Interview: Shigeru Miyamoto Opens Up About the Future of Nintendo, Super Nintendo World, and More


Shigeru Miyamoto is busier than ever. Just months shy of his 70th birthday, he’s doubling down on his role as Nintendo’s jovial mascot while promoting the upcoming Super Mario Bros. movie and other projects. Last week he cut the red ribbon for Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Hollywood, the second expansion to Nintendo’s ambitious theme park.

If he’s stressed by the workload, he doesn’t show it. He leans forward on a couch in a private lounge surrounded by Super Nintendo World merchandise, his expression alternating between a scowl and his famous wide grin. He is wearing a Super Nintendo World t-shirt with a black blazer: a calculated touch of whimsy mixed with an understated conservative business sense.

Miyamoto rarely makes himself available to the media, so his presence in Super Nintendo World speaks of how much this project matters to Nintendo. It was born in 2015, in a period in which the dramatic problems of Wii U seemed to mark an uncertain future for Nintendo. Today, Nintendo is in a much more stable position thanks to the success of the Switch, which recently became the third best-selling console of all time, but that hasn’t diminished the company’s sense of urgency around diversifying. as much as possible.

Nintendo’s biggest strength is its characters and how they are used in different types of media, beyond games.

“This is something that I had been discussing for more than 10 years with Mr. [Satoru Iwata]”, explains Miyamoto, referring to the late executive who was CEO of Nintendo until his death in 2015. “Nintendo has a lot of characters… I think sometimes Nintendo is mixed with other companies in the field of video games, but we have what to think that Nintendo’s greatest strength is its characters and how that is used in different types of media beyond games.”

That’s why Super Nintendo World is so important to Nintendo. Along with the Super Mario Bros. movie, which combines familiar Nintendo characters with the voices of Chris Pratt, Jack Black and other household names, it’s one of the most ambitious projects in the company’s long history. In Miyamoto’s words, it’s an opportunity to introduce Nintendo characters to non-gamers who would otherwise never touch a controller.

“In that sense, really try to take advantage of all the characters we have and not just limit ourselves to gamesBut finding the best means for the characters to thrive is something we want to keep an eye on,” says Miyamoto. “If there’s a business opportunity, we’d certainly love to explore it. But Nintendo is a company with a lot of different talents involved.”

out of the tube

Miyamoto has long been interested in theme parks. He remembers one of his first conversations with Hiroshi Yamauchi, then the president of Nintendo, who suggested that he build Nintendo Land in Kyoto. Early in his career, Miyamoto visited Disney World to see what he considered the latest in technology and entertainment, but he doubted Nintendo could replicate Disney’s ambitious creations.

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“The business of creating or running a theme park is very big and very different from what Nintendo does, which is creating and selling games,” says Miyamoto. “And I thought, ‘It’s going to be hard; Nintendo’s not going to be able to run a theme park business.’ But we had a conversation with Universal, and the idea came up that maybe they could support us to make a theme park happen… So I’m really glad that we’ve been able to get to this relationship where we can really have a collaborative partnership.”

That partnership materialized in 2021 with the grand opening of the first Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan. Despite the difficulties of the pandemic, it was very well received, which made fans even more excited for the condensed version that had already been planned for Hollywood. The media were invited to visit the Californian park starting in January, and the reception was equally positive.

I thought: ‘It’s going to be difficult; Nintendo is not going to be able to run a theme park business.’

Last Thursday, shortly before its inauguration on February 17, I got to see Super Nintendo World in person. I’ll start by admitting that I’m not as fond of theme parks as my friends, who insist on going to Disneyland several times a year. Still, I respect the artistry behind spaces like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which uses the latest technology to create an experience that goes far beyond the old projection screens and animatronics of yesteryear.

Super Nintendo World has nothing to envy to Galaxy Edge’s frankly incredible recreation of the Millennium Falcon, but it’s nonetheless impressive. I was overwhelmed with sight and hearing the moment I first stepped out of the Mario pipeline, surrounded on all sides by decades of Mario history. It manages to pack a huge amount of joy into a relatively small space.filling every corner with richly realized details, from Bowser Junior’s clown car to the animated Toad that inhabits the Toadstool Cafe.

Miyamoto’s influence is evident from the start, as the park encourages a sense of discovery reminiscent of its most famous rides. Wearing a special bracelet, you can get special stamps by scanning points with unique sensors scattered throughout the park. Winding passageways take you up, down and everywhere, even up to the walls of Bowser’s castle so you can get a clear view of the space below.

Shortly after the interview, Miyamoto asks me if I was able to find the hidden Pikmin while exploring the park.. I sheepishly say no, which gives me one more secret to discover the next time I return (Nintendo and Universal Studios, the creators of the park, are very fond of the park’s proverbial replayability, for obvious reasons, and have even gone so far as to introduce leaderboards).

