Despite all evidence to the contrary, Nintendo has spent the last few years downplaying the importance of mobile gaming. It’s easy to see why. Nintendo makes games and hardware that, whether the company likes it or not, compete with phones and tablets for gamers’ money and attention. If Nintendo acknowledged that mobile games were affecting its business, the company would have to do something about it.
As sales of Nintendo games and hardware have slowed in recent years, the mobile gaming industry has thrived, inspiring shareholders to beg Nintendo to make mobile games and grab a piece of the pie.
Nintendo finally caved. In partnership with the Japanese mobile gaming company DeNA, Nintendo announced that it will finally start making mobile games, with the first title projected to release this year. These games will not be direct ports of existing Nintendo games; they’ll be entirely new experiences based on the characters and worlds Nintendo has created.
That got us thinking. What Nintendo properties would work best on smartphones and tablets? Here are the five franchises we came up with.
1. New Super Mario Bros.
A traditional Mario game all but requires a physical controller with buttons players can push to make the nimble plumber jump over pits and goombas. Since mobile devices use touchscreens for control input, a standard Mario game on a mobile device isn’t an ideal combination. Unless.
Unless Nintendo created an auto-runner starring Mario and friends. In auto-runners, the character races forward automatically, letting the player tap the screen to jump and attack when necessary. Many successful auto-runners have been released on mobile already — titles like Canabalt and Temple Run. But one that’s set in the Mushroom Kingdom and stars our favorite Nintendo characters could be the auto-runner to rule them all.
Before nerding out about Pokémon coming to mobile, we need to mention that this franchise may not be included in the Nintendo/DeNA partnership because it’s technically owned by The Pokemon Company. But since we’re dreaming here anyway, let’s push ahead.
These deceptively simple role-playing games would be a perfect fit for mobile devices. All of the combat is turn-based, so the touchscreen controls shouldn’t be a problem. And since it would be an entirely new game, the developers could tinker with the display to make it feel right at home on a touchscreen. Better yet, trading your adorable critters with friends would be easier if everyone had the game on their phones and tablets.
Surely one of the biggest reasons Nintendo capitulated on making mobile games is to appeal to kids, many of whose first experience with video games nowadays comes from playing on their families’ tablets and smartphones. Unlike many older people, young kids today don’t think of mobile gaming as a second-class experience compared to console or handheld gaming. It’s anyone’s guess if they’ll “graduate” to playing games on dedicated devices.
One Nintendo franchise aimed primarily at kids is Nintendogs, a series of pet simulator games for the Nintendo DS. In the game, you get a dog to care for in real time. You can pet it by rubbing the touchscreen and call it by speaking into the microphone — things that would translate well to a mobile device. Better yet, Nintendogs has an in-game shop where you can buy things like frisbees and bones for your dog. That would make Nintendogs an ideal candidate to become a free-to-play game.
And we all know that when you’re trying to pull in new customers, the first taste should be free.
4. Fire Emblem
The great thing about Fire Emblem games — from a mobile perspective — is that they’re turn-based. Fire Emblem is a series of strategy games that take place in a fantasy world filled with interesting and likable characters. You command these warriors in action, controlling them one at a time, moving them around on a gridded battlefield and telling them which enemy to attack. Think of it as a more complicated version of chess. Since just about everything in this series can be done using a touchscreen, it only makes sense to bring it to mobile.
5. Mario Paint
Mario Paint never became a franchise, but it’s a fantastic Super Nintendo game that came out in 1992. To let you draw and paint your masterpieces on the SNES, the game came with a special mouse peripheral you used as a controller. And since so many PC games have been ported to mobile, we know that using a touchscreen isn’t very far from using a mouse. In fact, touching the screen directly to draw pictures would work even better than a mouse.
Some of the most fun players had with Mario Paint came from its extra modes, which included a music editor, a simple animation creator, and a fly-swatting mini-game. If Nintendo brings all of that to mobile devices, it could fuel kids’ creativity for years to come.
Whether Nintendo will bring any of these franchises to mobile is anyone’s guess, but they all seem like they could make the transition with style. It’s also entirely possible that the mobile games that do come out will bear little resemblance to the original titles, and instead look more like the free-to-play fare we’re used to seeing on mobile. But whichever way Nintendo goes, it’s sure to be an interesting ride.