Handheld Heaven: Why Nintendo Needs to Leave the Candy Crush Clones Alone (But Won't)

By Gizmodo UK on at

We really like our gaming at Giz UK, even though we’re not very good, so decided to start a series where we have a relaxed natter about what we’ve been playing and the main gaming stories that have grabbed us each week. Think of it as a slow-burn conversation with a hip flask round a campfire rather than shots of pure gaming zeitgeist – we, like many of you, play at our own place.

We did one last week and you seemed to like it, and more importantly it paved the way for some great comment back and forth, so we’ll continue until you tell us to stop – and our Editor Matt and News Editor Gerald are back to talk Nintendo’s future, handheld diversions and the ongoing scourge of free to play…

G: So, there’s been a bit of a handheld gaming renaissance in Giz Towers this week, huh Matt? Inspired by the Nintendo news, a few key Vita releases...

M: Well, yeah, and the fact that we’re embargoed to all heaven on the big-screen console release we’re playing. So yes, I’m still making my way through Hotline Miami 2, Olli Olli 2 I’m entering ‘trying to get all the combos’ territory, and I’ve been sucked into a Looney Tunes Dash wormhole, too. No idea how that happened. But yeah, Nintendo’s news was certainly a curveball – the announcement, if not the actual news.

G: Nintendo mobile gaming’s been long on the cards, what with the Wii U gathering dust on store shelves while even bedroom app-game makers are making a mint on the iPhone. What do you make of the announcement that it’s teaming up with the DeNA mobile gaming company? I’m on the fence -- I like the idea of a progressive Nintendo, but if I have to play a “Match Three Mario Heads” Candy Crush clone, I think I might just have to go cuddle my yellowing SNES for comfort.

M: Well, yeah, DeNA make the kind of mobile games I don’t play, ha, so I’m mixed on it. Nintendo needs to do something in the phone space, that’s for sure, and I think the idea of focusing on ideas that are proven to work there, rather than porting over their old games, sounds a good strategy. People seem to think it’s really easy for them to just create a store with all the old Nintendo stuff and then set up a sub across all platforms, but it clearly isn’t – just look at how iffy Virtual Console is, Nintendo can’t even get them all running on their own platforms. So many different types of hardware to contend with, even with backwards compatibility.

G: That’s where DeNA’s expertise seems to come in, in my understanding. They’re adept at building large-scale mobile platforms. I get the impression that DeNA will do the behind-the-scenes stuff, while Nintendo focusses on the actual game design.

M: Yeah, so that makes sense. Like, playing Looney Tunes Dash has been an eye-opening experience in many ways. My girlfriend is a pretty regular player of games on her iPad Mini, even though she wouldn’t consider herself a “gamer”, and from time to time I’ll hear a new theme music or bleep and go, “Oooh new game?” And when she shows me it, it’s always an endless runner, Temple Run-a-like but in new jeans. Frozen, Subway Surfers, now Looney Tunes Dash.

I’m not big on anything too F2P so I find it fascinating watching them, and seeing the mechanics – the enforced halts on gameplay for 20 minutes unless you cough up money, the way it mixes real money and fake money into one, and Looney Tunes’ classic trick: if you don’t disable alerts, it reminds you it’s there by screeching a Roadrunner “beep beep” out of your phone when it’s idle. Fiendish stuff there. Nintendo can learn a lot. Well, it’s already trying stuff like that – you noticed how sometimes your Wii U GamePad flashes on with ads for the latest Nintendo game, Kindle-style?

G: Ermm…no. But that’s probably because my Wii U GamePad has been unplugged, uncharged and unloved for months now, sadly. It’d be terrifying if Nintendo had made it some sentient, self-powering beast capable of sending me a Luigi death-stare even when the batteries had run dry! Still though, it’ll be interesting to see what the Nintendo “NX” turns out to be -- I’m hoping for proper smartphone/Game Boy hybrid. But it’s a tough one -- the PS Vita showed that on a technical level you could get a proper console experience on a handheld (I’m back diving into Uncharted: Golden Abyss at the moment). Problem is, there’s just no market for it I guess. Hence the push towards the Vita being a PS4 accessory of sorts, what with Remote Play…

M: You really need to get that Wii U on. Console of its generation, even in spite of the sly ads. But Vita is a much underrated console for me. I pretty much always have mine on me. Yet it’s undoubtedly been a let down in terms of first-party support. How you finding Uncharted? I didn’t get on with it at all, too much forcing the touch screen into it. Similarly, I really disliked the Assassin’s Creed on Vita, those games need a visual scale that a handheld can’t manage. Didn’t like Killzone either, which a lot of people really rated, found the controls really fiddly, but them I’m pretty rubbish at shooters. It’s really an indie factory for me – the only one of those ‘big budget’ style games on Vita I’ve enjoyed was Gravity Rush. In fact, someone really needs to rescue that franchise as it’s amazing and would look so good on PS4.

