John Gruber over at Daring Fireball makes a logical proposition for Nintendo to start releasing games for iOS:
…their next best bet is to expand to making iOS games. I’m not saying drop the DS line and jump to iOS in one fell swoop. But a couple of $9.99 iPhone/iPad games to test the water wouldn’t hurt.
Daring Fireball: Nintendo 2DS
There is little doubt that if Nintendo re-released Any of the original NES, Super NES, GameBoy games like Super Mario and Legend of Zelda, they would make a mint. Arguably better than Sega is doing with Sonic the Hedgehog, but still flash in the pan. I don’t think John’s statement of testing the water is dismissive of the effort required to do so. But I also don’t think doing what is necessary to test the waters, much less maintain long-term health, is going to be as easy as it sounds for Nintendo.
When moving games from the older 8-bit and 16-bit machines, porting appears to be difficult from a textural perspective. I liked Sonic the Hedgehog on iOS, gameplay looks and sounds exactly the same, but playing it didn’t feel right and I put it down fairly quickly. I swear the character has either moved in a random direction or there is a delay in a jump, if not a complete misfire. I have to wonder whether this has something to do with the change in thinking that comes with moving from hardware controls to on-screen (software) controls. As the console companies had proven long before Apple, there are advantages to owning the software and the hardware. Unless they are porting a game like an RPG where timing of button mashing isn’t required, then it appears control responsiveness is a deep technical issue that needs to be addressed. Whether the issue is cultural or technical is impossible to say, but even Doom feels fine on iOS and that once required a physical keyboard to play and had no ties to a single platform, so I argue that something is afoot.
Then there is the issue of what to do with the later consoles like the Nintendo 64 and later, where the controls are more numerous than what will fit on an iPhone screen. Rockstar Games solved this in Grand Theft Auto III by sacrificing some arguably superfluous functions, but then graphics begin to suffer because the scope of the visible area are vast and complex. Seeing Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on iOS would be instant wins for the company, but they rely on pretty much all of the nine (9) button in addition to the D-pad for some aspects of deeply integrated game play. Nintendo still equates to top quality games when it comes to their own assets, but limiting these games to just the iPad to accommodate all those buttons might represent too much of a compromise in potential sales. I can only see games designed for the Wii and Wii U where motion control is a core game mechanic simply never making it to iOS or any other software-only platform.
Going back to the older, original games, I think there is a real question of how successful they would be from a market sophistication perspective. Super Mario Bros. is an inarguable classic but it could (and just might) suffer from hype backlash. Platform games have long since moved on; Super Mario 64 made Super Mario Bros. immediately boring for me. Players tastes—both in my generation that witnessed the NES release and those kids playing games for the first time—have become vastly more sophisticated. My “go to” games are Minecraft PE and flight simulators like X-Plane and Infinite Flight. Sonic on iOS was neat for a couple hours and then went away. Ridiculous Fishing was neat for a lot longer, if only because there is real mystery mixed into the game play, but I still went back to my “go to” games because they provide a deeper, intellectual satisfaction I rarely find elsewhere. Even my six-year-old nephew is hooked in Minecraft PE. He plays the button-mashing platform games, but really only when he cannot, or is not allowed to for being punished, use the iPad.
Maybe that’s the way the whole market is now, but will that be satisfactory for Nintendo? I doubt it. We spent hours in front of the NES. The N64 was my favorite console ever, and the Wii U could be just as awesome for me, but the iPhone is infinitely more convenient and a hell of a lot cheaper than a console. I don’t care how good the console games are. If anything, I would be buying the game for my kids when they are old enough, so if I wanted to I could just fire up the tube TV and original NES I have in the basement and save myself a few bucks seeing as how I think they would play Super Mario Bros. for about an hour.
All of this means we are back to the fundamental change that Gruber and others have pointed out many times of developing new games for iOS. For Sega, I imagine this wasn’t a hard cultural change since they are smaller and already used to licensing their core assets to other systems having given up on hardware a long time ago (and rightly so, it would seem). Given Nintendo’s recent past release of the Wii U and 2DS, it appears only catastrophic failure of the company will be required to compel Nintendo to seek shelter elsewhere as opposed to relying on its own ingenuity. I don’t think Mario and Link will ever go away completely. I just hope Nintendo figures what they are going to do to keep them in the market in time for my own kids to start playing video games in a few years, as I have the act of introducing them to Super Mario Bros. on the same height pedestal as introducing them to Star Wars. I really need for you to get over this, Nintendo.