The Wii U is struggling, Nintendo fans are weary, and Mario is totally ready to go to another castle. Nintendo is stuck between a brick block and a Goomba, and everyone is waiting to see what they do next.
We may have that answer, at least on the mobile front, as given by the recent news of Nintendo’s first mobile game being made with DeNA: Miitomo.
Earlier this year Nintendo announced their partnership with DeNA, a mobile services company, to establish online services for Nintendo products alongside the creation of original games for mobile devices. During the reveal, Nintendo made it clear that they would not simply port existing games from their deep roster of franchises to mobile devices; instead Nintendo will create original games that star legacy characters.
The goal is to attract Nintendo’s untapped market of smart phone gamers, in the hopes of garnering their attention to Nintendo’s traditional gaming efforts on home consoles and dedicated handheld devices. The greatly missed Satoru Iwata, late Nintendo president, explained the need to create games that lend themselves to smartphone gaming, so as not to haphazardly push games better suited to dedicated gaming platforms.
You can imagine my surprise when Nintendo announced that their very first title being worked on in collaboration with DeNA is Miitomo. A free-to-start communications application that features Mii characters will be Nintendo’s first foray into the smart phone market? I won’t discount Miitomo’s ability to succeed in the mobile market—Nintendo has had its fair share of unlikely successes: the Wii Remote, the Nintendo DS, and games like Wii Fit and Brain Age—but it’s hard to imagine that a somewhat generic social application with the ability to share information and pose questions about common interests will excite any gamer, seasoned or not.
I agree with Nintendo’s efforts to approach the mobile gaming space in a cautious manner. It would be reckless of them to squander their legacy IP by throwing old games or new fully fledged titles onto smart phones just to claim a piece of the ever-growing mobile market. A greedy act like this would only be done to generate short-term profits. Nintendo needs to make the casual market understand why dedicated consoles play games that cost a premium, unlike the free-to-play or $0.99 price tags attached to the typical smart phone title.
To achieve this understanding and to continue to promote its existing IP, Nintendo would have been wise to create their first mobile game that features a recognizable character. Maybe Nintendo’s confidence in the mobile space is too delicate to push out games featuring Super Mario as their first effort. However, they certainly could have used lesser key characters, say Samus or Pikmin.
Either way, Nintendo is struggling with creating an identity for itself, both for gamers who pay little interest to the gaming giant and for those who have been long-time supporters. As a long-time supporter, I want to see Nintendo succeed, and aside from their upcoming NX console, the way Nintendo will succeed is by becoming relevant again. I just don’t see how they could possibly hope to generate a greater reputation with a game like Miitomo as their first effort with DeNA.
The impetus of Nintendo’s success lies with its ability to keep current fans interested and its mobile efforts effective. Earlier we learned that Nintendo will be releasing two Zelda games next year—one an HD remaster and the other an original title—but that won’t be enough to save the Wii U or their weakening stance against Sony and Microsoft. The fruition of Nintendo’s plans post-Wii U will determine their success, and if Miitomo is any indication of what’s to come, I hope that the crazy toy makers have more impressive offerings in mind.