Super Mario Galaxy 2

Introduction

Though Nintendo paved the way for 3D gaming with Super Mario 64 in 1996, the fifth console generation saw them gradually lose their dominance as a result of driving away a significant portion of their third-party support. This downward spiral continued into the sixth console generation when Sony’s PlayStation 2 proceeded to dominate its competition. Even the most critically acclaimed GameCube titles such as Metroid Prime and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker did nothing to turn the tides in Nintendo’s favor. To make matters even worse, Nintendo began gaining a reputation as a kiddie company as a result of mainstream releases on the PlayStation and Microsoft’s Xbox gearing toward a more mature audience. In order to remain in the business, Nintendo realized they had to do something drastic. Their lifeline came in the form of the Nintendo Wii in 2006. With its novel motion controls, the Wii soon found itself outselling its more technically capable competition when it enticed gamers and non-gamers alike.

Though an instant bestseller, those who had been following Nintendo since the NES days were asking the same question. Where is Mario? Nintendo’s mascot had, without fail, featured in some way in every one of the venerable company’s home console releases. Even the GameCube had Luigi’s Mansion, which cast his brother in the lead role, yet when the Wii launched, he was nowhere to be seen. Fans received their answer shortly after the Wii’s launch: Mario was to star in a game that would see him travel the cosmos. The name of the game was Super Mario Galaxy. When it debuted in 2007, the reception was unlike anything the franchise had seen before. It was commonly said that while Super Mario 64 invented 3D platforming, Super Mario Galaxy perfected it. Yoshiaki Koizumi again found himself in the lead director’s chair, and after adding a personal, auteur touch, created one of the most beloved games of its generation.

As soon as Nintendo’s Tokyo branch finished work on Super Mario Galaxy, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto approached the team and suggested they should produce a follow-up. Originally, the team was going to create a version of Super Mario Galaxy that featured slight variations its planets in a manner reminiscent of the Master Quest edition of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Because it wasn’t intended to be a true sequel, their tentative titles for this game were Super Mario Galaxy More and Super Mario Galaxy 1.5, and they expected it to be finished in a year’s time. At first, they implemented elements that were scrapped from Super Mario Galaxy. Before they knew it, they were adding so many new ideas to the game that they decided the end product should be a fully-fledged sequel. Joined by one of the series’ central figures, Takashi Tezuka, Yoshiaki Koizumi set forth with the Nintendo EAD Tokyo team once more to make it into reality. To reflect this change, the game was redubbed Super Mario Galaxy 2.

By the seventh console generation, gamers accepted that every one of Nintendo’s consoles would boast but a single mainline Mario release. This was especially obvious when observing the series’ 3D installments. The Nintendo 64 had Super Mario 64 while the GameCube saw the debut of Super Mario Sunshine – neither installment would receive a direct sequel. However, this could be seen as early as the fourth console generation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being more of a standalone spinoff than a true sequel to Super Mario World. The fans read the writing on the wall, and with Super Mario Galaxy being such a monumental game, they assumed they had seen the last of Nintendo’s mascot for the rest of the Wii’s lifespan. They could never have expected Nintendo to unveil the existence of a sequel to Super Mario Galaxy during the Electronic Entertainment Expo of 2009 in Mr. Miyamoto’s private conference. He even stated that the game would have 95%-99% new features – the rest being holdovers from Super Mario Galaxy.

Although Mr. Miyamoto stated the game was nearing completion, Super Mario Galaxy 2 would eventually be delayed to 2010 because New Super Mario Bros. Wii had been released in late 2009. The game became playable for the first time during the Nintendo Media Summit in February of 2010 shortly after a second trailer had been released. Here, its North American release date was revealed: May 23, 2010. Seeing a release in other regions later in the year, and in the case of South Korea, early 2011, Super Mario Galaxy 2 enjoyed the same level of universal acclaim as its predecessor. It is now considered one of the greatest games of all time, and many have declared it the single greatest entry in the Wii’s library. Could Super Mario Galaxy 2 have possibly surpassed such an acclaimed title?

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Super Mario Sunshine

Introduction

Several attempts at three-dimensional gaming had been attempted since the medium’s inception. Many games from the eighties would place players in a maze of flat, two-dimensional building blocks to create the illusion of depth. Though this was serviceable for its time, that the player character could only ever turn at 90 degree angles betrayed the strict technical limitations the developers were saddled with. In the nineties, id Software would light up the PC gaming scene when they released Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. Though not terribly different from its spiritual predecessors in how it used clever programming techniques to project the illusion of 3D, id’s effort compelled other development teams to begin seriously consider where the medium should go from there. This sentiment was punctuated with id’s release of Doom the following year.

