Just Enough New: Nintendo's Takashi Tezuka on Keeping With Mario's 2D Traditions

Veteran Nintendo producer reflects on the state of New Super Mario Bros. and why touch-screen controls are being kept to a minimum on the Wii U.

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Takashi Tezuka may not equal Shigeru Miyamoto in name recognition, but as the man in charge of the New Super Mario Bros. series, this Nintendo veteran is an important figure when it comes to the direction of everyone's favorite Italian plumber. Following the announcement of New Super Mario Bros. U at E3 2012, we sat down with Tezuka to get his thoughts on where the series is headed and how much of an influence the Wii U touch screen will have on his team's work.

What surprised you most about the reception to New Super Mario Bros. Wii? It seems like the competition aspect was a lot more popular than people expected.

To start with, that was a game where we really focused our attention on the multiplayer aspect during development. In the early experimentation phase, we had some tests with four players on the screen at the same time, and we had so much fun within our group that we decided to focus on that four-player multiplayer aspect.

Of course, one thing we discovered right away was that people were having a lot of fun really battling each other rather than acting cooperatively. Some folks really liked the idea of "that's the one guy that I'm gonna pick on." Of course, there were folks who didn't enjoy that kind of gameplay at all! There was another group that really wanted to cooperate and work together. Frankly speaking, a lot of our female players and female staff felt more in tune with that sort of cooperative element. So we had a lot of internal discussion with which one we proceed with: this combative style or this cooperative style? We talked about this quite a bit, and the result was, let's do both!

Traditionally, Mario sequels have been very different from one another, but the New Super Mario Bros. series games tend to be very similar mechanically and visually. Is that a design decision?

It's intentional. That similarity in the visual style and the control style is all intentional. The things we feel like we've already promised the gamer is that Peach will be kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario will move from left to right. We know that's what people are expecting! [Laughs] We know that there are all types of Mario games, as you said. So for us, with the New Super Mario Bros. series, we don't really need to mess with it. This is what people want.

"Peach will be kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario will move from left to right … This is what people want."

One of the things we always focus on in development is that we want a wide audience to play these games and enjoy them. So we're looking at games that are accessible and intuitive. So, for example, we have a recurring enemy type from one game to the next. If in the first game the enemy acts a certain way and has a certain functionality, our audience says, "OK, I know what to expect." If they see that character in [the new] game and it's completely different, I don't think that's a good thing. For characters like the Goombas and the Koopas, those are the building blocks, the fundamental things that we're not going to change.

There has been a 2D platforming renaissance as of late, with games like Braid, Super Meat Boy, and Kirby's Epic Yarn. Is there any game that influenced you or that you're particularly impressed with?

The Donkey Kong game that we just had out on Wii, Donkey Kong Country Returns--I actually got a glimpse of a ROM while they were still in development. The graphics were so pretty that I thought, wow, that looks really nice. We were working on New Super Mario Bros. Wii at the time, and that really became an impetus. That really kicked us in the butts. I don't know if "influence" is the right word, but it had an impact.

Speaking of graphics, what sort of extra work is involved for you with the transition to HD?

I don't know if it's extra work; it's just that we had to focus our attention. Now that we're in HD, what's the best art style that takes advantage of that? So there's extra consideration of the art style itself, but not any extra work per se.

When you first started working with the Wii U touch screen, what were the very first things you tried on those early prototypes?

The thing that we started first was what ended up being Boost mode, that ability to add extra platforms for players [using the GamePad touch screen]. One thing we learned via the DS system was that touch-screen control was something that's best used only when necessary. It wasn't the key controller. We didn't want to throw it in and use it everywhere. To be honest, we didn't feel that traditional Mario [directional pad] movement married with touch screen at the same time worked that well. So that's why using the touch screen only where it made sense, as we learned with the DS, was something that we brought to [this new game].

With the touch screen, our feeling is that it really depends on the type of game you're developing. So if you've a game where you're stopped, thinking about things and checking stuff out, or you've got inventories and whatnot…then man! The touch screen is fantastic! But Mario is a game that's always on the move, so it's not necessary to have it as a key control feature.

There has been a lot of push from certain analysts about iPhone games from Nintendo. How do you feel about the idea of Mario being on iPhone? Pushing past that, is it possible to make a Mario game that would be touch screen only? There was Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis on the DS, which was a puzzle game that was primarily, if not exclusively, touch screen. Do you think it would be possible in any other genre?

We can definitely make a Mario game that's touch screen only. It wouldn't be a 2D side-scrolling Mario platformer, but I think we can definitely make games maybe in the vein of Mario vs. Donkey Kong or something like that. I think that's definitely possible. Would we make that for another platform? No. Of course not. It would be on a Nintendo platform. But it's definitely something we could do. It just wouldn't be a 2D side-scrolling platformer.

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