The Nintendo Difference: What’s at Stake for Mario’s Kingdom

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How bad are things for Nintendo? Well, a Bloomberg story that circulated last week reportedly had investors clamoring for the Kyoto-based gaming giant to start porting its legendary characters over to Apple’s iOS devices. Super Mario Bros on the iPhone? Metroid on the iPad? Sounds too good to be true, right?

Turns out it was. The report took a few Mario-esque giant leaps of logic; most egregiously, the one making it seem like any investors said anything resembling the idea that Nintendo should make games for the iPhone.

But still, there’s a reason that the idea of a Nintendo-Apple team up is so appealing. Frankly, Nintendo’s magic hold on gamers’ imaginations seem to be slipping. The most significant sign is the under-performance of the 3DS, which necessitated a massive price drop for the handheld. Some of the company’s most anticipated recent titles–last year’s Metroid: Other M and this year’s 3DS re-issue of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time–got mixed receptions when they finally came out. And if Nintendo can’t bank on its key franchises for guaranteed hits, where else can they go? Well, they could always go to platforms where those franchises don’t yet have presences, right? It’d be great if Apple’s expertise at user experience design could mate with Nintendo’s whimsical style of game creation in some meaningful way.

(MORE: Nintendo Outs ‘Flame Red’ 3DS, Walmart Drops Price Early)

Of course, Nintendo doesn’t do such things. They have worked with more Western developers on key releases, but a partnership of this magnitude seems anathema to them. The company goes its own way, and those decisions have usually paid off. Time was, they were the unassailable powerhouse of the video game business. The House of Mario even had a double hegemony at one point, with both a home console and a handheld that everyone either wanted or already had. Ever since then, their iconic characters remain exclusively tied to the hardware that the company makes. While this has always led to great success for Nintendo, it’s also a very inflexible strategy that’s hard to grow. In terms of game development, the company’s other area of great success has been out-of-the-box titles that mimic everyday life or seek to integrate themselves into the lives of players, which Nintendogs, Brain Age and Wii Fit all managed to do.

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