Though many companies would try their hand at 3D gaming with varying degrees of success, it was Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka, and Yoshiaki Koizumi of Nintendo who were the first to successfully explore this uncharted territory in the form of Super Mario 64 in 1996. The sheer amount of critical acclaim it received forever changed the face of the gaming industry. Suddenly, 3D gaming went from being considered a pie-in-the-sky scenario to the industry standard in less than a year’s time. Such was the extent of its impact that many subtle techniques from Nintendo’s groundbreaking effort are still being employed today. Becoming the Nintendo 64’s bestselling game with eleven million copies sold, a sequel seemed inevitable.

As early as January of 1997, Shigeru Miyamoto talked about a sequel to Super Mario 64, tentatively entitling it Super Mario 128. As Nintendo put the finishing touches on the Nintendo 64, they included a slot at the bottom of the console that would allow the use of peripherals. The most prominent one they were in the process of developing was the 64DD (Dynamic Drive). In a manner similar to the Famicom Disk System, the 64DD would allow the Nintendo 64 to utilize a new form of storage media. It was to feature a real-time clock for persistent game world design and afford players many new freedoms. They could rewrite data and create movies, animations, and even their own characters. Nearing the end of 1997, Super Mario 128 was renamed Super Mario 64-2. Much like how Super Mario 64 before it generated interest in the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64-2 was to be the 64DD’s premier title. However, the 64DD was a commercial failure when it launched in December of 1999, only selling 15,000 units in total. By the end of its short run in February of 2001, only ten original titles had been released for the unit. Any other proposed title for the unit was reformatted into a Nintendo 64 cartridge, ported to future consoles, or cancelled outright. Among the titles to suffer the last fate was Super Mario 64-2.

Despite this setback, Nintendo wasn’t ready to give up on a potential follow-up to Super Mario 64. During their SpaceWorld event in August of 2000, they unveiled a technology demo to showcase their then-upcoming GameCube console. The project they elected to demonstrate was a Mario game – once again under the working title Super Mario 128. Taking its proposed name literally, the GameCube’s technical capabilities were demonstrated when it rendered multiple Mario models at once, eventually reaching 128 of them.

One year later, at the following SpaceWorld event, fans learned that Super Mario 128 had undergone a complete reinterpretation. Gone was Princess Peach’s iconic castle. Instead, a tropical paradise awaited players. To reflect this change, the game was now titled Super Mario Sunshine. It was notably the first time Yoshiaki Koizumi found himself in the lead director’s chair. The first great impression he made on his superiors was when he wrote the memorable scenario for The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. He worked his way up from there, and his ten-year-long apprenticeship culminated in him getting to lead in the creation of the newest Mario installment. The game saw its release in 2002. Though not as impactful as Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine was a well-respected game in its own right, having little trouble amassing critical acclaim and becoming one the console’s bestselling titles. Did Mr. Koizumi’s first shot as the lead director result in a classic experience?

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Super Mario 64

Introduction

Although the launch of the Super Famicom, known as the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) internationally, was a success, sales were affected by two factors. While the Famicom (NES) went a majority of its life unchallenged, the fourth saw the rise of a fierce challenger in the form of Sega. Owing to a successful marketing campaign revolving around their mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, and his eponymous 1991 debut game, Sega successfully tapped into the zeitgeist of the era, proving they could keep pace with the ostensibly out-of-fashion Nintendo. This could be seen in how Super Mario World was received. Though popular even when it was released in 1990, with no fewer than three predecessors, people dismissed it as another Mario title. On top of this, a failed business deal between Nintendo and Sony involving a CD-ROM player add-on to the SNES resulted in the latter company themselves entering the console race with their inaugural PlayStation console in 1994. Said console proved to be highly popular – especially once prominent third-party developers such as Konami and Capcom, dissatisfied with Nintendo’s draconian licensing policies, began releasing new installments of their big-name franchises on Sony’s platform.

The other factor that caused Nintendo’s sales to slump was something none of these companies had control over: the economy. Throughout second half of the twentieth century, Japan’s economy appeared to be a juggernaut with many Westerners speculating that they would effectively take over the world. This eventually proved not to be the case. In late 1991, the Japanese asset price bubble collapsed, and a devastating recession ensued.

