March 27, 2011

Japan Week Day 6: Nintendo

As I end my ded­i­ca­tion week to Japan, there is one com­pa­ny that stands above them all in the land of the ris­ing sun, Nin­ten­do. Say what you will about their cur­rent con­sole strat­e­gy, but no one can deny the influ­ence they have had on the indus­try since the late 80’s. They have cre­at­ed some of the world’s most pop­u­lar games, defined hand­held gam­ing, and brought video games back from the crash. On the eve of the 3DS launch, I am hon­or­ing Nin­ten­do and four of the most impor­tant peo­ple to come from Nin­ten­do (again this is the writer’s opin­ion).
Satoru Iwa­ta joined Nin­ten­do in 1993 at HAL lab­o­ra­to­ry, inc. a sec­ond par­ty devel­op­er of Nin­ten­do. Dur­ing his stay there, until 2001 when he become the CEO of Nin­ten­do, he had a hand in some of Nintendo’s sta­ple fran­chis­es; the Earth­Bound series (called Moth­er in Japan), Smash Broth­ers series, and the cute pink puff­ball Kir­by. Iwa­ta would reveal Kirby’s real Eng­lish trans­la­tion dur­ing his keynote speech at GDC2011, Tin­kle Popo. Kirby’s orig­i­nal col­or was white as can be seen on the cov­er of Kirby’s Dream­land on the Game Boy. His name was changed to Kir­by and made white (even­tu­al­ly turned back to his orig­i­nal pink) to appeal to west­ern gamers. In 2002 Iwa­ta suc­ceed­ed Hiroshi Yamauchi as Pres­i­dent and CEO of Nin­ten­do. The Wii and the 3DS are both projects he start­ed as Pres­i­dent.
Satoshi Tajiri is not a name most peo­ple know, in fact, before I start­ed doing research for this project it was a name I was unfa­mil­iar with, but one every­one should start to rec­og­nize. He is the founder of Game Freak and cre­ator of a game that would car­ry Nintendo’s hand­helds for years to come, Poké­mon. The orig­i­nal Poké­mon Red and Blue (Green in Japan) would almost bank­rupt Game Freak and took over 6 years to pro­duce. The game con­cept was based around Tajiri’s child­hood hob­by of bug col­lect­ing. What made Tajiri choose the Game Boy was the abil­i­ty to con­nect and share, via the trans­fer cable. In 1998, Poké­mon launched in North Amer­i­ca to an amaz­ing suc­cess, reviv­ing the strug­gling Game Boy and giv­ing Nin­ten­do a new hit fran­chise. Tajiri put every­thing he had into this project, often work­ing 24 hour days, not being paid for the work, and hav­ing sev­er­al peo­ple quit on him when he couldn’t pay salaries. The Poké­mon fran­chise would spawn a new gen­er­a­tion on every Nin­ten­do hand­held mov­ing for­ward. Black and White was just released in Sep­tem­ber of 2010 in Japan and March of 2011 in North Amer­i­ca, total­ing the grand total of Poké­mon to 646. Since 1996 Poké­mon has spawned movies, T.V. shows, a col­lectible card game, a theme park in Japan, and oth­er mer­chan­dise. I have played the series since 1998 on my old grey brick Game Boy, Dia­mond and Pearl were the only ones I skipped over, but I am very famil­iar with the Poké­mon that came from that gen­er­a­tion. I bought the Black ver­sion the day it was released and has been a part of my dai­ly bal­anced break­fast at work, and was the first time I have chose a fire Poké­mon from the start, a deci­sion I am real­ly hap­py I made. 
We would not have Poké­mon, or the way Nin­ten­do dom­i­nates the hand­held indus­try if it wasn’t for one man, Gun­pei Yokoi. Nintendo’s great­est hard­ware engi­neer, he was respon­si­ble for bring­ing Nin­ten­do into video games with the Game & Watch hand­helds as well as devel­op­ing the hard­ware for the Don­key Kong arcade cab­i­nets. In 1989, Yokoi’s cre­ation came to life. The Game Boy was crude, resem­bling a small brick with stereo speak­ers and a mono­chrome LCD screen, but it worked. It was portable gam­ing with ease. The hand­held last­ed around 10 hours’ two AA bat­ter­ies and was bun­dled with Tetris all for just 89.99 USD. The Game Boy would go through sev­er­al iter­a­tions through­out the years and is still the best sell­ing sys­tem of all time. To note, the best sell­ing game on the Game Boy was Tetris, a pack-in; sec­ond to this was Tajiri’s Poké­mon. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, all of Yokoi’s projects were not suc­cess­ful. In 1995 Nin­ten­do and Yokoi would unveil the Vir­tu­al Boy, a sin­gle col­ored stereo­scop­ic device that stood on a bi-pod and looked like vir­tu­al real­i­ty gog­gles. It launched at 179.99 USD in August of 1995. The con­sole would be an utter fail­ure and be dis­con­tin­ued not even a year after its launch. I still have one of these ill fat­ed sys­tems; Tele­robox­er, Mario Ten­nis, and Red Alarm were my favorites main­ly because they were the only games I ever had for the sys­tem. Only 14 games were ever released for the sys­tem, the games them­selves were not poor­ly designed, at least the 3 I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty of play­ing, and the sys­tem itself was to blame for the quick demise. Star­ing at the red LED dis­plays would be headache induc­ing and lift­ing your head from the neo­prene sleeve, sur­round­ing the dis­play to keep out­side light out, was dis­ori­ent­ing. On Octo­ber 4th 1997, Yokoi was leav­ing his car to inspect the dam­age to his car, from a minor acci­dent, when he was hit and killed by a pass­ing car. Yokoi had such a great suc­cess with the Game Boy, and a great fail­ure with Vir­tu­al Boy, though every great devel­op­er would not be with­out a black mark on their career. Even the great Miyamo­to would not go with­out a fail­ure, to date; Wii Music holds a 63 on meta­crit­ic. Remem­ber Yokoi as a man whose suc­cess­es out­weigh his fail­ures. The Game Boy was and still is Nin­ten­do crown jew­el, it brought portable gam­ing to the mass­es and even when pre­sent­ed with tech­no­log­i­cal advanced oppo­nents (the Atari Lynx) pre­vailed untouched. The Vir­tu­al Boy was but a small pot hole upon Yokoi’s road of suc­cess.
Final­ly, last but cer­tain­ly not least, we hon­or the great Shigeru Miyamo­to. Often con­sid­ered the great­est man in video games, he has giv­en the world great games, for over 25 years. Miyamo­to was the cre­ator of Mario, Don­key Kong, Link, and sev­er­al oth­er key Nin­ten­do fran­chis­es, always try­ing to design games after his inter­est. Zel­da was a cre­ation out of his love of adven­tur­ing in the for­est by his child­hood home, Pik­min was cre­at­ed out of his hob­by of gar­den­ing, Nin­ten­dogs out of his love for his dog Pikku, and Wii Fit was due to his fam­i­ly being more health con­scious. Start­ing at Nin­ten­do in 1977, we would cre­ate Nintendo’s great­est arcade game of all time and only sec­ond to Pac-Man, Don­key Kong. After Don­key Kong, Miyamo­to would go on to make hit after hit on the NES, Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3; The Leg­end of Zel­da and Zel­da II: The Adven­tures of Link. In 1991 the SNES was release with a pack-in that would be called by some has the great­est Mario game ever cre­at­ed, Super Mario World. Miyamo­to would help cre­ate hits on this con­sole as well; he would have a hand in F‑Zero, Star Fox, and Super Mario RPG: Leg­end of the Sev­en Stars. Nintendo’s next con­sole the Nin­ten­do 64 would be the great­est can­vas dis­play­ing Miyamoto’s art. Miyamo­to would cre­ate two games that have stood the test of time; Super Mario 64 and The Leg­end of Zel­da: Oca­ri­na of Time. Though Miyamo­to would go on and cre­ate Luigi’s Man­sion, Pik­min 1&2, Nin­ten­dogs, Wii Fit, and pro­duce Super Mario Galaxy 1&2, noth­ing has set his bar high­er than his 64 titles. I could go on and on about how great Miyamoto’s games are, but my words do not give them jus­tice. He receives stand­ing ova­tions at con­ven­tions and brings a sense of child hood fun to his pre­sen­ta­tions. The most renowned video game mak­er in the world and well deserv­ing of the title and his games will nev­er cease to cap­ture the imag­i­na­tion of peo­ple of all ages.
Thank you all for read­ing this week and post­ing your com­ments they have all been appre­ci­at­ed. Thanks to sound­man for bring­ing me on to the site and giv­ing me free reign of my top­ics, Ace­of­Nades for intro­duc­ing me to sound­man and for all the long wind­ed nerd relat­ed dis­cus­sions at work, and I would like to thank Hol­ly, my girl­friend, for always sup­port­ing my writ­ing and not only sup­port my pas­sion for gam­ing but being a part of it as well. To all my friends and fam­i­ly thank you for your sup­port. I hope every­one that reads this week’s arti­cles to Japan’s great­est design­ers will think of them, their fam­i­lies and every­one affect­ed by the unthink­able dev­as­ta­tion that has occurred. Again thank you for read­ing and I hope to do more gam­ing his­to­ry pieces in the not so dis­tant future.


