Nintendo has always been full of quirky folks, ones who have overwhelmed these many years of gaming with an abundance of creativity and whimsy. Unfortunately, there’s only so much a single person can contribute. On July 11, 2015, Satoru Iwata suddenly passed away from an illness that he had seemingly defeated. He was 55.
While there is much sadness in the gaming world, I want to make a recommendation. Let us play the games he helped produce and remember all of the joy these titles brought. Here, I will list some of the greatest achievements of Mr. Iwata.
Rollerball was the first game in which Iwata was credited for being a producer, and it was his first game on the Nintendo Entertainment System. To be honest, I had never heard of this game before researching his massive list of projects he had worked on. Rollerball was a pinball game for the NES that had multiple boards, which stretch multiple screens. Even though it is just pinball, the music and the feel of the game makes it fun and humbling. This simple game was the gateway that led to many other classics for Nintendo.
Earthbound is a game that continues to inspire people to this very day. It takes all the workings of a Japanese role-playing game and applies them to Americana. Throw in comments on psychology, excellent story telling, and off beat humor. Earthbound is not only one of the best SNES games, but also of all time. Fans of the series are still asking for more since there have been only three entries, one of which Westerners have yet to play as an official port.
If it wasn’t for Iwata and his team at Hal Laboratories, Earthbound (Mother 2 in Japan) may have been cancelled. The development process was grueling and Iwata helped alleviate that workload to help the game see release day. What sort of wonder did those men and women feel as they crafted what would be known as a timeless classic?
The game never sold as well as other Nintendo franchises, but it had so much heart that it has never truly left the minds of gamers. Even though we may never play another new title in the series, Ness and Lucas continue exploring the world in Super Smash Bros.
Super Smash Bros (Nintendo 64)
Speaking of Smash, Iwata was also the producer of Nintendo’s greatest fighting game, putting all the characters from across the platform into one game. The game broke the conventions of typical fighting games and has rapidly evolved into one of the most complex games around. There are still players out there playing the first Smash competitively, to outstanding use of the game’s mechanics.
Super Smash Bros was the first game I bought for the N64; it essentially sold me the console. I didn’t like Mario running in circles, but I did like the idea of Mario battling against Pikachu. In fact, I waited months after buying an N64 before getting Smash. My family could barely afford the console, so I waited patiently to earn enough money for the game. Needless to say, I have the entire box of the system memorized. Smash was not only one of my favorite games for years, but it also pointed me to other Nintendo characters I had never seen. Playing Smash led me to discover the Metroid games and sent me on a quest to find out who the hell Ness is. I loved every second of it, and I owe a large part of that experience to Iwata.
Animal Crossing (Nintendo Gamecube)
There is a simple joy to Animal Crossing. No monsters chase the player. No princesses are in danger. No realms are being razed by evil kings. There’s simply a community of animals and the player that lives among them. The neighborhood is filled with unique personalities and lots of things to do to bring them together. It’s not about getting a high score; it’s about enjoying life by catching bugs, remembering old experiences, or just growing a garden.
Unfortunately, the Gamecube classic is a little hard to find and can be expensive to buy. Luckily, Animal Crossing: New Leaf is available on 3DS, and taking the experience on the go feels more natural. While I haven’t had the chance to play many of the Animal Crossing games, I’ve always had immense respect for them and what they’ve accomplished. Such simple designs can bring great joy to everyone, and that’s something that I think Iwata truly wanted to deliver.
The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker (Nintendo Gamecube)
I can only imagine how Iwata must have felt when the harsh criticism came to light on this game. I’ll admit that I was one of those gamers who felt anger towards the way the game looked when compared to Ocarina of Time. I wanted Link’s world to be more detailed, but I and everyone else were completely wrong. Wind Waker is a beautiful game that captures all of the staples of the Zelda franchise, while adding the freedom of sailing. This version of Link may have been less detailed, but he was more expressive than ever before.
Many franchises were reborn on the Gamecube. Wind Waker is one of those gambles that resulted in one of the most regarded Zelda games. It is so good, that just updating the graphics made it seem like it had been made for the current generation of consoles. Iwata must have known that Link as a character had more going on than heroism. He is much more complex than that. The struggle to show this side of such a well-loved character could’ve been the reason for such a stark change in presentation. Iwata and his team took a bold chance and the world of gaming was made the better because of it.
Wario Ware Inc: Mega Party Game$ (Gameboy Advance)
To truly understand the simple joy Iwata brought with his design, one must spend at least an hour with any of the Wario Ware games. They are sheer absurdity in a frantically paced mess, yet they remain overwhelmingly hilarious and fun. These sort of games are the kind that people want to share, just to bring laughs. I used to look down on this franchise, but did eventually try it out on the DS years ago. I laughed so hard that I practically wet myself and proceeded to play for several hours.
This franchise reminds me of being a kid who wanted to make people laugh, no matter what sort of weird, embarrassing act it took. Many of the game’s laughs are crude or random, which fit into that childish sense of humor that makes many of us laugh at farts and dirty jokes. Wario Ware takes an establish Nintendo villain and makes him the embodiment of humor, which is something everyone could use more of.
Iwata helped make the world laugh, not only in his games, but in his nature. He was naturally a funny guy and that came out during his appearances at E3 and Nintendo Direct presentations. I also have a feeling that he was funny in person.
A Conclusion of Wonderful Memories
I may never have personally known Mr. Iwata, but the games he helped create brought me smiles for the entirety of my life. The games he and his team created explore everything it means to stay youthful and having simple joys in life. These games have brought together people of all ages and all nationalities to simply have fun.
So yes, I have never met Satoru Iwata, but I do feel a closeness to his ideals and dreams. I feel sadness in his passing, as if he had been a family friend. However, it’s this sadness that reminds me of the things he had accomplished and the mass amounts of joy he left for everyone in his games.
Let his whimsical nature live on in the people he’s touched over the many, many years of game development.
On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer. – Satoru Iwata
Rest in peace, Satoru Iwata, you will be missed and remembered.