Today's hastily convened Nintendo press conference revealed two things, one more surprising than the other. Firstly came the long-expected announcement that Nintendo is working on smartphone gaming applications, teaming up with Japanese mobile experts DeNA. Secondly, and certainly more surprising, was the news that Nintendo was working on a "dedicated game platform" codenamed the 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", said company president Satoru Iwata.
"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."
With Nintendo stating they won't be sharing further details on the NX until next year at the earliest, it's interesting to point out that they've yet to confirm whether or not the device is a handheld or home console. Considering just how well the 3DS has done compared to the Wii U, and the fact that the 3DS (despite a recent revision) is now the more aged of the two, I'm guessing that its a portable device.
And, with Satoru stating the company has "decided on how [it] will make use of smart devices" I'm also going to take a wild, hopeful stab that it's a smartphone hybrid, too.
A render courtesy of our pals at T3.com
Nintendo's properties have always been well suited to handheld play -- I mean, it practically invented the category with the Game and Watch and Gameboy. While it's floundered to keep up with the modern demands of home console play, such as an increasing push into online services, it's managed to retain the magic on the 3DS.
Today's announcement that it will be forming a partnership with DeNA means that Nintendo is finally recognising that mobile has cannibalised its handheld gaming proposition, and that it wants a piece of the pie too. The DeNA deal sees the company working on cross-platform titles for smartphones, tablets, existing Nintendo devices and even PC. So why wouldn't new Nintendo hardware leverage that spread?
The Wii U controller, with its large tablet-like touchscreen, almost seems like a dummy run in some cases, a device that sees Nintendo acknowledging the influence of mobile gaming, but failing to nail it in execution.
Keep in mind that the feature-phone market in Nintendo's native Japan is still booming, and clamshell designs are not laughed at. In a world of cookie-cutter Android devices, a clamshell or slider Nintendo smartphone, complete with properly hidden game controls, could be very captivating. Such a device wouldn't be the first to attempt a smartphone / console hybrid -- you can look back to the well-intentioned but poorly executed Xperia Play for that. But you could argue that the Xperia Play was before its time -- derided for being chunky, phones now come in far slimmer, more powerful packages. Nintendo's quality hardware design, as seen in the New Nintendo 3DS, could see it succeed in this respect, given mobile advancements in the interim, where the Xperia Play failed. I'd certainly favour a combined mobile and gaming platform than having to lug a smartphone and 3DS around with me.
Launching an internationally-compatible smartphone wouldn't be an easy task, but Nintendo's warchest is healthy enough for it see through any such development, with or without a manufacturing partner like LG or Samsung. There's lots of money to be made in the mid-range smartphone market at the moment, and if Nintendo could keep the specs sensible for the sake of price, it could have real legs.
Software would be another interesting challenge. You'd assume that, working with DeNA, Nintendo would go down an existing route, such as Android. But it'd likely "do an Amazon" and build a very customised version, likely one that would have robust parental controls to keep kids away from the nefarious things that a web-connected smartphone gives you access to. Being able to interact with and play against home console Nintendo players would be great, and perhaps even a dedicated gaming portal or subscription service, like an Amazon Prime for the Mushroom Kingdom.
It's all wishful thinking on my part, of course. To be honest, I'm just excited to see Nintendo evolving, in an exciting direction. The Nintendo of old may be about to depart, but this brave new Nintendo has plenty of potential. I'm so sick of iterative touchscreen gaming clones of Threes or Game of War -- sure, there are great mobile games out there, but ones developed by Nintendo with a specific 'Nintendo Phone' in mind would be worth a thousand Samsung Galaxys.