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posted: 3/1/2014 7:52 AM

Copycat 'Mario' lures users as Nintendo resists smartphones

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Bloomberg News

BEIJING -- Nintendo Co. isn't offering Super Mario games on smartphones. Other people are.

A game called "Super Mario" was available to download on Baidu Inc.'s 91 Wireless online app store in China and Wednesday was available on Samsung Electronics Co.'s online China app store. The title, listed as developed by Beijing Flyfish Technology Co., has multiple levels and shows the mustachioed plumber in a red hat and blue overalls jumping to capture mushrooms and coins.

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Searches in app stores in China, Hong Kong and Japan showed games, a quiz and mobile wallpaper with characters made famous by the Kyoto-based company. A title listed earlier Thursday on the Samsung online app store in Japan called "Super Mario Quiz" allowed users to take a multiple choice test to identify characters called Baby Donkey Kong and Corporal Paraplonk.

"Nintendo has not approved these applications. Our legal team will investigate them from now," Yasuhiro Minagawa, a spokesman for Nintendo, said Wednesday.

Beijing Flyfish co-founder Zhu Jinbiao said in an interview in his Beijing office the title is free and his company makes money from ads in the game. The game is original enough that his company doesn't need a license agreement or other permissions from Nintendo, he said.

"There were already some similar kinds of PC-based games using flash technology," Zhu said in a brief interview at the office. "Our game is similar to those. Some parts are like the original. Some parts we've changed."

Nintendo has refused to license its games for smartphones and tablets and the company is studying new ways to revive sales after its Wii U console flopped with consumers. President Satoru Iwata last month said the world's largest maker of video-game machines will seek partners to expand licensing of its game characters and boost their use for nongame products.

Kaiser Kuo, a spokesman for Baidu, declined to comment Wednesday on the games in 91 Wireless.

"The service of the application that was reported to have violated the intellectual right has been halted based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and Samsung has informed the issue to the application seller," Samsung said in a statement.

Beijing Flyfish's "Super Mario" title wasn't available through Samsung's China online app store Thursday.

Beijing Flyfish was founded in September 2011 and develops games for Android and iOS, according to its website. One of the games it offers is "an Android version of the classic Super Mario that fully retains the original style."

Nintendo shocked the market in January when it forecast a surprise annual loss, cut sales projections for hardware and games, and said it's considering a new business model. The company completed a 114 billion-yen ($1.1 billion) share buyback Feb. 4 as members of the founding Yamauchi family sold some of their holdings.

Iwata, who is taking a 50 percent pay cut, is under pressure to find a new hit product as casual players move to smartphones and tablet computers, and hard-core gamers flock to faster consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

The casual gamers who made Nintendo the leader of a $93 billion industry have abandoned the Wii U for cheap downloads they can play on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone or an Apple Inc. iPad. The Wii U also lost its appeal to many dedicated gamers, who prefer the PS4 or Xbox One.

Nintendo sold 2.4 million Wii U units in the nine months through December, the company said. Sony said this month it sold 5.3 million units of its PlayStation 4 since it went on sale Nov. 15.

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