Over the summer, the mobile app Pokemon Go took the world by storm. Even if it wasn’t developed by Nintendo, it marked the first big foray by a Nintendo franchise into the mobile app industry, and became a global phenomenon by combining an addictive gameplay with 1990s nostalgia. While Pokemon Go was praised for promoting physical activity and allowing businesses to grow by attracting users, it also became a major public nuisance that even contributed to car accidents and robberies. Regardless of these shortcomings, it became evident that Nintendo was sitting on top of a nostalgia-fueled goldmine.
Yesterday, Nintendo released its next big mobile app, Super Mario Run, on iOS. Pokemon might be wildly popular, but Mario is one of Nintendo’s oldest, and easily its most recognizable, franchise. The blue overalls, red cap and mustache of the fictional Italian plumber have become synonymous with Nintendo in the same way that Mickey Mouse represents Disney. Responsible for over 200 different games over various genres and selling over 500 million copies in the past 30 years, Mario is the best-selling video game franchise.
The gameplay for Super Mario Run is much the same as many of the old “Super Mario” games: a side-scrolling adventure where Mario runs through levels, jumps on the bad guys, eats mushrooms and tries to rescue a princess. The graphics might be better than when the first “Super Mario” game was released in 1985, but the gameplay has remained pretty much the same. But the thing is that Nintendo didn’t need to make a revolutionary Mario game for the mobile. They just need to follow the same gameplay and show us the same players, and that’s exactly what they’re doing.
Although Nintendo has had a tough time staying relevant in recent years, the company does have one thing going for it: during the height of their power in the video game industry, they created some of the most well-loved, timeless and instantly-recognizable video game franchises. In the 90s when Pokemon first took off, the company was revolutionizing gaming with what are considered by many to be some of the greatest video games of all time. This was the age of such timeless franchises as Mario and Zelda, whose influence as pop culture icons has helped keep the company from going under in recent years. And they might just be what offers the company their second wind.