We Win, If Nintendo Can Be As Modern As Apple

We Win, If Nintendo Can Be As Modern As Apple

There’s a theory going around that you or I or someone else who owns an iPhone will soon help Apple do what no company has done in a long time: make Nintendo struggle.

I’ve heard this theory a lot in the last week, even before I spent a full day checking out Nintendo’s next big thing, the 3DS.

The idea I keep hearing is that Apple can do what people thought Sony could do half a decade ago with its PSP. Apple can make people resist the temptation to buy Nintendo’s next handheld gaming machine.

This would be a good thing, of course. We gamers tend to get better stuff to play, usually at better prices, when the people making games worry about competition.

The Apple threat to Nintendo emerged in the past year as the gaming part of the iPhone and iTouch became less of a joke feature.

The Apple threat to Nintendo emerged in the past year as the gaming part of the iPhone and iTouch became less of a joke feature and more of a viable part of the palette. The library of games for iPhone may still be 95 per cent junk, but the best games – be they Angry Birds, Game Dev Story, Osmos or Infinity Blade – are good enough that Apple is closing the gap with Nintendo in the one realm that was unthinkable: game quality.

Apple doesn’t make video games, of course. They don’t even seem to try to. The company can, however, finally boast that it has a handheld device that has some very good games. Nintendo fans may laugh this off. If you’re the kind of person who prefers Nintendo’s Zelda or Metroid to iPhone staples like Angry Birds or DoodleJump, then, hey, you’re my kind of person. Just don’t kid yourself. There are people happily playing games on their iPhone now, and they are content. Apple, without creating a singe great video game of its own, has closed that gaming gap.

Flip this around the other way. As unthinkable as it’s been that Apple could have games on its platform that are good enough to distract people from Pokemon or Brain Age, imagine if Nintendo had things on its platform that could distract people from all of the non-gaming things that Apple’s iPhone does so well. This is the part where Apple fans will laugh.

Nintendo’s non-gaming efforts on its hardware have been little more impressive than Apple’s non-efforts to make games. The Wii had its weather channel and its awkward RSS feed of a news. The DS has a web browser. You’ll be forgiven if you never used these and questioned if you used them more than twice.

Last week, however, Nintendo began to show signs that it might be able to edge into Apple’s turf. The company wants us to believe that the 3DS is a bonafide movie machine and that it’s a viable camera, and that it can offer both of those features with the visual trick of glasses-free 3D. The movie stuff, however, is murky, because Nintendo won’t say which movies will be out when and still may simply fail to deliver a relevant amount of that kind of content. Its 3D photography gimmick feels unessential. Those two features, nevertheless, are importantly unrelated to video games. They represent the most significant effort yet by Nintendo to sell us a gaming machine at least in part for non-gaming reasons.

Nintendo is assembling its 3DS in a manner that could reduce the iPhone’s multi-tasking advantage.

In baby steps, and in some surprise directions, Nintendo is assembling its 3DS in a manner that could reduce the iPhone’s multi-tasking advantage. There is no sign that the 3DS will double as a phone and no hint that it’s going to run a Twitter client or, say, a stock ticker. Nintendo did surprise us last week, however, by showing that 3DS games can be suspended, allowing players to essentially pause a game while checking the system’s web browser, friends list and a handful of other basic apps. That level of multi-tasking has never existed on a Nintendo platform before, nor on Sony’s rival PSP.

A person might bring their iPhone with them wherever they go because, well, it’s their phone. That allows the device to be an easy go-to option for gaming and is one of the factors that might make people question whether they need to carry a dedicated gaming machine like the 3DS with them. One strange but possibly-compelling solution Nintendo is offering is an innovation they showed last week called PlayCoins. The coins are a virtual currency that 3DS owners earn as they take steps while carrying the 3DS. A person who is looking to lighten their load by a gadget might think twice about leaving their 3DS at home if merely tossing it in their bag could ensure they earn more of this fake money. The rewards will have to be good, of course, and once again we hit a blank spot in the Nintendo pitch. They’re not saying what the rewards will be, just hinting that it will be bonus content for games.

About a year ago, it was easy to dismiss most of the games on Apple’s app store for not being worth what they cost. Gamers accustomed to playing great $US60 games could rightly say that a whole lot of those $US1 iPhone games were indeed a 60th as good as Grand Theft Auto IV or Assassin’s Creed 2. Today, the App quality has improved and some $US60 games now seem like a rip-off. It’s hard to imagine paying $US40 for Tetris again if you’ve paid under $US10 for it. What to make of 3DS game prices appearing to run $US40 or $50? Maybe a new Nintendo 3DS Mario really will be 20 or 40 times better than a lot of the iPhone games out there. Maybe. But this is where Nintendo seems most vulnerable, because this is where Nintendo seems to be the most expensive.

Nintendo has quietly been proving that it can and will back a line of high-quality, low-priced download-only games.

But here’s another twist: quietly and cheaply, Nintendo has been releasing games for about $US5 on its DSiWare shop for over a year. I’ve played many of the download-only portable games published by Nintendo and with few exceptions, they have been more enjoyable, more interesting and more fun than anything I’ve played on the iPhone. While almost no one has been looking (due to the awful design of the DSiWare shop), Nintendo has quietly been proving that it can and will back a line of high-quality, low-priced download-only games. Some of the games are more my speed than that of a person who loves Angry Birds. Some are probably too weird or artsy, but others could be hits on a platform where they are more easily discovered and sampled. Should Nintendo continue to create or finance as consistently high-quality a line of cheaper download-only games for its portable, then it could even edge into the kind of low-cost, please-the-kids gaming that is flourishing on iPhone. Plus, isn’t the smart money on Angry Birds showing up on the 3DS at some point? The question is really whether Nintendo will make it easy for those games to get on their platform and if they’ll let them sell for a buck or two.

