind of makes one double-take and wonder if this was all a set-up by some human rights group. The narrative then turns again, now full of provolone optimism about how Mario will once again lead us all into an era of digital enlightenment. Really, it's the kind of poor ending you expect out of fiction (which almost never ends well), but not an over-stuffed IGN article.
In short: this book cannot be read for factual use as there are too many errors. However, as a work of near-fiction and a character story, it is more than adequate and highly entertaining. Unfortunately, that isn't the purpose of a non-fiction piece. For featuring heavy bias (it's evident Mr. Ryan is no fan of Pokémon), distracting diatribes and self-important quips, and, above all, dangerous misleading falsities marched through the streets as facts, I have no choice but to score Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America a mere three out of five stars. I'll see you after class, Mr. Ryan. Maybe next time you'll do your homework.