TIME Video Games

Nintendo Actually Just Hired Bowser to Head Sales

No word on whether the new executive will give a fiefdom to his seven children

For Nintendo lovers, Bowser is the ultimate baddie, the fire-breathing lizard king that has absconded with Princess Peach since the 1980s. For some Nintendo employees, Bowser is now their boss. And not a video game boss.

Nintendo of America announced today that it had hired Doug Bowser as VP of sales. Before joining Nintendo, Bowser worked at Electronic Arts.

It has been a bust few months for Nintendo, a one-time video game leader that had had a tough few years, marked by disappointing sales of its WiiU console. In March the company announced it was finally ready to embrace mobile games, meaning Mario and friends could be on your iPhone soon.

You can read the full press release here.

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Why Nintendo is Suddenly Profitable Again

A video gamer tries out the Nintendo's new touch screen game pad controller with gyroscopic controls and their newest game 'Splatoon'  at a pre-launch event in New York, U.S., on Wednesday May 6th 2015.  Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg *** Local Caption ***
Peter Foley—© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP A video gamer tries out the Nintendo's new touch screen game pad controller with gyroscopic controls and their newest game 'Splatoon' at a pre-launch event in New York, U.S., on Wednesday May 6th 2015.

Hit software is keeping industry's oldest console maker alive

It was only a year ago that Nintendo seemed to be in dire straits. The Wii U failed to capture the public’s attention in the way the Wii did, and even the successful 3DS handheld was struggling to match the sales of the original Nintendo DS. But a sudden return to profitability and a string of forward-thinking announcements indicate that the video game industry’s most storied developer may yet right its ship.

Nintendo posted its first operating profit in four years Thursday, earning 24.8 billion yen ($208 million) for the fiscal year, compared to an operating loss of $390 million last year. Net profit was $350 million, up from $195 million in 2014. The numbers beat company forecasts largely because of a weak yen. However, revenue continued a years-long decline, sliding from $4.8 billion last year to $4.6 billion.

The video game maker’s recovery is largely due to a string of blockbuster hits. Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire for the 3DS sold almost 10 million units between them for the fiscal year. Super Smash Bros. sold a similar amount when combining its 3DS and Wii U versions. And Mario Kart 8 became the best-selling game on the Wii U, selling more than 5 million copies. As in years past, Nintendo has been able to use software to dig itself out of trouble.

Still, the future of the company remains murky. Sales of the 3DS are continuing to decline, dropping from 12 million last fiscal year to 8.7 million in the most recent year. And while the Wii U’s sales have increased a bit from its disastrous start, its sales of 3.4 million for the year were still off from company projections of 3.6 million. The 3DS has sold 52 million units in its lifetime, while the Wii has sold just 9.5 million.

Read more: Nintendo’s New Game Could Save the Wii U

The biggest reason to be positive about Nintendo’s financial future isn’t because of what the company sold last year but rather because of what it has announced for the future. The game maker in March revealed that it will be developing original software for mobile devices making use of its world-famous IP. And following Thursday’s earnings release, Nintendo announced plans to partner with Universal Studios to develop theme park rides starring its mascots. The success of Amiibo, Nintendo’s line of mascot action figures, indicate that there’s a big appetite to see Mario and company in places outside the Wii U and 3DS. With the company’s core hardware products continuing to struggle, Nintendo is finally starting to leverage its famous characters across a variety of different platforms.

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Get Ready for Amusement Parks Based on Nintendo Games

Mario and Luigi take the field at Sun Life Stadium before the face-off between Florida State and University of Miami on Nov. 15, 2014
Jeff Daly—Invision for Nintendo Mario and Luigi take the field at Sun Life Stadium before the face-off between Florida State and University of Miami on Nov. 15, 2014

Drop the console and get on a roller coaster

The Legend of Zelda may soon transform from “realistic” to “real,” because on Thursday gaming giant Nintendo and Universal Parks & Resorts announced the popular video game company will be bringing its characters, themes and gaming worlds to various Universal theme parks.

“Now, for the first time, those stories and characters will be brought to life in entirely new ways,” the companies said in a joint statement.

Specific concepts will need to be hashed out between the two sides, but they touted what will be “spectacular, dedicated experiences based on Nintendo’s wildly popular games, characters and worlds.”

