“I got a feeling we’re not in Brooklyn no more.”
What a line, right? The Super Mario Bros. movie from 1993 was and is exceptionally bad. Released at a moment when Nintendo was at the top of its game with the wildly successful Super NES console, the movie came across as a shallow, half-baked tie-in.
That’s because it was! Even Nintendo admits it. While the publisher has come a long way, especially over the past couple years, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime recalls hearing grim tales of the company’s early foray into licensing its properties out for non-gaming uses.
“That Super Mario movie from the 1990s … left a really bad taste in the mouth of our developers,” Fils-Aime said during a recent interview. “I wasn’t with the company [at that time], but as I joined I heard some of the horror stories.”
The movie’s failure has been widely documented over the years, and it’s a situation that has often played out in reverse when movies are turned into video games: Key creative forces were left on the sidelines, and the result was a creative vision run amok.
“It was a situation where, unfortunately, we did not have a hands-on role,” Fils-Aime said. “We did not play a key brand champion type of role in [the making of that movie], which worked out so horribly.”
Super Mario left behind scar tissue that compelled Nintendo to steer clear of similarly high-profile licensing partnerships for many years after that. It wasn’t until recently that the attitude started to shift.
There’s the ongoing Dark Horse Comics partnership. There are the completely unexpected and totally wild leans into the fashion world, with Vans, with Uniqlo, and with LeSportsac. And of course, there’s the lingering promise of a Universal Studios theme park.
“What’s different is that as we do these relationships today, we very much are the brand steward,” Fils-Aime explained. “That’s what makes these so special. When you have that care, it really shows in the execution.”
It’s almost a no-brainer in this era of cinematic universes and other types of branded crossovers. Of course Nintendo is seeking these partnerships, and working closely with each one to ensure a certain degree of creative integrity.
That type of thinking wasn’t always a no-brainer, however. The Super Mario movie is hardly a lone example. It’s taken time for the market to figure out how a good meeting of the brands can work. So now, Nintendo — armed with the hard experience of past failures and a growing awareness of its own position of prominence in the broader world of pop culture — knows what needs to be done.
“Our approach is to do [these licensing partnerships] in a way that, when the consumer sees it, they say to themselves, ‘Wow. I didn’t expect that, but isn’t it cool,'” Fils-Aime explained.
The results, he added, speak for themselves. Look at Vans. The apparel company has had branded product lines before, and they’re almost always a limited edition proposition. But when the 2015 line of Nintendo-branded Vans products launched, everything sold out almost immediately.
“It was so shocking to them that they actually went back and restarted the production lines to do more, which they have historically never done,” Fils-Aime said, adding that it was a similar situation with Uniqlo.
“There was anticipation of a certain level of [sales]; what actually happened blew away all of their expectations, [so] they went back and produced more.”
In many ways, Nintendo’s approach to these more recent partnerships mirror the company’s own philosophy when it comes to gaming hardware and software: Give the people what they want, but in ways that stand to surprise them.
“We want our fans to celebrate their love for our intellectual property beyond being able to play those games, and we’re thrilled that we’re able to deliver on that,” Fils-Aime said.
“Doing it in unique and unexpected ways has really been stellar for us.”