Later this month, we’ll see the release of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, a Ubisoft-developed strategy game featuring characters from Nintendo’s Mario universe and Ubisoft’s Rabbids franchise. It’s a release that when we first heard about it, we assumed it would be the first thing with Mario that we’d widely ignore. It was quite a surprise when we walked away from E3 this year, and as The Free Cheese, collectively felt it was the game of the show. It was a clear revert from our previous way of thinking and one that begs for a deeper analysis.
It wasn’t that suddenly we saw footage and realized that we love the Rabbids characters. Nor was it that we are just starving for a Mario game on Switch, as we’re getting one just two months after this game’s release. I think what really attracted all of us to Mario + Rabbids Battle was the fact that it was something different. We saw Mario doing something that we didn’t expect him to do and it wasn’t out of place. We’ve all seen random modifications to other games to integrate Mario and the like into a world they don’t belong in, and it always feels just like that- it doesn’t belong. Yet when we watch the footage for Mario + Rabbids, it makes total sense and it appears to fit just in the right way.
Further from the gameplay itself, I think that Ubisoft’s presentation at E3 and the comments made were really what sets this game apart. During the on-stage presentation featuring Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot and Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, it was said that when Ubisoft was allowed the freedom to use Mario and its characters in a game, that the developers were asked to do something that Mario hasn’t done before. Generally, Mario games are filled with platforming and puzzles revolving around Mario having to jump, and it seems that Nintendo wanted Ubisoft’s Mario to have nothing to do with jumping.
In an interview with IGN, Miyamoto said, “a lot of times you see Mario guest star in maybe a different franchise or a different game for other companies, but we realized we haven’t done that with Ubisoft.” Many of these guest star appearances he speaks of are usually internal Nintendo properties or side games featuring the famous plumber. Spinoff games like Mario Party and Super Smash Bros. are still developed by Nintendo or with heavy oversight from the talent at Nintendo. This can be seen in the development of Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series, which is developed by Sega but with partnership that still allowed control in order to “maintain the level of quality.”
During the same interview, Guillemot stated, “It’s a great honor … to be able to understand all the care Nintendo is putting on that character and environment.” Adding, “For us, we like very much Nintendo’s philosophy of bringing enjoyment to all the people that play their games, and we like the way they bring it to the market, so it’s very close our philosophy.”
In brief clips of conversations, we can see how Nintendo is not only allowing the use of its characters, but is beginning to allow the use of its core philosophies. Nintendo maintains some of the world’s most recognizable and important intellectual property, but what is possibly even more important and integral to the company’s success are the ideals upon which it was built. These ideals are so woven into the design of the company that it is able to stand on its own because of them. Despite recent history’s allowance for antagonism of the company, it finds itself in a much stronger place than it has perhaps ever been.
There are two philosophies within Nintendo that if replicated, can lead to great success. The first is of Gunpei Yokoi, former designer at Nintendo, who believed in the “lateral thinking with withered technology.” The idea ultimately boils down to the belief that technology does not need to be the most cutting edge on the market in order to become successful. It must simply be utilized in a way that makes it the most useful to the user. Specifically speaking to games and toys, Yokoi believed that novel and fun gameplay were more important than providing the latest in technology. This is something we’ve watched Nintendo reiterate in every hardware release to date. When compared to its competition, Nintendo hardware often comes up short yet sells the most. Dating back to Yokoi’s Game Boy outselling rival Sega’s Game Gear, all the way to the Wii and its dominance over that generation of home consoles.
The second belief at play is from former president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who believed that because the company was profitable by making fun experiences, it should only use those profits to continue to make fun experiences. It’s something simple, but something that Miyamoto believes made work a lot easier at Nintendo. It also gave the company and its employees the courage to try something different, not for the sake of being different but because replication of the competition isn’t fun. It’s this belief that is rooted deeply within the DNA of the company and can be felt in every product it creates.
When we look a little closer at Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom and tie it back to the allowance that Nintendo is providing with not just its properties but its philosophies, we can see that the game is the product of another company’s realization of those core beliefs. We read the news when it was first beginning to leak out and we scoffed at this game. We ridiculed it because we jumped to conclusions without basis and we settled at that. Yet, when we saw it delivered to us, we were suddenly enamored with the idea. The developers at Ubisoft were able to take from Nintendo and create something that at least appears to be undeniably fun. This fall, among a sea of releases that all try to best one another, Mario + Rabbids is a release that stands out because of how unique it is. It’s a uniqueness not simply for the sake of being it, but because Nintendo allowed and encouraged a developer to get weird. It demanded that Ubisoft tried something that Mario hadn’t done and ensured that the player could have fun along the way.
As we move toward and even past the release of Mario + Rabbids Battle Kingdom, I’m eager to see where else Nintendo will spread its philosophy. We’re seeing a new kind of company with the release of the Switch. It’s become a new kind of hungry but not by way of desperation. There’s a steady stream of release coming to the Switch and the company has been investing a lot in the dispersement of its properties. The likes of amusement parks and mobile phone apps are only the beginning. I see more and more boxes of fruit snacks with Nintendo characters at the grocery store, and it seems that everyone wants to house a tiny version of an old Nintendo console in their entertainment center.
The wide awareness of Nintendo is expanding, albeit difficult to conceive of anyone who wouldn’t know of the one-hundred and twenty-eight year old company. With Nintendo handing development over to another company and allowing it to mix properties with its own, I’m curious to see who’s next. Further, I’m intrigued to watch as more companies begin to adopt the beliefs of the Japanese giant and to see what will come of them.