Universal Parks & Resorts, owned by NBCUniversal, has theme parks in Hollywood, Orlando, Osaka, Japan and Singapore. Nintendo is a Japanese company in Kyoto.

Nintendo also released earnings on Thursday that showed the company made an annual profit for the first time since 2011.

TIME Video Games

Nintendo’s New Game Could Save the Wii U

Paint-shooter 'Splatoon' is at once fun and deeply complex

Splatoon, Nintendo’s new paintball-esque shooter for the Wii U, could be the breakout hit of the summer.

I spent about a half-hour with Splatoon at a Nintendo event Wednesday afternoon. In the best mode of the game, you team up with three other players for a 4v4 showdown, the objective of which is to cover as much of a map’s territory with your team’s color before the clock runs out. To do that, you’re given a weapon that shoots paint, as well as a special attack, like paint bombs. You can also shoot or blow up opposing players, sending them back to their team’s respawn point.

Here’s where things get a little weird. Your cartoonish-looking character can also turn from a bipedal avatar into a squid, letting you swim quickly across ground already painted in your team’s color. While you’re in squid form, you’re much harder to see, and you reload your paint much more quickly—but you can’t attack anyone.

I’m bullish on Splatoon because it has a special balance shared by Nintendo’s best games, like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart.

On one hand, it’s very easy to learn Splatoon’s basics. You don’t even have to shoot other players, if that’s not your thing. You can just focus on laying down paint to help your team win. On the other, the combination of the game’s various weapons, the squid transformation effect and the multiplayer mode I described above combine to result in a complex strategy-driven shooter along the lines of Team Fortress 2.

If fans of more hardcore shooters like the Call of Duty series can put aside (or, better yet, embrace) Splatoon’s cartoonish look, they’ll find a deeply involved, fully entertaining game awaiting them. One piece of strategy I learned early on, for instance: Players wielding a sniper rifle can cover a lookout post in his or her team’s color, then take the high ground in squid form, hiding from enemy players. When they spot an unknowing target, blam, back to the respawn point they go.

While there are no “classes” here per se, it’s easy to see them evolving organically. In a 4v4 “turf war” bout, a wise team might pick two close-range gunners, one sniper and one painter, who carries the game’s massive paint roller. The roller’s job would be to grab as much territory as possible, while the others keep him or her alive.

In a rarity for Nintendo, Splatoon also boasts—indeed, focuses on—online multiplayer, a necessity if Nintendo is after the multiplayer shooter demo.

But don’t let me paint you too rosy a picture of Splatoon just yet. The local multiplayer is limited to a 1v1 mode, a bummer if you’re looking for a good party game. And the demo I played forced me to use the Wii U GamePad’s motion controls to aim, which I couldn’t get the hang of. A Nintendo rep told me more traditional aiming would be an option when the game drops May 29 for Wii U only.

That exclusivity could be a hangup for the game, too. While Splatoon is destined for many a Top Wii U Games list, Nintendo’s console hasn’t sold as well as Microsoft’s Xbox One or Sony’s PlayStation 4, so the number of people who might enjoy it is capped from the get go. If Splatoon really takes off, it could single-handedly bump Wii U sales—but that’s a tall order of any one game.

TIME Video Games

The 15 Biggest Video Games Coming Out This Spring

Check out our springtime list of PC, console and handheld video games to keep an eye on

These are the biggest games for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U and Nintendo 3DS out this spring, including Bloodborne, Mortal Kombat X, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Xenoblade Chronicles 3D.

  • Mario Party 10

    Nintendo’s jamboree four-player Mario Party series comes to the Wii U, harboring its peculiar melange of boardgame-like mini-games, with this particular batch crafted to avail itself of both the Wii U’s unique second-screen controller and Nintendo’s wirelessly programmable Amiibo figurines.

    Wii U

    March 20

  • Bloodborne

    The popular line on developer From Software is that the studio makes counter-culturally punishing hack and slash games. That’s too easy. Once you isolate each game’s patterns, they’re relatively simple to crack. The difficulty’s in sussing the patterns, it’s true, but these games trade as much on their ambience, and Bloodborne‘s no different: an abattoir of the arcane that’s as gratifying to rubberneck as unravel, piece by bloody piece.