There were numerous causes behind this recession. One of the biggest catalysts was when the Bank of Japan, attempting to keep inflation in check, raised inter-bank lending rates. Before then, the banks were lending more with barely any regard for the borrowers’ credibility. Their drastic actions caused the bubble to burst, and the stock market crashed, leaving banks and insurance companies with several books’ worth of bad debt. The period that followed would eventually be known as the Lost Decade with some economists believing it to have lasted long enough to warrant being called the Lost Score. With Nintendo facing not one, but two companies that were more than a match for them while also feeling the effects of an inescapable recession, they realized they needed to do something drastic to remain in the game.

The Sunnyvale, California-based company Silicon Graphics, Inc. (SGI), had prided themselves by leading the pack in graphics visualization and supercomputing. They were particularly interested in expanding their business, adapting their pioneering technology so that it could reach a higher volume of consumer products. Observing the impressive momentum of the video game industry, they felt it to be the ideal starting point. Their lasted invention had them use the MIPS R4000 family of CPUs as a base, creating something that used only a fraction of the resources. SGI founder Jim Clark originally offered a proposal to Sega of America CEO Tom Kalinske. If they declined, Nintendo would be the next candidate in line. The exact details of the subsequent negotiations have been lost. It has been claimed that Mr. Kalinske and a colleague of his were impressed with SGI’s prototype only for engineers to uncover multiple hardware issues. While they were ultimately resolved, Sega decided against SGI’s design. It’s also said that the real reason they partnered with Nintendo was because they, unlike Sega, were willing to license the technology on a non-exclusive basis, thus expanding SGI’s consumer base to a far greater degree if their newest console became a hit. Regardless, a partnership was made, and when Jim Clark met with Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi in early 1993, Project Reality had begun. The eventual result would be the console to succeed the Super Famicom.

The first result from Project Reality was the Onyx supercomputer, which was priced anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 USD. The system’s controller was a modified SNES controller outfitted with an analogy joystick and “Z” trigger. The secrecy was such that when LucasArts expressed interest in making a game for the console’s impending launch, the prototype controller had to be placed in a cardboard box as the developers used it.

In June of 1994, Nintendo announced the new name of the unfinished console: the “Ultra 64”. Its design was unveiled for the first time shortly thereafter. The console was so named because it was to be the world’s first 64-bit gaming system. Atari had claimed that their Jaguar console was the first 64-bit gaming system. In reality, it only had a general 64-bit architecture, utilizing two 32-bit RISC processors along with a 16/32-bit Motorola 68000. For good measure, the Ultra 64 was cited in marketing campaigns as more powerful than the computers used for the Apollo 11 mission. Especially controversial was the decision for the console to retain ROM cartridges as opposed to utilizing the superior storage capabilities of the CD-ROM format, which drew much speculation from the press.

Some time after this, the console was to be called the “Ultra Famicom” domestically and “Ultra Nintendo 64” abroad. It’s rumored that the name was changed to avoid legal action by Konami. They had ownership of the Ultra Games trademark, a shell corporation used to circumvent Nintendo’s strict policies limiting the number of third-party releases that could be published in the United States during the NES era. Nintendo themselves claimed that the trademark issues were not a factor. However, they wanted to establish a single worldwide brand and logo for their third console, so these names canceled. The name they chose, the Nintendo 64, was proposed by Shigesato Itoi, a famous copywriter and creator of two beloved classics: Earthbound Beginnings and its sequel, Earthbound. With a collective of elite developers nicknamed the Dream Team, the Nintendo 64 project was ready to begin.

The console was formally unveiled in a playable form in November of 1995 at Nintendo’s seventh annual Shoshinkai trade show. As the hordes of schoolkids huddling around in the cold outside indicated, the anticipation for Nintendo’s newest console was extremely high. The Nintendo 64 was originally slated to be released by Christmas of 1995, but during the previous May, Nintendo delayed the launch to April of 1996. They claimed they needed more time for the software to mature and for third-party developers to become interested in producing games for it, though an engineer cited the hardware’s underperformance in playtesting sessions. As a result, the console’s launch was delayed again – this time to June 23, 1996. To placate potentially impatient fans, Nintendo ran ads with slogans such as “Wait for it…” and “Is it worth the wait? Only if you want the best!”

Similar to the case with their previous console, Nintendo knew full well that, as impressive as the new machine might be, it would be nothing for want of a selection of impressive launch titles. Once again, Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, the two most important names behind the Mario franchise were willing to step up to the plate. Joined by Yoshiaki Koizumi, who had recently cut his teeth writing the scenario for The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, the three were determined to make the Nintendo 64’s launch impactful.

