This Friday is an historic one for Nintendo.
The launch of New Super Mario Bros 2 marks not only the end of the barren summer (along with Square Enix’s Sleeping Dogs) but also the launch of the ‘New Nintendo’.
That’s because the game will be the first to be launched digitally via Nintendo’s eShop at the same time that it arrives at retail.
Of course, fellow platform holders Microsoft and Sony have been treading the digital waters for some time. But Nintendo has had a tough time of getting to grips with the internet.
The much-maligned Friend Codes are a well-established bugbear. Nintendo’s famously friendly consoles have never been allowed free reign on the internet, complete with its terabytes of swears and porns. They have always existed behind a robust (and often distinctly user unfriendly) and cuddly protective (probably goomba shaped) cushion.
The Wii U looks to be continuing this tradition, too, by on the one hand integrating social media of sorts into its UI and on the other requiring that all user comments are first vetted by a team of Nintendo police before being allowed free transit to their intended recipients.
But there are signs that Nintendo is ready to turn off its Safe Search filter, and the digital release of NSMB2 is the strongest one yet.
Until you realise it costs 39.99 to download.
Now, on the one hand you could argue that a game of NSMB2’s quality is deserving of a premium price tag. That could well be the case.
But this RRP has to be considered in the wider context of the modern handheld gaming industry. And, like it or lump it, this means considering it in the context of the iPhone.
Dig through the steaming piles of shovelware on the App Store and you’ll unearth genuine quality. What you won’t unearth, however, are any games costing 39.99.
Let’s take a look – Angry Birds (69p), Fieldrunners 2 (1.99), GTAIII (2.99), Minecraft (4.99), Real Racing 2 (1.49), Call of Duty: Zombies (2.99), Flight Control (69p), Words With Friends (1.99), Final Fantasy Tactics (10.99), Plants vs Zombies (1.99), Where’s My Water (69p), Cut the rope (69p), Max Payne (7.99), LEGO Harry Potter (2.99), Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1.99), Flick Kick Football (1.49), Infinity Blade 2 (1.99) and Espgaluda II (3.99).
Then there’s the games you can play for free – Dead City, Temple Run, Bejeweled Blitz, Draw Something, Dead Trigger, Jetpack Joyride, more Angry Birds and many, many more.
Yes yes yes – we know that an iPhone or iPad can never hope to replicate the accuracy of control offered by 3DS or Vita. But by the same token, Nintendo and Sony’s machine cannot match Apple’s price structure or convenience.
And don’t underestimate how important these factors are.
Yes, NSMB2 is right up there with the very, very best on iOS in pure quality terms. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that there’s no real quality on iPhone. There’s LOADS of it.
And what must also be considered are the changing demands of portable consumers. Can we attach the same value the triple-A Nintendo games as we did five years ago? A game like Angry Birds, Game Dev Story or Flick Kick Football can provide dozens of hours of entertainment.
Do they offer a console-like experience? No. Do they have to? No. Devs are getting wiser and are better than ever at designing around the strengths of the touch screen. Smartphone gaming has definitely grown up.
The result? iOS gaming is changing/has changed consumer expectations. A game like Angry Birds or Temple Run that can happily fill a spare 30 seconds or a spare four hours are the here and now. And it costs pittance. This is what NSMB2 is up against.
There will always be a core of consumers who aren’t satisfied with smartphone gaming and will pay a premium for a dedicated console. And good on them. But what we must realise is that their numbers are rapidly declining, and smartphone converts are rising up to take their place.
NSMB2 will be a big hit and Nintendo should be congratulated on yet another sterling title. But if it thinks that its new digital strategy will have any meaningful impact at all if it’s to charge 39.99 per title then, sadly, it’s in for a very rude awakening.