    PlayStation 4

    March 24

  • Pillars of Eternity

    A bona fide old-school PC roleplaying escapade inspired by several popular turn of the century Dungeons & Dragons computer gaming hits, Pillars of Eternity resurrects bygone staples like isometric (top-down, off-center) camera angles, round-driven tactical combat and an almanac’s worth of statistical esoterica. But it’s all thoroughly modernized here, and as friendly as this sort of world-building exercise is likely to get.

    PC

    March 26

  • Axiom Verge

    Give Petroglyph (Command & Conquer) developer Tom Happ five years to fiddle in his spare time with a side-scrolling platformer, and you get Axiom Verge, an homage to games like Metroid and Castlevania, but one that layers in its own curiosities and inventions, adding to a growing chorus of recent, deceptively throwback games that bristle with progressive surprises.

    PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita

    March 31

  • Story of Seasons

    A Harvest Moon-like (developer Marvelous Entertainment is known for its work on the long-running Harvest Moon series), Story of Seasons lets players raise ye olde crops and livestock, but in this case you can peddle your wares in an online market composed of various “countries,” each with unique trade-related demands.

    Nintendo 3DS

    March 31

  • Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin

    Another Sisyphean From Software ordeal, Scholar of the First Sin packages last year’s Dark Souls II with all of its expansion content, upgraded for the latest consoles and sporting new enemies, items as well as support for more simultaneous players in online sessions.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    April 2

  • Etrian Mystery Dungeon

    The dungeon-exploring Etrian Odyssey series meets the roguelike Mystery Dungeon games. It’s not clear yet how that mashup’s going to distinguish itself, but it presumably involves random-generated dungeons, three-dimensional environments and chess-like (I go, you go) combat.

    Nintendo 3DS

    April 7

  • Affordable Space Adventures

    2015’s list of Wii U games feels worryingly sparse with The Legend of Zelda slipping to 2016. While you’re waiting, there’s Affordable Space Adventures to think about, a clever-sounding Wii U exclusive that hands you control of a tiny spaceship with discretely playable and granular systems, allowing friends to crew aspects of the ship like thrust, stabilization or scanning in concert.

    Wii U

    April 9

  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3D

    One of the smartest roleplaying games in the genre’s history comes to the New Nintendo 3DS (and only to the New 3DS–it’ll be the first that taps the new handheld’s souped up processor). This is your chance to play what by all accounts looks to be the definitive version.

    Nintendo 3DS

    April 10

  • Grand Theft Auto V

    It’s a shame a studio as stately as Rockstar’s made players on the most popular and generationally resilient video game platform around wait a full year and a half to play the company’s 2013 magnum opus. If you’re one of PC gaming’s many slighted, however, the Windows version appears to be definitive (that is, if you have a PC powerful enough to crunch it).

    PC

    April 14

  • Mortal Kombat X

    It’s another Mortal Kombat for the latest-gen hardware, meaning a compendium of even more graphically intricate carnage erupting from the business end of whips, chains, bows, swords, hats, hammers and various weaponized limbs.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    April 14

  • Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China

    Assassin’s Creed Unity was the first critical misstep in Ubisoft’s annual stealth-parkour franchise, in part because the company oversold it as its boldest rethink since the series debuted in 2007. Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, a downloadable 2.5D platformer (it’s a 2D side-scroller with 3D elements), will be the first in a trilogy of diversions designed to fill the space between Unity and the series’ next installment, ostensibly due this year and reportedly set in Victorian London.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    April 21

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker

    Sporting the world’s weirdest name and likely bound to scare off anyone not in the tactical roleplaying Tensei-series know, Devil Survivor 2 Record Breaker revisits the acclaimed 2012 Nintendo DS game (of the same name, sans the “Record Breaker” appendage) by way of a new scenario that picks up where the original game left off.

