The theme song toX-Men: The Animated Series is undeniably amazing, but now there are accusations that it was stolen. A Hungarian man has filed a lawsuit against Marvel, Disney, Fox, Apple, Amazon, and others—along with folks from Saban Entertainment—claiming that the theme song was plagiarized.
io9 has looked over the lawsuit, which was filed Monday and first reported by TMZ. Zoltan Krisko, who claims to be managing the estate for Hungarian composer Gyorgy Vukan, says Vukan’s theme song for the 1980s crime drama Linda the Policewoman bears striking similarity to the one created for X-Men: The Animated Series, which debuted almost a decade later in 1992.
Linda the Policewoman, which was created by György Gát and distributed by Hungarian National Television, is described in the lawsuit as a “household name.” That’s not inaccurate. Running from 1983 to 1989, Linda was a popular show that not only brought kung fu fighting styles to Eastern Europe television but also apparently contributed to reshaping gender norms during the Iron Curtain.
Even though Hungary was isolated from much of the Western world during this time, the lawsuit claims the folks behind X-Men’s theme song still associated with Hungarian animators, which could have exposed them to Linda. The suit includes:
During the 1980s, cooperation between film industry professionals from different countries, including from the “Eastern” and “Western” world, existed despite the still standing Iron Curtain. Based on information and belief, as professionals in the animation film industry, Defendants Ronald Wasserman, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy all came in contact with Hungarian professionals in the film industry, and were aware of the famous animation workshop at Pannonia Filmstudio in Hungary, where Hungarian film industry professionals, such as Gyorgy Vukan, were frequent visitors.
Along with the companies, Krisko is suing Ron Wasserman and Shuki Levy, two composers for X-Men: The Animated Series who have each at one point taken credit for the theme song. The suit accuses several companies and folks that produced, distributed, syndicated, or otherwise profited from the show of enabling the copyright infringement of Vukan’s work (a problem that could still continue, since Disney is reportedly considering putting the series on Disney+).
That said, Vukan’s composition wasn’t registered for copyright in the United States until 2017, which is when Krisko said he first learned about X-Men: The Animated Series. Krisko is asking for damages and to award any profits attributable to him, and asking the court to restrain them and others from infringing on the copyright further.
This isn’t the first time the X-Men theme song has been accused of borrowing from other works. Several folks have cited its similarity to Whitney Houston’s “I’m Your Baby Tonight,” which came out in 1990. But unlike this situation, it doesn’t look like that ever resulted in a lawsuit.
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As someone obsessed with handheld gaming consoles, Nintendo’s Switch should have been the ultimate portable system for me. Instead, it actually made me nostalgic for Tiger Electronics’ LCD handhelds; arguably some of the first true portable video game systems. They were cheap, durable, simple, and addictive, and 30 years later I find myself missing that experience.
I don’t have a lot of free time to devout to playing and finishing games these days. I’ll occasionally have a few minutes of boredom I’m looking to kill, but I don’t think I could even load Breath of the Wild in that amount of time. That’s where the cheap LCD games of the late ‘80s and ‘90s excelled. They were bite-size snippets of action with a goal that was rarely more involved than registering a new high score. They required no serious commitment and there were no tutorials to slog through. You could easily hop in into a game in a couple of seconds, enjoy a few minutes of satisfying button mashing, and then quickly stash them away until you needed to feed your gaming addiction again—minus the side effects of losing hours of your life or blowing your budget.
Founded by Arnold, Gerald, and Randy Rissman in 1978, Tiger Electronics got its start making simple electronics like phonographs, but transitioned to interactive toys and LCD-based gaming devices in the early ‘80s. For a while the company’s most notable product was a series of portable game devices based on Universal’s 1976 King Kong remake featuring a knock-off version of Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. It led to a legal dustup between Universal and Nintendo over who owned the rights to giant apes, which Nintendo eventually won, but ultimately decided not to take down Tiger Electronics in the process.
