Shigeru Miyamoto is easily the world’s most famous video games creator. The father of Super Mario, Donkey Kong, and The Legend of Zelda, Miyamoto has consistently been the most influential designer within Nintendo, directing and producing games like Super Mario 64, Super Mario Bros. 3, Ocarina of Time and A Link to the Past.
He joined the company in 1977 as an artist. His first major job was in 1980, and he was tasked with creating a hit arcade game. It had to run on Radar Scope hardware, as this game was an arcade flop in America, and Nintendo needed to recuperate losses by modifying the fewest number of parts in these cabinets as possible. The game that would save Nintendo was Donkey Kong, a genre-defining smash-hit that inadvertently spawned Nintendo’s later mascot, Mario (only known then as the functional “Jump Man”).
This success was followed by a string of ground-braking creations, with Super Mario Bros. setting the platformer paradigm, The Legend of Zelda creating the action adventure template, and F-Zero defining fast futuristic racers. He hit a technological brick wall with the SNES - the SuperFX chip stopped him from fully realising his visions for Star Fox and Stunt Race FX, but the Nintendo 64 and his revolutionary use of analogue controls and rumble motors enabled him to create AAA titles like Wave Race 64, Super Mario 64 and Lylat Wars.
Miyamoto has gained a reputation for helping create controllers around his game concepts - the D-Pad, shoulder buttons, analogue stick and the rumble pak were all designed to accommodate his envelope-pushing ideas. The latest innovation to come from Nintendo was spearheaded by Miyamoto too, and the Wii controller is the next step towards breaking down the barriers between player and game. He’s currently acting as director, rather than producer, on his latest Mario game, Super Mario Galaxy.
Donkey Kong [NES]
Donkey Kong Country [SNES]
Donkey Konga [GCN]
Donkey Kong Jungle Beat [GCN]
Donkey Kong Bongo Blast [GCN]
Donkey Kong was the world’s first platformer, and spawned two of Nintendo’s biggest stars. As Jump Man (later renamed “Mario”), you had to navigate your way to the top of ever-growing, ever-complicating towers.
Donkey Kong stole your damsel in distress Pauline at the start of every level, and it was your job to rescue her. Unfortunately for you, Jump Man, and your wallet, Donkey Kong through barrels down the stages to hinder your progress.
The game spawned many sequels based on this game mechanic, including Donkey Kong Jr (who confusingly grew up to be just Donkey Kong, while the original DK grew into Cranky Kong), and Donkey Kong 3. As a franchise, Donkey Kong spawned countless sequels, including bongo spin-offs Donkey Konga and Donkey Kong Jungle Blast. There were also more traditional platformers in the form of Rare’s Donkey Kong Country series, and the clunky Donkey Kong 64 which failed to live up to the high standards set by their earlier Banjo-Kazooie.
Super Mario Bros. [NES]
Super Mario Bros. 3 [NES]
Super Mario Land 2 [GB]
Super Mario World [SNES]
Yoshi’s Island [SNES]
Super Mario 64 [N64]
New Super Mario Bros. [NDS]
Super Mario Galaxy [Wii]
After Mario’s appearances as Jump Man in the Donkey Kong series, Miyamoto’s favourite sprite received a name, a brother, and a starring role in the first Mario Bros. game. A 2-player mini-platformer, it provided simplistic gameplay that set arcades on fire. The series evolved through Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3 on the NES, games that set the standards for all platform games, formulas that were perfected in Super Mario World.
The game that really set the world on fire was Super Mario 64 on Nintendo 64. It taught a stunned gaming audience how to use the revolutionary new analogue stick to exert control never before seen in video games. The game featured wonderfully diverse worlds that held secrets and intricacies that, when learned, could be exploited with all of Mario’s new moves to perform acrobatic miracles.
Super Mario Sunshine, the 2002 sequel, tried to improve on this formula, but could barely replicate it thanks to uniform worlds, samey missions and glitchy controls. However, New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS imported some of Mario’s abilities from the 3D games and in the process set another new standard for 2D platformers, while Super Mario Galaxy does the same for the 3D series, using the Wii controller to manipulate Mario’s world in ways never thought possible.
The Legend of Zelda [NES]
A Link to the Past [SNES]
Link’s Awakening [GB]
Ocarina of Time [N64]
Majora’s Mask [N64]
Twilight Princess [GCN/Wii]
Inspired by Miyamoto’s childhood adventures in the magical land behind his home, The Legend of Zelda is possibly the biggest gaming franchise in the world. It sells as well as Super Mario Bros. and Final Fantasy, and its as much of a household name as Grand Theft Auto and Pokemon. Two games in the series have been repeatedly heralded as the greatest of all time.
While the game started with humble beginnings on the NES, the series really took off on the SNES with A Link to the Past. It was a vibrant world with a fantastic lore that held secrets tantalisingly out of reach until you expanded your arsenal.
The land of Hyrule was about the change forever - it was to gain a whole new dimension. For four long years, the world waited for the purist slice of Miyamoto goodness, and it came in 1998 under the title Ocarina of Time. It innovated at every turn, setting the standards of 3D action adventure games that still serve as the benchmark today - Eiji Aonuma’s mission statement with 2006’s Twilight Princess was to create a Zelda game even better than Ocarina.
The Mario Kart series takes the best Mario characters and throws them into wild vehicles. The series debuted on the SNES in 1992 with Super Mario Kart, a game that introduced Mario fans to amazing new Mode 7 sprite-rotation technology that created dynamic race tracks without which this kind of weapons-based game would be impossible to realise.
Mario Kart 64 disappointed many purists because of regenerating weapons boxes and looser handling, but it was a faster, frantic, fully 3D version that introduced four-player battles to the series. Super Circuit was more of the same and Double Dash!! introduced an innovative buddy system, but the battle mode held the multiplayer back.
When Mario Kart DS was released in 2005, it was widely regarded as the perfect Mario Kart. It provided 20 original tracks, as well as a “best of” selection featuring 20 of the best tracks from past Kart games. It provided a solid engine that topped 64’s and found a happy medium between the tightness of SMK and the looseness of Double Dash!! Add a great, if a little limited, Wi-Fi mode, and its clear that the series had reached maturation.
Pikmin was Miyamoto’s first and only attempt at creating an original franchise on the GameCube, though more were promised. He was inspired to create the Pikmin games because of his love of gardening, and he spent his days imagining what kind of adventures were happening in the soil. It plays like you’d imagine a Nintendo spin on the RTS genre would - simple, clear, and quirky.
You play as Captain Olimar, a spaceman who’s crashed on an alien planet. Unfortunately, he’s only got enough oxygen for 30 days, so he must find enough parts to repair his spaceship before it runs out. Each Pikmin has a different ability depending on its colour, so he has to plant them and use them wisely.