Pokémon Go changed everything. It might seem hyperbolic, but the popular app (temporarily) propelled Nintendo stocks and, far more importantly, sold tons of 3DS units. With Super Mario Run, Nintendo has a prime opportunity to follow that success, this time with the company’s main mascot.
Pokémon has proven to be a resilient brand. While some journalists have been quick to say Pokémon Go reinvigorated interest in the IP, the truth is that interest in Pikachu and pals has been incredibly strong since their debut 20 years ago. Titles in the video game franchise have remained strong sellers while the long-running anime and Trading Card Game have both remained profitable for years. Despite that already strong fan base, Go managed to lure in both new and lapsed Pokémon fans. The app’s initial buzz led to record high stock increases for Nintendo. Those increases would prove fleeting, but the interest in the brand did not. 3DS hardware sales saw a significant increase, as did sales of Pokémon games, in particular the nearly two-year-old titles Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire.
Nintendo’s ownership of the Pokémon brand proved to cause the most confusion in regard to Pokémon Go. The company owns one third of the brand, while Creatures Inc. and Game Freak own the rest. Mario, however, is a completely different story. The character is wholly owned by Nintendo, and the company stands to gain quite a bit more if Super Mario Run proves to be even a fraction as successful as Pokémon Go. The timing could prove especially beneficial. With the NX slated for release just a few months after Super Mario Run, the company could lure new and lapsed fans of the mustachioed plumber over to its newest system, much in the same way it managed with the 3DS and Pokémon Go.
Super Mario Run combines the “runner” genre that has been popularized on mobile with Mario levels and jumps. Like Pokémon Go, the title looks like it will find the sweet spot between full-featured game and an app that suits the cell phone format. There is a sense with Super Mario Run that Nintendo deliberately made a game that evokes the look and feel of a classic Mario title, without actually filling a role reserved for the kind of titles seen on Nintendo hardware. That balance will be key for Nintendo in its mobile endeavors. While some pundits see a third party Nintendo as a lucrative path for the company, hardware sales still generate massive revenue for it. By using mobile as a potential bridge to sell more hardware, Nintendo is clearly aware of how best to push forward.
Earlier this year, Nintendo discussed the importance of keeping its characters and properties popular and relevant. Since then, the company has forged ahead with its partnership with Universal Parks, and gotten Mario a massive appearance promoting the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo. Alongside the announcement of Super Mario Run, these seemingly disparate actions show a company focused on showing off the strength of its biggest character. Outside of Disney, few companies boast the stable of popular characters that Nintendo does. Franchises such as Zelda, Pikmin, and Splatoon could certainly benefit from a similar push.
Time will tell if Super Mario Run will prove nearly as successful as Pokémon Go, but, like its predecessor, it’s already off to a good start. For the first time in a long time, Nintendo seems focused on rebuilding its image and truly showcasing itself as a formidable threat to Sony and Microsoft. While the system has yet to receive an official unveiling, this is a promising sign for the NX, and the future of the company.