A few years after the Kong controversy blew over, Tiger Electronics settled on a design for a series of electronic handheld games that the company would eventually sell millions of in the late ‘80s and ‘90s. The first games in Tiger’s new lineup, released in 1987, were sports titles like football, skeet shooting, and baseball, which also happened to be the first Tiger handheld I ever owned.
Before Tiger’s new line, portable gaming systems always came with a premium price tag. I can remember drooling over mini tabletop arcades in catalogs, but never actually putting them on my Christmas or birthday wish lists for fear of maxing out what my parents were willing to spend. Even Nintendo’s Game & Watch handhelds were on the pricy side, but in 1987 Tiger Electronics changed that. Its new handhelds featured a gratuitous use of plastic—from the housings, to the buttons, to even the display covers—and simple segmented LCD screens, barely a couple of inches in size, that could only display a limited and crude collection of graphics and animations. If there was such a thing as disposable video games, Tiger’s handhelds came close to being that.
Gameplay was equally basic. Tiger’s Electronic Baseball played more like an enhanced home run derby where the player’s team never actually takes the field. Just two buttons were used to swing at every pitch and then strategically advance your players from base to base—with “strategically” being used very generously here.
But the 10-year-old version of me didn’t care, he absolutely loved this game, bringing it on long road trips and even smuggling it into Sunday school every week. I also didn’t care that Bases Loaded on the NES was a vastly superior experience; Tiger’s version could come with me anywhere, I didn’t have to take turns playing with my siblings, and I didn’t have to wait until my parents were done watching something on TV. Playing it today I rarely get past a couple of innings before losing interest, but the simplicity is exactly why I still keep games like these in easy reach, and keep coming back. They scratch an itch without destroying my productivity.
All the corner cutting also meant that Tiger Electronic’s handhelds were usually around $20 each, easily accommodating the budgets of most 10-year-olds reliant on allowances or birthday money for income. The plastic still feels cheap and my baseball game is covered in scratches and scars from being endlessly dropped and rage-thrown, but it’s one of my few childhood electronic toys that still works fine 30 years later. Tiger had found the perfect balance between price, durability, and addictiveness to hook a generation.
It also helped that the company was almost obsessive about licensing popular properties like movies, video games, and even TV shows. Unlike a console game these handhelds didn’t require months of complicated development. Tiger could churn these games out quickly, and it did just that. Mortal Kombat, Jurassic Park, Star Wars, GI Joe, Captain Planet, Full House, The Little Mermaid—if something was pop culturally relevant in the ‘90s, there’s a good chance there was a Tiger Electronics handheld game made for it.
So why isn’t Tiger Electronics a dominant name in gaming today? The brand is definitely still around, now owned by Hasbro, but the clock started ticking on the company’s cheap and simple approach to handheld gaming on April 21, 1989, when Nintendo’s Game Boy was released. It was more expensive than Tiger’s handhelds, but every game offered unique gameplay, graphics, and sound, and game carts could often be found competitively priced. Tiger eventually released its own cartridge based system in 1997, the Game.com, that included online connectivity and a touchscreen, but the Game Boy Color arrived soon after, and Tiger Electronics simply wasn’t big enough to take on Nintendo any more.
I’m not going to pretend like I still turn to Electronic Baseball for all my gaming needs, the Switch is definitely my goto console now. But despite being portable, I’m hesitant to travel with it for fear of damaging or losing $300 worth of gear. It also doesn’t really provide instant gratification, and more often than not as an adult that’s what I’m looking for. Smartphone games come close to filling that need, but sometimes I just want to mindlessly mash buttons for a couple of minutes, hitting home runs or beating up baddies, without having to worry about killing my phone’s battery, waiting for app updates, or all the other distractions of modern gaming. Tiger Electronics game me exactly that 30 years ago.
Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.
When I was in my impressionable pre-teen years, I spent vast amounts of my summer tucked away in a musty little basement down the street. My closest friends would visit at their grandma’s house near me every year while school was out, and when we weren’t “ripping and running,” playing basketball with the “mannish” little boys next door and riding our bikes back and forth up the bumpy brick streets, we gathered around our consoles for hours and hours of gaming. One summer, they brought with them a Dreamcast—the console that would impact my gaming palate more than any before it with games like Sonic Adventure, Soul Calibur, and Power Stone. One game stood out and ate up those hot summer days: Grandia II. It became one of my favorite games of all time, and playing its predecessor, Grandia, has been a trip in every imaginable way.
Grandia, like its sequel, is a role-playing game with an overhead view and a battle system that takes the best parts of both real-time and turn-based battle systems and squishes them into a neat package. Your characters’ physical positions affect whether they’ll be able to damage or take damage from enemies, and a turn gauge lets you anticipate when each character will move, allowing you to cancel or counter enemy actions. It is by far my favorite battle system in any game, and it’s almost always the first thing I mention about Grandia II, next to the fact that I stubbornly prefer its plot about nefarious churches and crises of faith to Final Fantasy X’s.
What I forgot over years of not revisiting Grandia II was the deep and gripping sense of wonder the game gave me. I forgot what it was like to actually get swept up in a game’s sense of adventure. So playing the first Grandia for the first time, years after I’d played its sequel, gave me an eerie feeling of deja vu and sentimentality. It was nostalgia for a game I’d never played before. I genuinely felt like a kid again, lost for a moment in a feeling of adventure and possibility. I forgot what it was like for excitement to feel this earnest.
Moment by moment, I found myself falling into old RPG habits. Talk to every character in the town, check. Explore every area, check. Look for hints or extra items, check. But instead of the feeling of compulsion that drives me to do those things in a lot of other games, Grandia kept me excited to talk to new NPCs—the woman pacing back and forth and fucking fuming, then bafflingly complaining to a kid about her gambling husband. The little boy hiding by the fountain to avoid being caught by his mom and getting dragged to the dentist. The mom hunting for her truant kid, who you can choose to help out or con into looking elsewhere. The old woman telling stories about her time as a child, when the entire town was forests and woodland creatures, before industrialization happened. The powerful men from the Joule company puffing up their chests about how they brought growth to such a small town with the power of industry. As I talked to each one, multiple times to see all of their dialogue options, I found myself feeling verklempt: Oh, shit. I actually used to like doing this.
It reminded me why I mechanically read through every text box in games nowadays, even when I find the writing banal. This is how video games used to make me feel. This is where I’d learned that behavior—from a series where curiosity actually felt worth it. Exploring the overworld wasn’t just a mad dash to find every item there, a series of actions guided by a long-curated cache of RPG tropes—I wanted to play around with the game’s battle system, figure out where it overlapped and diverged with its sequel, learn about the mysterious ancient cities teased at in the game’s opening and the museum my young protagonists visited.
If there’s a downside to playing Grandia for the first time today, it’s the little annoyances that were fixed in Grandia II. The overworld map feels a little finicky after playing the more polished second game. The monsters’ pixelated visages, while nice-looking in the HD collection, are a little hard to track, making the strategic movement of trying to approach them from behind for a surprise attack tricky. The characters’ movements on the battlefield feel slow and unwieldy, and after playing the sequel, the rudimentary turn gauge in the first Grandia feels more like a test pilot than the innovative and well-tuned system the series is known for. And like news editor Jason Schreier mentioned, the Grandia HD collection lacks the fast-forward button that’s present in emulators and many other retro re-releases, making the tedium of slower gameplay all the more pronounced.
What really struck me, though, was the fact that, as impossible as these things were to ignore, I… did not care. It’s always tough to play a game after you’ve played its sequel, especially in a series that’s been out for decades, but actually wanting to read everything I saw made piles of text boxes and unskippable cutscenes feel like a treat. Imagine that—long cutscenes feeling like a reward. I might feel differently when I play through it a second time, once I’m no longer new to the game and ravenous for story developments, but for now, I’m enjoying my slow stroll down memory lane via a game I’ve never even played.