    Nintendo 3DS

    May 5

  • Wolfenstein: The Old Blood

    You won’t need a copy of Wolfenstein: The New Order (reviewed here) to play developer MachineGames’s standalone prequel expansion, which takes series protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz back to Hitlerian climes circa 1946, canvassing two pivotal alternate history events leading up to the last game’s break with World War II and Man in the High Castle-ish leap forward.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    May 5

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

    You may want to take the rest of the year off to play The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Polish developer CD Projekt Red’s apparent bid to eliminate every other game from your playtime schedule. Imagine Skyrim multiplied by Skyrim and you’re in the ballpark of this East European-inspired fantasy-verse. And if hundreds of potential hours of freeform gameplay isn’t enough to sate your Heisenbergian appetites, the studio just announced two expansions due for release over the course of this year into early next, totaling some 30 hours of additional content.

    PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    May 19

TIME Video Games

Here’s Another Great Reason To Buy a Wii U

Nintendo 64
Yvonne Hemsey—Getty Images Product shot of Nintendo 64 game system with games and controller is photographed December 7, 1996 in New York City.

Classic N64 and DS games are coming to the console

Nintendo fans, rejoice: Classic Nintendo 64 and DS games are coming to the company’s Wii U console, it announced Wednesday evening. The N64’s Super Mario 64 and the DS’ Yoshi’s Island DS are now available for $9.99 each.

The old-school titles will be available through the Wii U Virtual Console, essentially an emulator that lets gamers play old titles on the modern Wii U system. Previously, the Wii U Virtual Console only had games for the older NES and Super NES systems as well as the Game Boy Advance. The older Wii console had N64 games, and if you’ve already bought them there, you can port titles over to the Wii U for $2 as they become available, IGN notes.

It’s unclear how many Nintendo 64 titles the company plans on bringing to the Wii U. Here’s holding out hope for classics like GoldenEye and Star Fox 64. You can go ahead and keep Superman, though — we’ll pass on that.

TIME Video Games

Super Mario 64 In-Browser Game Gets Taken Down

Super Mario In-Browser Nintendo Take Down
Yoshikazu Tsuno—AFP/Getty Images Nintendo's characters Super Mario and Luigi performing in Tokyo, Japan, on April 26, 2014.

Nintendo wasn't pleased with the computer-friendly remake

It’s game over for the in-browser version of Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 that took the Internet by storm this week.

Nintendo issued a takedown notice Tuesday to the server hosting the 1996 game’s browser version, created by Royston Ross, who recreated just the first level (Bomb-Omb Battlefield), TorrentFreak first reported Tuesday.

“The copyrighted work at issue is Nintendo’s Super Mario 64 video game (U.S. Copyright Reg. No. PA0000788138), including but not limited to the audiovisual work, computer program, music, and fictional character depictions,” the company told the server Cloudflare, which posted its correspondence with Nintendo.

While the in-browser game is no longer available, you can still get a glimpse of the remake in a video Ross posted online:

Read next: Exclusive: Inside Nintendo’s Bold Plan to Stay Vibrant for the Next 125 Years

[TorrentFreak]

TIME Video Games

8 More Fascinating Things Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata Told TIME

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata And DeNA President Isao Moriyasu Joint News Conference As The Companies Form Capital Alliance
Akio Kon—Bloomberg/Getty Images Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata, left, speaks while DeNA Co. President and CEO Isao Moriyasu listens during a joint news conference in Tokyo, Japan, on March 17, 2015.

Why he hates the term "free-to-play" and why the New 3DS almost didn't make it to market on time

Last week, Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata spoke exclusively to TIME about the company’s plans to develop games for smart devices, sluggish Wii U sales, rumors of a live action Netflix Zelda series and why a last-minute feature for the company’s New 3DS games handheld nearly sabotaged its debut.

Here’s the rest of that interview’s takeaways in Iwata’s own words.

Nintendo’s plans to develop games for smart devices is still about bringing different generations of players together

“One thing that we have found over the years is that video games themselves have a tendency to be difficult to break out of a particular segment,” says Iwata. “But what we have found with some of our most successful products, is that they tend to be ones where people are playing them together and the communication is spreading much more broadly and easily than standard word of mouth communication. And what you start to see is people of different generations playing together and talking with each other, and sometimes you even see grandchildren talking with their grandparents about a video game.”

“So with the plans for our smart device efforts, that will also take on this theme of giving people opportunities to learn from one another about games, and giving games an opportunity to spread across different generations of people, and give people more opportunity to communicate with one another about games,” explains Iwata. “And I want to say that we’re going to be putting forth some effort to be able to provide some factual data that supports these viewpoints.”

