Nintendo is gaming's comeback kid. Just when everybody counted them out with the GameCube, the Kyoto-based game maker fired back with the hugely successful Nintendo DS and the Wii. But there's more to the Cinderella story than that.
No doubt this book is about how the Wii took Nintendo back to the top. If the pun in the title doesn't clue you into that, then perhaps the two Wii Remotes on the cover will.
Excluding the Acknowledgments, the Introduction, the Epilogue and the Index, the book is divided into 12 chapters that range from the early days of Hiroshi Yamauchi's rule, to the company's golden age during the 1980s and beyond to the current days. Sloan is quick to admit that Nintendo did not cooperate with the writing of this book, and most of the quotes are culled from secondhand sources.
The intended audience seems to be less gamers and more people interested in how Japanese business works and how Nintendo, as a company, ticks.
The version Kotaku was sent is hardcover. You turn the pages. You read it. Actual bookmarks are needed to save one's place and cut, copying and paste involves scissors, tape and copy machines. Not recommended.
What We Liked
While Sloan's large dependence on second-hand reporting means that there will be a been-there-done-that feeling for most gamers, he's able to vividly depiction both Yamauchi and Iwata, both of whom come off as more compelling than the company's resident creative genius, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto.
The scope is big, and for gaming, Nintendo's comeback is a great yarn: Card maker moves into video games, conquers video games and then nearly loses it all before staging a truly impressive comeback.
Against this backdrop, Sloan is able to frame Iwata's ascension to Nintendo president in a way that shows just what a big risk it was. Hokkaido-born Iwata was not Kyoto-breed, a big deal for Nintendo. Moreover, Yamauchi selected Iwata for his abilities and not based on seniority, which is a common practice in Japan. Little details about what kinds of suits Yamauchi wears or his love of playing Go (not video games!) also help breathe new life into familiar territory. The book is at its strongest when covering the changing of power at Nintendo.
What We Didn't Like
The build up is great, and even the detours into Microsoft and Sony are well-done. However, the book does assume readers have a certain working knowledge of the subject matter. For example, the first time J Allard is mentioned, the book doesn't explain who he is. There is simply a quote attributed to him. I know J Allard was key in the development of the Xbox 360, but not everyone does. Playing to Wiin does finally pick up on Allard's story later in the book.
What's more, lists of DS games and descriptions of playing the Wii for the first time just simply aren't showstoppers when compared to the early chapters about the Nintendo's rise and then decline. The story arc is better, and the chapters dealing with the success of both the DS and the Wii seem like an extended denouement. Some of the book's chapter titles are simply groan-worthy. "Bouts of Ennu-Wii", really?
The Bottom Line
Playing to Wiin is a highly readable take on Nintendo's fabled comeback. The lack of access to principals like Satoru Iwata or Shigeru Miyamoto means that the author must rely heavily on secondary sources - sources that might already be familiar to some readers. However, the writing is lively, and Sloan does a fine job of spinning his yarn.
Playing to Wiin was written by Daniel Sloan and published by John Wiley & Sons. Release set for February 2011 with a suggested retail price of $US24.99. A copy was sent to us for reviewing purposes.