Nintendo 1-Ups Itself By Moving Mario & Co. to Smartphones
That rumbling sound you hear? That's the gaming industry reacting to the March 17th news that Nintendo, after years of refusing to write games for Apple and Android mobile devices, is finally embracing the smartphone and tablet market.
The company that helped launch the video game industry announced that it had forged a partnership with DeNA, a Japanese mobile game developer. DeNA will provide the platform for Nintendo to bring its extremely popular stable of characters - Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda's Link, Metroid Prime's Samus, etc. - to your iPhone or Samsung Galaxy 6, probably by fall 2015. (Sorry Windows Phone users, you're not invited to this Princess Peach party at this time.)
There was other news from Tokyo, Nintendo's homebase: the company is working on a new gaming system codenamed NX, which should be ready in 2016 - and that's about all it said about that development. The company's hookup with DeNA will also mean a new online membership service to replace the recently-departed Club Nintendo. That could mean free-to-play games that make money for Nintendo via in-app purchases.
The real news here, however, is the degree of difficulty on the flip-flop performed by Nintendo executives.
As the mobile gaming market kept growing, smartphone/tablet games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush Saga started competing for the attention spans of young gamers, which have always been Nintendo's core constituency. Company CEO Satoru Iwata kept insisting that Nintendo games were best played on Nintendo devices. There was also the fear that Nintendo smartphone games would keep parents from buying their kids $200 3DS systems.
The first crack in that strategy appeared in Dec. 2013, straight from the mouth of Nintendo of America president Reginald "Reggie" Fils-Amie. I had a chance to interview him as a tech reporter for a Seattle TV station (Nintendo of America is based in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, WA). He told me then that Nintendo was considering experimenting with some gameplay on other mobile operating systems, but that would be more of a marketing effort designed to send consumers back to Nintendo hardware.
I understood the company's fears of cannabilizing DS/3DS sales. But I always felt that Nintendo employs some of the best game designers and developers on the planet. Anyone who's every played Super Mario Bros., Metroid Prime, The Legend of Zelda titles or Mario Kart knows how addictive and fun they are. Yes, there are no colorful control buttons or directional pads on an iPhone or Android, but you're telling me that Nintendo's brain trust can't come up with a compelling touchscreen-based control system for Mario and his buddies?
Apparently Nintendo execs decided to put their faith in their own developers. Iwata said his company won't just port Super Mario Bros. or Yoshi's Island to other mobile devices; it will come up with new titles designed just for the smartphone/tablet experience. That's a definite win for consumers and the company. Gamers young and old get to put beloved characters through a new set of challenges, and Nintendo finds a way to monetize it all.
That is the equivalent of a big 1-Up mushroom extending Nintendo's life and relevancy in the gaming industry.