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Mario & Zelda were just the start: Nintendo eyes new franchises to build on old-school classics

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Apr 13, 2021, 4:06 PM EDT

The Big N is responsible for some of the most hallowed and globally loved mascots not just in gaming, but in all of pop culture. Mario, Link, Samus Aran, Pikachu — across the world, they’ve become larger-than-life household names since Nintendo first introduced them on past-gen systems from the 1980s and early 1990s.

But with huge franchises like Zelda and Metroid currently in the still-mysterious midst of new game development, and with Nintendo looking to wrest several years’ more playtime from the immensely popular Switch, the company that gave us Princess Peach and Bowser is also looking to create new game franchises — the kind that can capture players’ imagination and take their rightful place alongside its revered old-school heroes, most of whom are now more than 30 years old.

Speaking recently with Nikkei (via VGC), Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa reportedly revealed that the company is seeking to remain the creative powerhouse that it became during its late arcade and early console years, when the fertile mind of Shigeru Miyamoto was regularly churning out gaming grand slams like Donkey Kong, Super Marios Bros., and The Legend of Zelda. While he didn’t share any specifics, Furukawa reportedly hinted that Nintendo is taking direct aim at generating more star mascots into the fold.

“I myself am looking at and studying various forms of entertainment,” he said, via VGC’s report. “In the future, we will focus on creating new game series as well as long-sellers such as Mario and Zelda.”

This week, Nintendo also revealed it’s expanding its Switch Lite lineup with a new blue color, just in time for the May 21 release of remastered RPG Miitopia. Taken with Nintendo’s conservative focus on preserving its all-star mascots, the company’s push to create memorable new experiences while extending the Switch’s life cycle perhaps reflects the unique corporate values it’s been nurturing ever since the NES debuted outside Japan.

“Nintendo is in many ways a very old-fashioned Japanese company,” prof. Kenshu Kikuzawa told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent report ont the U.S. release of Ask Iwata, the biography of the late Satoru Iwata, Nintendo’s president through the early 2000s. “Ultimately, Nintendo employees just really love Nintendo. Loyalty to the company is fierce.”

Iwata, who oversaw the success of the Wii and the 3DS, was already a big contributor to some of Nintendo’s biggest ideas (including Kirby, Pokémon, and Super Smash Bros.) before he took over the company in 2002. In his biography, he said the key to making games that people want to play stems from being a gamer yourself. “On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer,” he wrote, via THR.

When it comes to creating new characters, new stories, and new ways to play, no company has more goodwill among players than Nintendo. Since the late 1990s, the company’s biggest original IPs have veered toward ensemble action with franchises like Animal Crossing, Splatoon, and the Miyamoto-created Pikmin. But wherever Nintendo’s new creations take players, the company’s biggest old-school stars aren’t going anywhere.

Currently in the works are a Switch sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, as well as a secrecy-shrouded new entry in the Metroid Prime series from longtime Prime developer Retro Studios. Mario, meanwhile, is throwing a neighborhood block party with the recent opening of Super Nintendo World in Tokyo (with a U.S. opening also planned for the near future). And while Nintendo hasn’t declared anything officially, it’s a pretty safe bet that we won’t have to wait forever for another Mario flagship platforming game to follow up on the success of 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey.