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Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America

Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America - Jeff Ryan I like video games, but I am not a gamer. Gamers scoff at me, because the only current generation system I own is the Wii, which everyone knows is for little kids and nursing homes and your mom (How much does your mom love Wii bowling?). No, I am not a gamer. But I freaking love Mario games.If a new Mario game is released, be it 3D or old school, I will buy it and play it and play it until I have unlocked every secret bonus. Then I will play it some more, this time with my wife, provided it isn't one of the 3D ones, because she sucks at those and quits after three levels. If a new system comes out and that is the only way I will get to play the new Mario game, I will buy that system. Or more accurately, tell my brother I want it for Christmas, and then he will arrange me getting it as a gift. Not in a mafia way. More in a "he has always been better at mooching off my parents" sort of way. Yes, I am an adult. No, I am not proud of this. But I did get a new laptop as a wedding/birthday gift. (Thanks Josh.)According to Jeff Ryan, I am but one of many, and Nintendo has built decades of success on the backs of Mario fans like me -- we are not necessarily the most casual of gamers, but we aren't hardcore either. We might play other kinds of games, but if you give us a choice, we will pick Mario every time (number two choice: Zelda). This book takes a very Mario-centric look at the founding and growth of Nintendo, and suffers a bit from the limited scope. The early days portions are the best, filled with well known but well reported accounts of the creation of Donkey Kong, of Mario, of the Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros., of how Mario got his name, of lawsuits with Universal and Atari... Ryan is a reporter by trade, and even the best chapters of the book rarely stray from the category you might call "very robust Wikipedia entry." That's ok. I was still interested, entertained even. But there are some problems. Specifically, Ryan, despite calling himself a lifelong gamer, doesn't do too well when he tries to write about why people like gaming, and why people are drawn to Mario specifically. More often than not, he quickly falls back on broad clichés about Japanese culture and Buddhism; Mario, with his readily identifiable traits but no real personality, is "every man" and yet "no one," blah blah. Screw that noise. Mario games are awesome because they are masterpieces of design on every level. Mario the character is obviously a big part of the equation, but bad games don't sell just because they have Mario in them, mostly because Mario games (the flagship titles, the ones Ryan is really writing about) are never bad. They are Mario. They are... fun? I just don't hear the passion in Ryan's writing. I don't believe he has stayed up until dawn (on a workday) trying to find that last blue coin ahh it's impossible why do they make the game SO CHEAP AND HARD GODD... YES!!! I got it! IT'S A ME, MARIO BITCHES!Then there are the dubious assertions (PlayStation beat out Nintendo 64 because the system could easily be hacked to play stolen games... yeah, I'm sure the 1 percent of gamers with a soldering iron and electrical knowhow enough to risk voiding a warranty really put Sony over the top by 40 million units), the obfuscations (reading this, you'd think Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto is the only person working at Nintendo) and blatant errors (a princess is the one who tells you "Our princess is in another castle"? Weird looking princess. Bowser is in Super Mario 2?Turtle, frog. Whatever.)Am I nitpicking? Maybe. But I didn't write a book called Super Mario, did I?Once the book shifts to the mid-1990s and the game market fractures (and especially once Microsoft comes on the scene), Ryan gets bogged down in comparing the consoles via long strings of meaningless tech jargon, totally losing the Mario-centric narrative (and much of my interest). It's a fun book, and a short one, but it's hardly hitting the top of the flag pole.