After years of hesitation, Nintendo is finally charging full steam ahead into the realm of mobile gaming. Many gamers have craved this marriage since the advent of phone games, fantasizing of leveling a Charmander or hopping over turtle shells from the same device they text or online shop with. Now that dream is being fulfilled, but perhaps not in a way gamers expect.
In a recent interview with Time, Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aimé clarified Nintendo’s current goals with mobile gaming. Though gamers should expect the appearance of familiar IPs and characters on their iPhones or Galaxys, they will come packaged as entirely new experiences. In Fils-Aimé’s own words: “And so for us, it’s not simply taking existing games and porting them over to smart devices as the answer. Our answer is to create new compelling experiences that leverage what smart devices do best.”
Nintendo’s motif when it comes to game design is that the software must match the hardware. This concept is very evident in Nintendo’s Wii console. Although some remakes and ports were produced, Nintendo mostly focused on either new IPs, or famous ones brought to life in a new and interesting way with motion control. In this regard, Fils-Aimé believes that simply porting successful titles onto a mobile platform will result in a less-than-ideal product. The reasoning is that Super Mario Bros. was conceived with a controller in mind, and so the glassy screen of a smartphone provides no substitute. The goal for the company is to exploit the unique aspects a mobile device provides for video games, and then use these one-of-a-kind elements to create a one-of-a-kind experience. The message from the Nintendo hierarchy seems to read: Link isn’t out of the picture, but don’t expect The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
The results of this philosophy are already spotted when examining some of the mobile titles Nintendo has already announced. Miitomo is an upcoming free-to-play smartphone game. As the name implies, Miis will be a primary focus for the title. Players then communicate with other player controlled Miis and engage in a highly social experience unique to smartphones. Another great example is the Nintendo partnered Niantic’s Pokémon GO. This title will also be free-to-play, while providing a unique experience only a mobile platform could support. Together with both strangers and friends, players can explore their neighborhoods and cities while using their cellphones to hunt and capture Pokémon in the real world. Expect more innovations such as these from the mother of Mario as the company continues to churn out platform tailored titles.
Some gamer’s may be disheartened by the company’s culture of innovation over nostalgia. Perhaps a port of Pokemon Red is more desired than Pokemon Go. Analyzing this philosophy before passing judgement is important, however. One reason Nintendo has been evasive of mobile gaming in the past is because they already control a large portion of the market with their Nintendo 3DS consoles. The company needed a way to enter the market that didn’t hurt their already established platform, which they’ve found by focusing on new games designed specifically for phones rather than rehashes. This is to the benefit of both producer and consumer. Players can enjoy classic Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon on their Nintendo 3DS consoles, while also receiving entirely new experiences on their smartphones. Now consumers get the best of both worlds and can pick and choose with little detriment. Meanwhile, Nintendo benefits by offering two individual experiences that both expand their brand and increase their profits.
With that said, this announcement can still be a tough pill to swallow given the amount of classic Game Boy and Game Boy Color games that would lend themselves well to ports given their simple control schemes. The turn based RPG style of Pokemon would be perfect for a mobile platform, and even the 2D scrolling of Super Mario Bros. seems conceivable and desirable. It will be interesting moving forward to see if Nintendo flexes somewhat under consumer demand and delivers these golden games. Both innovation and player appeasement are keystones in Nintendo’s history, and it will be exciting to see them strike this balance moving forward in the mobile gaming market.