As early as 1991, Mr. Miyamoto conceived the idea of a 3D Mario game as he worked on the SNES rail shooter Star Fox. He had considered using the Super FX chip to develop a game called Super Mario FX. It was to have gameplay revolving around an entire world in miniature similar to that of miniature trains. He reformulated the idea as the Nintendo 64 was being developed, though not because of its superior graphical capabilities. Instead, he observed the controller’s greater number of buttons and felt it would allow for more advanced gameplay. In accordance to the global branding of their newest console, the new game was to be called Super Mario 64. The scope of the project spanned three years. One year was spent designing the concept while two were allotted to directly work on the software. Guiding Mr. Miyamoto throughout this game’s development was the drive to include more details than any of its predecessors. He felt the style made the game play as a 3D interactive cartoon.

Information about Super Mario 64 was leaked in November of 1995. A playable version was presented days later. Because the game was only halfway completed by this point, Nintendo of American chairman Howard Lincoln once said that Mr. Miyamoto’s desire to add more to the game was a factor in the decision to delay the Nintendo 64’s launch. Indeed, Mr. Yamauchi, realizing just how observant players are, didn’t wish for the integrity of Mr. Miyamoto’s game to be compromised. When asked for an additional two months to work on the game, he granted the request without questioning it.

Super Mario 64 was released on the promised date of June 23, 1996 alongside the Nintendo 64 itself. While the Mario franchise had been no stranger to critical acclaim, the reception of Super Mario 64 seemed to trivialize that of its predecessors. As one of the medium’s first successful 3D platforming games, Super Mario 64 is considered one of the medium’s most important benchmarks. Such was the scope of its influence that it could be said to have singlehandedly effected the 3D video game leap. As the title often cited as ground zero for 3D gaming, was Super Mario 64 able to stand the test of time?

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Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Introduction

Though somewhat overshadowed by Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog, a game starring a character more in tune with the zeitgeist of the early nineties, Super Mario World was a success upon its 1990 release. While dismissed as just another Mario game, when enthusiasts began giving it the time of day, they realized it was so much more than that. It and its predecessor, Super Mario Bros. 3, are now considered some of the best games ever made. Owing to its strong launch titles, Super Mario World included, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) found itself being able to keep pace with the Sega Mega Drive – or the Genesis as it was known in North America.

While developing Super Mario World, series creator Shigeru Miyamoto introduced a character named Yoshi. He was a dinosaur whom Mario could ride like a horse. Fellow developer Takeshi Tezuka speculated that Mr. Miyamoto’s fondness for country and Western themes played a role in Yoshi’s creation. In fact, Mr. Miyamoto had envisioned Mario with a dinosaur companion as early as when he worked on Super Mario Bros. in the mid-eighties, but the technical limitations of the Famicom made this idea impossible. Almost immediately after his introduction, Yoshi become one of the series’ most popular characters. Over the next few years, Yoshi was prominently featured in various spinoff titles. One such title was Yoshi’s Cookie, a puzzle game that even featured a special mode designed by Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov. Another was Yoshi’s Safari, a rail shooter that utilized the Super Scope, the successor to the NES Zapper.

As it turned out, Yoshi’s striking popularity extended to his creator as well, for Mr. Miyamoto thought about making him the series’ protagonist. However, he did not particularly care for other games featuring Yoshi’s name, and strove to make something more authentic. He presented his idea to Nintendo’s marketing department. To his surprise, they rejected his proposal. In 1994, Nintendo had published and released Donkey Kong Country, which was developed by the England-based developer Rare. Its pre-rendered graphics allowed it to stand out from the traditional, comparatively simplistic art style associated with the Mario series. Frustrated at the marketing executives, Mr. Miyamoto felt they were more interested in superior hardware than art. He even went as far as denouncing Donkey Kong Country, feeling it proved that “players will put up with mediocre gameplay as long as the art is good.”

As something of an act of rebellion, Mr. Miyamoto took the cartoonish art style for which the Mario franchise was known and escalated it. The result was a hand-drawn, crayon style reminiscent of children’s drawings. To achieve this effect, artists drew graphics by hand, scanned them, and approximated them down to the exact pixel. When he presented this revised art style to the marketing department, they accepted it. The game had actually been in development in various forms for four years, allowing the team to add what he described as “lots of magic tricks”.

This new game was released domestically in Japan in August of 1995 under the name Super Mario: Yoshi’s Island. It was released in the West the following October with the slight name change Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Though it wasn’t as financially successful as Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island gained a dedicated following of its own. It too became one of the most beloved titles on the Super NES. In fact, some people have even gone as far as claiming it to be the superior effort to Super Mario World, citing is unique gameplay, art, and sound design. How does Yoshi’s Island fare in the face of its impressive predecessor?