G: I disagree on some of that. Considering that Uncharted was a launch game, you have to expect the gimmick “showcase” to an extent, but I agree that it’s intrusive how often the touchscreen stuff pops up. Terrible idea that, very distracting -- having to change your grip on the console in order to “machete hack” some vines away...yeah, fun... However, I think it does an admirable job of matching the scale of the core franchise, and the visuals hold up well too. But the Vita never really managed to tempt that “hardcore” gaming audience, which I guess still wants to splash out on the most lavish home console experiences.

Mobile or handheld has become a cash-cow time killer, mass recreation, Kate-Upton fronted rubbish. It doesn’t have to be, but I guess we’re in the minority when it comes to wanting progressive action from a mobile game. It’s the realm of the “waiting-for-a-train-20p-a-minute” fix. Like a sex chatline or something. Without the sex.

M: See, this is an interesting one, and I don’t think there’s a right answer. And I’m also going to use this point to crowbar in Hotline Miami 2, which is a fitting way of doing it. Crowbar in the eyeballs. Hotline Miami 2 has clearly gone for the widescreen treatment. Despite debuting on PC, the first one felt like a handheld game – I’ve always thought the Vita version, a bit like Spelunky, is the perfect handheld game: quick blasts, great soundtrack for headphones on the tube, can play for ages but also you die so much, you tend to not miss your stop.

But Hotline Miami 2 is going for more narrative, far bigger levels, requires more planning per level and concentration to know what the hell is going on… I still like it, but it’s lost that quick-fix thing for me. I feel like I need to focus more, and that’s not always what I want on the move. I don’t want to play Uncharted on a train, it just isn’t for me.

The triple-A dream on handhelds for me, if there is one, is just to be able to carry on my progress. Like, the bespoke FIFA on Vita is effectively FIFA 11, but it plays well on the system; compare it to Remote Playing PS4 FIFA 15, which is almost unplayable due to latency and blurring, and I’d much prefer the former. It’s not as fully featured or as good a game, but it plays better. Rather than Remote Playing it, I’d just like the stats and data to sync up. I really feel this hasn’t been explored enough yet – it was something that was promised with PS4 and Xbox’s SmartGlass, this continuing of your game on the move. That’s effectively dried up.

We get the odd app for a game, like the little pirate adventure gubbins on Assassin’s Creed or the hacking mini game in Watch Dogs, etc, but it’s pretty inconsequential stuff. I want to be able to make my formations and do my transfers for FIFA on my phone or handheld while out so I can concentrate on matches when in the living room, and it’s a similar score for RPGs. I wonder if Nintendo can harness this.

G: Like the Dreamcast memory card! Oh, the heady days of a successful Sega… So, lets wrap this up then. What’s your ideal Nintendo mobile game? And by mobile, I mean one developed for mobile phones, as per this latest move.

M: Dreamcast was most certainly before its time. But damn you with your agenda-ised questions. I think Nintendo has already made "mobile" games, it's just put them on the DS – WarioWare is almost an archetypal mobile game, Animal Crossing would have been huge if built for mobile, although it would inevitably be full of F2P malarkey. The Mario Party franchise, too, has dried up on home consoles and there’s definitely something they could do with that in a social gaming space. The fact that the new one hasn’t got online multiplayer is absolutely crazy in this day and age, especially when Mario Kart 8 did such a good job of it – Nintendo can when it wants to. So that. Although that’s an old franchise, I just think it could be rebooted and taken to a new place. But I guess that’s not "ideal".

Look, Nintendo has made playing cards, tabletop games, even ran a taxi firm – it's good at turning its hands to different things when its back's against the wall, and I have no doubt it can create something for phones that I can't even imagine, too. I just hope it throws itself into it and doesn't see it as simply as a revenue stream. The good news is the announcement of the NX at the same time suggests it's doing just that.