After years of resisting rumors and requests from both shareholders and many mobile users, Nintendo is finally going to start wading into the waters of mobile gaming. Today they announced a deal with mobile game developer DeNA (pronounced "D-N-A") to create smartphone and tablet games based on Nintendo properties.
They're quick to note, however, that this "business and capital alliance" will only be for new games, not ports of games that are on (or coming to) the 3DS or Wii U.
"The alliance is intended to complement Nintendo's dedicated video game systems business and extend Nintendo's reach into the vast market of smart device users worldwide," the announcement says. "Under the alliance, DeNA will also be able to strengthen its gaming business at a global scale by leveraging Nintendo's IP. To ensure the quality of game experience that consumers expect from this alliance of Nintendo and DeNA, only new original games optimized for smart device functionality will be created, rather than porting games created specifically for the Wii U home console or the Nintendo 3DS portable system."
In other words, what Nintendo is really hoping is that you will say, "I really like this iPhone game that stars this Donkey Kong character. I should get a 3DS to see what else this crazy ape has been up to."
Before you lament that you won't be getting a straight port of Super Mario World on your Android device, keep in mind that most attempts to duplicate a console experience on a touch screen are ... let's just say less than desirable. (OK, look, they suck.) There are some great mobile games out there, but by and large they are designed from the ground up with the platform in mind. If you want Nintendo games on your phone, this is exactly the deal you want: Brand new stuff that's not going to try to shoehorn console experiences onto something that's not a console.
The announcement also teases what might be the replacement for Club Nintendo, the now-dying rewards program that Nintendo discontinued earlier this year. "Nintendo and DeNA also plan to develop an online membership service that is accessible from smart devices, PC and Nintendo systems, such as the Nintendo 3DS portable system and the Wii U home console," it says. "The membership service, which is targeted to launch in the fall of 2015, will be built on DeNA's extensive experience and capabilities in online membership services."
"But wait!" some hater in some corner of the Internet is shouting. "If Nintendo is making phone games, then they're dying! Bwhahaha! Xbox forever, fools!" Not so fast, small, hateful child.
In conjunction with this DeNA announcement, Nintendo has announced the code name for their next dedicated gaming system: NX.
"Nintendo has decided to deploy its video game business on smart devices, but it is not because we have lost our passion or vision for the business of dedicated video game systems", Nintendo president Saturo Iwata said, according to Kotaku. "On the contrary, because now we have decided on how we will make use of smart devices, we have come to hold an even stronger passion and vision for the dedicated video game system business than before."
He says the NX is a "brand new concept" for a video game platform. That could mean a lot of things. All of Nintendo's most recent systems have featured "brand new concepts," from dual-screens to motion gaming to glasses-free 3D to a tablet controller. It could also mean, however, that Nintendo is taking the long-rumored approach of combining their handheld and console development and making a sort of hybrid system.
Unfortunately, that's all the information we're getting. In fact, Iwata said not to expect any new information until next year, which makes me assume they'll be ready to announce it more formally at E3 2016.