Death of a Legend: 5 Games We Wouldn’t Have Without Nintendo’s CEO

With the passing of Nintendo president and CEO Satoru Iwata, the gaming world has lost a legend. Iwata was only 55 when he died, but he spent his entire career making the world a more fun place through video games.

In 1983 he joined HAL Laboratories, a young development studio that would end up working closely with Nintendo. There he helped produce a number of games as he worked his way toward becoming the company’s president in 1993. After a successful stint there, he joined Nintendo in 2000, where he took charge of a number of key titles before being promoted to president in 2002. He remained president until his death.

Iwata took many roles during his career, but he summed them up nicely in a 2005 speech he gave during the Game Developers Conference. “On my business card,” he said, “I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. In my heart I am a gamer.”

Here are five games Iwata left his mark on in his too-short time in the industry.

1. Balloon Fight (1984)

Iwata worked as a programmer on Balloon Fight, one of the early games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game is similar to Joust, but you use balloons to soar through the air in various stages strewn with platforms.

The goal is to pop the balloons holding up your opponents before they can pop yours. Watch the video above to get an idea of how it plays out. You can buy the game now on the Nintendo eShop for Wii U or Nintendo 3DS.

2. Kirby’s Dream Land (1992)

This Game Boy classic introduced the world to the floating puffball who would become a major star in roughly two dozen games (and counting). It’s a platformer like Mario, but it comes off as more approachable, thanks to Kirby’s ability to fly through the air just by pressing the up button.

He can also inhale enemies and use them as projectiles by spitting them out. Subsequent games in the series put a number of creative twists on the core gameplay, including the recent Wii U title Kirby and the Rainbow Curse.

3. Earthbound (1994)

In this modern-day RPG, a boy and his friends go on a journey around the world to save humanity from aliens. From that simple premise comes this HAL-developed classic, a game that wasn’t all that popular in its day, but has become both revered and valuable.

Even if you’re unfamiliar with the game itself, there’s a good chance you know its main character, Ness, who has appeared in numerous Smash Bros. games over the years. Without Iwata’s work on the series, none of that might have happened.

4. Super Smash Bros. (1998)

Speaking of Smash Bros, Iwata worked on the prototype of Super Smash Bros., a Nintendo 64 title that would spawn a series of cartoonish brawling games that’s very much alive and well today.

The premise of these games is that they put a bunch of Nintendo characters on the screen and let them beat the stuffing out of each other in a delightfully frivolous and lighthearted way. It’s such a winning formula that fans travel the world to participate in Smash Bros. tournaments.

5. Pokémon Stadium (1999)

By 1999, Iwata had become the president of HAL, but that didn’t stop him from personally coding parts of Pokémon Stadium, a game that brought the popular pocket monsters from Game Boy to the Nintendo 64. The game featured bouts between all 151 Pokémon, and you could actually transfer monsters you had collected in the Red and Blue versions of the Game Boy game into Pokémon Stadium using the Nintendo 64 Transfer Pak.

The rest of Iwata’s career

Once Iwata began working for Nintendo in 2000, he stopped making games directly to focus on leading the company. He presided over the release of massively successful hardware like the Nintendo DS and the Wii, as well as the Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. At the time of his death, he was helping guide Nintendo through its next transition, to the upcoming hardware codenamed NX.

Nintendo’s future may be a mystery, but Iwata did his part to keep the company afloat and successful through some very tough times. With his death, the gaming world has lost one of the most well-rounded visionaries in the business.

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