Nintendo executives have many reasons to keep their games off of iPhones and Androids and to only let them play on Nintendo hardware. But what about the creators of a new Nintendo video game? They've got reasons, too.
Last week, I asked some of the Japanese and Canadian creators at Nintendo and Next Level Games if their new creation, Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon would work on a cellphone. Obviously, it doesn't technically run on a phone. It's made for the Nintendo 3DS.
But could it? Could they imagine it? The context, I offered, is that some Nintendo-watchers believe Nintendo should put their games on smartphones. Toss a Pokémon or Super Mario Bros. on an iPhone and rake in the money. That's the theory.
The two Japanese developers I was talking to via video-conference tried to field this question first, but the 90 seconds of off-mic chatter, of back-and-forth with our translator, of discussions with other people who were off-camera in Kyoto, convinced me they were not expecting this question and maybe didn't know what to make of it.
I admit that it's an odd question, but a relevant one. Either we can imagine Nintendo's newest creations working on stick-free, button-less phones or we can't. Either they can or can't.
"Actually," the game's supervisor Yoshihito Ikebata finally said, "I really think that the feeling and the core of the game is only possible because it's on this particular hardware, the 3DS. And it is really hard to imagine it running on anything else."
That's not a wonderfully illuminating answer, but it was as much as I felt I would get in a time-constrained, translated interview. I could guess at what he meant. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon is a three-dimensional action-adventure that has the player steering Luigi through haunted buildings and other venues with the 3DS' circle pad. Players make Luigi vacuum ghosts in a sort of cast-the-fishing-line-and-reel-back-the-catch combination of tugging back on the pad while holding down one of the 3DS' buttons. The game is displayed, optionally, in glasses-free 3D, an aesthetic inspired by 3D experimentation with the first Luigi's Mansion. It is indeed hard to imagine such a game on a non-3D button-less phone.
As I thought this through, the game's Canadian director, Bryce Holliday of Next Level Games chimed in: "For me, I would add that Luigi's an expressive personality. We spent a lot of time on the presentation and showing a lot of his face. Having your fingers on top of him—like you would have to do on a smartphone—would occlude some of that character. It's nice to have buttons basically.
"It also might be hard to do a fishing mechanic with siding and tapping on a touch screen rather than having a circle pad and shoulder buttons."
I can see what he's saying. I dislike having my fingers block some of the more interesting graphics I see in games I play on my iPhone. And while I can imagine fishing games on the iPhone—I'm currently obsessed with a very good iPhone fishing game—the feeling of tugging at a wriggling, resisting ghost, as I've experienced while happily playing Luigi's Mansion is hard to imagine working as well without tactile controls.
Maybe that was a good thought experiment. Maybe that was all of us being narrow-minded or them staunchly promoting the Nintendo hardware that is assumed to be necessary to support Nintendo's business model. I'm not sure.
Nintendo president Satoru Iwata can tell you when Nintendo would stop making its own handheld systems. He can tell you, hypothetically, when a line of machines that has gone from Game Boy to DS to 3DS would end and Nintendo's games would appear on the hardware made by other companies instead.
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