New Super Mario Bros. 2 didn’t start as a game obsessed with coins. In fact, it began life as an effort at Nintendo to bolster the ranks of people that could actually make killer Super Mario Bros. games. A new interview with the game’s director Yusuke Amano and its art director Masaaki Ishikawa conducted by company president Satoru Iwata, reveals that the sequel’s golden touch was born out of an experimental spirit.
The latest entry of the “Iwata Asks” interview series revealed that Amano was made the director of New Super Mario Bros. 2 after participating in Nintendo’s “Mario Cram School.” Takashi Tezuka, director of Super Mario Galaxy and many other classic Nintendo games, started a group for developers across Nintendo’s internal studios to learn how to make Super Mario Bros. levels. The practical reason was so that the company could make Mario games faster, but the happy result was an influx of new ideas in a series that has become beholden to tradition after 25 years.
Hence the coins. Amano and his team of Mario rookies were working with Tezuka and Toshihiko Nagako, another veteran of the series. The vets insisted on incorporating coins in a “satisfying” way, and the solution from Amano’s team was a Golden Koopa whose shell spouted coins when you threw it and a block that erupted coins when you carried around. Tezuka liked it so much that he said to the team, “How about one million coins?!” So New Super Mario Bros. 2’s raison d’être came into focus. The game was almost called New Super Mario Bros. Gold, but the levels made by the new recruits were so fine that Nintendo decided it would be best as a numerical sequel.
The game’s thematic focus on collecting little golden coins is appropriate considering the state of the company. Creatively speaking, Nintendo is at a crossroads, poised over the edge of a future defined by digital distribution and social connectivity. Mario’s dash for cash represents the company’s realization that its audience has moved online, and the game’s competitive “Coin Rush” mode is a new way to engage that audience in terms of its shared experiences.
From a business perspective though, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the game that Nintendo is relying on to carry the Nintendo 3DS handheld into lasting profitability. The first New Super Mario Bros. on DS has sold around 30 million copies since 2006. As evidenced by the company’s latest quarterly earnings report, NSMB2 is an essential component in its recovery, a potential earner of many real coins.