Analog WeekJust because ‘there’s an app for that’ doesn’t mean you have to use it. This week we’re going analog, reminding ourselves that we can live—and live _well_ —without smartphones, and seeing what’s worth preserving from the time before we were all plugged in 24/7.
I’m very glad to live in a time where I can just hop on the internet whenever, instead of having to dial up a number and wait for the modem to do its little connection concerto that took so long you could start dialing, go do something else, and walk back over when it was nearly finished.
I do, however, appreciate what it was like to use old-school technology. And while it’s easy to get nostalgic by pulling up YouTube and finding someone trying to use a dial-up modem in the present-day, there are even better resources out there if you want a little reminder about what your favorite geeky gear sounded like way back when.
My colleague Michelle pointed me in the direction of the German website Conserve the Sound the other day, and I already love it. When you pull it up, you’re immediately greeted with a featured gallery of older gadgets—cameras, typewriters, phones, an NES, et cetera. Unfortunately, you won’t find a modem on here (yet), so you’ll have to continue to turn to YouTube to experience the thrill of the handshake noise for the time being.
Click on a device, and you can hear a recording of the devices sound while you view a lovely little slideshow featuring great pictures of whatever you’re listening to. Some of these audio clips are short examples of the device being used for its primary purpose, while others are more ASMR-like recordings of someone fiddling with an object any way they can.
While the Nintendo 64 wasn’t the most revolutionary home console, the clunky cartridge-based system still managed to house some of the best games of the mid-to-late ‘90s. Quite a few N64 classics, including Super Smash Bros., Donkey Kong 64, and Pokemon Snap, will celebrate their 20th anniversaries in 2019. Joining these memorable 64-bit outings is a wonderfully quirky snowboard racer that the general gaming public seems to have forgotten.
Those who grew up with the Nintendo 64 may recall the system’s shockingly expensive games. A new N64 cartridge ran anywhere from fifty to eighty dollar, with most games falling somewhere in between. In 2019 that equates to nearly $100 a game. My brothers and I owned our fair share of must-play hits like Super Mario 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Star Fox 64, but more often than not our parents would suggest we simply rent a game for a little while, instead of exhausting our meager savings.
Old Towne Video was our video and game rental spot of choice in my hometown. Though it had a smaller selection than the local Blockbuster, Old Towne Video always had more obscure and interesting offerings. It was the shop where I discovered cartoon classics like My Neighbor Totoro and Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, two of my animated favorites to this day. Old Towne Video’s gaming section was also full of titles that my brothers and I hadn’t seen for rental anywhere else. Our go-to was a snowboard racing game by the name of Snowboard Kids 2.
When Old Town Video closed its doors in late 1999, my parents were smart enough (and kind enough) to swing in and pick up a few Nintendo 64 games on the cheap, including Snowboard Kids 2.
The game soon became one of our most-played N64 titles, accompanying us to various sleepovers and hang outs around the neighborhood. Snowboard Kids 2 was a hit among our friends and family members, but we never met another Nintendo 64 owner, young or old, who could count the game as part of their collection. It always seemed odd to me, even as a child, that such a beloved multiplayer title could be so overlooked.
The original Snowboard Kids, released in early 1998, was declared by many magazines and budding gaming sites to be, “Mario Kart on ice.” Of course, this comparison was a bit of an oversimplification.
Much like Mario Kart, players raced opponents through tricky courses as they attempted to gain the upper hand with shortcuts and power-ups, but Snowboard Kids added an extra layer of strategy to the average downhill competition. Racers had to pull off basic flips and spins or collect shiny currency as they shredded the slopes to increase their coin count. It was only with coins that players could grab the sparsely-spaced power-ups. Players could also hold both a “shot” and “item” power-up at the same time, a double power-up feature Mario Kart wouldn’t attempt until Double Dash!! for the GameCube.
Snowboard Kids was a solid game, and it apparently sold well enough that developer Racdym (now known as Racjin) and publisher Atlus decided to pump out another entry in the series. Snowboard Kids 2 launched in Japan in February of 1999, with North American and Australian versions dropping in March and April respectively. It was a sequel that played it safe, but one that still managed to tweak the original game’s main snowboarding mechanic, as well as introduce interesting new courses and modes.
