It’s been some time (25 years, in fact) since Nintendo made a showing at Toy Fair, the world’s largest toy exhibition show, as an exhibitor. They jumped back in this year, sparking a lot of idle talk about what it was they might have been showcasing that would prompt the change of heart. I don’t normally dip into rumours and hearsay, but this got a lot of things going in my brain, and even though it doesn’t appear as if the gaming behemoth made any spectacular ripples at their booth, the gears turning in my skull simply refuse to stop. With all that in mind, I think the time is right, and the market ripe, for Nintendo to jump into the NFC-enabled toy-supported game pool.
We’ve already seen a hint of this with Pokemon Rumble U and it’s use of the technology, but I’d really like to think that they could pull off something bigger. Something better. Something huge. Let’s take a step back for a moment, and look at recent successes for both NFC-enabled games and for Nintendo. The Skylanders story is a well-known one at this point, though it was a huge gamble for Activision in 2011. Multiple platforms and two wildly successful sequels later, and Skylanders has become a staple franchise in kid-friendly gaming, garnering enough attention that Disney opted to wade into the market with 2013′s Disney Infinity. Both of these games are built on some important similarities: adventure-style gaming with a huge cast of available characters with prior history and recognition. Obviously, Disney has a lot more to pull from in the historically-memorable arena than the flagging Spyro games could ever offer, but it was still crucial to the first Skylanders‘ initial successes, so I think it’s important to keep in mind.
On Nintendo’s end, they’ve already established a good track record of large-cast crossover potential, probably starting with Super Mario Kart and really hammered home in the Smash Bros. franchise. So now we’ve got a marketplace that’s shown that NFC toys and games are viable and desirable, and one that shows that multi-franchise games pique the interest of gamers the world over. That means it’s not too far-fetched to sit back and dream of Nintendo using this opportunity to do something truly awesome: an NFC-enabled adventure game using characters from across the landscape of storied, familiar Nintendo franchises, including Mario, Donkey Kong, Metroid, Pokemon, and many, many more. Throw in the recent partnerships between Nintendo and Sega, and you open up even more character possibilities that bring in fan favourites like Sonic the Hedgehog or Virtua Fighter.
I’m just going to let that sink in for a second. Imagine an adventure-RPG style game that allowed you to throw down as Link, or Samus, or Bowser depending on the situation, or tough jumping pieces made easier by employing Pit, Kirby, or various flying Pokemon. Speed-heavy areas being carved up by a two-man team of Sonic and Luigi; there’s a ton of huge potential here, and I think Nintendo has to know it, and know that they’re in a position not unlike Disney’s when it comes to the variety that they could offer up. Add in that there’s a much more game-heavy history behind all of it, and that a huge pile of these franchises are nostalgia-mines for gamers of all walks, and the potential to create something huge, profitable, and fun is begging for this kind of creation to roll out of Nintendo.
There’s some other aspects to consider, as well. NFC is one of the few things that the Wii U holds as a unique advantage over Nintendo’s hugely popular handheld 3DS; since they’re still searching for something that can spark the home console’s sales, a flagship project like this would be an exclusive that could really break the Wii U into the market in the way Nintendo hoped they’d get from titles like Super Mario 3D World and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Both of those also prove another of Nintendo’s undeniable strengths: creating games that are accessible to gamers of all ages, but challenging enough to be engaging to adults. Both Skylanders and Disney Infinity appeal much more heavily to the younger crowd. Not to say they’re not played by older gamers as well, but the truth is that they don’t present much difficulty to seasoned veterans of games in general, and that’s a market position that recent Pokemon games would indicate is still ripe for the picking.
Is this all wild speculation? Sure, but Nintendo has stated that they plan to showcase NFC games at E3 this year in June. While I’m not about to sell off my Skylanders colle- er, uh, my son’s collection, that is – I’d buy into this in a heartbeat, and there’s just too much potential and profitability for me to imagine that Nintendo isn’t aware of what they could pull off. People are still going crazy waiting for the latest Smash Bros. entry, especially with some of the new contenders on the docket. With the right direction and the unsurpassed body of work that Nintendo has to pull from here,, the exclusivity to the console they’re trying desperately to sell relevance of, and the absolutely phenomenal experience that they could deliver with the right minds working on the supporting software. So please, Nintendo. Make it so.