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August 31, 2014

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Book review: ‘Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America’

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The Details

Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America
Three stars
By Jeff Ryan, $27

Now I know how my parents feel when they read JFK bios. Let me explain: Jeff Ryan’s Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America was the first history book I’ve ever read in which I remember the events being described. Ryan says that when Sonic the Hedgehog debuted, kids thought Mario was slow and geeky by comparison. I remember having that exact thought. I remember when I had it (1992) and where I had it (Steve Katz’s house).

The book is filled with fun facts (e.g., Kirby was named after Nintendo’s superstar trial attorney John Kirby) and thoughtful observations. Example: In discussing N64’s impressive-seeming game selection, Ryan writes, “Most of the other games merely gave the illusion of choice …. N64 gamers, like SNES and NES gamers before them, wanted Nintendo [brand] games. They wanted Mario, and Link, and little else.”

My main complaint? The book’s tone. While Ryan faithfully documented Nintendo’s courtroom victories and business flops, the tone was so dull I found myself not caring. Too bad; the subject is ripe for drama.

In his “Thanks, Mario, But our Notes and Acknowledgements are in Another Castle” section, Ryan says, “this book could have been double the size.” I wish it were. I mean, Mario is a hugely important dude—he’s got a higher Q Score than Mickey Mouse—and this is the first academic book to focus on him. Inadvertently perhaps, Ryan left the door open for another writer to tackle the same subject.

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