January 31st, 2014
03:35 AM ET

Saving Nintendo

Nintendo is in trouble.

It's hard to disagree with that after it slashed its forecast for Wii U sales from 9 million to just 2.8 million. Less dramatic but perhaps just as troubling: It also cut its forecast for its market-leading 3DS handheld. Nintendo now expects to sell 13.5 million of them, down from the 18 million they originally expected.

But what's up for debate is how Nintendo can climb out of this hole. By far the most common solution suggested: Nintendo should put games like Mario and Zelda on smartphones and tablets.

I disagree.

Console games and smartphones games are to me as different as movies and TV shows: they are both similar, yet not directly comparable. They may share many elements, but you wouldn't say a movie and a TV show were competitors. You can't take Gone with the Wind and slice it up into half-hour TV episodes. And yet, that's the suggestion: Take Nintendo's back catalog of console games and put them on smartphones.

Take arguably Nintendo's greatest title, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It's not a game you can pick up for a few minutes at a time; I can't even imagine what it'd be like to drop in and out midway through one of the more complicated dungeons in the game with puzzles left half-finished.

It's not just about the experience, either. Console games cost millions of dollars to make and sell for anywhere between $40 to $60. Mobile games? A $5 smartphone game is considered expensive.

Nintendo seemed to open themselves up to the possibility of making games for smartphones when CEO Satoru Iwata announced that he will use a team of developers to create content for smartphones and tablets - and he won't restrict them from making games, or using Nintendo characters. But he added, "If you report that we will release Mario on smart devices, it would be a completely misleading statement."

Without signature titles on smartphones, this becomes nothing more than an increased push for something Nintendo is already doing. Last year they said they'd release a smartphone app to access their social network, the Miiverse. There's also a app with a 3D catalog of Pokemon on the iOS App Store.

So what is the answer? Honestly, I don't know. Wired's Chris Kohler suggests Nintendo should apply some lessons from mobile gaming by opening its own app store and inviting more developers to make games for their systems.

Personally, I'm looking forward to whatever Nintendo's strange new 'health-related' system may be. It's been met with some bewilderment, and it's hard to form much of an opinion given how few details there are. But what excites me isn't the product so much as the attitude.

Nintendo is at its best when it comes up with something completely out of left field. The dual screens of the Nintendo DS and virtually everything about the Wii (including the name) seemed weird at the time, but both went on to be incredibly successful. The company's willingness to experiment and explore the spaces competitors don't even see means it's hard to count Nintendo out.

And if Nintendo ever needed another surprise hit, that time is now.

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Filed under: Games • General • Personal musings • Technology
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Budd Black

    This might be the most level headed MSM article I have read on Nintendo in the past month. Nintendo is not in trouble, The Wii U is struggling but the company can weather it if the system completely fails and doesn't sell another console. The 3DS was also a slow starter and has picked up steam as it has aged. The Wii U could get a second wind with MarioKart, Smash Brothers, and X coming out. The big question is will they be able to build on those games. Unfortunately we have very little word on any other games in development.

    January 31, 2014 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  2. Qasim shah


    February 4, 2014 at 1:56 am | Reply

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