The release of yet another bit of cosmetic DLC for one specific version of Minecraft isn’t usually the kind of thing we’d take the time to write about at Ars. But the latest skin pack for the game caught our eye because it marks the first time that characters from Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. series have shown up in a game published by an ostensible console competitor: Microsoft, in this case.
The “Super Mario Mash-Up Pack” will launch as a free download exclusively for the Wii U version of the game on May 17 and come included on the retail disc when it launches on June 17 (the downloadable version launched on Wii U last December). It includes 40 Mario-themed skins, new world and item textures inspired by the Mario series, and 15 pieces of music from Super Mario 64.
Releasing special content specifically targeted at Wii U players may seem like an odd thing for Microsoft to do after the company spent $2.5 billion to acquire Minecraft maker Mojang back in 2014. At the time, though, Microsoft promised that the many existing versions of Minecraft on platforms like PlayStation systems, iOS, and Android wouldn’t be affected by the purchase. The company has proved true to its word since then, releasing a Wii U version just a few months ago and even featuring Sony’s LittleBigPlanet series in DLC for the PlayStation 4 version of the game last year.
This isn’t the first time Nintendo has loaned its iconic Mario characters to outside developers, either. Storied companies like Bandai Namco, Square Enix, and Capcom have taken lead development duties on a number of Mario-themed spin-offs, including many arcade-style sports games. Nintendo published all those games exclusively for its systems, though; this time around, Microsoft-owned Mojang is the one making money as the game’s publisher (even as Nintendo takes in Wii U licensing fees for the game itself).
In any case, there’s something jarring about another console maker officially collaborating to use Nintendo’s mascot like this—even if the Wii U isn’t exactly a long-term sales threat in the current marketplace (and even if Mario isn’t showing up in, say, the Xbox One version of the game). It reminds us of the feeling we got seeing Sonic on a Nintendo console for the first time back in the early ’00s. Seeing Nintendo’s familiar Miis on iOS earlier this year was a similarly odd context shift, and it will still be a bit weird seeing familiar Nintendo franchises on smartphones later this year.
That probably reflects somewhat old-world thinking about the nature of platforms and the exclusive games that power them, though. In a way, Minecraft is really its own content platform these days, powering an ecosystem of mods, videos, and player collaboration that’s much bigger than any single hardware family. With Microsoft recently pushing for cross-console multiplayer gaming, the company apparently realizes that, these days, controlling quality software may matter more than controlling the hardware on which it’s published.