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Super Mario World

Introduction

Nintendo’s Family Computer, or Famicom, proceeded to dominate the console market after its 1983 launch. Sega had entered the market, releasing their own 8-bit console, the Master System, to directly compete with Nintendo, but they failed to even slow them down. This began to change in 1987 when NEC Corporation launched the PC Engine – later dubbed the TurboGrafx-16 internationally. The following year, Sega launched the Mega Drive, the 16-bit successor to their Master System. Though Nintendo’s executives were not in a hurry to design a new console, they reconsidered when they observed their market dominance beginning to slip.

It was up to Masayuki Uemura, the designer of the Famicom, to come up with something even greater. Fortunately, his newest creation, the Super Famicom, was ready to go a mere three years after the launch of the PC Engine. It was an immediate success with Nintendo’s initial shipment of 300,000 units selling out in a matter of hours. In fact, it caused such a social disturbance around shopping centers that the Japanese government stepped in, asking developers to only launch consoles on weekends to avoid any future chaos. A few sources even state that this hot commodity managed to capture the attention of the yakuza, leading Nintendo to ship the consoles at night to avoid any potential interceptions.

Naturally, consoles are nothing without their games, and after the success of Super Mario Bros. 3, Takashi Tezuka and Shigeru Miyamoto were determined to have the console make a good first impression on launch day. Joined by graphics designer Shigefumi Hino, they began work on a new Mario installment. The team consisted of ten people, most of whom had experience working on Super Mario Bros. Though Mr. Tezuka was the director once again, the core team said that Mr. Miyamoto wielded the most authority during the development cycle.

The staff members understandably had their reservations about the new hardware, anticipating they would have difficulties working with it. Mr. Tezuka stated that the software tools had not been fully developed. In other words, much like with Super Mario Bros., they found themselves for want of a style guide. As an experiment, they ported Super Mario Bros. 3 to the Super Famicom. They decided it felt like the same game in spite of its improved colors and sprites. Mr. Miyamoto realized then that their new goal was to use this improved hardware to create something entirely new. The game saw the light of day alongside the Super Famicom itself in November of 1990 under the name Super Mario World: Super Mario Bros. 4.

The Super Famicom was slated for a North American release the following year. Keeping consistent with its predecessor’s name, it would become the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Super NES or SNES) overseas. Super Mario World, dropping the Super Mario Bros. 4 subtitle, was to be one of the console’s launch titles abroad as well. Though both Super Mario World and the platform on which it was released proved to be a success, Nintendo found themselves facing a particularly fierce competitor. Sega brought the Mega Drive to North America where it was known as the Genesis. One of their games, Sonic the Hedgehog, ended up being their console’s biggest hit. The hip, cool title character was popular with children and teens, playing up to the era’s zeitgeist.

Not pictured: Maturity

Sega of America didn’t stop at extensively marketing Sonic the Hedgehog. They claimed theirs was the superior console due to it having what they referred to as “blast processing”, and even went as far as outright insulting Nintendo and, by extension, Super Mario World. Thus began one of the fiercest and most famous video game rivalries of its day. As a result of the popularity of Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World was dismissed in many circles as just another Mario game. Meanwhile, with its fast-paced gameplay, Sonic the Hedgehog was the title to own in 1991.

However, as is the case in many stories like this, the all-seeing, all-knowing power of hindsight granted Super Mario World a new lease on life. Though Sonic the Hedgehog is still considered a classic, Super Mario World is the game people would be more likely to find on a given list detailing the greatest of all time. On top of that, Mr. Miyamoto himself considered Super Mario World his personal favorite Mario game. Having a chance to fully establish its legacy, did Super Mario World manage to ultimately triumph over its flashier competition?

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Super Mario Bros. 3

Introduction

With Super Mario Bros., Nintendo had achieved a level of success that made their impressive arcade presence seem quaint by comparison. When it took on a life of its own, a sequel was inevitable. Both domestically and internationally, a game named Super Mario Bros. 2 surfaced in 1986 and 1988 respectively. The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, which would eventually be dubbed Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels in the West, was rejected by Nintendo of America both for being overly similar to the original and unreasonably difficult. This prompted Nintendo to create an easier Mario game for audiences abroad, which would also be repurposed mid-development as a promotional title for Fuji Television dubbed Dream Factory: Doki Doki Panic. Western enthusiasts at the time had little way of knowing that what they got was a different game reworked to include Mario characters. This in no way, shape, or form stopped the game released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in the West to become a success, eventually moving over ten million units.

