Nintendo has its work cut out for it as far as Apple is concerned. The company is not afraid to admit it. It’s specifically rising to challenge Apple with the Nintendo 3DS, which features a tilt sensor, a gyroscope, an A+ game lineup, and nifty 3D gaming capabilities.
While that’s neat and all, Apple’s main strength is arguably the App Store, which entices indie studios with cheap development costs and easy distribution. It also offers gamers huge handfuls of budget-priced distractions, some of which have risen to become household names (Angry Birds).
But Nintendo has its own answer to the App Store: Downloadable DSiWare titles. Gamers can hop online with their Nintendo DSi (not the DS Lite), go through the schlep of buying Nintendo Points, fuss with available storage space, then download higher-priced ports of games they played earlier on the iPhone–
The Nintendo DSi Store cuts into the App Store’s profits about as cleanly as a plastic knife cuts into concrete. Games blogger and podcaster Scott Johnson tailored an appropriate metaphor: “[The DSi online store] isn’t a joke…it’s more of a terrible story told by a drunken hobo, all while he’s bleeding to death on the side of a railroad track.”
But the idea is good, and begs to be loved. And to be fair, DSiWare still has its triumphs. Shantae: Risky’s Revenge is absolutely charming, and some iPhone/mobile phone game ports, like Gamevil’s action-RPG Zenonia, are a lot more fun to play with a real d-pad and a dedicated map screen. DSiWare has potential, so what’s going on?
The Nintendo DSi Store’s number one problem is its slow trickle of generally bad releases. True, the App Store just offers a fast flow of bad releases, but the volume makes it relatively easy to hold out your hand and catch a winner. If the Nintendo DSi Store is offering two or three garbage games in one week–which is typically the case–you have to settle in and wait for several weeks worth of more garbage to drift by before you have any hope of spying a worthwhile purchase.
The Nintendo DSi’s storage capabilities are also impotent and sad. It can manage a handful of decent-sized downloads before it calls it quits, which means a lot of shuffling between the DSi and your SD card–if you have one. Either way, it’s a far cry from the convenience of downloading a game to a hard drive.
It’s no wonder developers and gamers alike treat DSiWare as an afterthought. Next to the rich, multi-genre selections that are available in Xbox Live Arcade, Steam, PlayStation Network, or the App Store, navigating the Nintendo DSi Store is like picking over a convenience store’s cans of Wadded Beef after a nuclear scare.
Nintendo is infamous for lagging a generation behind the industry’s online standards. The 3DS does look to be headed in the right direction with its Virtual Console service for the Game Boy and Game Boy Color–but even that bright idea won’t amount to much without a satisfactory release schedule. Ask any Wii owner to talk about games they want to see on the Virtual Console, and they’ll talk for hours.
In the same vein, if Nintendo plans to go head-to-head with Apple, it’ll need more than Mario (though Mario certainly helps). It needs a means of digital game distribution that’s easy to use, is developer-friendly, does away with points in favor of real-life money, and minimizes the need to putz around with storage space.
If Nintendo acts fast and whips the DSi Store into shape by the time the 3DS comes to life, it’ll be a formidable competitor for Apple. But if the company doesn’t already have an online game plan in place, its days of unquestionable handheld supremacy may come to an abrupt end.