At E3, Nintendo pulls out its favorite weapon: nostalgia

Damian Dovarganes/AP
Cammie Dunaway, an Executive Vice President at Nintendo of America, introduces the new multiplayer Super Mario Bros. for the Wii at 2009 E3 Expo.

In the 80s and early 90s, the word "Nintendo" was synonymous with "video games." That was the time of great characters, such as Mario, Donkey Kong, and Samus Aran from Metroid.

And today, almost 25 years later, Nintendo announced new games – starring Mario, Donkey Kong, and Samus Aran from Metroid.

The systems might be different. The graphics might be better. The controllers might be motion-sensitive now. But Nintendo knows that its greatest selling point is nostalgia.

The reaffirmation came at this week's E3 video-game convention in Los Angeles. Nintendo walked into the event as the undisputed leader in console sales. Both its Wii and DS handheld device outsold the Xbox 360 by a 2-to-1 margin last year.

With both systems, Nintendo's E3 lineup returned to the usual suspects.

First up was New Super Mario Bros. for the Wii. The cast and art style unmistakably resemble the Super Mario Bros. game for the original Nintendo system. In fact, this new title is not even a "new title" – a different game called New Super Mario Bros. came out for the DS in 2006 and sold exceedingly well. The Wii version shakes things up a bit. It features new four-player cooperative rules and graphics designed for today's TVs.

Also on stage: Super Mario Galaxy 2, a sequel to the Wii's 3-D Mario game. And Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Minies March Again. And Mario and Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.

This Mario mania is not surprising. Nintendo's favorite red-hatted plumber has appeared in countless games over the years, many of which have sold very (very!) well. Market-research firm NPD tracked 2008's top selling video games on all systems and found that three of the top 10 referenced Mario directly: Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and Mario Kart DS, which is more than three years old.

The Wii also taps into an online store where nostalgic fans can repurchase the games of their childhood. The best-seller list seems to always feature Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, 3, and Super Mario World.

To be fair, video-game franchises sell well on all systems. Some of E3's most buzzworthy games are God of War 3, Left 4 Dead 2, an expansion to Fallout 3, and Final Fantasy 13.

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