Growing up, I was a huge fan of Super Mario Bros. I can remember determinedly playing Mario for hours on the NES, trying to beat the game. Then along came GameBoy, Super Nintendo, and N64. I kind of dropped off once the Gamecube was released (though I did get the Game Boy Advance SP and do still love playing classic games on my DS–I kick it old school), but I still hold an everlasting love for Mario. Naturally, when I saw Jeff Ryan’s Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America I had to read it.
This is a really cool book. I smiled just looking at it–everything about the book’s design is a nod to classic Mario. But, of course, what’s really great about the book is the story presented inside it. Ryan charts Nintendo’s humble beginnings in 1981 and its subsequent rise to becoming one of the most recognizable–and marketable–brands in the world. Starting with the meteoric popularity of Donkey Kong, Ryan walks readers through the serendipitous events that allowed Mario to evolve. I loved getting to learn a little more about Shigeru Miyamoto, the man who created Mario and all of the whimsical worlds that Mario exists in.
It was also fascinating to see just how cutthroat Nintendo was with regards to its competition. As Nintendo gained in popularity and other brands struggled to get a foothold in the gaming market, Nintendo was able to sit on its throne for years and control everything. I loved hearing about its competitors, particularly the Sega Genesis and Sonic the Hedgehog (which I also played growing up, and my brother still plays occasionally on his PS3). Through lack of foresight and their desire to keep control of everything, Nintendo made some foolish moves with regards to its console designs (anyone else annoyed by those non-standard-sized discs for the Gamecube?); over the years, Xbox and Playstation were able to exploit these errors and grab hold of the market. Still, Nintendo has been able to reap the rewards of Mario: they can make a ton of money on merchandising alone, but even more impressive is their ability to keep selling the same games to new generations of fans with minor updated features (true story: my family owns like a billion Mario Karts).
All this being said, the book isn’t for hardcore gamers who read gaming magazines and websites. A lot of the stories in the book are probably already common knowledge among die-hards. I would occasionally read my brother passages and smack talk-esque quotes from Nintendo officials, and he’d look at me and say, “that’s super old news,” or “that’s a famous quote.” He did learn a few new things from the passages I read him, but for the most part, he already knew a lot of this history. Still, because of its pop culture appeal, it’s a great book for the curious reader or casual gamer–especially if you played Nintendo as a child. I didn’t think I’d be so into the book, but it really is compelling.
As for me, my brother and sister–who can now be found playing bloody shooting games on the Xbox or fighting games on the PS3–have long been trying to convince me to go over to the dark side. But no. I was so taken by nostalgia after reading this book–and so curious about the “newer” stuff–that I bought Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii. And let me tell you…playing a Mario game now is as addictive now as it was when I was a kid.
Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America was released by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin, on August 4, 2011.