Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan

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I picked this book up a while ago when it was on sale, I didn’t look at the ratings or reviews beforehan which may have been a mistake?. The second review for this book on Goodreads is a very long 2-star review with a thought out list of inaccuracies that riddled the book. Now, I read through a handful of the issues and none of these things really bothers me overly much. One of the examples the reviewer listed:

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

There were probably a dozen or so of these examples listed. So, if stuff like that is going to bother you I would skip over this one. I am nowhere near a strong enough Mario buff to catch things like that, and for me they seem trivial since the bigger picture and broad history was accurate even if the minutia wasn’t. Since I don’t have first hand knowledge of who is right, although it sounds like the reviewer knows what they’re talking about, I’m not going to take too many points off for accuracy (although I typically do for nonfiction with that many listed examples).

Now that the disclaimer is over, this is as it sounds; the history of Super Mario and how it came to conquer the gaming world. For a little while, at least. This was a lot of fun since it went all the way back to the beginning of Mario and his first appearances in Donkey Kong. It also addressed how Donkey Kong came into being, and how it almost never happened. Donkey Kong was a project for a down-on-his-luck, last chance for a good career kind of scenario. Because the project didn’t originally hold a ton of value to the company so they let him be as creative with it as he wanted to be. This was the right move. I think a lot of people know Mario debuted in Donkey Kong, but maybe not that but his name was Jump Man, lol. Peach was just “the lady”. The name Donkey Kong came about because the game was supposed to be about a big angry gorilla that was also very stubborn. The idea was to mash up King Kong with a new persona and what is more stubborn than a donkey? It was supposed to mean something like Stubborn Gorilla, but it translated hilariously into Donkey Kong.

One of the more fascinating tidbits from this book is that Nintendo wanted to use their systems to go online. For a fraction of the price of other devices available in the 90s people could have just used their Nintendo systems to get online. But everyone had it categorized in their heads as a children’s game, not a communications system and so the idea flatlined. But then Xbox came in, took that idea and ran with it, and everyone thought it was great. Womp womp.

Now, at first I was really into this, but the middle dragged ass. It got into grittier and less interesting details about finances and specifics of how the games are built and whatnot. I’m sure some people will find that really interesting but I wasn’t all that enthused. I also feel like he missed a lot of aspects about why the Mario games went over so well with people who don’t traditionally like video games. My mom didn’t like Mario because of some… Japanese Buddhist thing or because he was an “every man plumber”. He was cute, the violence was not really violence, and the music was catchy. Personally, I loved Mario because I’m a completionist and I need to find every hidden aspect and Easter egg in every game I play — now that he did touch on. I found the passion a little lacking, though. Usually when I read or watch stuff about the history of a video game and someone has taken the time to track down every last detail and took the time to make a book or video… they have a clear and expressed passion. Passion is what makes non-fiction not dry. I feel like this was a pretty well researched book (although it could have been better) but I feel like I started to lose interest due to the dryness of the book.

Rating: 75/100