Nintendo’s back catalog is a ticking-clock gold mine

Legend of Zelda Link evolution

Eventually there’ll be…nothing.

Much has been said about Nintendo’s abject refusal to release games on mobile devices designed by other companies, and while I have feelings on that issue (mostly in rant form), I think it relates to another very serious problem Nintendo has…or will…inevitably face. Cultural irrelevance. And not just in the fact that they refuse to make games on the iPhone. The problem is that if they ever do (and I think it will happen much, much later than would be strategically ideal), it won’t matter anyway.

The first point is that Nintendo must make games on the iPhone and other mobile devices if they are to stay alive 10 years from now. I think they should simply design a slide-out keyboard case that fits over the iPhone and allows you to play games with buttons and thus recreates the NES or SNES console experience flawlessly, meaning the idea of “we like to design our own hardware” becomes totally irrelevant. I see no downside whatsoever, and I see a dead company otherwise.

I think they will eventually do something like this. There’s no way they can’t. They will cease to exist as a company if they don’t make some mobile-friendly decisions in the near future. Or they will simply be a childish novelty, like a Teddy Ruxbin or an Etch a Sketch. Owned by a few, but ultimately not particularly important to the cultural landscape.

But I think there’s a time limit on this tactic, and they’re going to run out. I think they have plenty of time. 10 years, perhaps. But after a certain point, it’ll be all over.

Here’s the problem: Nintendo is coasting on nostalgia. There, I said it. We all love Nintendo, but when’s the last time a must-play game was released by them? Sure, many of us want to play the latest Zelda or Mario game, but that’s largely because it’s the latest Zelda or Mario game. We play to continue the tradition. We’d buy it even if it sucked. Perhaps we’d catch on eventually if they all sucked, but we’d stick around for a while before we caught on.

But kids don’t care. They’re on their iPhones downloading Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies and loving every moment of it. If they don’t know what a Nintendo is…or, even worse, if they know a Nintendo is what their parents played…there’s simply no possible way they would feel any sort of emotional attachment to Mario or Link. They simply won’t care.

Evolution of Super Mario

“What’s a Mario?” is a sentence that will signal the death of Nintendo.

So imagine, if you will, if Nintendo finally capitulates and chooses to release an awesome Zelda game on the iPhone. Fewer people will recognize Zelda and Link than today, because time will have moved forward and more kids will be there, and they play iPhone games instead of Nintendo games. In other words, these kids will have no positive attachment whatsoever to Zelda, Link, Mario, or Luigi. Those games will exist alongside all the other options in the app stores, with nothing to distinguish them.

It’s a little bit like Romeo and Juliet. Does anything think of the story as revolutionary, original, or unique? No, not really. They think of it as a love story like all the others. But that’s because so many other people copied it, as well as many other Shakespeare works. But after that happens, originality doesn’t matter anymore. You can’t tell who came first unless you look it up on Wikipedia, and most people don’t do that. The Beatles and Pink Floyd, to the younger generation, don’t sound original at all, because they’ve been copied so many times that any distinction would have to be researched.

This is the trap Nintendo has set for itself. If they release a 2D platformer Mario game, it will compete against all the other 2D platformer games on the iPhone or Android platforms. Eventually, a large subsection of the population will have no clue who Mario is, or they’ll think of it as that old thing from a long time ago, and not care. Mario will become just one of many games in the app store, as will Zelda. And since it’s effortless to rip those off, there will be no real difference at all. Mario and Zelda will become commodities, rather than beloved characters.

I think Nintendo’s abject refusal to design games for iPhones is a massive miscalculation that will relegate them to a shadow of their former selves. They haven’t done anything new and exciting since the Wii, and they have no more moves to play. They don’t make original games, and 3rd party developers won’t add creativity to the proceedings, since they’re busy designing iPhone games. And if Nintendo doesn’t jump on the smartphone bandwagon soon, they’ll lose the only thing they have left going for them, which, at this point, is mere nostalgia.

Sorry, guys. Nintendo just isn’t doing anything important right now. And they have only two laurels to rest on, and they’re called Mario and Zelda. And those laurels will deteriorate more and more as time goes on.

But their back catalog, as proven by the ROM emulator that clever slipped past the app store censors, is massively in demand. All they have to do is release it and they’d be #1, just like that other app managed to do. Sure, the games suck without a controller, but then just design a goddamn controller. Problem solved.

I’d like to see Nintendo keep going, but they’re going to become a has-been in a rather short period of time if they keep pursuing diminishing returns of proprietary hardware and sequel after sequel. Go for a 1up, guys. You need it.

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