A man rides an escalator past Nintendo advertisements at an electronics store in Tokyo. Reuters

Nintendo Co. Ltd. has kept Mario and Luigi out of the mobile-game scene for years. But now the Kyoto company is pushing to release five smartphone games within the next couple of years.

Nintendo’s first smartphone game is expected to launch this year, and the firm plans to premiere four more by the end of March 2017. That’s a tiny number compared with the hundreds of titles released on its 3DS and Wii U platforms, but Nintendo CEO and President Satoru Iwata explained the reasoning behind the move during an earnings call Friday.

“You may think it is a small number,” Iwata said. “But when we aim to make each title a hit and because we want to thoroughly operate every one of them for a significant amount of time after their releases, this is not a small number at all and should demonstrate our serious commitment to the smart-device business.”

Nintendo hasn’t disclosed which of its intellectual properties will be tapped for the first game. But it said in March that nothing in its catalog -- including the likes of “Super Mario” and “The Legend of Zelda” -- is off-limits.

Nintendo revealed in March its intention to make mobile games through a partnership with Japanese mobile developer DeNA. Development of those games is expected to be headed by “Mario Kart” producer Hideki Konno, according to IGN.

Nintendo hopes its entry into the mobile market will attract new customers while it uses smartphones as bridges to its own dedicated console systems. To facilitate this, it plans to roll out a new online membership service that would encompass its 3DS and Wii U systems, the in-development NX system, mobile devices and personal computers.

The timing of Nintendo’s entry into the mobile market may be right for the company as U.S. mobile-game revenue topped $2.6 billion in 2014 and is expected to grow 16.5 percent to more than $3 billion this year, according to eMarketer.