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Masahiro Sakurai and Why I'm a Nintendo Gamer

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4th April 2012; By Maxwell

A longtime diehard got an NES for his birthday as a kid, and, immediately following the first level of
Super Mario Bros., declared himself a Nintendo fan for life. A recent convert to gaming bought her first gaming system after a massive price drop, and since experiencing glasses-free 3D, has never looked back. Two individuals epitomizing polar opposite gaming generations, yet sharing one crucial trait: an affinity for Nintendo gaming. Each of us has our own story on how we became Nintendo gamers. Mine begins with the visionary game developer known as Masahiro Sakurai.

I was first introduced to the magic of Nintendo when I was bestowed with the black beauty that is the Nintendo 64 and a copy of Banjo-Kazooie at the impressionable age of five. I'd like to say that I've been a Nintendo fan ever since that magnificent moment, but that's not true. I've liked playing games ever since, sure. But it wasn't until Super Smash Bros. entered my life that I started on a path that I continue on today and will stay on for the foreseeable future. Sakurai-san made me into a Nintendo gamer.

I could have become a Sony gamer or a Microsoft gamer or -- shudder -- a PC gamer, but instead I have platformed with the best of 'em and waggled with the rest of 'em for my entire gaming life. I've experienced the euphoric highs of being on the front lines of the motion-gaming revolution and glasses-free 3D, and suffered through the crushing lows of HD envy and third-party droughts aplenty. I'm not suggesting that Sakurai and his N64 title have forced me to stay loyal to Nintendo and never branch out to other systems, but merely that they are ultimately responsible for the games sitting on my shelves and the consoles plugged into my TVs.

You see, when I played that glorious slice of gaming goodness for the first time, I had no concept of true entertainment. With
Smash Bros., video games became more than time-killing distractions and engaging experiences. They became a part of my life in a way that I knew I would never forget. I think it was the breadth of content that did it. There was simply so much to do, and it was all built on basic mechanics that were incredibly entertaining. This wasn't a game stuffed to the gills with "fluff," it was all completely hardcore brawling. Sinking time into it was an investment that was rewarded in spades, by way of epic battles in an early form of Classic Mode; fun diversions in the two mini-games, Break the Targets and Board the Platforms; and getting to mess around with motionless CPU's in Training Mode. Despite me not utilizing multiplayer -- which is considered the series' main draw -- for anything except fighting the computer, Super Smash Bros. was the defining game of my early childhood, and indeed, served as the foundation for the rest of my gaming career.

I see now that my childhood would have been markedly different without it, to the point where the way I currently go about my everyday life would be drastically altered, and suffice it to say that I wouldn't have written this article for this site. I probably played that game for hours each day -- yes, I had no life as a kindergartener -- and yet the only character I ever unlocked was Jigglypuff. Sad, but the game had so much substance that I didn't need Luigi, Captain Falcon, and Ness to have a blast.

When my Internet-less world finally received news about the GameCube and Super Smash Bros. Melee a couple years after it came out, I just had to get to them for Christmas. Santa smiled upon me and get them I did, though not without some spoiled brat-tears when Melee was initially hidden from me so it would be the last game I opened. What followed were some amazing years of Nintendo gaming, with me being blissfully unaware that other consoles even existed. So busy was I organizing sleepovers so that I could stay up late into the night decimating my closest friends as Marth, Prince of Brawling.

Melee was essentially its predecessor on steroids. That single-player mode I was gushing over? Now just roughly a third of the solo experience; say hello to Adventure and All-Star modes. The multiplayer? I actually used it now, partly because I now had like-minded friends to play it with, and partly because it was augmented by tons of new characters, stages, items, rules...you name it. Oh, and don't get me started on the trophies, because I might start ranting about how addicting they were to amass, and just how big my collection is after all these years of hoarding.

Sakurai and his team packed as much material into the game as humanly possible, even to the detriment of their mental health (Sakurai has stated that the intense development cycle took a great toll him). Part of why I hold him responsible for my being a Nintendo gamer is because of his personal influence as director that manifests itself in virtually every aspect of his games. I believe that the near-decade of entertainment I got out of that one game was a direct result of the passion and vision of that one man.

Out of all the great memories I have from those years of
Melee, the following stands out the most. I went over to my friend's house one innocent afternoon, GameCube memory card in tow. I was the one with all of the characters unlocked this time, and so it was decided that I would supply the memory card for the sleepover. When we started playing, I inserted mine into Slot B, while my friend kept his in Slot A. After all, why would there be two slots included on the system if they weren't for convenience? Things went south as soon as the game displayed a message neither of us had seen before. Something about copying data from Slot A to Slot B. Before we could ponder the implications of this, my friend promptly pushed the A Button. It wasn't long before we realized he had replaced my data with his, meaning that I lost all the characters I had worked so hard to unlock.

If this were any other game, I may not have had the patience to reclaim everything that was lost. But this was no ordinary game for me. What was originally intended to be a relaxed sleepover became a race against time to re-unlock everything before I had to go home the next day. My friend was not happy about having to do this, but he understood that he had done the Worst Possible Deed and had to atone for it. In the end, I had all my characters back, but forevermore the game would think that my most-played character was Samus.

