Posted by: seanmalstrom | December 8, 2011

Celebration of Miyamoto’s Retirement: Day One

And so we begin our festivities. I have come up with twelve reasons to celebrate the “retirement” of Shigeru Miyamoto. Let them be our twelve days of Christmas.

Reason One: Miyamoto Replaced Mario as Nintendo Mascot

When Nintendo began its ascent in video games, the company became associated with Donkey Kong. However, no one really knew the name of ‘Nintendo’ back then until the arrival of the NES. People referred to the NES as ‘the Nintendo’. But what was Nintendo?

Nintendo was Mario.

Nintendo’s identity was ‘The House of Mario’. When you asked people on the street what was Nintendo, they would answer, “Mario.” Not only was Super Mario Brothers and its sequels were the killer apps for the NES and SNES, Mario gave Nintendo a reputation of fantastical style. Mario became more famous than Pac-Man. Mario was to Nintendo what Mickey Mouse was to Disney. Mario was Nintendo’s mascot.

Everyone loved Mario. People were very curious about this fictional character. People asked what his last name was. How did he get into Mushroom World? What was his favorite food? (I believe the answer was pasta.) What was his childhood?  What did he do for a living? (Plumber in Brooklyn.)

Children of the NES Era will remember Mario very well. They will remember the cartoon shows, the Happy Meal toys, the novels, and even the cereal. It is important to remember that the iconic images of Mario of the 80s and early 90s were drawn by a famous Japanese cartoonist. His work breathed much life into the Mario character. It is why you don’t see any of these cool cartoon images of Mario anymore. All you see are computerized imagery which simply lacks the charm of the hand-drawn cartoons.

Throughout all this, Shigeru Miyamoto was unknown to the world. I first heard of him in the Nintendo  Power feature called “The Making of Super Mario Brothers 3”. I thought, “So he was the designer. That is cool.” And then I thought nothing more on the subject. I was interested in the game, not the people behind it. I couldn’t care less about the people behind the game anymore I cared for the details of the quirks and personality of the chef who prepares my meals.

As readers know, I stopped being a customer of console gaming for around fifteen years. When I returned with the DS and Wii, there were, naturally, many changes. But the most jarring was that Mario was no longer the mascot of Nintendo. Shigeru Miyamoto was now the mascot of Nintendo.

People now ask what was Miyamoto’s childhood like, what is his favorite food, what does he think about this or that, and endless praises and awards are rained down. The face of Nintendo ceased to be Mario and became Miyamoto. Nintendo was no longer the ‘House of Mario’ but the ‘House of Miyamoto’.

The problem with replacing the fantasy mascot with a flesh and blood mascot is that the fantasy mascot never retires. Despite his years, Mickey Mouse is still working at Disney while Walt Disney has long passed away.

At consumer shows, people used to go to Nintendo’s booth to see what Mario was doing next. Now, people go to Nintendo’s booth to see what Miyamoto was doing next. Replacing the Nintendo mascot of Mario with Miyamoto may have made it impossible for other game companies to compete (there was only one Miyamoto whereas Mario could be replicated with Sonics and Bonks), but it also transformed how Nintendo was perceived by the consumers.

The Nintendo fan means a different thing depending on which decade you are in. The Nintendo fan of the 1980s and early 1990s were fans of video games that Nintendo made (the Mario and Zelda ones). You bought Nintendo consoles because you enjoyed the games. Today, the Nintendo fan is the ‘true believer’ or cultist of Miyamoto and Nintendo’s developers as masters of creativity and gaming progress. The modern Nintendo fan is quick to state all that Nintendo did to shape gaming as we know it. But what the Nintendo fan does not say was that this ‘shaping’ was due to the commercial success of the products, not the ‘creative success’. It was only the commercial successes that became ‘influential’, not the ‘creative successes’. 2d Mario, the Wii, Gameboy, all of these were ‘influential’ because they were commercial successes. This is why Virtual Boy has no influence because of its commercial failure.

I believe the permanent switch of Nintendo’s mascot going from Mario to Miyamoto was finally set in stone with the CD-i Mario and Zelda games. Since Miyamoto did not make these Mario and and Zelda games, they were not actually Mario and Zelda games. From that point onward, Nintendo games no longer were defined as games with Mario in them but as games Miyamoto worked on. But as the decades long failure of 3d Mario shows, just because Miyamoto works on a Mario game does not mean consumers will embrace it as a Mario game. It is long overdue for the mascot of Nintendo to return to Mario and to save him from fanatical creativity outbursts of Nintendo’s employees.

With Miyamoto “retiring”, perhaps Mario can once again become the mascot of Nintendo. This would place emphasis on the quirks and personalities of Nintendo’s commercial products instead of the quirks and personalities of Nintendo’s employees. E3 would not be about Miyamoto’s “visions” but about the actual games.


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