Iwata thinks Nintendo can overcome free-to-play’s stigmas

“I do not like to use the term ‘Free-to-play,'” says Iwata. “I have come to realize that there is a degree of insincerity to consumers with this terminology, since so-called ‘Free-to-play’ should be referred to more accurately as ‘Free-to-start.'”

“The thing that concerns me most is that, in the digital age, if we fail to make efforts to maintain the value of our content, there is the high possibility for the value to be greatly reduced as the history of the music industry has shown,” he continues. “On the other hand, I have no intention to deny the Free-to-start model. In fact, depending on how we approach this model, we may be able to overcome these problems.”

But Iwata doesn’t view free-to-play as a progressive development

“I do not believe it is an either-or situation between Free-to-start and packaged game retail business models,” argues Iwata. “There are games which are more suited for the Free-to-start model. We can flexibly choose between both revenue systems depending on the software content.”

“However, because there are games or types of games which are suited for the existing package model, and because there are consumers who appreciate and support them, I have to say that it is a one-sided claim to suggest that a complete transition to a Free-to-start model should be made because the existing retail model is outdated.”

Nintendo was “forced” to sell the Wii U at a higher cost than it might have otherwise

“I think, to be honest, we were in a difficult situation,” says Iwata. “Because for the home console our biggest market opportunity was in the overseas markets in the U.S. and Europe, but because of the valuation of the yen and the exchange rates into dollars and euro, it made it a difficult proposition for us to capitalize on that, because of the cost that we were forced to sell the system at.”

The New 3DS’ “Super-Stable 3D” feature nearly torpedoed Nintendo’s latest games handheld

Nintendo’s New 3DS (reviewed here) employs a special eye-tracking sensor that improves the way the handheld conveys its eponymous 3D trick. But according to Iwata, the feature emerged as the device was about to head into production, prompting an eleventh hour scramble.

“I think you’re probably familiar with the tales of how, in the late stages of development, Mr. Miyamoto always upends the tea table,” said Iwata. “So a similar thing happened this time. The hardware developers had designed a piece of hardware that they felt was at the final stage of prototyping, and they were bringing it to us for approval to begin moving forward with plans for manufacturing. But Mr. Miyamoto had seen that super-stable 3D just one week before, and he asked “Why aren’t we putting that in this system? If we don’t put this in it, there’s no point in making the system.”

Iwata says he was personally asked many times by his internal engineers, “Are we really going to do this?”

“But Nintendo is a company of Kyoto craftsman, and what we don’t want to do, is if we know we can make something better, we don’t want to leave that behind,” he explains. “So we were able to bring the super-stable 3D to reality by looking technically at what we can do to solve those challenges and finding those steps along the way to make it happen. This is where my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means that the engineers can’t trick me.”

Iwata doesn’t see Amiibo as a Skylanders or Disney Infinity clone

“At first glance it may look like we’re a trend follower with amiibo,” says Iwata. “But really what we’re doing is, we have introduced amiibo in a way that is new and where amiibo do things in our games that they can’t do anywhere else. From that perspective, we feel that we are a trendsetter.”

“It’s true that if you go into a retail store, and you see the retail shelves, that from a retail perspective, we’re leveraging the structure that’s in place for how the toys to life category is being sold. That’s a hurdle that’s hard to overcome in terms of differentiation. But in terms of how the amiibo are used in games, we do feel that we are taking the lead in terms of broadening what toys to life can be.”

And the Smash Bros. characters have been toys all along

“What’s interesting about the Smash Bros. games, is that the Smash Bros. games do not represent the Nintendo characters fighting against one another, they actually represent toys of Nintendo characters getting into an imaginary battle amongst themselves,” explains Iwata. “And frankly that has to do with a very serious debate that we had within the company back then, which was, ‘Is it really okay for Nintendo characters to be hitting other Nintendo characters? Is it okay for Mario to be hitting Pikachu?'”

That story about a new live action series Zelda series coming to Netflix in Japan may not be accurate

In early February, the Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix was developing a live-action series based on Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda franchise. But Mr. Iwata says those rumors are inaccurate.