The iPhone and the 3DS do have some irreconcilable differences.

The 3DS has the great perk of physical buttons and control pads and therefore always being the better machine for a wider variety of games.

The iPhone has the advantage of being, indispensably, a phone and therefore a device that may always be a little closer to the anxious line-waiter or bus-rider who suddenly wants to satisfy his or her gaming fix.

As different as the machines are, I find it hard to believe arguments that the iPhone will stifle Nintendo’s chances to thrive this generation. Apple may be doing a whole lot better as a maker of a gaming machine than any of us could have expected. But Nintendo’s making its 3DS just a little more like an iPhone than I thought it would and could, if it wants to, nullify most of the advantages Apple has. Will they? Their call. I expect gamers to benefit from whatever pressure the people at Nintendo feels. Let’s hope they’re worried, at least a little.


  • I personally can’t stand playing games on phones or tablets. Sure they might be good as a couple of minute time killer but after that I start to notice how awkward it is playing games on it.

    • I felt exactly liek this up until a fortnight or so ago whilst pooping at work. Normally, I’d play some Canabalt as my employer pays me to spend 10 minutes on my daily excretions, however, for a change I decided to give Secret of Mana a chance. At first I was turned off by he blurriness and big blue obtrusions posing as buttons. Fast forward 10 or so dump sessions later and I’m at home playing it on my days off.

  • Besides the handfull of popcap games and angry birds (which are still arcade titles tbh) the gaming on the apple platforms is still a joke feature.

    I wish nintendo had gone with making a phone version of the 3ds though, but I guess they’d have to partner with phone companies etc and they don’t seem to want to do that untill they’re really made desperate.

  • The coins thing is incredibly smart, they need a way to make people take their DS with them when they already have a reasonably capable games machine for casual use in the shap of their phone.

  • The 3DS/PSP2 still have clear advantages as gaming devices over the iPhone, which is physical controls. Touchscreens are OK for some games, but anybody who’s tried playing something like Super Mario World on a SNES emulator on their touchscreen iPhone or Android phone would know that the touchscreen is no substitute for the precision of an actual d-pad and buttons.

  • I’ve always loved Nintendo handhelds. I’ve got a collection of each since the original Gameboy (including the Gameboy Light) and until the recent Euro and USA shows, I wanted a 3DS too. Now I’m not so sure. With companies like LG releasing an Optimus 2X with 3D tech better than the 3DS this July, how long can the 3DS stay popular? How can anyone compare 1080p video, perhaps in 3D with the lacklustre 3D pics the 3DS can take? The LG device will be nearly as powerful as a PC, and compared with all leading smartphones, the 3DS already looks like a dinosaur, with its resistive touchscreen, its bulkiness, its low battery life, and undoubtedly, its online support too. If they do as poorly a job with their 3DS shop as they have with the DSi, I’m predicting this to be the last Nintendo handheld with the traditional focus on games. Playing games like Infinity Blade on my iPhone 4 makes me question whether $60-$70 bucks for something like Steel Diver, or rehashed 64 games is worth it. With Tegra 2 dual-core wielding smartphones on the way, the games are only going to get better. Perhaps Sony’s PSP2 will provide a better answer.

    One thing’s for sure, the 3DS will not last 5 years in this market without serious and worthwhile revisions. I’ve been loyal to Ninty even through the tough Gamecube and Wii years with my mates loving PS and Xbox, but I fear the worst for them now, in their traditionally strong niche of handheld gaming.

    • I agree with all of this. I’m a nintendo fan, but they’re really lagging behind on the hardware (even if 3D *is* the future), and it’s not enough to keep people interested.

  • I never thought of the Iphone/Itouch as a game machine. We have an itouch at home but I do not know why I can’t stand playing in it even for 30 minutes- even the plants vs zombies port, even at the bus. The 3DS will nver have the phone feature. But I hope the content – which Mr. Reggie always say as their advantage, will make them fare better than Apple.

    I doubt, the Apple casual gamers will revert back to Nintendo, but atleast the 3DS can let the Nintendo gamers stay on their side, and possibly have new converts because of the 3D gaming feature.

  • I think where Nintendo and Sony will fail in the future will be with pricing. If games on the iPhone increase in quality without substantial increases in prices then people will start to wonder why they’re paying $80 for a handheld game when the phone equivalent is $20 or less.

  • I just sold my iPhone for a Droid. Couldn’t be happier because the first thing I did was install Baldur’s Gate II on it! It works amazingly well on a touch screen.

  • Diversity is the key to Nintendo’s handheld survival, but they must still sell as a toy, not a tool.

    iPhones are tools first, game systems as an afterthought. This results in playable but ultimately shallow games, with only a handful offering the depth casual gamers often seek.

    Both the 3D camera and coins are a step in the right direction.

    No, the camera isn’t high def, but you don’t give children an SLR.

    Currently, Nintendo is still a toy first, mature entertainment second. I don’t think they should change that.

  • I don’t get it… I don’t own an iPhone or w/e. Why does it matter what they have on their overpriced paper weights if you don’t own it?

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