As a child, my favorite part of Snowboard Kids 2 was the game’s goofy characters, every one of them brimming with their own over-the-top personality. Like most competitive multiplayer games, each character was saddled with a special skillset that was supposed to set them apart. Slash was the all-around type, Tommy was heavy and fast, Nancy was adept at pulling off tricks — everyone had their pros and cons to consider. The characters even had special skins that could be unlocked, including summer, space, and Halloween outfits. My character of choice was always the genius inventor Wendy, who I decked out in pirate gear and equipped with the wicked Dragon snowboard.
Like Snowboard Kids before it, Snowboard Kids 2 didn’t simply resign its racers to snowy environments. Slash and the gang could shred down grassy jungle paths, through ancient castles, and even deep below the waves. There may have only been nine full courses in the game, but they were so staggeringly unique and memorable that playing through them over and over never grew tiring. Each course also coincided with the game’s hokey story, a mishmash of character interactions and shenanigans that helped introduced new mini-games and bosses.
The cutesy visuals and madcap racing of Snowboard Kids 2 was all tied together by cartoony sound effects and a wonderfully upbeat soundtrack. The menu music was catchy, the character voices were distinctive, and each course’s theme gave players the perfect mix of frantic and fun. To this day I find myself humming the tune from the character select screen and tapping out the boisterous beats from the games’ snow-covered first course, Sunny Mountain.
Snowboard Kids 2 was great because it was a game that didn’t take itself too seriously. Players could challenge a dog, a penguin, and a demon child to a downhill snowboarding race through a haunted mansion, and no one blinked an eye. It’s was the right kind of weird, and that’s what set it apart.
When Snowboard Kids 2 initially hit store shelves, it did so with little fanfare. There were no cardboard cutouts on the show floor or commercials promoting the game to the Nintendo 64 fanbase. Reviews for the game were mixed, sighting improved content, but “more of the same” when compared to the original Snowboard Kids outing.
In the February 1999 issue of Nintendo Power, Snowboard Kids 2 received a six page spread, mapping out the game’s main courses and introducing the characters. The magazine’s Now Playing section, which you can see below, gave the game a score of 7.3 out of 10, concluding with, “Don’t let the cutesy graphics fool you. There’s challenge in the one-player mode and lots of party-time laughs in the multiplayer mode.”
Looking back on the reviews for the game now, it’s difficult to see exactly why it scored so low, especially when compared to other games of the time. Snowboard Kids 2 wasn’t without its flaws, but it still managed to find a enjoyable middle ground between the high-speed competition of Mario Kart64 and the more light-hearted story elements featured in Diddy Kong Racing. Games like Cool Boarders and 1080 Snowboarding may have led the way, but Snowboard Kids was the first to put a more put a more playful spin on the snowboarding genre.
Some may know Snowboard Kids 2, not because of its comical racing gameplay, but due to its rarity in the world of game collecting. Producing cartridges for the Nintendo 64 was an expensive undertaking for publishers in the late ‘90s, especially when compared to printing compact discs for the PlayStation. Snowboard Kids publisher Atlus was notorious at the time for their small production runs, and Snowboard Kids 2 was no exception. Already in short supply, the snowboarding sequel didn’t sell well enough to warrant a second production of cartridges.
With scarcity comes value, and it wasn’t long until Snowboard Kids 2 was on par with Nintendo 64 mainstays like The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Harvest Moon 64 in terms of worth. Today a used copy sells for around $40 in North America, which isn’t astronomical, but still decently expensive for a third-party title lacking any kind of “special edition” or “not for resale” status. It’s value is significantly higher in the PAL region, where it was only released in Australia, and remains one of the most highly sought-after Nintendo 64 titles to this day.
