Nintendo (shouldn’t) go Mobile

It seems as if we can’t go a day without a new face asking for Nintendo to go mobile. From ‘expert’ analysts to ‘that guy’ down the pub (pretty much the same person really), the call for Nintendo to abandon dedicated handheld hardware and start churning out cheeky app games is the annoying bee buzz that refuses to fly away.

The newest tone to add itself to this irritating drone is that of one The reason this website is so interesting is simply because it’s so sure of itself, and because its founder is so sure of his status as a fan of Nintendo’s work.

He then goes on to say, “I am an adult and it looks strange to take out what most people see as a “child’s device” in public.” A real fan there. As a side note we also find it entertaining that the site then suggest Nintendo release a ‘pad’ attachment for the iPhone, thus bulking it up and also making it painfully obvious to onlookers that you’re playing ‘child’s games’ on your phone.

Anyway, this isn’t an excuse for us to get high and mighty over one website – we’d only need to point to the Japanese sales charts to debunk its entire purpose – instead we see this as a good opportunity to lay out our stall and say why we think Nintendo is fine in its decision to continue making and supporting their own dedicated handhelds.

Simply put, Nintendo software is always inextricably linked with the control and hardware quirks of their latest system. Such is the reason we had the Wii, and such is why the Wii U is a bit different yet again. With 3DS this means twin screens, a 3D top screen (which Super Mario 3D Land put to dang fine use), and Streetpass. These elements – combined with the system’s buttons and inputs for movement – give us, the video game playing public, a handheld gaming device with much more capability in terms of what a game can do and be than a single touch screen mobile phone can possibly hope to achieve.

While features such as Streetpass may seem superfluous to some, multiplayer communities have started sprouting up worldwide, such as this one in Manchester, that use Streetpass as their excuse for a spot of handheld multiplayer fun. Once you start using Streetpass it’s impossible to deny how much of an extended life it gives the system and your games, the local connection feeling surprisingly meaningful in an old ‘arcade’ sort of way. How many groups have been started to compare Angry Birds, Canabalt or Cut the Rope scores while playing multiplayer Street Fighter IV Volt? Not many, we’d wager.

Then there are those buttons. Those glorious, clicky buttons. Press, action. Click, action. It’s impossible to deny the perfection of the button as an input device for videogames, and it’s impossible to defend wooly touch screen controls in their radiating, clicking presence. Could you imagine playing Monster Hunter without them? Smash Bros? There are games that work on a touch screen, sure, there are plenty, but there are many games that migrate to mobiles and wind up lacking a certain je ne sais click. If Nintendo didn’t make the handheld, we wouldn’t get the click.

Ultimately though, and what allows developers to take their time to craft rich, involving, rewarding games, even on handheld, is that a dedicated handheld creates equilibrium. A standard. Nintendo, and any other developer, can create a game for 3DS and know exactly what their players will be playing on, the screens they will see, the resolution, the technology. Create a game for mobile and you’re taking a chance with many factors. Even on the iPhone’s app store your player could be on any model from iPhone 2 to iPhone 5S turbo unleashed, and each phone will feature its own power and size quirks you’ll need to address. This, coupled with the low pricing of games, creates a speed market where getting your game to users quickly is best.

That said there’s plenty of quality to be found on mobiles, and we’d be lying if we said that some of those 0.69p apps aren’t mighty generous. We’d also be lying if we said we didn’t think that games like Kid Icarus: Uprising and Pokémon Black 2 and White 2 didn’t contain £30 worth of entertainment – these are huge games that offer hours upon hours upon hours of quality solo and multiplayer content with worlds and rules so intricately designed it’s genuinly hard to dispute the price, especially when compared to other forms of entertainment. Just look at Pokémon, with its official worldwide tournaments – as a Nintendo player you gain access to a worldwide community of complex, involving, competitive games with a fanbase more dedicated that most mobile games, with their endless ‘pay for this feature, pay for that weapon’ consumerism, can really hope to find.

It’s like comparing a packet of crisps to a three course meal. A Styrofoam bodyboard to a top of the line surfboard. A plastic checkers set to a lavishly produced Arkham Horror pack. Is anyone having a go at boardgame designers for charging £50 for a deep, engaging role playing game when Mouse Trap costs twelve quid? Well, are they?

In truth these comparisons are the most interesting thing to think about as there’s a growing inevitability around the fact that dedicated handhelds are becoming more niche, appealing only to those with a true interest in the field. We’re certainly not disputing that fact but we are asking, ‘does that matter?’ If anything that’s a good corner for Nintendo to fight and one that would disappear should they go mobile. It’s a corner full of people that care, full of people that play a game because it’s a great game and not just because it’s a colourful ten minute diversion. Hopefully a corner with less Ninjabread Men and Imagine titles.

Then again when you factor in Super Mario 3D Land’s sales of 6.62 million copies worldwide, you’ve got to question what counts for niche nowadays…

So should Nintendo go into Mobile gaming? No. Not at all. Nintendo are fine making stellar Handheld games that are designed to make perfect use of the hardware that the Big N defines, for those of us that aren’t worried about what Jack from accounts thinks about our limited edition Zelda 3DS. The competition from mobiles is only encouraging Nintendo to produce some of its best handheld work in years, and we’d rather an informed, niche market get top quality work on a device that prides itself in its ability to play games than see Mario reduced to a one button endless ‘platformer’ with all the depth of a Petri dish for the masses (considering, afterall, that this is what is asking for). Now if you’ll excuse us, we’ve got some Coin Rush Streetpass scores to beat.

  • Sylverstone Khandr

    I just made an account here to say well done. I thoroughly enjoyed your article, and it really does give proper leeway to argument as to why Nintendo shouldn’t go mobile.

    I already made note of my views on the NintendoGoMobile page and it was met with favorable responses, this really just solidifies my views perfectly.

    So thank you very much.

    (Oh, and on an off-handed note, I help to run StreetPass NYC! Great to see coverage of StreetPass events here! You should remember me from Twitter, since I always get retweets from you guys.)

    • Sylverstone Khandr

      (Scratch that last bit – mixed you up with an Aussie site with the same name. Still, we’re StreetPass Network friends!)

      • James B

        Hah! Thanks for the kind words and apologies for the spot of confusion. A privilege to meet one of StreetPass NYC’s chaps though, you’ve got a mighty impressive community over there in the Apple. Would be great to chat with you about it!

  • mark.kelly

    That being said, if Nintendo announced a phone tomorrow…