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Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda, Iwata: Remembering Satoru Iwata

You really never know what you have until it’s gone.

Sunday we all learned of the passing of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. At 55, I think we’d all agree it was far too soon.

This is the part where I go into a detailed reflection about the great influence Iwata had in my life as a gamer and a person. At least it would be if I had anything like that to share. The thing is, I don’t. Not really. Iwata was an “industry name” I knew of, certainly, but he wasn’t someone I actively followed up on. He was the Nintendo guy who wasn’t Reggie or Miyamoto.

After a mere ten minutes of perusing this man’s history, my feelings about his passing are less the pain of loss, but that of regret. Regret that I hadn’t been more aware of his work and accomplishments, because looking at them now, one thing is clear: the Iwata-hype was very real, well-deserved, and I missed the boat entirely.

First, let’s talk Balloon Fight. This gem of an NES game was my absolute favorite game as a kid. More than Super Mario Bros., Punch Out, Paper Boy, or even Kung Fu (Heck yeah Kung Fu!), Balloon Fight always felt special. The premise was more unique, the controls were smoother, the music was just the best. If someone had asked me, even then, to show them the best that video games had to offer, I would have immediately ran for my Balloon Fight cartridge. And the programmer that brought that game to life was none other than Satoru Iwata himself. If I’d known that the man who gave flight to Balloon Fight had been leading Nintendo for over a decade, you better believe I’d have paid more attention.

But Iwata hadn’t just secretly been responsible for some of my most cherished and formative gaming experiences. He was also largely responsible for Nintendo Direct, Nintendo’s sometimes criticized but nonetheless commendable fan-focused response to the overtly businessy-business…ness of standard gaming press releases and briefings.

I’ll admit, I was initially one of naysayers, dismissing the decision as Nintendo’s way of cutting its costs and licking wounds in the wake of the, let’s call it “disappointing”, launch of the Wii U. But they stuck it out, and as the Nintendo Direct videos really came into their own, it became clear that Nintendo truly wanted to find ways to better and more, ahem, directly, engage their fans, in a way that Phil Spencer’s shirt collection can never hope to achieve. Even jaded ol’ me, having not owned a Nintendo console since the 64, began looking forward to the next Nintendo Direct, if only to see what crazy hijinks Reggie and Iwata would be up to this time. I still have critique for them, but darn it if I don’t have the utmost respect for Nintendo for the respect they have for their fans. If that’s not success on their part, I don’t what is.

I know there is much, much more that Iwata gave to gaming than these two highlights. But I’ll leave the telling of those stories to those who know them better. As for me, I will mourn with you at the loss of a man who loved what he did, and who, I see now, constantly worked to make gaming better, and the world better for it.

Thank you, Satoru Iwata.