Fast forward to 2006-ish, when my now Internet-enabled world became privy to the E3 trailer for
Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which I watched for a small eternity. That settled it. I had to have this new-fangled, silly-named, motion-controlled, overpriced Wii "thing". The first time I played Wii Sports was a magical experience that I treasure to this day. But in the back of my head I must've been thinking, "This is merely icing on the delicious cake that is owning the console that will play host to the next game in my favorite series of all time." 300 Smash Bros. DOJO!! posts later, I was standing in line outside of my local, ill-fated GameCrazy store at midnight on March 9th, 2008, eager to buy the game that I knew would enrich my quality of life for years to come. Spoiler alert: it totally did.

Brawl is unique from the rest of the series for me in that it was the first game that I was ever truly hyped for. SSB64 was an unexpected delight, and I didn't have time to get very excited for Melee as it was already out by the time I heard of it and Christmas wasn't far away. But Brawl...? Now that was a special case. There were three things in particular that made my "hype" for it stand out:

Smash Bros. DOJO!! I felt like I got to know Sakurai as a game developer more than I have known anyone else in the industry through the blog he ran during development, chronicling every aspect of the title leading up to release. Every weekday I would wake up in the morning and run to the computer to get the latest info on whatever character, mode, stage, item, or song he had decided to talk about, and it was often the highlight of my day. Reading the blog was like being a part of the game's development, in the same way that some indie devs nowadays ask for input and feedback while they're in the middle of making the game.

The delays
. Those horrible, horrible delays. Being taunted by the "Coming Soon" at the end of the E3 trailer every time I watched it was bad enough, but instead of the original release date being the best day in the world, it became the worst day in the world after the game was delayed until the following year. By the time it was delayed again, it would have been easy to give up hope, but instead I became even more excited. Sakurai said that "the extra development time will enable us to make the game the best it can be," and you bet I believed him.

The content. If you haven't played it, Brawl is basically everything from the GameCube version but with more characters and stages and such; a revamped story mode with oodles of cinematic cutscenes; more to collect (stickers, music, etc.); and way more customization options to personalize your experience so it suits your tastes. Oh yeah, and Sakurai added Solid Snake and Sonic the Hedgehog, too.

I wouldn't be surprised if on day one of development, Sakurai took a black marker and wrote in big Japanese characters, "Make it essentially its predecessor on steroids," because once again, that's what he and his team did. It sounds old on paper, but when you have a predecessor as good as Melee, it's really the best thing one could hope for. My patience was repaid several times over upon launch on March 9th as I brawled with a friend until I got a splitting headache after 1:00 AM. Suffice it to say that Brawl is another system-defining, generation-defining title, and it alone is worth all of the money spent on my Wii.

Friday, March 23rd was a day that many a 3DS owner had marked on their DSiWare calendar applications, counted down to with numerous other Nintendo fans, and changed their avatars for to reflect just how
excited they were. That's right. I'm talking about the day that Kid Icarus: Uprising hit store shelves. Since picking it up at launch, I've had the chance to plunk down more than a day's worth of time with it and it's been truly invigorating. The genre-transcending ideas contained within are truly a revelation as they give the player a glimpse into the mind of Sakurai. It's a far cry from the creative restrictions that came with handling Smash Bros., and that's precisely what makes it so utterly refreshing.

Gameplay-wise, this is practically a new IP, and it has given Sakurai free reign to make exactly the kind of hardcore for-the-fans game he wants. It's a Star Fox-esque rail shooter, it's a third-person combat game, it's a weapon collecting/buying/fusing/converting game, and it's a comedy. I guarantee you, ladies and gentlemen, no one else could have made such a perfect synthesis of all those elements. While it may not necessarily be my favorite game of his, it has given me the most insight into what kind of designer he is and what kind of ideas are floating around in his mind.

Take
Uprising's wonderful, whimsical dialogue. There is absolutely no seriousness to be found here, and quite frankly, it's a relief. I really love deep games that meditate on existential topics (BIT.TRIP, anyone?), but when you have references to "Super Bash Sisters" and annoyingly talkative pixies flying around during desperate battles against the Underworld, well...there's simply nothing quite like it. The back-and-forth between the angel Pit and the goddess Palutena plays constantly during combat, and it's entertaining enough to make levels worth revisiting just to hear more of it. Oh, and did I mention Sakurai wrote the Japanese version of the script entirely by himself?

Now that you have the complete story, you can see why Sakurai is my favorite game developer ever and will always remain so, as long as he keeps pumping out great games. And even when he inevitably stops someday, I have a hunch that he'll leave behind a catalogue that has more engaging content than can be experienced in any player's lifetime. If it weren't for him, I might be playing on a PS3, an Xbox, or whatever, but I honestly don't care what I'm missing out on, as long as I have Masahiro Sakurai and his games to remind me why I'm a Nintendo gamer.


Feature by Maxwell

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