Why are Super Mario & Nintedo so popuar in Mexico?
The Super Mario Bros movie was a hit worldwide, but some noticed that after the US and Japan, the country that saw the movie the most was Mexico. It doesn’t stop there, it also became the biggest box office hit in the country, that’s right in Mexico the Mario Movie made more than any of the big hitters in recent years including Avengers, Avatar and Star Wars. The question is, how exactly did Nintendo and Super Mario become such a huge brand in Mexico that it’s bigger than in pretty much every other country around the world with the exception of its home country Japan and the biggest market the US? This is what this little story is going to be about how Nintendo built a brand from the ground up in Mexico that was not really done in any other countries and the fruit of that labor can now be seen.
Unlike many countries in Latin America, Nintendo has always had official distribution of their consoles and games in the country. Thanks to the vision of Terunide Kikuchi & Mr. Itoh who brought Nintendo to Mexico since they saw potential. They distributed in Mexico under the name of C.Itoh/Itochu and later Gamela and brought not only games but official Nintendo stores. This meant that it had lower prices than most countries in South America as well as far more official events. Thanks to them and other key players like Antonio Morales, they had the perfect marketing and ideas to make a splash in the Mexican Market. Heck, even Europe didn’t have something like this, which is why the Sega Master System was so much bigger than the NES.
You can’t mention Nintendo and Mexico without mentioning the late Gus Rodriguez, a talented comedic writer that one day while shopping found an NES at the store and decided to check it out. He fell in love with it and tried to do stuff with it. His passion and experience lead to both a magazine and a TV Show. He was very influential in making Nintendo big in Mexico. And while not the one making all the decisions, he was the face of the brand and any gamer in Mexico can recognize who he is and what he did to promote gaming in Mexico. His love for games was felt through his work and even in his later years he kept answering fans questions and doing appearances.
The story of the official Mexican Club Nintendo magazine is very similar to the one of Nintendo Power and both happened at right around the same time. At the official Nintendo World store in Mexico they thought of the idea to give out pamphlets with tips and tricks for different games to help promote them and get people to show up to the store and pick up the latest “issue”. They became so popular that a magazine was eventually made and instead of just translating Nintendo Power they opted for doing something locally for the Mexican market. Club Nintendo magazine became a popular magazine in the 90s and even outlasted Nintendo Power as well as being published in many countries of Latin America and other Spanish speaking locations.
Nintendomania was a Mexican TV Show that was all about Nintendo, imagine if G4TV had a show only on Nintendo, that’s what this would’ve been. It was ahead of its time and featured tons of previews and tricks that made it super popular with a whole generation, even those who did not own a Nintendo. The show began in the early 90s and lasted up to the early 2000s. The show was also broadcast in some other countries. This actually wasn’t even the first official TV program Nintendo had in Mexico as before this they had tried with Intercontrol a kids game show that had contestents pass through obstacles of a Super Mario Bros game, think of Nick Arcade mixed with MXC. Many people who might not have had an NES or SNES might’ve grown up with the show or even magazine instead becoming loyal fans.
Besides those there were many official events, liking the idea of E3 and Shoshinkai/Space World, they wanted to bring something here to Mexico that was a simialr experience. And with that various live vents were made to recreate E3 / Space World in Mexico where Mexican fans could go and play the games that were going to come out. Everyone talks about the Super Nintendo Land in Universal studios but the first official Nintendo themed ride actually happened in Mexico with the House of Mario in Reino Aventura, the biggest theme park in Latin America at the time (Renamed later to Six Flags Mexico).
You can’t talk about gaming in Latin America without talking about piracy. The fact that many are developing countries means that life in general is more expensive, and if it’s an imported good like video games it is even more so. Lower wages and video games being more expensive than in other regions means that a lot of people don’t have access to them. But thanks to piracy many people had the opportunity to actually play the games. Many famiclones, which are just clones of the Japanese famicom were available in the markets and pirated games were sold cheaper.
Not only that but pirated games for real consoles also existed at a much lower cost giving access to many to the games. This might’ve hurt Nintendo in the past but it created a legacy of people who grew up with Mario that when those kids finally grew up and finally had the income their parents didn’t bought themselves and their kids official consoles and games.
Even if it wasn’t piracy, there are outside markets called Tianguis in Mexico. These Markets didn’t only sell pirated games, there are many stores that sell official games that they didn’t get through the official distribution system. By not going through all the third parties, they’re able to sell official games at a much lower cost than the official ones and many would allow trade ins as well. So the informal market was able to make the Nintendo Brand bigger. Hell, they really did do a lot, also bringing in Japanese export games and modifying them so they could be played on an American SNES. Anime was huge in Mexico before it ever was in the US so there was a big market for games like Dragon Ball Z that Mexican fans could find in their local markets to play on their SNES.
Did you ever hear about the special orange Mirinda Game Boy Color exclusive to Mexico? Or one of the first latin american Spanish localized games Pokemon? Tons of promotional stuff and exclusives I can’t get into here. Apparently Nintendo of America was always very strict on what they could do and couldn’t but despite that they were able to provide Mexican fans with tons of events that other countries never got the chance. NOA really respected the decisions of what would work in the Mexican market mostly because they always delivered results. This allowed them to even get licensing to do stuff like bed sheets, party materials, even some figures and other stuff. There was a downfall however during the Gamecube era due to sales and distribution problems and Latamel became the new distributor.
In the 2000s and 2010s with a switch of distributor meant that many things changed. Some people say for the worse but despite that there were still plenty of events that kept the brand alive during their darkest times especially the Gamecube and Wii U era. There were still events to promote special big releases like Donkey Kong Country Returns. Annual official Nintendo Races where participants won consoles. And even a small mini E3 called Nintendo Tour. You can find pictures of Mario celebrating his anniversary and many official photo op opportunities. So even while the brand wasn’t as hot adn they had switched to new hands, Nintendo never completely left the country in the 2000s even if they were no longer the dominant player in the gaming market. Of course the Wii era was successful as well and now the Switch era like in most of the world has only made the brand bigger than it’s ever been and Nintendo has definitely taken notice and invested as such.
Nintendo currently see’s Mexico as a huge market. Doug Bowser visited in 2023 and he constantly says hello to the Mexican fans on social media. We’ve seen a lot of promotional material being done for the Switch and their releases. Zelda’s Tears of the Kingdom had huge store displays at selected department stores and there’s always some smaller but Nintendo event where fans can go and take pictures and interact with the brand. For the movie you could find many locations in Mexico City that you could take pictures of different pipes and even sit on the Mario Kart ride. The marketing was all over the place and you’ve seen that with big game releases as well.
The Pokemon Company has recently opened up new offices in Mexico as well, so based on all the success that they’ve had in the region I think it’s probable that they’ll continue to integrate Mexico into Nintendo of America’s strategy in the North American region. I hope this little article has shed some light as to why the Nintendo brand is so big in Mexico, bigger than in all of Latin America and even bigger than most countries around the world.