“As of now, I have nothing new to share with you in regard to the use of our IPs for any TV shows or films, but I can at least confirm that the article in question is not based on correct information,” says Iwata.

Read next: Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

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TIME Video Games

Exclusive: Inside Nintendo’s Bold Plan to Stay Vibrant for the Next 125 Years

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata Earnings News Conference
Yuzuru Yoshikawa—Bloomberg/Getty Images Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata speaks during a news conference in Osaka, Japan, on Oct. 29, 2014.

The company's CEO tells TIME Nintendo's historic engine is far from stalled

In late 2013, Satoru Iwata sat alone on a bullet train headed toward Tokyo. As the carriage sped silently down the track, Iwata, the puckish CEO of Nintendo, began sketching out a new idea: a line of physical toys with built-in chips that connected wirelessly to the company’s varied game systems. The toys would let Nintendo trade on its universe of characters like Mario and Donkey Kong while generating new sales.

Iwata, a 55-year-old who dresses in three-piece suits and speaks in measured phrases, often pausing to chuckle, says he got more and more excited as he mulled the concept. He dashed off a four-page pitch to his engineers. “It was something I believed would be completely new for us,” he recalls. The result was an array of figurines dubbed Amiibo (Japanese wordplay meant to evoke friends playing together), which launched worldwide a little less than a year later and turned out to be a hit. Nintendo says it sold nearly 6 million figurines, which go for about $13 each, by the end of 2014.

Amiibo was a badly needed success for Nintendo—but one that underscores the difficult position the video-game pioneer finds itself in. The company that generated enormous profits in the 1990s and 2000s by introducing innovations in game controls and forcing rivals to adopt its ideas now at times follows in the footsteps of the competition. The gamemaker Activision has been selling similar toys since 2011, grossing nearly $3 billion. Disney, meanwhile, has its own version, based on movie characters such as Buzz Lightyear and Captain Jack Sparrow.

Nintendo has been struggling for years. Wii U, the successor to the wildly popular Wii, has sold just under 10 million units since its launch in 2012. (From 2006 to 2014, Nintendo sold more than 100 million Wiis. And Microsoft and Sony, which launched competing systems after Wii U, have both outsold it.) Last summer, Nintendo laid off over 300 employees in Europe. And the company’s return to modest profitability late last year, thanks in part to a weaker yen, materialized after three consecutive years of losses. Nintendo’s critics have been relentless in demanding that the company abandon its hardware business and make versions of its games for smartphones and tablets.

MORE Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

On March 17, Iwata announced what many—including Nintendo’s own executives—long thought impossible: the company will begin making games for mobile devices. Nintendo is striking a partnership with Japanese mobile gaming giant DeNA to establish a smart device gaming platform to be introduced this fall. The alliance includes a cross-shareholding agreement: Nintendo is buying a 10% stake in DeNA for $182 million; DeNA is acquiring a 1.24% stake in Nintendo for the same amount.

It’s not hard to see why Nintendo is reversing course now. Research firm Gartner reported global smartphone and tablet sales of over 1.4 billion units in 2014. By contrast, the two best-selling video-game systems of all time—Sony’s PlayStation 2 console and Nintendo’s DS handheld—each took nearly a decade to sell 150 million units. Meanwhile, smartphone gamemakers like King (Candy Crush) and Rovio (Angry Birds) are now worth billions. And mobile knockoffs of 1980s classics have turned into overnight hits (see: Crossy Road and Flappy Bird), while Mario, Luigi and friends have not yet been found on a phone.

Why now? “In the digital world, content has the tendency to lose value, especially on smart devices,” Iwata tells TIME exclusively. “We finally found solutions to the problem. We will not merely port games developed for our dedicated systems to smart devices just as they are—we will develop brand new software which perfectly matches the play style and control mechanisms of smart devices.” The ultimate goal: to drive tablet and phone users to Nintendo’s hardware such that they “eventually become fans of our dedicated systems.”

Nintendo’s senior leaders rarely talk publicly about internal strategy. But the company’s top three executives recently agreed to speak with TIME and insisted that Nintendo is not out of big ideas. (Please click here for full Q&As with Iwata and Miyamoto.) The about-face on mobile devices is just one example, they argue. The firm is busily retooling to create new products, like Amiibo and its new 3DS handheld, released in February, more quickly. And Nintendo is opening up by broadcasting presentations—sometimes serious, sometimes silly—directly to its fans to combat a reputation for flat-footedness. All of these moves are part of a company-wide effort to reinvigorate the Japanese icon.

