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Book Review: Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan

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When I first encounter something that I’ve not encountered before, if it’s sufficiently interesting I will devour any information I can find on that subject. If it sticks, it becomes one of the things that I can rattle off a lot of facts about. Examples of this include Star Wars (I could probably spend a good half hour lecturing about Star Wars), Doctor Who and James Bond. Fictional universes seem to enjoy becoming part of my mind.

One of these passions that has been there since childhood is Nintendo. I can remember the first game I ever played (Donkey Kong Country) and I still play some of the better ones from that time. Add to that the last half of my teenage years spent reading the excellent British magazine NGamer, and you’ll see why I consider myself fairly clued up on Nintendo. With that in mind, I didn’t expect to learn a whole lot from Jeff Ryan’s first book, Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America.

My doubts were misplaced. Among the new things I learned was that the Mario theme has lyrics. To quote the book, the first few bars are “Today, full of energy, Mario is running, running/ Go save Princess Peach! Go!” This made my day. I also learned a lot about the history of Nintendo, since that’s what the book sets out to do. Something that some people might not be aware of is that Nintendo was around for 90 years before they came to prominence as a video games company, and the book takes you from that time to the present day. It takes you through such periods as the time that Universal sued Nintendo over perceived similarities to King Kong in Donkey Kong and lost, for proving several years earlier that King Kong is in the public domain, to Nintendo’s recent domination of the home console market when the Wii came out.

If you’re a fan of Nintendo who could do with learning a bit more about their history, this is the book for you. Even if you’re an expert, you’ll still enjoy reading it. Ryan writes in an easy to understand style, with lots of interesting little asides and funny comments. The book is well researched and I didn’t find anything wrong with it. I’m not suggesting that all Nintendo history must go through me, but I didn’t read anything in there that conflicted with what I’d heard before.

My main problem with Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America. is that it’s too short. At 276 pages of actual book, one can be forgiven for not wanting it to end so soon. It reminds me of the Einstein quote about relativity: “Spend a minute with your hand on a hot stove and it feels like an hour. Spend an hour talking to a pretty girl and it feels like a minute. That’s relativity.” Nowadays it’s a rare book that makes time slip away from me like that and kept me reading, and this one managed to do so admirably. In the acknowledgements, Ryan mentions that the book could’ve been double the length (the bonus chapters that will soon be up on his site are interesting but it’s easy to see why they were excised). I wish it had been so I would’ve got to spend more time with his prose.

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About Scott Varnham