Meanwhile, shortly after the release of The Lost Levels in 1986, a ten-person team helmed by Takashi Tezuka known as Nintendo Entertainment Analysis and Development began work on a follow-up. Unlike The Lost Levels, which was considered by reviewers at the time to be frustratingly difficult, this new installment would welcome players of varying skill levels. Mr. Tezuka also wanted to overhaul everything from the characters’ sprites to their movesets. To this end, the programmers had what they called a “Map Room”. True to its name, it was a long, narrow meeting room in which they spent the entire day looking at sheet papers, programming map data. By the end of development, anywhere from twenty to thirty people worked on the game compared to the seven or eight who worked on the original.

The game was slated for a domestic release in the Spring of 1988, but because the developers wanted to add many new features, Nintendo delayed it to the following October. Nintendo was willing to export the game to the West, but this plan quickly encountered a problem. A shortage of ROM chips along with Nintendo’s preparation of the Western Super Mario Bros. 2 prevented them from exporting games such as Zelda II: The Adventure of Link to North America according to their original schedules.

However, the delay proved to be a blessing in disguise. In 1989 as they were preparing to export the latest Mario game, Tom Pollack of Universal Studios approached Nintendo of America’s marketing department with an interesting proposition. Inspired by Nintendo game competitions, he wished to direct a film about them. Specifically, Mr. Pollack envisioned a video game version of Tommy, a famous rock opera released by The Who in 1969 about a deaf, blind, and mute child inexplicably skilled at pinball. Nintendo agreed to these terms, licensing their products to be included in this film. The film, released in December of 1989, would be known as The Wizard.

The plot of the film can be summed up thusly. A boy named Jimmy Woods suffers from PTSD after the death of his twin sister two years prior. He is dead-set on going to California for unknown reasons and has been committed to a mental institute. This spurs his older brother, Corey to sneak Jimmy out and run away from home. After discovering his younger brother’s innate skill for video games, they travel to a tournament being held in Universal Studios Hollywood to compete for a grand prize of $50,000.

Despite being panned by critics, The Wizard was a box office success, making double its budget back in ticket sales. Any enthusiast who watched the film could point out its myriad factual errors. Nonetheless, The Wizard would become a cult classic. Particularly memorable was the dramatic, climactic reveal of a game North American players had no idea existed until then. That game was none other than Super Mario Bros. 3. Nintendo had seen this film as the perfect opportunity to promote the newest Mario game and with the success of The Wizard, the enthusiasm could not have been greater. Two months later, those excited fans would get the opportunity to finally play it for themselves. The promotional campaign was a complete success, for Super Mario Bros. 3 went on to sell over seventeen-million copies worldwide. Even decades after the fact, critics considered Super Mario Bros. 3 one of the finest games ever made. With one of the most impressive legacies in the medium, does Super Mario Bros. 3 manage to stand on equal footing alongside the masterpieces it inspired?

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Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels

Introduction

Nintendo’s Famicom console had sold 2.5 million units by the time they looked to international markets. President Hiroshi Yamauchi was particularly interested in marketing to North America, being where the medium originated in the first place. The success of the Atari 2600 console suggested there was a market there just waiting to be tapped into. However, the games console market was suffering from the effects of the industry’s 1983 crash. To have any chance of selling their console abroad, Nintendo had to market their console as an entertainment system instead. Thus, the Famicom became the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Among its launch titles in North America was Super Mario Bros. Whatever success the console may have enjoyed up until then was eclipsed by the sales following the release of Super Mario Bros. A mere four months later, tens of millions of consoles were sold, and the seemingly interminable North American recession came to an end.

As Super Mario Bros. was being developed, Nintendo also worked on a coin-operated arcade machine dubbed the VS. System. One of the games to be featured in this system was a port of Super Mario Bros. called Vs. Super Mario Bros. Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, the two main minds behind Super Mario Bros., took this opportunity to experiment with new, challenging level designs. Though the original game is considered a classic, certain level designs ended up being reused. By the time Vs. Super Mario Bros. made its debut, all of the repeated stages had been replaced with original designs. Enjoying these new stages, they sought to give fans of the original game a sequel that would push their skills even further. By this point, Mr. Miyamoto found himself leading Nintendo’s fourth R&D division, working on a game to be titled The Legend of Zelda. Lacking the time to design new games by himself, Mr. Tezuka found himself in the director’s chair for the first time in his career. He collaborated with Mr. Miyamoto’s team, using the original’s engine to create this sequel.

