From Trading Cards to Cheap Motels to Donkey Kong: The History of Nintendo

Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan
Reviewed by Andrew H.

It’s hard to imagine a world without the Mario Bros, but it was never a sure bet. Nintendo was a struggling arcade company in the 1980s known more for their cheap knock offs rather than genre-defining innovations.

This book by Jeff Ryan illuminates Nintendo’s path to dominance. Nintendo had been a trading card company since the 1800s, but were stuck in obscurity and financial dire straits. They even experimented with Love Motels (cheap rooms that could be rented by the hour for the purposes of, well, love). That business model failed.

It wasn’t until Nintendo’s CEO plucked a shaggy-haired non-programmer named Shigeru Miyamoto from the bottom ranks of Nintendo to design a game that would become a sure-fire hit in America that the company really made its mark.

What he designed was Donkey Kong, a game without any guns or violence that dominated the arcade market. It wasn’t a sure-fire bet but it was the best bet they had and it worked. Donkey Kong introduced Super Mario into the world as Jumpman and a legend was born. Super Mario is now more recognizable and ubiquitous than Mickey Mouse, and Nintendo went from being a company aimed for the dustbin to defining the home console video game market.

Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered the World is a fun read for any fan of video games and even contains a nugget of Texas trivia starring George W. Bush.

Copies of Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered the World are available on our shelves and via

3 thoughts on “From Trading Cards to Cheap Motels to Donkey Kong: The History of Nintendo

  1. How does this compare to David Sheff’s classic, Game Over? Does it cover the same stuff or is there a lot of new ground to cover?

  2. David Sheff’s Game Over is a very detailed account of Nintendo’s rise. Super Mario by Jeff Ryan provides more of an overview and an anecdotal analysis of the business climate that surrounded Nintendo and its rise. Super Mario, to use gaming terms, is for the casual reader while Game Over is directed to a more hardcore audience. Both approaches have their strengths but if you’ve already read Sheff, you won’t learn anything you didn’t know up until the Nintendo 64. Super Mario goes past the 64 era and briefly accounts for Nintendo’s resurrection with the DS and the Wii while also getting into the moral and ethical issues that arise from a company dedicated to “amusement” while using cheap labor in China through Foxconn. These issues are discussed, albeit briefly. Hope this helps!

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