Review: SUPER MARIO: How Nintendo Conquered America

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Are video games manly? I’m sure there are conflicting opinions, but the opinion of iUMBC is a resounding YES. I know everyone has been losing sleep over when the review to last week’s FCF, Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America is going to drop. Well, wait no longer.

This book is essentially a history book. Nintendo was originally a Japanese company long before it ever established an American branch. It started as a card shop in 1894 in Kyoto, Japan. 70 years later, Hiroshi Yamauchi would inherit the company from his great-grandfather and take it in a radically different direction: electronic gaming. By 1980 it had had some success in Japan and decided to take their show on the road in the United States. I must say that I am so thankful they did.

Let’s keep in mind I am writing this review as a kid of the 80s and 90s. I got my first NES at age 5, upgraded to the Sega at age 9, then saw the light and sold half of my games so I could put a down payment on a Nintendo 64 + Super Mario 64 bundle at age 11. I grew up with the video game explosion, but even more importantly, I grew up with Nintendo. If you grew up playing Nintendo consoles like I did then SM:HNCA is for you. It’s a simultaneously educational and nostalgic experience. At the end of it I was all jazzed up to go buy an SNES cause it was the only Nintendo console I never owned.

This was the life of millions of kids born in the 70s, 80s and 90s: they grew up at the same time Mario and Nintendo did. Mario was birthed by a newly hired Nintendo artist, Shigeru Miyamoto, in 1981 as “Jumpman” in the arcade classic “Donkey Kong”. A big gorilla had stolen the princess (named The Lady), and was holding her hostage at the top of a construction site. It was Jumpman’s job to scale the level and rescue the damsel again and again.

The book chronicles Mario’s life as he jumped from system to system over the last 30 years, and talks about how Nintendo continually situated itself as a company. From Donkey Kong, to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), to Super-NES, to Gameboy, to Gameboy Color, to the Gameboy Advance, to N64, to Gamecube, to the DS, to the 3DS to the Wii.

One of the most fascinating parts of this book was the cross-system competitions. In the early 1990s it was a SNES vs. Sega showdown. Sega introduced a cocky new character full of rebellion and attitude. Sonic was what all the cool kids were like – fast, impatient, and edgy – way cooler than some yippity Italian plumber from Brooklyn. Then it was Playstation/N64, then Gamecube/PS2/XBox, then Nintendo had to bow out almost entirely when it was PS3/XBox360 – that is, until it totally revolutionized the industry again with the release of the Wii. Now it’s the other consoles playing catchup with the Kinect and the Move.

The book is an easy read too, which was a relief. I was anticipating being bored with technological jargon, but it is avoided for the most part. The author, Jeff Ryan, is a clear expert on all things Nintendo and Mario, and actually updates two Wikipedia pages: one on Mario’s game appearances, and the other on games by Shigeru Miyamoto. So he clearly knows his stuff.

Fun. Nostalgic. Educational. Even funny at times. I recommend this book for any kid of the 80s/90s.

About APC

Following his days in the Octagon, APC worked for an undisclosed amount of time tracking and studying a colony of Yetis in eastern Nepal (read more about his travels in his memoir, "Backgammon 101: Let the Yeti Win"). Nowadays, he spends his time in Havana fitting model ships inside glass bottles, and counting his gold bullions with his chimpanzee, Don Ultimo.
Currently Reading:
-Millenium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson
-East of Eden by John Stienbeck
-Reservation Blues by Sherman Alexie


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