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.