Nintendo banks on Mario for leap in shares

Mario making a star appearance at Apple's iPhone release event in San Francisco on Wednesday. Nintendo's announcement that Super Mario Run will be available on smartphones follows years of anticipation that the company's iconic characters and mobile
Mario making a star appearance at Apple's iPhone release event in San Francisco on Wednesday. Nintendo's announcement that Super Mario Run will be available on smartphones follows years of anticipation that the company's iconic characters and mobile gaming would be a recipe for success.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

TOKYO • Nintendo has finally unveiled plans to bring Mario to smartphones. Now comes the hard part.

Super Mario Run will introduce the mustachioed plumber to the iPhone as a game app in December, just in time for the holidays.

This follows years of anticipation that bringing together the Kyoto-based company's iconic characters and mobile gaming would be a recipe for success.

The bar was set high by the July release of Pokemon Go, a franchise partly owned by Nintendo, although the effort was led mostly by partner Niantic.

The smartphone title sparked worldwide monster-hunting fever and was downloaded more than 500 million times. And Nintendo's stock has almost doubled since March 2015, when the company committed itself to the smartphone era, adding almost US$20 billion (S$26.9 billion) to its market value. To justify that jump, Super Mario Run can't just be good. It has to be great.

"They are under pressure and the game has to be really good to follow up on the success of Pokemon Go," said Mr Serkan Toto, founder of consultant Kantan Games. "It makes sense that they have turned to Mario."

A demo unveiled by Nintendo at Apple's annual iPhone release event on Wednesday showed a familiar scene - Mario racing across a two-dimensional landscape, jumping over obstacles and collecting coins - recognisable to anyone who played Super Mario Brothers on TV screens decades ago.

 Super Mario Run, which can be played with one hand, also includes a battle mode where players try to beat each other's high scores.

Users can try it for free but have to pay to play the whole game.  It isn't revolutionary but rather a bet by Nintendo that sticking to a successful formula will translate into a solid debut for the Mario franchise on smartphones.

Still, it's such a by-the-playbook move and begs the question of why it took so long to deliver. Nintendo gave an explanation for deciding not to reinvent the wheel.

"The magic of Mario is that anyone can pick up a game and instantly start playing, and this time we've made it even simpler to begin," said Mr Shigeru Miyamoto, one of the creators of the original Mario game. "We want as many people as possible of all ages to enjoy playing Super Mario Run."

Nintendo said that any anticipated impact from the new game was already included in its earnings forecast for the current fiscal period, and that Super Mario Run would also be introduced for Android-based devices.

Nintendo shares jumped 13 per cent in Tokyo trading after the announcement.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'Nintendo banks on Mario for leap in shares'. Print Edition | Subscribe