This was originally written for my blog Leave Luck to Heaven following the news of Iwata’s passing last night. At the request of Nintendojo’s editors, I’ve decided to share this tribute here with minor modifications.
In 2013, Hiroshi Yamauchi, the former Nintendo president and the driving force behind what made it the video game giant it is today, died of natural causes at the age of 85.
To think two years later we’d lose his successor at 55. I’m choking up as I type this.
Nintendo’s CEO, Satoru Iwata, has passed away from complications following a growth in his bile duct.
As of this moment, I’m sitting here listening to Space Junk Galaxy from Super Mario Galaxy — nearly the first in a long line of melancholic/sad Nintendo music I’ll be listening to tonight– while trying to direct my eyes from the endless stream of shocked NeoGAF comments. Here in my soon-to-be writing office, I’m thinking how on earth I’m going to bear making it through the night without collapsing in tears.
One of the many things Mr. Iwata represented to me was an unbridled, genuine passion that didn’t just drive Nintendo, but forged the face of the company. When I say genuine, I mean that in the nicest, heartfelt way possible because that’s exactly what the man was. Iwata was the CEO who took it upon himself to relay Nintendo’s latest announcements in the beloved Nintendo Direct videos so no misinformation from the press would be possible. He was the CEO who, upon being greeted by a poor fiscal report when Wii U failed to penetrate the gaming market, took it upon himself to halve his own paycheck instead of throwing his own employees under the bus. He was the CEO who took the time to sit down with his developers and discuss the design philosophy behind their latest creations. These interviews slowed down following his diagnosis, but he kept up with them until the end. I remember how happy the Kirby’s Epic Yarn one made me feel.
He was the CEO whose last public statement involved his apology for not meeting fans’ expectations at this year’s E3.
In short, he was a CEO not after money, but whose number one priority was to make fans happy. In a cynical world where individuals in his position come across as faceless entities, Iwata came across as a real, living person who exuded such gentleness, warmth, and humor in achieving his goal of reaching out to fans. Be it making us laugh by randomly staring at fruit in Nintendo Directs, reporting news on Nintendo’s Twitter, or, as seen in this touching NeoGAF story, actually taking the time to return StreetPass messages, proves just how much he cared in making people smile.
That he achieved all that is no coincidence, since he started out as a former programmer. He’s the legend who programmed Balloon Fight, helped get Kirby and Super Smash Bros. off the ground, was responsible for compacting the data within Pokémon Gold and Silver so the Kanto region could be included, ensured Smash Bros. Melee wouldn’t be delayed past the holiday season thanks to his coding magic, and single-handedly saved my favorite game of all time, EarthBound, from cancelation.
He held such love for both his fans and co-workers; in particular, one of the most touching tidbits that’ve come up tonight was the trust and camaraderie he held with Mr. Masahiro Sakurai, the creator of Kirby and Smash. His showering of praise for Sakurai– in whom he entrusted development of Super Smash Bros. Brawl— is one of the deepest expressions of friendship I’ve ever witnessed, one I’m sure Mr. Sakurai is looking back upon at this very moment.
The always-smiling, banana-loving Iwata. I’m really going to miss him. And now we’re in a time where Nintendo is certainly in its darkest hour. In a time where the company is still reeling from Wii U’s failure, is already forging plans for its NX successor, and is about to open a branch for mobile game development, the leader who brought such mirth and compassion is suddenly gone. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like there now.
And for the gaming world, it’s the end of an era, one that I’m not sure anyone was ready for.
I won’t lie and pretend Iwata was the perfect president, because he wasn’t. But that didn’t matter to me. That Iwata cared so deeply about satisfying his fan base brought the same warmth I’ve associated with Nintendo games all these years. The same warmth from whenever Mario would giggle in glee in his latest adventure, or when I left Pallet Town for the very first time with my Charmander, or whenever Kirby flew in the soft starry skies that recalled the sleepy car rides of my earliest youth, or when Ness would return home to taste his mother’s home-baked cookies.
Iwata brought the spirit of Nintendo alive, and for that, I will always remember him with the fondest of smiles.
Leave Luck to Heaven, Mr. Iwata. You left us far too soon, but that warmth we cherished so much will undoubtedly fuel Nintendo’s direction from here on.