In Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America, Jeff Ryan takes us on Nintendo’s rise from hopeless arcade company to video game superpower. Readers who grew up playing with their Gameboy on family road trips or devoted weekends to the seemingly impossible pursuit of collecting all of the stars in Super Mario 64 will breeze through this fast, fun read.

Ryan does an excellent job of exploring the intricacies of Nintendo’s major releases. Devoted fans can relive navigating the warp zone in the original Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), while casual gamers will be reminded of the differences between Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario Bros. 3. Best of all, Ryan reveals that the development of these games is as fascinating as the competitive market they were born into. Nintendo’s rise coincided with that of the rest of the video game world, and Ryan is generous in his research, going in depth with Nintendo’s competitors, such as Atari, Sega, Sony and Microsoft, to explain how each move these companies made created a domino effect that pushed the others to conquer new games, better systems and broader audiences. Remember debating whether to buy a Gameboy, durable and cheap, or a Sega Gamegear, with a bigger screen, a backlight, and various games? Ryan addresses this core debate and explains how the Gameboy won it by a landslide.

In the face of ever-improving graphics and more violent game-play, Nintendo, for the most part, stuck to its simplified model headlined by its innocent star, the squat plumber Super Mario. Ryan explains how and why this strategy worked, giving insight into Nintendo’s shrewd business practices, such as refusing to release a game until it was ready, which led to an irregular launch schedule but a consistently solid product.

Albeit a testament of Ryan’s thorough investigation, this history also leaves readers wanting more. Picking up on where other writers have begun to explore the vast world of video games (Tom Bissel’s Extra Lives comes to mind), Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America praises Nintendo without discouraging interest in Sega, Sony and Microsoft. Ryan has done a greater service than just highlight one company’s success; he has furthered interest in video games and hopefully encouraged more writers to take on the subject. What system, or game, or character will be written about next?

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