Ahead of Super Mario Odyssey’s October 2017 launch, Nintendo made the shrewd move of dropping the game’s vocal-led theme song, "Jump Up, Super Star!" On iTunes. This proved to be a brilliant decision, as the video-game single jumped up the sales charts in many territories, making the top 25 in the United States and straight-up, the number one spot in Japan. This is for every song, regardless of category. That’s insane. The hype for Super Mario Odyssey is real, and Nintendo has managed to cultivate that hype through treating this game like it’s the biggest event of the year.
Nintendo used to be incredibly hesitant with its IP, despite the general consensus being that it’s almost as valuable as Disney. Walk into a retail store, and it was an actual effort to find Nintendo merchandise. There was a ton of Nintendo junk in the late 80's and 90's at the height of Nintendo mania, but less and less as time went by. In the 2000's, Nintendo merchandise was almost unheard of. Even game-centric stuff, like soundtracks, were impossible to find unless you were willing to shell out for Japanese imports.
But in recent years, Nintendo merchandise has become as common as any other big brand. Walk into a Gamestop and you’ll see a wall of Nintendo goodies, like plushies, clothes, board games, and more practical items like coffee mugs and stress balls. But aside from toys, games, and other physical merch, one realm Nintendo hasn’t really ventured into still is multimedia.
A few years ago, roughly around the middle of the Wii U’s lifetime, reports came around that Nintendo was beginning to explore moving its IP around in unfamiliar territory. Legal language was floating around that suggested things like movies and animation, for example. This hasn’t gone anywhere worldwide yet, although Japan has seen an Animal Crossing animated film, for example. Rumors of a Netflix-fundedThe Legend of Zelda show made the rounds as recently as this year, but nothing has progressed past the rumor stage.
But that doesn’t mean Nintendo isn’t trying new things. After all, with Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes, Nintendo is telling us that it does have interest in crossing borders into unfamiliar territory. Honestly, I would argue that Nintendo’s aggressive merchandising and spreading out its IP has contributed in part to the company’s wild success in 2017. As attractive as the Switch hardware is for its own reasons, awareness of Nintendo outside of video game stores is at an all-time high. People who maybe don’t care that much about video games anymore have been reminded how much they enjoyed Nintendo growing up and may have picked up a Switch through nostalgic impulse.
Now, back to Super Mario Odyssey. In a lot of ways, it is a go big or go home moment for Nintendo. The core Mario series has struggled in recent years with a bit of an identity crisis. While Nintendo sales overall floundered across generations, Nintendo seemed to be trying to find a secret sauce with Mario games. The Mario 64 and Sunshine formula went away, in favor of the New Super Mario Bros style, with Mario Galaxy and 3D Land/World trying different hybrid forms.
Super Mario Odyssey is a return to the old, massive style and a bid to match Mario with modern gaming conventions such as large maps, tons of collectibles and customization options. It’s a very 2017, AAA-feeling Mario game, not unlike Breath of the Wild. But while it’s making an effort to appeal to modern gamers, it’s also still not afraid to be weird.
Nintendo has really leaned on New Donk City, one of the game’s multiple locations, in the game’s marketing. With it has come a first for the series, a big, wild vocal song accompanied one of the early trailers, and Nintendo fans went wild over it. Now, Nintendo has released the song in single form on iTunes, the biggest digital marketplace for music, well, ever. Why not take advantage of people responding to something, instead of allowing it to disappear like the wacky song from the original Splatoon ads? For just over a dollar, all the more savvy fans can listen to "Jump Up, Super Star!" As much as they want, and Nintendo gets to make that much more money and gain that much more word of mouth power. It’s another sign the culture at Nintendo is evolving, and allowing the company to try more avenues to give fans what they want, which is ultimately more content.