My how times have changed. Yesterday Nintendo announced a partnership with mobile developing giant DeNA to bring Nintendo IPs to smartphones. Let me say that again. NINTENDO IS MAKING MOBILE GAMES. If you don’t understand why I’m freaking out, then let me share some insight straight from Nintendo President Satoru Iwata.
Let’s start with this gem from 2011. “This is absolutely not under consideration,” said Iwata in regards to pressure from investors to start developing for mobile platforms. “If we did this, Nintendo would cease to be Nintendo. Having a hardware development team in-house is a major strength. It’s the duty of management to make use of those strengths. [Making mobile games is] probably the correct decision in the sense that the moment we started to release games on smartphones we’d make profits. However, I believe my responsibility is not to short term profits, but to Nintendo’s mid and long term competitive strength.”
In a strange twist of events, Iwata has recently stated that Nintendo plans to put mobile games on 3DS, instead of putting Nintendo games on mobile. How recently? Last month. If you don’t believe me (and can read Japanese) check out the interview.
That’s why I’m freaking out. Yesterday’s announcement is a complete departure from everything I expected from Nintendo. And I’m not mad about it either. In fact, I’m pumped.
We don’t know much about the actual games themselves but Nintendo has almost 50 years of games in its back catalog and there’s more than a handful that would translate well to a smartphone. A reboot of the Mr. Game & Watch series would feel right at home alongside mobile arcade classics like Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride. I can even see modern games making the leap to mobile like the recently released Mario vs Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars which was developed for both Wii U and 3DS using Nintendo’s Web Framework. I think bigger games like Christmas’ Captain Toad’s Treasure Tracker would make a graceful transition to tablet. Instead of controlling Toad with a joystick, you could tap where you want Toad to run, taking a page from Monument Valley’s book, which absolutely nails the simple diorama-style of level design.
I expect that these mobile titles will not be for the core gamer. These games will be targeted toward people like my sister who loves video games but prefers to play them on her phone (instead of on the pink 3DS I got her for Christmas…) They will be targeted toward the adults who grew up playing Nintendo classics as kids themselves.
I’m not suggesting that all the games will be casual or only enjoyed by more casual gamers. I chose to invest time into playing Sonic Dash on iOS over the other Temple Run clones, so brand recognition definitely does attract core gamers. But at the end of the day, it would be a missed opportunity to try to appeal exclusively to Nintendo fans who are already loyal to the brand.
Consider the Nintendo smartphone series to be a recruiting tool. Put a game like Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition in a kid’s hands and let them have a good time with it. Then in between rounds flash an ad that says, “Did you know that you can actually control Mario and friends? Run around and play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, and even Toad in Super Mario 3D World for Wii U!” Hook, line, and sinker. This is a tried and true process. Even I eventually downloaded Clash of Clans after it popped up a hundred times during sessions of Geometry Dash. Then again, I have no self-control.
And let’s not forget about Amiibo. Most modern Smartphones have NFC, the technology that powers Amiibo, built-in. Nintendo has already stated that they will provide other methods for giving consumers Amiibo functionality other than the figures themselves. Nintendo could allow you to buy a digital version of Amiibo on your smartphone which you could then use to scan your characters onto your Wii U gamepad or New Nintendo 3DS.
Maybe it would work the other way. Imagine being able to scan your Amiibo to unlock parts of a mobile game for free that you’d otherwise have to pay for. The logic is a bit weird considering the games themselves will likely either be free or sell for less than five dollars while Amiibo figures cost $12.99. But the Amiibo craze has been fueled by emotion, not logic.
Just yesterday I went with my roommate to GameStop because he preordered Battlefield: Hardline. I walked in and saw the Amiibo display and I walked over to it in a trance like a cybug to a beacon. A few minutes later I shamefully dragged myself into my roommate’s car carrying Pikachu and Toon Link Amiibos. Once again, I have no self-control.
Since DeNA is doing most of the heavy lifting, we don’t have to worry about the mobile games impacting the production schedules of Nintendo’s console games. It’s a win for mostly everybody. Developers who make a living off of publishing dinky games for mobile will likely be overshadowed by the gaming giant, but after the Wii, I could live with less shovelware anyway.
As per usual Nintendo has proved that they can bring the hype, however their results are inconsistent. Will Nintendo’s new batch of mobile games deliver? Who knows. But consider these additional benefits. Nintendo will be able to see the beauty of multi-touch gaming. Currently, the Wii U Gamepad and Nintendo 3DS only support single stroke gestures which severely limits touchscreen implementation. With people playing quality video games, it also opens the door for more people to enter the gaming community thus helping the industry become more mainstream and diverse. That’s never a bad thing.