A gaming journalist retraces Nintendo’s unlikely shaping of video-game history through a pudgy Italian plumber named Mario.
In his debut, Ryan chronicles the surprisingly riveting history of Japanese video-game empire Nintendo, from their early coin-operated arcade-game days to recent innovations in game-system technology. More specifically, though, the author follows the professional career of Nintendo’s mastermind Shigeru Miyamoto and the often-riveting story behind the genesis of now-legendary pixilated plumber Mario, and the improbable success of Mario’s star-vehicle, Donkey Kong, whose oddball name came about from a happy accident in Japanese-to-English translation. For anyone who grew up in the ’80s with quarter-arcade games like Donkey Kong, the first half of Ryan’s book is an endlessly fascinating nostalgia trip. Placing Miyamoto’s creation in its cultural and chronological context, the author not only gives Nintendo’s full history, but also a detailed accounting of Nintendo’s early field of competition, especially with one-time giant Atari and later Sega, with its irreverent anti-Mario stance. Nintendo’s rise to importance would also be marked by big lawsuits, namely by Universal, who claimed they owned the rights to King Kong, and thus, Donkey Kong. It’s this historical element that Ryan thrives on, as well as the biographical aspects of Nintendo’s eccentric Japanese founding fathers. The author drives home the notion of Nintendo’s success being mostly due to its uncanny sense of resourcefulness. In the later chapters, however, the narrative slows, as Ryan gets too caught up in gamer shop talk. In his coverage of the ’90s and beyond, the author seems more concerned with the technological minutiae behind every new gizmo that Nintendo is responsible for and can’t retain the dramatic buildup that had given such heft to earlier chapters.
Late stumbles aside, an effective and entertaining overview of the video-game industry’s history and Nintendo’s essential role in shaping it.