Nintendo’s first iPhone game won’t be Pokémon or Mario related in a single way. Instead of additions to its classic franchises, the Japanese video game maker and partner DeNA will introduce Miitomo, a free-to-play game strictly created for letting users communicate cross devices.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Nintendo of Japan formally unveiled Miitomo for a March 2016 release this morning in a briefing for investors. Nintendo confirmed earlier this year that it was planning to embrace making games for smartphones, specifically Apple’s iPhone. At the time, gaming industry experts and fans of the company’s games praised the decision.
Nintendo doesn’t have a smartphone platform of its own and is highly unlikely that the company ever will move into the space. Problem is, Nintendo dominates handheld gaming with the Nintendo 3DS. With mobile gaming profits growing, Nintendo had to make a move in the segment fast, but without cheapening its brand or killing sales of its own handheld devices.
It’s safe to say that Miitomo isn’t a big danger to classic franchises. Really, it’s not a game at all, but a communication tool meant to act as an entry-way into the world of Nintendo. In the app, users create or redress the same Mii characters that are available on the Wii and Wii U’s online gaming profiles. Screenshots indicate that users will see their chat history with a friend in a typical threaded message view or floating in a message bubble over-top their Mii character’s head.
Like the existing Mii character creators, users are able to customize their Mii directly from Miitomo. These customizations includes hair color, expressions, clothing and facial structure. Miitomo will be absolutely free to download, with in-app purchases for character upgrades, it seems. All other Nintendo games for the iPhone will require up-front payment, according to today’s report.
Nintendo Accounts are what make this app possible. Users will sync their progress and character information across devices using Nintendo Accounts. iPhone users will be able to transfer their content to Nintendo’s consoles, for example. PCs are expecting to be included in the Nintendo Account syncing and access, but it’s unclear if that’s in the form of a website or an actual app that users can download from Nintendo’s website or through the Windows Store.
Certainly, Miitomo wasn’t what gamers had in mind when they heard that Nintendo would be creating mobile games, but it is a smart first time. Nintendo is way behind everyone else. The company has to test this new Nintendo Account infrastructure with something less risky than a full game. Nintendo has said publicly that characters and universes from its most famous franchises will make an appearance in its mobile games. There’s still hope for Mario, Donkey Kong and more. The Pokemon Company is developing Pokemon Go for smartphones already.
The real disappointment here is the Miitomo release date. Nintendo had said that its first game would arrive on smartphones sometime this year and that it would introduce new games in 2016. Now the company says that Miitomo is a 2016 release. In effect, the company has delayed its entrance into mobile gaming into next-year.
Presumably, we’ll hear more about Miitomo before its release in March. At that time the company could formally announce its second title for iPhones and Android devices.
Interestingly enough, Nintendo isn’t the first gaming company to bring the digital characters that its users create to smartphones. Microsoft was clearly inspired by Miis when it created Avatars for Xbox Live. Avatars are also customized digital characters that sync across devices. Microsoft sells clothing for Avatars directly through Xbox Live. Microsoft is in the process of giving Avatars a refresh for Xbox One owners, where they sat mostly abandoned since the console launched.