Unlike many of the most popular games of its time, Snowboard Kids 2 has never resurfaced in any form. There’s been no Snowboard Kids collection, no HD remake, and most surprisingly of all, no rerelease on any of Nintendo’s virtual console platforms over the years. There is no easy way to play this game. In the digital age that is 2019, Snowboard Kids 2 exists almost purely as a hard-to-find cartridge, a fact that saddens me to no end. Of course, the game can be found in the form of a ROM, and I’m sure it’s not too hard to find it online. Not that I would ever recommend piracy…
Atlus did attempt to reboot the series in 2005, with the poorly-received SBK: Snowboard Kids for the Nintendo DS, but the game was a decidedly large step backwards in terms of both gameplay and overall charm. We haven’t seen or heard from the Snowboard Kids since.
Often times nostalgia plays tricks on us. It tempts us into playing games we thought were undeniable classics, only to force us into the realization they were merely a jumble of colorful polygons that managed to entertain us at the time. I face this fear every year or so when I load up Snowboard Kids 2, worried the game is going to finally let me down. But it never has. The tight controls, wacky characters, and vibrant courses still hold up, at least in my book.
Snowboard Kids 2 is the epitome of a cult classic, and I only hope that others have managed to squeeze the same enjoyment and mileage out of the game that I have over the past two decades. May it shred forever through our hearts.
This year, Netflix will premiere the third season of its hit documentary series The Toys That Made Us. This series of 45-minute deep dives into the toys we’re most nostalgic for has covered He-Man, Barbie, Hello Kitty, and more. But video games have been noticeably absent from any of the show’s episodes thus far. That’s a peculiar omission, since research has demonstrated that video game nostalgia is the most powerful nostalgia of all.
It’s true that we’re all predisposed to feel sentimentally attached to the toys, movies, and music (even horrible jingles!) associated with products from our childhood. According to psychologists, icons of our past act as symbols of a simpler, more carefree time, and, in some cases, a time when people were beginning to develop their own values and understanding of themselves. And luckily, we’re hard-wired to hold onto good memories longer than bad ones, which in turn implants those memories even more firmly in our minds since the act of remembering them feels so nice.
Games trigger nostalgia even more strongly than toys because we invest more emotions in playing them—heightened feelings of competitiveness, frustration, joy, and pride. Games produce feedback loops that reward players for playing them. This is just as true of the games of kickball you played during recess as it is true for Sorry! or Trouble or Mega Man X, butthe greater immersiveness of Mega Man X makes it have an even more profound effect on the brain. Video game narratives offer players a significant—and highly memorable—chance to feel heroic and experience a sense of mastery, which can be rare in our non-gaming lives.
And while you can’t go back to recess with your fourth-grade buddies, you can pop in an old game cartridge and return to a virtual place from your past. This permanence, too, is key to explaining what’s so special about video game nostalgia.
The etymology of “nostalgia” clues us in to the importance of place. The word comes from the Greek nostos, meaning “returning,” and algos, meaning “suffering.” The term was invented by Swiss doctors in the 17th century to describe a condition afflicting Swiss mercenaries who longed for their home while they fought in wars abroad.
In other words, nostalgia is essentially a kind of homesickness for a specific place, or, in the words of scholar Sean Fenty, a “yearning to return to a place—to a state of being.” In an article called “Why Old School Is ‘Cool’: A Brief Analysis of Classic Video Game Nostalgia,” Fenty argues that “video games are places—they are states of being; and because they are stored, unchanging data, they tease with the hope for a possibility of return, if only we can gain access to them.” Though we grow up and change, video games stay constant; an ever-present time capsule that we can re-enter at will.
Re-entering these virtual playgrounds may even ease some of our anxiety about aging. As gamers grow older and technology changes, their fondness for whatever feels “old school” to them will likely only increase into an even stronger form of nostalgia. Communication theory philosopher Marshall McLuhan argued that with the arrival of a new technology, those born into it will accept it and not even realize it’s new, while those who are rooted in older technologies will feel actual pain, and prefer to go back to the way things were before the new technology. Anyone who lies in the middle of these two states will experience what Fenty calls “the pain of transition.”
