Born in 1959 in Nara Prefecture, Japan, Sakamoto attended the Osaka University of the Arts. As a child he played with Nintendo toys, products he thought were both inventive and "strange".
Nintendo (1982 - Present)
Game & Watch + Arcade
In 1982, Sakamoto was hired as an artist by Nintendo, primarily with the task of creating promotional artwork for various games. Soon after, he was moved into R&D1, where he began working under Gunpei Yokoi and Makoto Kanoh for Game & Watch development. His first game was the Game & Watch version of Donkey Kong where he designed the barrels and cranes that the player had to maneuver around. Later that year, Yokoi ordered Sakamoto to come up with a game about Snoopy and Sakamoto solely designed Snoopy for the Game & Watch Panoramic model.
After the completion of Snoopy, senior game developer Shigeru Miyamoto asked the staff at R&D1 for volunteers for his new arcade game Donkey Kong Jr.. Sakamoto jumped at the chance to design something for the more powerful arcade machines, and started work as a pixel artist. He then worked on Wrecking Crew where Miyamoto told him to use Mario and Luigi as the protagonists rather than making an original character.
NES + Famicom Disk System
With the Famicom console launched in Japan, Sakamoto was made a lead designer for the Famicom system and worked on many games including Balloon Fight, and Gumshoe. With Gumshoe, he used Gunpei Yokoi for inspiration and designed the protagonist Mr. Stevenson to resemble him. Eventually, he began working on the Famicom Disk System (FDS), which would be home to his most famous series.
Development on the FDS allowed developers to create bigger games than the Famicom could provide such as The Legend of Zelda and Nazo no Murasame. The staff at R&D1 worked hard on creating their own game that would be drastically different from the likes of Miyamoto's EAD developed titles. Sakamoto's subordinates Hirofumi Matsuoka and Hiroji Kiyotake were tasked with creating Metroid, a darker and more desolate game from Nintendo. The game struggled to find direction, so Yokoi placed Sakamoto as director and the game was completed. Once Metroid was completed, Sakamoto quickly joined the development of Kid Icarus, where he helped his friend Toru Osawa complete the game just three days before release.
Soon, third party developer Squaresoft proposed an idea for a phone based text adventure for the Disk System to Nintendo. Sakamoto took interest in the idea and asked Gunpei Yokoi to give him permission to create Nakayama Miho no Tokimeki High School. Rather than creating an original character, Sakamoto suggested using a real life teen idol to make the game more appealing, so Nintendo used teen idol Miho Nakayama as the heroine of the game. The game became a huge success for Nintendo, so Yokoi encouraged Sakamoto to create more text adventures leading to the creation of Famicom Tantei Club.
Game Boy + Super Nintendo
In 1989, Nintendo released the Game Boy in Japan and the R&D team switched to developing games for the handheld. Sakamoto revisited his earlier years at the company by creating Balloon Kid, a sequel to his NES classic Balloon Fight. He took inspiration from his other games such as Metroid by adding a story the game, which featured the heroine Alice searching for her missing brother. He pushed the envelope even further when created For the Frog a Bell Tolls, a Zelda styled adventure that placed greater emphasis on character and story than any other Zelda game.
When Nintendo heard that a programmer at Argonaut had learned how to make the game display 3D graphics, Nintendo had young British developer Dylan Cuthbert flown to Kyoto to show off his demo. Impressed by his work, Nintendo placed Cuthbert under the watchful eye of Yokoi and Sakamoto where they created X for the Game Boy in 1992.
After skipping the development of Metroid II, Sakamoto returned to the franchise by directing Super Metroid, a game he intended to be the final chapter of the Metroid franchise. Sakamoto and his team were given two and a half years to work the game, a time span that was unheard of at Nintendo in those days. The long development time paid off as Super Metroid became one of the most popular games for the Super Nintendo.
After Super Metroid, Sakamoto returned to making games for Nintendo's handhelds. His Virtual Boy game Teleroboxer was one of the more popular games for the short lived system. He also created one of the last Game Boy Color games with 2000's Trade & Battle: Card Hero which proved to be a cult hit.
In the early 2000's Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi retired and appointed HAL Labs president Satoru Iwata as the next president of Nintendo. Iwata restructured the companies R&D group into the new Nintendo SPD, a group consisting of four separate teams. Sakamoto became the leader of SPD1, which was tasked with developing games for the Game Boy Advance, while Nintendo EAD focused on the GameCube. There he returned to Metroid by advising Retro Studios over Metroid Prime, and directing his own Metroid Fusion for the GBA.
He encouraged his staff to make all sorts of games that defied people's expectations of what a game is. His eccentric personality, and the culture that he cultivates can be seen through the diverse portfolio that he and his team have amassed over the years. Titles like Metroid: Other M, Rhythm Heaven, and WarioWare show the continuing diversity that Sakamoto and his team pursue in their field of creating unique experiences.