DeNA Partnership Will Future-Proof Nintendo for Years to Come

The early morning announcement of a partnership between Nintendo and DeNA shocked the gaming industry. The two companies are planning a multi-device membership service that combines Nintendo’s IPs and developers with DeNA’s mobile skills. The plan is to kind of do what Sony did with PlayStation Mobile and have things be accessible on multiple devices, only the NintenDeNA partnership will include PCs and also its own dedicated game system. Nintendo is opening up all of its existing IPs for this project, which could be the real game-changer here. Sony didn’t leverage any of their IPs with PlayStation Mobile, which recently shut down.

The mobile space has been used for years to give console releases another branch on the gaming tree to make some money with. Sonic and Sega All-Stars Racing had a mobile release that allowed Sega to show that kart racing could be done well on mobile devices. Mario Kart would have a fairly seamless transition to mobile, especially with it already having so many portable incarnations already. A “best of” game mixing in some new tracks for $5-$10 would be received very well if it controlled smoothly, and with Nintendo co-developing everything involved with this partnership, game quality should remain fairly high. Gamers over the age of 30 will likely remember the Phillips/Nintendo partnership that came about after Sony and Nintendo had their falling out. The end result didn’t just lead to the PlayStation, but it also brought about some of the worst products to bear Nintendo’s characters ever.

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The Legend of Zelda and Mario IPs were used horribly, and it might’ve taken 20 years, but it’s clear that Nintendo has learned from its mistakes there. Many Nintendo IPs should move over fairly easily to mobile devices beyond Mario Kart. Some would point to Super Smash Bros., but that franchise has a lot of depth beneath the surface, and no mobile fighter yet that has aped Smash has come within spitting distance of even being worthy of shining its trophies. While Nintendo would be better-suited for the job, it might not be possible to do a top-shelf Smash game on mobile. A far better fit would be Pikmin, which would really be far better as a tablet and big screen-exclusive, but could work on phones too with a pinch and zoom setup. Dormant franchises should be considered for new entries here in much the same way that Konami used older games for the Rebirth line of Wii Ware.

F-Zero would be absolutely perfect here. You could start with something akin to the SNES and GBA games, or take an Evoland approach to things. Imagine an F-Zero game with a campaign that began in the 16-bit world and then evolved into the 64-bit F-Zero X’s art style before finally morphing into F-Zero GX’s looks and maybe a bit beyond that. It would be incredible, and there’s more potential than just that for F-Zero.The SNES/Super Famicom saw some BS Satellaview releases with all-new content. That service was akin to Sega Channel, but only for Japan and with Nintendo-related IPs.

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Nintendo could finally monetize the BS F-Zero Grand Prix I and II games with fully legal releases. For years now, folks have been able to play them, but Nintendo hasn’t made a penny on them. Maybe this service’s experimentation could lead to Nintendo finally deciding to give those games a legal release. It would give those who never played them a chance to do so, while also giving people who enjoyed them a chance to continue to do so and support the F-Zero franchise at the same time. The Legend of Zelda franchise also had BS Satellaview releases.

BS Legend of Zelda remade the original Legend of Zelda, but with A Link to the Past’s upgraded visuals and new male and female playable characters – the mascots of the BS-X broadcasting system. A later game kept the mascots, but gave you a new set of dungeons to play through. They involved a live radio play aspect, but while that aspect has been lost due to time, the games have been made playable in emulated form for years and could be revamped officially to be either much closer to what they were intended to be then, or reworked to be original games.

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WaveRace is another long-dormant franchise that like F-Zero, could use a shot in the arm. Unlike Smash Bros, we’ve seen a mobile proof of concept for this kind of game as Vector Unit’s Riptide GP games basically blended Hydro Thunder with WaveRace. WaveRace is a bit more of a relaxing game though, and even its N64 incarnation had a physics model has has held up really well. The highly-technical racing would be trickier to transfer to mobile devices, but if it was made to be controller-optimized with a way to do things on just a screen, then that issue could be worked around.

The most exciting thing is is the possibility of seeing franchises revived and hopefully be made with the idea of controllers in mind. Controller-optimized games have allowed Amazon’s Fire TV devices to expand the reach of the mobile Sonic games, and do so on devices that can cost under $20. Far too many mobile games are fine in theory, but fall apart due to touch-only controls, while those built from the ground-up with controller support in mind tend to be far more enjoyable. A game like PewPew is playable on a touch screen, but gains a lot when you’re actually using to sticks to control a twin-stick shooter.

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The dedicated gaming system called the NX is the real wild card here. They announced nothing about it, so this is just pure speculation, and that’s a lot of fun! The OUYA started the trend of mobile-inspired set top boxes, and with Amazon and Google following their lead, it seems like that could be what we see out of the NX. In terms of horsepower, Nintendo could actually go with the ultra-powerful K1 chip and craft a mobile device with the power of a console – or at least something powerful enough to run anything they would want in Virtual Console form right now.

Rumors of GameCube games coming to Wii U have swirled for as long as the latter system has existed, but nothing has been done with it. With Dolphin enabling GameCube playback on mobile devices to some degree, Nintendo should easily be able to harness the power of a modern mobile processor set top box for GC and even Wii game playback. With the latter’s controllers already being Bluetooth, Nintendo could easily put out a Bluetooth version of the GC pad to ensure that its games play as perfectly as possible on the NX.  Nintendo could also further monetize their back catalog of hardware by releasing Bluetooth controllers for the NES, SNES, and N64. This would have the benefit of ensuring that games could be played perfectly as if they were on real hardware, but also give Nintendo at least a cut of the action from people who just want to stick with an existing PC or mobile emulation setup. Plus, everyone stands to gain from having high-quality Nintendo-made pads that are now wireless. With so many companies releasing knockoff pads anyway, this is another natural move for Nintendo.

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Nintendo is doing something they don’t normally do, and that alone is exciting. For many years now, they’ve been stuck into just doing things their way. While it has led to them still producing a lot of top-notch games, it has also greatly hurt their market share in the console industry. Portable gaming has always been their ace in the hole, and with this meshing of mobile gaming alongside a dedicated game system, we could see them truly flourish. It’s very easy to imagine a $150 Nintendo-branded system coming out in 2016 with some side games attached to it. A 2D side-scrolling Mario would be a huge coup, but Mario Kart would be a big deal as well. Nintendo could really have something special if they really sell folks on their own version of cross buy – only you’d get a license that is good for not just the NX, but any mobile device you want and maybe even a Steam-esque paltform on PC.

Nintendo could theoretically be spreading themselves too thin, but they have pulled off the multi-pillar approach fairly well before. The DS was originally a third pillar alongside the GBA and GameCube, and with DeNA being a partner, a lot of work can be handed off to them and make use of their expertise. The OUYA began the trend of mobile gaming on a TV, while Amazon and Google picked up on it to really give it mainstream credibility. With Nintendo seemingly entering that race in their own way, it gives the concept credibility that it has never had with the dedicated gaming community. This is an exciting move for Nintendo and something that should future-proof the company for many years to come. We’ll be sure to discuss this whole concept in-depth on this week’s Hardcore Gamer Show and in future articles – so keep it locked to HG for more.