Nostalgia provides a way to deal with this pain, and it explains why we can feel nostalgic for even the crappiest games. What’s important is not the game’s quality, but the feeling you get playing it. The right word might be “comfort”—the comfort of the familiar, and the delight in re-experiencing surprises in a safe environment you know.
Of course, it’s fascinating to watch how this nostalgia impacts gaming discourse and game design. When today’s aging gamers (like me) complain that they’ve never played a game they like as much as Super Mario Bros., or that today’s games don’t stack up to the ones from the “good old days,” they’re saying more about themselves than they are about the games.
Although many of today’s indie games are designed out of this nostalgia for “old-school” platformers, nostalgia also played a huge role in the development of the originals they pay homage to. Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. series, may not seem to have much in common with his Italian-American plumber Mario on the surface, but Miyamoto’s games reflect so much of his own childhood nostalgia that he’s been called “the closest thing there is to an autobiographical game creator.”
Growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Miyamoto didn’t have a TV and video games didn’t exist. Instead, he created his own fun, inventing games and making model airplanes (which he sometimes destroyed with fireworks), flip-books, and other toys. In middle school, Miyamoto loved drawing comics so much that he would even fantasize about being struck with an illness that allowed him to stay in a hospital all day making up heroes. Even though his father discouraged Miyamoto from pursuing art, Miyamoto’s mother fostered his artistic impulses, and he grew up making puppets and putting on puppet shows for his family members.
But more than anything, Miyamoto loved exploring the outdoors. He rode his bike around the bamboo forests, mountains, lakes, waterfalls, and ancient castle ruins of his small town—environments that would later appear in Super Mario Bros. Other elements of his games were influenced by less happy memories. The Chain Chomp bad guy in Super Mario Bros. 3, for example, was inspired by a scary incident Miyamoto had with a neighbor’s chained-up dog.
One famous and oft-repeated anecdote is that Miyamoto discovered a cave inside of Komugi Mountain near his house and dove inside to explore. This cave, which inspired the underground levels of the Super Mario Bros. series, is now so famous to Miyamoto’s and Mario’s mythologies that tourists have begun flocking to the limestone caves near Sonobe, the village where Miyamoto grow up—so many that the caves now feature stairs and lights. But Miyamoto toldThe New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten that the caves he explored in his youth were smaller, and have been covered up by new houses and roads, their entrances barred off. (For die-hard fans, the best directions to Miyamoto’s old cave might be these, which he provided, through his translator, to Paumgarten in 2010).
In the end, the very fact that the exact location of Miyamoto’s cave remains a mystery is exactly the point. Permeating all of Miyamoto’s games is a pervasive sense of wonder at the world and all of its secrets. In David Sheff’s Nintendo history Game Over, Miyamoto described the world he imagined while creating Mario games in particular:
“What if you walk along and everything that you see is more than what you see—the person in the T-shirt and slacks is a warrior, the space that appears empty is a secret door to an alternate world? What if, on a crowded street, you look up and see something appear that should not, given what we know be there? You either shake your head and dismiss it or you accept that there is much more to the world than we think. Perhaps it really is a doorway to another place. If you choose to go inside, you might find many unexpected things.”
Perhaps a game inspired by nostalgia has the power to make the player even more nostalgic herself. I found this to be true for myself when it came to Super Mario Bros. 3. It was the first game I ever played, and throughout my childhood I spent hours playing with my father and brother. My nostalgia for the game as an adult was so potent that I ended up writing a book about its development and impact. And while I found the historical research and game analysis fascinating, the most fun part of writing it was simply re-playing each level from start to finish. I felt like a little girl again, cliché and corny though that sounds. But nostalgia is a corny emotion—that’s the whole point of it. And through the power of gaming nostalgia, we’re gifted with a space where we’re free to be corny kids again—to hide away from our grown-up world and commitments and re-enter the magical cave.
Alyse Knorr is an assistant professor of English at Regis University. She’s the author of Super Mario Bros. 3 from Boss Fight Books, as well as several collections of poetry.