Not on the agenda: abandoning hardware. In addition to its revised mobile strategy, details on a new Nintendo platform codenamed “NX” are due next year. Iwata argues that pressure to get out of that business has always reflected a deep misunderstanding of the company’s approach to innovation. “We view it as that marriage of the software with the hardware that together creates a compelling experience,” says Reggie Fils-Aimé, Nintendo of America’s president. Iwata concurs, explaining that dropping out of hardware would cripple the company. “If we don’t take an approach that looks holistically at the form a video-game platform should take in the future,” he says, “then we’re not able to sustain Nintendo 10 years down the road.”

Humble Origins
Nintendo is a much older company than its signature candy-colored protagonists suggest. Founded in Kyoto in 1889 by artist turned entrepreneur Fusajiro Yamauchi, the company began as a manufacturer of handcrafted playing cards. The Nintendo most people know was born in 1966. That’s when Hiroshi Yamauchi, the firm’s longest-serving president (from 1950 to 2002), greenlighted a gadget that employed crisscross slats and a scissors-like handle to make an extensible arm. It sold millions of units and paved the way for a series of quirky playthings that included early electronic games in the 1970s.

More recently, the company has been run as a creative troika, with Iwata at the top and presidents in both Europe (Satoru Shibata) and North America (Fils-Aimé). Shigeru Miyamoto, the storied creator of Donkey Kong, Mario and Zelda, is the company’s creative genius and currently the general manager of its R&D division.

MORE Exclusive: 7 Brilliant Insights from Nintendo’s Gaming Genius Shigeru Miyamoto

That division’s approach to game design can sound counterintuitive. Conventional wisdom holds that consumer-electronics manufacturers should first design a game system, then lure third-party software developers to furnish it with hits. Nintendo says it does the opposite: it experiments until it finds something its existing systems can’t do—motion sensors in the case of the Wii, or a touchscreen for the Wii U—then makes the hardware to support it. “Our job is to continue to create new platforms that enable us to create fun new ways to play,” says Miyamoto.

Mobile games will present a new set of challenges for the company. Many of that market’s biggest hits are initially free to download but generate enormous sales by constantly prompting users to pay small amounts for in-game items. Iwata says this doesn’t track with Nintendo’s identity. “Nintendo does not intend to choose payment methods that may hurt Nintendo’s brand image or our intellectual property,” he says. That doesn’t mean so-called micro-transactions are entirely out of the question, however. The company will decide which payment system to employ depending on the title, Iwata says. He adds: “It’s even more important for us to consider how we can get as many people around the world as possible to play Nintendo smart device apps, rather than to consider which payment system will earn the most money.”

How the firm deploys its vast library of beloved characters is another major decision. Nintendo says this stable of characters will be an asset as it enters a new, rapidly changing market. It plans to develop multiple titles simultaneously. “We would like to create several hit titles by effectively leveraging the appeal of Nintendo IP,” Iwata explains.

Nintendo’s executives are adamant that creating dedicated hardware is a core part of its creative process. That is why the announcement of new mobile titles coincided with the announcement of a new platform, the NX. “For us to create unique experiences that other companies cannot, the best possible option for us is to be able to develop hardware that can realize unique software experiences,” explains Iwata.

And, Iwata argues, there is a symbiotic relationship between the world’s iPhones and Android devices and Nintendo-made hardware. “Even before the advent of smart devices, we employed touchscreens for our games with Nintendo DS, and we also adopted accelerometers for our Wii Remotes faster than smart devices did,” he explains. “By utilizing our unique know-how in areas like these, I believe we will be able to come up with unique propositions for consumers.” Nintendo is planning to elaborate on how exactly this will work for specific titles over the coming months.

For now, Nintendo’s biggest seller remains its 3DS, a handheld successor to the Game Boy introduced in 2011. It is designed to appeal to all ages but is most popular among younger players. That’s partly about parents. In a world flush with smartdevices that can tap the entire Internet—­including unsavory fare—Nintendo’s handhelds are relative walled gardens of controversy-free content. The 3DS can go online, but only if parents have set the device’s privacy controls to allow it.

