Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata died on Saturday after battling cancer for more than a year, and after a near-two-decade run of leading the historic company through its modern period of innovation. He was there for the Wii, the Nintendo DS and periods of lackluster sales that were augmented by creativity.
Matt Peckham at Time attempted to sum up his importance:
“It was under Iwata that Nintendo ushered in the Nintendo DS, a dual-screen gaming handheld that succeeded the popular Game Boy, eventually going on to challenge Sony for the title of ‘bestselling games platform of all time.’ Nintendo’s wildly successful Wii, now arguably the most recognizable video game system in the industry’s history, arrived in 2006, another Iwata-led gamble that paid incredible dividends following the company’s lackluster GameCube, which launched in 2001.
And while Iwata’s critics often accused the company of reacting too slowly to industry trends, Iwata wasn’t afraid to enact radical change: after years of financial downturns (exacerbated by the company’s poorly received Wii U game console), he unveiled plans this March to develop games for smartphones and tablets. The world will now remember Iwata as the Nintendo leader who tore down the wall between the company’s heavily guarded iconic IP and non-Nintendo platforms.”
Peckham also notes that Iwata was famous for a playful personality, making him not only a valuable developer and designer, but also a vital ambassador representing Nintendo’s public persona and cultural importance.
Halfway across the world, at a film festival in Ireland, John C. Reilly confirmed his attachment to a Wreck-It Ralph sequel. This isn’t the most surprising news, but it’s exciting. With all the usual sequel caveats about diminishing returns aside, Disney’s adventure inside an arcade and inside the inside of arcade games was a fantastic movie with characters who clearly have more achievements to unlock. Ralph, Vanellope, Felix and the others are the exact kind of movie figures who you want to see more of, and they live in a universe that can easily expand.
Wreck-It Ralph’s $470m success is both one small signal of Nintendo’s legacy (including Iwata’s vision) and a love letter to the dozen companies who pioneered our youngest popular art. Plus, it represents how far video games have come in terms of acceptance and dedication. Middle-aged parents who viewed video games as Kid Stuff have been replaced by middle-aged parents who grew up with that Kid Stuff, sharing it in its various forms with their own children. It’s powerful enough that a movie built on nostalgia can be a big hit.
At least two Nintendo figures feature in the original movie: Bowser and a Super Mushroom (although apparently some people think they see Princess Daisy and Princess Rosalina in a background shot). Mario gets a name-drop, and the entrance to Sugar Rush’s code room is shaped like an NES controller.
As dictated by our addiction to meta art, Nintendo also made a Wreck-It Ralph and Sugar Rush racing game for its DS system. A movie about video game characters, referencing Nintendo characters, turned into a Nintendo video game. Naturally.
Even with the complexity of licensing, it’s unthinkable that Nintendo wouldn’t have a presence in Wreck-It Ralph. Without those references, the movie would have had a glaring deficiency, the way rock stars always sound like idiots when they don’t pay proper respect to legends who came before. “Call Nintendo,” was probably the first phrase uttered after, “We want to make a movie featuring video game characters.”
According to the report out of the Galway Film Fleadh (read: feast), Reilly said that Wreck-It Ralph 2 might cover online and console gaming, and that Disney is negotiating with Nintendo so they can feature Mario, Luigi and Link. Again, none of this is surprising. Disney will want to expand the vista of video game references that make it into the movie, and those three are heavy hitters.
Considering the logic that Disney obviously needed Nintendo characters for their movie, it’s easy to assume that Mario and friends are immortal, but that’s not the case. Plenty of cultural figures have left the mountaintop for obscurity. Some, including Nintendo’s stars, have experiences ups and downs. The reason Mario and others have survived the ebb and flow of popularity is due in part to Iwata’s work. He kept classic characters smashingly fresh, a fact proven explicitly in Wreck-It Ralph, where Nintendo was both a legend to pay respect to and an of-the-moment icon, a reference that both parents and kids could smile at knowingly.
No doubt that’ll be the same if Disney can make Wreck-It Ralph 2 a reality.