This game, simply titled Super Mario Bros. 2, was released in June of 1986 for the Famicom Disk System – an add-on for the Famicom that utilized floppy disks in lieu of cartridges. Exactly how well it would have fared in the West is unknown because the newly established Nintendo of America declined its release. Howard Phillips, the man in charge of evaluating games for Nintendo of America’s president, deemed Super Mario Bros. 2 unfairly difficult. He believed that “not having fun is bad when you’re a company selling fun”. A game named Super Mario Bros. 2 surfaced in the United States shortly thereafter, but Western enthusiasts would have no idea that it was, in reality, a retrofitted version of one of Nintendo’s other titles.

It wouldn’t be until the year 1993 that the original Super Mario Bros. 2 saw the light of day in the West. By this point, Nintendo had released the Super Famicom – the successor to the Famicom and known as the Super NES internationally. In its earliest phases, the console was going to be backwards-compatible. When the associated costs rendered this effort infeasible, Nintendo opted to remake the Mario installments that debuted on the NES in a compilation named Super Mario All-Stars. This included the Western Super Mario Bros. 2, which was renamed Super Mario USA domestically. Conversely, the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 was renamed Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels for its international debut. How does the original Super Mario Bros. 2 compare in the face of its predecessor’s legacy?

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Super Mario Bros.

Introduction

In an attempt to break into the North American gaming market, the president of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi, requested employee Shigeru Miyamoto to helm a new project. Being the first time he ever found himself designing a game, Mr. Miyamoto took cues from various inspirations such as Popeye, Beauty and the Beast, and King Kong. The result was the 1981 arcade hit Donkey Kong, which fulfilled Mr. Yamauchi’s goal when it proved popular in the United States and Canada. As a testament to its success, by June of 1982, it had sold 60,000 cabinets, earning a profit of $180 million.

As the arcade scene was enjoying the height of its popularity, the video game market as a whole began to experience periods of rapid growth. Much of this growth could be attributed to the success of the Atari 2600 – the first successful console to utilize interchangeable cartridges. Many third-party developers sought to exploit this rapidly growing industry – Nintendo among them. Suddenly, Donkey Kong saw itself ported and packaged with the ColecoVision – one of the Atari 2600’s top competitors. However, Nintendo did not intend to remain a third-party developer for long.

Since 1980, designer Masayuki Uemura had been leading Nintendo’s R&D team with the intent to create a gaming system of their own. Their aim was for their product to be less expensive than its competitors while also performing at a level no one could match in the foreseeable future. In order to keep costs low, the team opted against using keyboards, modems, or floppy disks. If they were to develop any add-ons, a 15-pin expansion port connection could allow the use of peripheral devices. Having found success with his Game & Watch product line, which proposed the novel concept of portability in the medium, Gunpei Yokoi designed the console’s controller. The controls on a Game & Watch console were intended to replace the bulky joysticks found on arcade cabinets.

The console, dubbed the Family Computer or Famicom, launched on July 15, 1983. Its launch titles included ports of Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Junior, and Popeye. The Famicom sold well, but consumers quickly began complaining about the units freezing during gameplay. Upon discovering a faulty circuit, Nintendo recalled all of the consoles, suspending production until the issue was resolved. This cost the company millions of dollars. Despite this setback, they reissued the console with a new motherboard. This allowed the Famicom to outsell its primary competitor at the time: the Sega SG-1000. As 1984 drew to a close, Nintendo had sold over 2.5 million units. In the face of this success there was only one logical thing to do: turn their attention to markets abroad.

This proved to be easier said than done. One of the biggest obstacles Nintendo faced was convincing a skeptical public to adopt their system. The reason behind their potential consumers’ lack of faith in the industry stemmed from an event retrospectively dubbed the Video Game Crash of 1983. The Japanese themselves referred to it as the Atari Shock, which was an apt name given that company’s role in the recession. Popular culture attributes the crash to two high-profile disasters – the subpar Atari 2600 port of Pac-Man and the adaptation of E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the latter of which became one of the most infamous titles in the medium. However, it’s inaccurate to assume those two games were the sole cause of the crash. If anything, they were symptoms of larger problem the medium as a whole was facing: oversaturation. Because the idea of publishers was a largely foreign concept in gaming at the time, there were few barriers to entry. Coupled with no quick method of determining whether or not a given game adorning store shelves was a quality product, consumers collectively turned their back on consoles.

