This is a historic day: You can finally play Super Mario on your iPhone.
Super Mario Run lets you control Nintendo’s iconic plumber with just one smartphone-friendly input; he runs automatically across the screen, and you’ve just got to jump.
We caught up with Nintendo’s Creative Fellow Shigeru Miyamoto, who created Super Mario Bros. in 1985 and has remained intimately involved with the series. He shared a few surprising things about the latest entry in the storied series, and a bit about the upcoming Nintendo Switch and Universal Studios’ “Super Nintendo Land.”
The one-button Mario started a decade ago with the Wii.
Although this is the first Super Mario game in which the hero runs automatically, it’s not a new idea. “On Wii, we experimented specifically with a game where you only press the A button on the Wii Remote to make Mario jump,” Miyamoto says. It didn’t go anywhere, he says, because it wasn’t suited to the console. “We felt, well, we have a plus-control pad, and we have an analog stick, we don’t need to just force people to play with only one button,” he says. “Also, we looked at taking that idea and applying it in a rhythm-style music game where you try to have Mario jump in rhythm. We felt that, yeah, this could make a fun game, but there’s not really a need for it to be a Mario game.”
The idea for Super Mario Run came from Mario speedruns on YouTube.
“When you look at videos of super players who are very good Super Mario Bros. players, they tend to run all the way through the course without ever stopping,” Miyamoto says. “Our feeling was that by having this iPhone game in which Mario runs automatically and all you do is jump, we would actually have quite a bit of leeway to be able to create something that’s simple and easy for anyone to play, but still has some of that challenge and skill that super players desire.”
Inexperienced Mario players often inch forward timidly. By forcing them to hustle along, Miyamoto hopes even beginners enjoy the feeling of an exhilarating speedrun with some wicked maneuvers. “We had the idea of layering in the ability to do different styles of jump, but having those styles of jump be controlled not through a combination of controls but through special blocks that enable Mario to do special jumps at certain times in the level,” he says. “By taking that approach, it would give even beginner players an opportunity to get a taste for what’s fun about the more skilled style of Mario play.”
Miyamoto hasn’t been so intimately involved in a Mario game since 2007.
Although it’s been about five years since Miyamoto said he’s retiring, he continues working with the development team in a role he described as quite similar to director. “When we’re taking new steps like this–certainly with Super Mario Galaxy, that was a new step, and this being our first step into mobile, this is also a new step–that I get more directly involved.” Super Mario Galaxy, a 2007 title for Wii, was the last Mario title in which he was involved “in terms of me actually directly looking at all of the level designs.”
Don’t mistake Mario Run for a “small” game.
Granted, Miyamoto’s definition of retiring simply meant stepping away from supervising blockbuster projects to focus on designing smaller, experimental ones. Clearly, that did not apply to Mario Run. “I’ve been involved from early on all the way through,” he says. “It’s actually become quite a big team.” Three development teams worked on the game’s three features in parallel: the main game, the multiplayer Toad Rally, and the Farmville-esque Kingdom Builder. “It’s turned into quite a big project,” Miyamoto says.
Super Mario Run and the Universal Studios partnership with Nintendo share similar goals.
Beyond its move into mobile and the forthcoming Nintendo Switch console, the company is slowly unveiling a partnership with Universal Studios to open Nintendo-themed attractions at all three Universal theme parks. “That’s a very big project in scope, and has a very large budget,” Miyamoto says. It’s part of an effort to attract a broader audience. He says the NES Classic and Pokemon Go highlights two markets the company is after: Adults who grew up playing Nintendo but haven’t bought a game system in ages, and kids who come to Nintendo through mobile devices. “We’re really looking at the opportunity to reach both of those audiences; reconnect with older ones and establish new connections with younger ones,” Miyamoto says.
Nintendo still envisions the Nintendo Switch as a family gaming machine.
Watch the trailer for Switch, which lets you play the same games on a TV or a tablet, and you may get the impression Nintendo designed it for funemployed millennials who want to play Zelda in the park. Not so, Miyamoto says. “We have always felt that a Nintendo system is best designed to be enjoyed in the living room by the family in front of the TV,” Miyamoto says. Although Switch and Nintendo’s discovery of smartphone gaming represent a shift away from that ideal, it reflects an understanding that “the way that people use the television set has changed,” he says, and shouldn’t be considered an abandonment of the big screen.
Sorry, but Miyamoto doesn’t want the original Super Mario Bros. on your phone.
“Why doesn’t Nintendo just put the original Mario on my phone?” isn’t something I’d typically ask Miyamoto, but I hear it so often that I wanted to hear his reaction. He laughed, and said, “I don’t want to do anything that boring. We’ve been making Mario games for a long time, and Mario’s evolved with every new platform.
“For me, it wouldn’t be interesting work to just take the existing Super Mario Bros. game, put it on an iPhone, (and) emulate a plus control pad. That’s not very fun creatively. We’re more interested in looking at how we can be creative with Mario, and design for iPhone in a way that takes advantage of the uniquenesses of that device and the uniquenesses of that input and the features that that device has. For us, that is much more rewarding creative work.”
He’s got one more thing to say about that. “If we did put Super Mario Bros. on the iPhone, (people) would say, ‘Wow, this is well-done, but are you actually going to expect me to pay money for it? Why isn’t this free?’,” he says. “We try to create products that have value that people are willing to pay for.”