Anyone who has played the new Angry Birds Go! Game on their favorite mobile device might notice the similarities between Rovio’s racing app and a certain Nintendo property featuring plumbers in caps and mustaches zooming around a track.
Those similarities may not be close enough to summon Nintendo’s lawyers, but they bring to mind a question that has come up since smartphones and tablets gained popularity as gaming devices: Why won’t Nintendo make gaming apps for other mobile devices? Why no “Mario Kart Racing” for iPhones or iPads?
“It’s a topic that comes up all the time. It’s a debate that’s constantly had,” said Nintendo of America president/chief operating officer Reginald "Reggie" Fils-Aime during a wide-ranging interview with KING 5 News. “We recognize that there are a lot of smartphones and tablets out there, and so what we’re doing is we’re being very smart in how we use these devices as marketing tools for our content.”
That means special gaming messages and video content. But what about a little gameplay?
“We’re also doing a lot of experimentation of what I would call the little experiences you can have on your smartphone and tablet that will drive you back to your Nintendo hardware,” Fils-Aime said. “It’s largely going to be much more marketing activity-oriented, but we’ve done little things where there’s some element of gameplay – a movement, a shaking, something like that.”
Despite that tinkering, Fils-Aime said Nintendo is committed to the kind of user input that’s only available via company-made devices. Most mobile gaming companies, he added, are also faced with challenges when it comes to monetizing their efforts.
“We believe our games are best played and best enjoyed on our devices,” he said, “and so the full game play will only be on Nintendo devices.”
Porting Mario, Luigi, “The Legend of Zelda’s” Link and other favorite Nintendo characters might help the company regain the mojo it had when its original Wii console transformed the industry in 2006. The idea of motion-control gaming was a hit with families and others looking for more interactivity in their leisure time. In seven years, the Wii has sold more than 100 million units worldwide, with 40 million of those purchased in the U.S.
The tablet-based Wii U, launched at the end of last year, didn’t enjoy the same heights of success. Despite that, Fils-Aime says it’s premature to label the console as a failure. “We still have a few more years to go. But the key to driving the installed base of a system is having unique proprietary experiences that can only be played on that system.”
Fils-Aime admits that those experiences came much later than Nintendo wanted, and he uses the new Wii Fit U game as an example.
“This is a game we wanted to launch in the first quarter of this year, not the first quarter of 2014,” he said. “The delay in some of this key software is really what’s been difficult for us. What I can tell you is that we have a very strong pipeline coming.”
In addition to “Wii Fit U,” that pipeline includes new editions of other longtime franchises like “Mario Kart 8,” “Super Smash Bros,” “Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze” and “Wii Sports Club Golf.” That last title, along with Wii Fit U, use accessories from the original Wii: the Wiimote motion control remotes and the Wii Fit foot board. Backwards compatibility with previous games, along with the mix of old and new gaming systems, are advantages Nintendo has over rivals Sony and Microsoft, who didn’t support PS3 and Xbox 360 games when their recently-launched consoles, Fils-Aime said.
“We know those devices (Wiimotes and Wii Fit boards) are still in the home, and we know that offering that type of value is critically important.”