  1. CharcoalCoyote - March 27, 2011 7:15 am

    No mat­ter how much they may pro­duce “Kid­dy games”, Nin­ten­do will always be my home­boys. I own every sin­gle Nin­ten­do con­sole (except for the vir­tu­al boy, we don’t like to talk about that one), and they’ve always had qual­i­ty games. Almost every game that I’ve played heav­i­ly grow­ing up has been a Nin­ten­do game. I’m get­ting a 3DS and I have high hopes for what­ev­er con­sole they put out next (I just hope it isn’t a Wiipeat.)

  2. matt - March 27, 2011 9:03 pm

    Rick your whole japan week thing was pure was very inter­est­ing to read great job and when u get time i would go ahead and do a month to japan they got gam­ing start­ed for every­one

  3. thsoundman - March 27, 2011 9:58 pm

    I have to agree your Japan week was awe­some. I am extreme­ly hap­py with the turnout that this has gen­er­at­ed. I think you should con­tin­ue this in oth­er facets as well. You are on a roll my friend!

  4. T8 - March 28, 2011 7:32 am

    I was nev­er a huge nin­ten­do fan boy. I enjoyed play­ing my N64 when it came out and it had its place with mario par­ty for times when friends came over, but i always man­aged to go back to my com­put­er roots. Either way the his­to­ry and the info in the WHOLE japan week write ups were awe­some and extreme­ly fun to read. :applause: CAB


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