The Mario Kart attraction is by far the most impressive in the park, since it combines augmented reality technology with physical accessories to give the sensation of being in a real circuit. I ask Miyamoto what designing this experience has taught him about game design, and he tells me about the challenge of squeezing as much fun as possible into a four-minute experience.

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“When we work on games, one of the most important things is that the player is able to quickly and easily recognize and understand how the game is played. And once you have achieved that, the pleasure of playing comes naturally to the player,” says Miyamoto. “And then there’s the other added layer of video games: when you play, you play for a long time, days, weeks and months. So the creative aspect is to create the necessary depth so that the person can play for a long time.“.

In contrast, theme park rides are exceptionally brief, so Miyamoto claims that the understanding of how to have fun has to be almost instantaneous. He talks about the differences of working with the programmers at Universal Studios, who despite having some overlap with similar disciplines in their own industry, are not game developers.

“Be able to work [con los programadores de Universal] and discuss with them how creating something fun was a new experience for me and something I had a lot of fun withsays Miyamoto.

Miyamoto has always been a bit of a handyman. As a child he had no toys, so he made his own with wood and string. His background is in industrial design, and before joining Nintendo, he dreamed of becoming a professional manga artist. He loves to create a sense of wonder and discovery in his audience, using sight, sound and movement to propel them through his world. On the contrary, his approach to game design has led one to think that Miyamoto does not like complex stories, so some Nintendo fans consider him a kind of “villain”.

What does Miyamoto make of his reputation for getting in the way of ambitious narratives?

“It’s not that complex stories are unnecessary, that’s not what I’m saying at all. Story is a way of explaining a game,” says Miyamoto. “I think the story is just another way to extract enjoyment from that experience. Another is to focus on a gameplay experience that makes you try things over and over again. As I said, the story is a way of explaining the game, and when that goes well sometimes people take the route of starting with the story. the starting story is how to make the gameplay fun, and that’s how i start to think and create a game.” “So, again, it’s not that the story is unnecessary,” he reiterates, “it’s just how I create the games.”

He pauses and then return the conversation to Super Nintendo World.

“Going back to the theme park, obviously It has a lot of history that Mario has been building over the yearsbut at the same time it’s an interactive experience and doesn’t really need a story,” he says. “You go there and experience it, and in that sense I’m glad the theme park turned out the way it did.”

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Sending Mario to Jupiter

By agreeing to have him interview Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo was rigid about the topics it could talk about. They were not interested in answering questions about the next hardware, which is rumored to arrive in 2024, nor about the movie that will be released in April. When a question slipped into my mind about why a Mario game hasn’t appeared alongside the theme park and movie, Miyamoto responded with a polite but terse: “We are always working on Marioso when the time comes that we can share information, we certainly will.”

Even so, it is possible to draw many conclusions about Nintendo’s strategy for the future. In a 2020 interview with The New Yorker, Miyamoto spoke of taking advantage of his remaining years to continue pursuing his interests, including the theme park project.

“As the company has gained new competition over the years, it has given us the opportunity to thinking deeply about what makes Nintendo NintendoMiyamoto said at the time.[El presidente] Shuntaro Furukawa is currently 40 years old, and [el director general] Shinya Takahashi is 50; we are moving towards a position that ensures that the spirit of Nintendo is successfully conveyed. That no longer worries me. Now I focus on the need to continue finding new experiences. This is what has always interested and excited me about the medium: not perfect the old, but discover the new.”

If I find something new and interesting, I’d love to be involved in it, especially if there’s some kind of new technology.

More than ever, Nintendo seems to have understood the value of its characters, paving the way for all kinds of unique opportunities.. PlayStation seems to have realized something similar, as evidenced by the success of The Last of Us on HBO. As it turns out, the future of gaming may not just lie in the cloud, but in old-fashioned experiences like movies, TV series, and, yes, amusement parks.

Nintendo has many more plans for Super Nintendo World, including a Donkey Kong expansion at the Osaka headquarters in 2024. New locations in Orlando and Singapore are also planned for mid-2025, which should keep Miyamoto very busy in the short term. This is how he recognizes it when I ask him how long he can continue.

“As for the theme park, there’s still Orlando and Singapore, and there’s still film work. So I still have a lot to do,” says Miyamoto. “By the way, If I find something new and interesting, I would love to participate in it., especially if there is some kind of new technology. I would love to see which of our talents would be best suited for it.”

Miyamoto pauses, and his face breaks into his trademark smile. “Maybe we can send Mario to Jupiter“.