Nintendo’s foray into the mobile gaming sphere was nothing short of shocking. A company that has repeatedly shot down the idea of moving to mobile, the Big N has remained dedicated to their successful 3DS (and New 3DS) lines of systems. But now mobile is on the table for them, and with that, a truckload of skepticism. Mobile gaming has become a gamer’s taboo. Filthy language like “microtransactions” and “free-to-play” come to mind, along with neutered difficulty and, dare I say, “casual” gameplay. Nintendo has always been a gamer’s company, so moving to the casually focused mobile world sounds troubling. But fear not: Nintendo’s future on mobile is brighter than any of their competitors’. Why? Because Nintendo aren’t just suited for mobile gaming. They practically invented mobile gaming.
While portable technology existed long before Nintendo, it was the work of the late Gunpei Yokoi that pioneered not just Nintendo’s handheld dominance, but the foundation of portable gaming as a whole. Yokoi’s development philosophy for the original Game Boy focused on simpler, cheaper technology. Instead of trying to emulate the NES, Yokoi focused on more digestible experiences, ones that were easier to play in short bursts on the subway instead of a marathon at home. It was an intentionally simplified approach to games, one that was perfectly displayed in games like Tetris and Pokemon, two games that flourished on the Game Boy. This idea of cheap, simple games that could be played in short bursts on the go became the template of portable gaming onward. It was adopted by franchises like Angry Birds and Candy Crush, series that became juggernauts on mobile devices.
Yokoi’s philosophy hasn’t waned since the Game Boy; it’s still the benchmark for gaming on the go, so it makes sense that Nintendo would be the ones to further it on mobile devices. Unlike the 3DS, mobile devices are more versatile. While the tech might not be suitable for a platformer like New Super Mario Bros., a simple puzzle or touch-screen strategy game could flourish on a mobile device. Nintendo’s mastery of franchises like Picross and Fire Emblem shows that these mobile-suitable genres are not out of their reach. They’re simple, but addictive experiences, the same kind that Nintendo has been designing for their dedicated handhelds since the 80’s.
Of course, there’s the worry of dirty words like “microtransactions” and “free-to-play.” Yes, mobile gaming has earned negativity from an almost abusive implementation of greedy in-game purchases and intrusive paywalls. Franchises like Dungeon Keeper and even Final Fantasy were tainted by these practices. In truth, Nintendo is not inherently immune to these ideas, but they also have a more positive reputation on their side. Nintendo might be questionable when it comes to their online network, but they’ve been shockingly generous with downloadable content, from free goodies to reasonably priced paid add-ons. Even better, this DLC hasn’t locked away anything crucial behind paywalls. Nothing essential is lost if you don’t buy the DLC, a very pro-consumer approach, especially when compared to how other companies have used it. While mobile’s reputation has been soured, Nintendo has proven that even maligned DLC can function properly.
Nintendo’s role in the mobile world is not without its skepticism, but with a track record of both innovative development and pro-consumer approaches to DLC, their situation doesn’t seem like a hopeless case. Nintendo practically built portable gaming, so it makes perfect sense that they’d move their dedicated handheld ideology to the mobile platform. Building simple experiences for on the go is in their blood, the core essence of the Game Boy, DS and 3DS lines of systems. With a surprisingly positive approach to downloadable content, they can also overcome the adversities set by their predecessors and offer a mobile experience that isn’t riddled with micropayments. Nintendo has always been about games and I doubt that will change, even on mobile. While it’s too early to tell if Nintendo will prosper with smartphones, their future isn’t looking grim. If anyone can do mobile right, it’s Nintendo.