Internet-connectivity aside, the 3DS is like an iPhone on steroids. It’s kitted with two screens, one of which is touch-­sensitive; dual cameras for use by games or for taking pictures; and Wii-like motion sensors. It displays images that appear three-dimensional without having the player use special 3-D glasses. The latest version, the prosaically named New Nintendo 3DS ($199), takes the concept further by using advanced eye-tracking techniques to improve the 3-D effect.

The company says the newest model is one example of how Nintendo will conduct itself going forward. Late into the development of the system, Nintendo met with a company that had the technology capable of improving its 3-D, which in previous versions had been knocked for not always working well. After previewing the technology, Miyamoto stunned his engineers. “He said, ‘Why aren’t we putting that in this system? If we don’t put this in, there’s no point in making the system,’” recalls Iwata.

In times past, Nintendo might not have upended its plans at the final hour to make complex technical changes. “I was personally asked many times by many engineers internally, ‘Are we really going to do this?’” says Iwata, who began his career as a programmer. “This is where my background in technology is quite helpful, because it means the engineers can’t trick me.”

The feature, dubbed “super-stable 3-D” by Nintendo’s marketing wing, is now seen as indispensable to the handheld’s overhaul. New Nintendo 3DS has rallied sales relatively late in the platform’s life cycle, giving the company a much-needed boost.

Next Phase
On balance, Nintendo’s methods have reaped more hits than misses. But the misses have been consistent and significant. Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, the company’s way-early shot at a virtual-reality gaming system in 1995, was a commercial disaster. The first “PlayStation” was supposed to be a Sony-manufactured add-on for Super Nintendo, but Sony and Nintendo couldn’t come to terms on a deal, spurring Sony to become a major competitor. And yet flights of fancy have ultimately proved to be Nintendo’s chief strength over the years. The Wii—with its motion-detecting controllers that had players swing invisible tennis rackets—seemed like a bizarre concept when it was unveiled in late 2006.

The comparatively weak response to the Wii U isn’t lost on Iwata. “Certainly I’m not satisfied with the current situation,” he says. “It may not be [people’s] first console of choice, but they recognize it as perhaps the best second console,” he adds. In truth, the Wii U may turn out to be a placeholder. “I think they’ve bought themselves time to figure out what that next monumental step forward is,” says Digital World Research analyst P.J. McNealy. Adds Yves Guillemot, CEO of games publisher Ubisoft: “The challenge for Nintendo now is to make sure their hardware continues to be convincing enough for people to buy.” Guillemot is confident the company can do that.

MORE Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

Dan Adelman, a Nintendo executive from 2005 to 2014 who is now a games-­industry consultant, says the firm “is already making the best games of any publisher out there.” Compared with those of other publishers, Nintendo’s games consistently earn top marks from critics. But Adelman says the company must continue to aggressively streamline its bureaucracy. “With Nintendo, I honestly can’t tell you what they’re going to do,” explains David D’Angelo, of Yacht Club Games, which released its title Shovel Knight for the company’s systems. “I could think about it all day, every day for a year, and it’ll still surprise me when it comes out, whatever wacky gameplay thing they think they should be pushing next.”

That leaves Nintendo rethinking its approach to the very industry it helped define. “I have never intended to dismiss the entertainment experiences that people are enjoying on smart devices or any other media,” Iwata says. “On the other hand, my understanding is that, on smart devices, the main demand is for very accessible games which smart device users can easily start and easily finish. These are not necessarily the characteristics that people demand from games for dedicated video game systems.”

As the company embarks on a strategy that straddles its traditional mode of innovation with the fast-changing world of mobile technology, there are likely to be more questions than answers. “We do have doubts [about] continuing to extend our business in the way that we have in the past,” admits Iwata. “We have doubts about whether or not people will continue to see those simple extensions of what we’ve done as new and surprising.” Fixing that will require entirely fresh ideas that can cut through the noise created by so many competing platforms. “If it takes a lot of explanation for people to understand your entertainment product,” says Iwata, “you’re doing something wrong.”

Read next: Exclusive: Nintendo CEO Reveals Plans for Smartphones

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