Nintendo attempted to negotiate with Atari to release the Famicom outside of Japan where it would be known as the Nintendo Enhanced Video System. The companies appeared to have reached an agreement, and the contract papers were to be signed at the 1983 Summer Consumer Electronics Show. However, at the last minute, Atari refused to sign. Coleco, one of their primary competitors, demonstrated a prototype of Donkey Kong for their upcoming Coleco Adam computer system. Though a port had appeared on their earlier console, the ColecoVision, Atari had the exclusive distribution rights in the computer market. Atari then perceived this as Nintendo dealing with Coleco behind their backs. The issue was cleared up, but Atari’s financial problems as a result of the crash ensured they could not proceed with the deal. With nobody willing or able to distribute their product in North America, Nintendo had no choice but to proceed alone.

Mr. Yamauchi assessed that Atari collapsed because they gave too much freedom to third-party developers, swamping their system with barely functional games. They implemented a lockout chip to prevent unauthorized games from being played in their system. Unfortunately, even after taking these precautions, they had to deal with American retailers believing video games to be a passing fad. In order to have any chance of selling the Famicom to a foreign market, Nintendo had to downplay their product’s status as a video game console. Therefore, they decided to market it as a home computer called the Nintendo Advanced Video System (AVS). The AVS was to be then outfitted with a keyboard, cassette data recorder, and a cartridge containing a BASIC interpreter. Tying everything together would be a wireless infrared interface.

Nintendo showcased the AVS at the Consumer Electronics Show in the winter of 1985. Attendees were vaguely impressed, though they didn’t care for the keyboard or the wireless design. Still wary due to the 1983 crash, retailers didn’t order a single system. Even worse, the American gaming press felt the console could have any success in North America. One of the most damning statements came from the March 1985 issue of Electronic Games magazine wherein a writer felt that “this could be a miscalculation on Nintendo’s part”.

That summer, Nintendo returned to the Consumer Electronic Show with a new version of the AVS. They designed the system so it would not resemble a video game console at all, avoiding terms associated with the industry by calling the cartridges “Paks” and the console the “Control Deck”. This new model would also have a front-loading chamber as opposed to the Famicom’s top-loading slot. To further disguise its true nature, the console was renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).

Enforcing its status as a toy rather than a console were two peripherals: a toy called R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy) and a light gun. Even after R.O.B. helped generate interest, retailers were still unwilling to distribute the console. From there, Nintendo redoubled their efforts, effecting telemarketing campaigns and demonstrations in shopping malls. Retailers at last relented upon learning they wouldn’t have to pay anything upfront. After ninety days, retailers would either pay or return everything to Nintendo. With the console slated for a launch in October of 1985, they knew they would need to make their launch an impactful one. To this end, they decided to bundle each console with one of their games. Luckily for them, Shigeru Miyamoto was putting the finishing touches on a game perfect for such a monumental task. Its name was Super Mario Bros.

Released in 1985 as a North American launch title, Super Mario Bros. quickly became one of the bestselling games in history, eventually moving over 40 million copies. Both the game and the console on which it debuted are credited with reviving the North American industry from the brink of death. As one of the most famous games in existence, could Super Mario Bros. still have a rightful claim as one of the greatest of all time?

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The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

Introduction

A few years after the Game Boy’s release in 1989, a programmer from Nintendo by the name of Kazuaki Morita began working on an unsanctioned side project. Using one of the console’s first development kits, the game he created bore many similarities to The Legend of Zelda. His endeavors caught the attention of his peers, who were members of the Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development staff, and they joined him after hours, forming what they themselves described as something akin to an afterschool club. They saw potential in the experiments, and the 1991 release of the series’ third installment, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, prompted its director, Takashi Tezuka, to ask the executives for permission to develop a new entry for the handheld console. It was originally intended to be a port of A Link to the Past, but before too long, it evolved into an original game.

The game used the engine of The Frog for Whom the Bell Tolls, a 1992 title co-developed by Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, and a majority of the staff who worked on A Link to the Past returned for this installment. Entitled The Legend of Zelda: Dreaming Island, it took one and a half years to develop, debuting in June of 1993. The downgrade in visuals and hardware wound up not hampering the game’s reception in any way, as it received positive reviews from critics across the board, and millions of copies were sold. It saw its Western release later in the year under the name The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. The dual success of this game both domestically and overseas were such that it bolstered Game Boy sales by nearly thirteen percent. It also notably remained on bestseller lists for more than ninety months after its release – a feat very few games in the medium’s history have accomplished. From this, it could be extrapolated that Link’s Awakening had an enduring legacy which made people want to play it for themselves years after its debut. To this day, it’s considered one of the greatest games ever made, with some people citing it as a superior effort to even the beloved A Link to the Past. Working with far more restrictive hardware limitations, was Mr. Tezuka and his team truly translate a then-peerless experience to the Game Boy?

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