When the Nintendo and DeNA corporate partnership was announced in early 2015, the most obvious concept that came up in the Nintendo Life team's conversation was a Mario runner. It's hardly rocket science - franchises such as Rayman and Sonic the Hedgehog have had multiple runner iterations of different types on mobile. It's a go-to genre on smart devices due to its simplicity to play and - presumably - develop. When buttons aren't an option, tapping is the only logical way to play a platformer, so controlling movement is out; no, 'virtual' D-Pads aren't a valid mainstream alternative in this writer's opinion.
Another reason Mario immediately sprung to mind was brand power; again, an obvious conclusion. For many, especially those with only a passing interest in and awareness of Nintendo, Mario is immediately recognisable as a mascot. His appearance, the music from his classic games, the 'Wahoo' soundbite - these are all firmly embedded in popular culture. That was only reinforced by the Tokyo 2020 Olympics committee opting to give the character a starring role in its handover video, the lead character among other iconic parts of Japanese culture.
With all of that in mind Super Mario Run is no surprise, albeit its timing and manner of announcement raised some eyebrows. It emerged during Apple's latest live conference, with Shigeru Miyamoto leading the way in the unveiling; you can see the relevant parts after Alex's intro in the video below.
Unsurprisingly, investors are happy nevertheless, and respected analysts are talking up its potential impact. Consider that, so far, Pokémon GO has hit 500 million downloads, breaking records along the way. Now consider the prediction that the free download of Super Mario Run (it'll be a one-off cost to buy the whole thing) is estimated by some to hit one billion downloads. GO may even get that far too, but there's no denying the fact that Mario and mobile are perceived to be a dream combination.
As we suggested in a Talking Point posted just before Super Mario Run was announced - which was therefore immediately out of date in some areas - there's a sense that a number of Nintendo gamers are coming around to the idea of mobile as a potentially positive area for the company. As Pokémon GO has shown, a hugely successful app can drive interest and sales in 'main' games only available on Nintendo hardware. As marketing and brand exercises, assuming they don't offer the same experiences available on Nintendo systems, mobile titles can be powerful assets. Besides, they can potentially be fun in their simplicity or - in the case of GO - their integration with our daily lives.
Certainly a decent percentage clicked on poll buttons to suggest they're relatively excited about Super Mario Run. Naturally, though, the opposing opinions are still out there - does simplifying Nintendo games down to mobile adversely affect the IP's image? It's a debate that can be argued on either side. Undeniably Super Mario Run looks simplistic, that's the whole pitch - "play with one hand" is the focus, and as a result it strips away the precision control and truly clever level design that defines the finest 2D Mario experiences. From a purist's point of view it's likely to cause - at least - a slightly uncomfortable scrunch of the nose as we see basic gameplay footage.
The other side of the argument can have multiple flavours. For one thing simple and relaxing mobile games can be hugely enjoyable when the player's in the right mood; to give a personal example, a while ago I was hooked on Alto for Android, where you tap and hold as your character skis down a never-ending slope. In addition, it's simply about business. Investors and analysts are making big predictions for a reason - simple and accessible gameplay along with a huge brand can potentially take off on mobile. The numbers for the initial free download could be enormous, though how many of those then buy the full game may depend upon Nintendo's pricing.
In any case, as Nintendo prepares to unveil and then release the NX, while also stretching out the lifespan of the 3DS, it can benefit from all of the column inches and brand awareness it can muster. The gaming market is incredibly crowded and downright messy right now. Just consider that in the latter half of this year we'll have seen the hardware releases of Xbox One S, PlayStation VR, the 'slim' PlayStation 4, PlayStation 4 Pro; add the NX reveal (presumably) to that list as headline grabbing events. The dedicated gaming space is a little crazy at the moment, and Nintendo needs to get attention any way it can. After all, it benefitted from the Pokémon GO craze despite not being the actual developer of the game.
From various perspectives Super Mario Run has been inevitable, and its sudden appearance this year also ticks a lot of boxes. Nintendo gets headlines, quite possibly a bump to its profits, and major brand awareness for Mario. All of this can feed into helping with the extended life of the 3DS and, of course, the launch of NX. It's no coincidence that Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS is coming in early December for 3DS, the same month as Run arrives on iOS. The great Mario push could even extend to the NX launch library; various rumours and reports for quite some time have speculated on an NX version of Super Mario Maker, while an all-new Mario game to help launch the system seems just as feasible.
This Mario runner was always going to dash into view; at least now we know when it's happening and what it looks like. Ultimately, if Nintendo wins with Super Mario Run then, by extension, we should all win as well.