30 in 30: Nintendo Intelligent Systems

Japan's handheld masters

While Nintendo's EAD team dominates much of the spotlight shining on the Japanese giant, fellow first-party team Intelligent Systems deserves a special slice of the gaming public's recognition.

Formed as a skeleton team of tech staff tasked with porting Famicom Disk games to the NES cartridge format used overseas, Intelligent Systems soon became a prominent support team inside Nintendo, assisting with programming duties on classics such as Famicom Wars, Super Metroid and Fire Emblem.


Because of the success of the latter in Japan, the team was eventually given the go ahead to hire graphic designers and musicians so that it could transition into a development team in its own right.

The team would continue to develop entries in the Wars and Fire Emblem series, and later transitioned into Nintendo's frontline handheld developer, creating Wario Ware titles, Mario Kart: Super Circuit and the excellent Advance Wars.

Intelligent Systems is also responsible for the Paper Mario series of games.


Founded: 1984
Location: Kyoto, Japan
Killer quote: "Intelligent Systems had a crucial role in the Game Boy's success." - Official Nintendo Magazine, 2011


Toru Narihiro


Chief programmer Narihiro programmed his first full games, Famicom Wars and Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryű to Hikari no Tsurugi, towards the end of the Famicom's life cycle. Design, graphics and music for the games were provided by Nintendo R&D1.

Because of Narihiro's success, Intelligent Systems soon began hiring their own graphic and music designers, transforming the team into a full-fledged development studio.

Shouzou Kaga
Shouzou Kaga is a designer, and creator of the Fire Emblem series, worked for Intelligent Systems in the 1990s.

Kaga-san worked on six instalments of the RPG series from 1990 to 1999, before leaving Nintendo to found the independent studio Tirnanog.

Kaga's dealings with Nintendo didn't end there though. After creating his PSOne title, Tear Ring Saga, in 2001, he came under heavy fire from Nintendo, which claimed his new game was far too similar to the Fire Emblem series and filed for copyright infringement.

Yuka Tsujiyoko
Yuka Tsujiyoko is responsible for every recognisable tune from Intelligent Systems' early library, and one of the most notable female composers in gaming.

Tsujiyoko composed the music for the Fire Emblem series, Super Scope games Battle Clash and Metal Combat: Falcon's Revenge, the Paper Mario series and part of Tetris Attack.

She left Intelligent Systems as a full time employee after scoring Paper Mario but still contributes to titles such as Super Smash Bros. Brawl.


Advance Wars


The first game in the Advance Wars series (and a continuation of the Japan-only Wars franchise on Famicom and Super Famicom) is a still a stone cold strategy classic to this day.

The game was originally intended, like the previous entries, to remain exclusive to Japan, due in part to Nintendo's feeling that consumers would not be interested in turn-based strategy games.

Designer Kentaro Nishimura has since commented that "Advance Wars' success shifted Nintendo's attitude over western tastes."

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door


The second, and arguably greatest, Paper Mario instalment was released for Nintendo GameCube in 2004, with Mario embarking on a mission to collect the seven Crystal Stars and open the Thousand-Year Door.

The sequel had players hopping between different characters in an interwoven story, with Mario, Peach and Bowser all sporting unique abilities. The wrestling level was brilliant.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit


Super Circuit was the first game shown off on the Game Boy Advance in September 2000, and its then-sexy SNES-style visuals sent the gaming populace wild with excitement (well alright, we were pretty excited by the graphics).

The series' handheld debut was an interesting mash up of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64, with retro-inspired track design and tonnes of depth.

The game also offered one of the few genuine big surprises in recent gaming years, when you collected 100 coins over the course of the game and discovered you'd unlocked every single track from the brilliant SNES original. Awesome.


Intelligent Systems is currently developing the fourth instalment in the Paper Mario series and 13th in the Fire Emblem series, both for the Nintendo 3DS.