Title: Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America
Author: Jeff Ryan
I hesitated on reading this book at first because I thought it was an updated version of another Nintendo book I had read years ago called, Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World. Game Over is an amazing book that provides a comprehensive history of Nintendo’s rise and success. Game Over is probably the best book written about Nintendo because it’s very detailed and it extensively profiles the people that were involved in the company. It doesn’t just tell you what they did, but also who they were and where they came from.
The only drawback of Game Over is that it was first published in 1993, i.e. before the N64, the DS, and the numerous other systems and games that have released since then. Thankfully the book has had updated versions throughout the years (up until 1999). So when I first saw Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, I assumed that it was just another update of Game Over. However I was wrong because it’s written by a different author, Jeff Ryan a self described lifelong gamer.
Before reading Jeff Ryan’s book, I do have to warn anyone that is not familiar with the history of Nintendo to first read Game Over because I felt that Super Mario: HNCA (abbreviated) rushed many years in order to cram a lot of information into a few chapters. But that’s okay because I felt it necessary to rush the early years in order to continue the story of Nintendo from where Game Over left off, 1999 to the release of the 3DS. While many reviewers have criticized this book because they felt that Jeff Ryan simply pieced together articles from other places in writing Super Mario: HNCA, I have to say that this book really isn’t so much a history of Nintendo, as much as it’s about the fandom that Nintendo and Mario have created.
Having once abandoned gaming, it wasn’t until I returned to it that I came to appreciate what Nintendo had built based on its philosophy. What I loved about this book is Jeff Ryan’s ability to also summarize, or rather piece together the “Nintendo philosophy.” So what is the Nintendo philosophy you might be asking? Well in my opinion it’s many things, but at its centre it’s about quality, planning, innovation (lateral thinking of seasoned technology), and purpose. These philosophical ideas kept appearing not only in this book, but also in my life experience with Nintendo. Jeff Ryan did an excellent job in not only describing these philosophical ideas, but in attaining their origin. For example he explains the idea of nemawashi; of quietly laying down the ground work for success, which Nintendo has followed since the beginning.
Another great feature of this book is how he describes the fall from grace Nintendo took with the emergence and success of the PS2. Jeff Ryan perfectly describes the frustration a lot of Nintendo fans felt during the early 2000’s; with Nintendo’s lack of steady original game releases, abandonment from 3rd party developers, and its constant re-release and updates of retro games (Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros.). Thankfully not everything was doom and gloom for Nintendo, as it did find success with the DS and the Wii. Which again was based upon its philosophy, and which is why you can never count them out.
Super Mario: HNCA is a very entertaining book that I found informative, and that was helpful in reinforcing my reason on why I love Nintendo. I liked how Jeff Ryan was really random in the subjects that he covered on Nintendo fandom. While the final chapters of the book are really more speculation this was still an excellent book. It does a nice job of covering a wide scope of Nintendo, and it’s one of the few books that I have read multiple times, and that I highly recommend.