Nintendo has been planning its gaming debut on smartphones for a long while now, but transitioning to hardware that it didn’t have a hand in creating poses unique challenges — at least according to Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aimé.
In partnership with Japanese mobile giant DeNA, Nintendo is currently planning five smartphone games, which will integrate with its upcoming My Nintendo loyalty program. Although the first title — the recently announced Miitomo — is still months away, the house of Mario is already realising that getting its most recognisable characters to work on touch devices “may feel different” to players.
Speaking to TIME, Fils-Aimé said, “unfortunately there’s a simplistic mentality out there, that ‘Make a Mario game for smart devices’ is a recipe for printing money. And it’s not. It just simply is not. It’s that Kyoto craftsmanship mentality that says whatever we’re going to do, it needs to be a wonderful experience for consumers.”
Crafting that experience is the key challenge in bringing Nintendo games to smartphones, and one Nintendo is taking seriously.
“We know that Mario and his ability to run and jump, to transform based on different items, that’s been optimised for a play-control approach that doesn’t exist for smartphones,” Fils-Aimé continues. “And so for us, it’s not simply taking existing games and porting them over to smart devices as the answer. Our answer is to create new compelling experiences that leverage what smart devices do best.”
Fils-Aime’s response touches on a truth rarely spoken about in mobile gaming circles — by the very nature of touchscreen interfaces, games cannot employ the breadth of controls that home consoles or handhelds such as Nintendo 3DS or Sony’s PS Vita can.
Nintendo has almost always owned the hardware it made games for, developing the physical technology and the software in concert. Creating apps for phones and tablets is an unprecedented challenge. Onscreen virtual controllers are clunky and obscure the image; such features would never deliver the “surprise and delight” finesse that Nintendo chases. As a result, don’t expect any of the yet-unannounced games to be ports of existing titles.
“If there’s a 3DS game that requires the full manipulation of joysticks and multiple buttons, that game clearly can’t be exactly replicated on a touchscreen mobile device,” Fils-Aimé says. “Our strategy is not to port games developed for our dedicated systems to smart devices as they are — we have to develop new software experiences that give people the opportunity to interact with Nintendo IP and that matches the play style and control of smart devices.”
As a result, Fils-Aimé says “what we’ve been working at is development of apps that feature Nintendo IP in a meaningful way for mobile platforms. We understand that this may feel different. And that’s O.K. Doing things differently isn’t something we shy away from.”
The five smartphone titles in development are expected to rollout over the course of 2016, beginning with Miitomo in March.