One of DS’s most beloved franchises just hit iPhone. Can Nintendo recapture the casual gaming market? Should they even try?

Scribblenauts Remix, a “best of” blend of DS’s two well-reviewed Scribblenauts releases (plus some new levels), just hit the App Store for $4.99. And it’s awesome–one of the strongest titles in the iOS library. This is no lazy port of the DS series, but a full-featured entry in the Scribblenauts line, looking sharper than ever and playing brilliantly.

So, why bring this up? Because this release hits close to home for Nintendo fans, and you couldn’t ask for a clearer example of the changing handheld game market, as a popular series previously only available on Nintendo hardware makes the leap to the Apple world, radically changing its price model in the process. The first two Scribblenauts games hit DS at a price point of $29.99. And they were worth it. The iPhone edition (which loses part 2’s joypad/button support but gains sharper graphics and faster loading), at five bucks, seems like the bargain of the year.

Scribblenauts can be enjoyed by just about any type of gamer, from the most casual commuter or grandparent to the most avid game-playing college student, and I do hope its audience continues to expand on its new platform. But this has me wondering again: What kind of handheld games will most buyers still be willing to shell out twenty to forty dollars for? Certainly not Scribblenauts. We won’t see much more in the way of cartridge releases for games like Brain Age and Big Brain Academy, games that helped push DS sales through the roof. I doubt more gamer-oriented titles such as Kirby Canvas Curse and Meteos’titles built around the kind of simple, repeated game mechanics that iOS titles excel at’could succeed at cartridge prices today.

More and more, it looks like the 3DS is inheriting a market in which its only hope of big sales lies in blockbuster titles that offer more spectacle, breadth, and variety than the iPhone can deliver at this point. I’m sure Super Mario 3D Land and Mariokart 7 will sell well and give a big boost to 3DS’s user base. There are more great titles in the works, but I think it’s becoming clearer now that it’s no longer a Touch-Generation DS world out there, and the future Nintendo cartridge library may completely lose the great smaller, lesser-known and risk-taking titles like Meteos, Big Bang Mini and Henry Hatsworth.

On a recent podcast, Derek stated he considers his 3DS to be more like a small console, not a true portable game player. I couldn’t agree more, and if the 3DS is to make a significant mark on the game world, I think that’s how Nintendo should treat it. 3DS should offer big, spectacular console-like experiences on its small 3D screen and carve out its own niche in the market. It’s a terrific little console for gaming in a comfortable chair or while relaxing in bed.

But it doesn’t follow me to work. My phone fills that role, and today Scribblenauts tagged along. I really didn’t see that one coming.


  1. Glad to know that more people will get a chance to play it. I got Super Scribblenauts at launch so I’ve played enough from the series. Great game worth full retail pricing.

  2. That’s a pretty interesting subtle watershed moment right there. I predict the handheld nintendo market will someday soon ONLY include Nintendo-owned franchises. They’re going to hold out for ages to sell fresh games for 4.99.

  3. this game would never hitted ios first for this price , its cheap because it already made its money on ds and most of the game was already earned back (design,engine etc).

  4. Honestly I’d just like it if Nintendo made a phone…

  5. I’ll say it over and over again. The Iphone is NOT a gaming device

  6. I may just get it too. Just to have an actual game on my itouch, even though I have the DS titles. It’s only 5 bucks after all.

    I’m kinda curious about the touch screen though. The DS has the super accurate resistive w/stylus. I’m pretty sure the multitouch will make it suck to type out things, which is kinda a big deal. 🙂

    Kinda of a shock though… Wow… 5 bucks for this on idevices… I’m still in shock, and disbelief. Why the price difference? Does Nintendo allow cheaper titles? I think so, but I’m not to aware of their eShop practices and surcharges to have games on it… I know people always used to whine that Ninty charged more for releasing their games on the platform, but… I’m going to have to look into this myself.

  7. @Neil N:

    If it’s not a gaming device, then why is it playing Scribblenauts as well as–if not better than–DS? Look, I know what you mean. It’s not a *dedicated* gaming device. You, me and anyone reading game sites knows the distinction. But 99% of the public doesn’t care. All they see are more great games coming to iPhone and Android.

    This past year has seen a huge surge in the number of outstanding games released on iPhone–imaginative, fun games that actually work well with touch screen controls. Sure, the App Store is flooded with garbage, but the number of great games is growing amazingly fast. This week alone saw the release of Scribblenauts and Forever Drive, two of the best handheld games I’ve played this year. And Forever Drive is free.

    That distinction between a dedicated gaming device and a phone that plays games is rapidly losing its significance; what matters is the quality of the software. Nintendo’s challenge is to show the world that their games are great enough to buy 3DS to experience.

  8. @Hitokiri_Ace;

    They’ve sort of re-tuned the controls to work well on the idevice touch screen. For me, it feels better than the first, but–without a joypad–not as good as Super. I miss actually “scribbling” the words with a stylus, and picking up tiny objects is a bit of a pain. Overall, though, it plays great.

  9. @link

    I hear ya brother. It feels to me that this cycle (3DS/vita) is handheld gaming’s swan song (by large gaming dedicated companies). Technology is evolving at a break neck pace, and unless Nintendo can adapt, they will go away. Epic games will deserve their own game card, but in the very near future the majority of games will probably just be downloads. This is not necessarily bad news, but nintendo needs to act on it. They need to make it easier for companies to put titles on the eshop (the recent survey by the “world of goo” creator said developers often found Nintendo difficult to deal with) and launch an all out blitz of games. It seems to work well enough for iOS, and Nintendo could benefit from that model. Nintendo’s user rating system also needs to be corrected, as no testimonials are included and junk games often seem too highly rated by players. Adapt or die is the name of the game, and I really hope Nintendo can use their experience and be willing to recognize trends early enough to adopt them at certain, key moments.

  10. Cheaper development cost, and not to mention the game is made for touch screen, so this makes sense to be on iOS devices.

  11. Now I feel really stupid for having recently paid $30 for the ds version…
    I will never buy again a third party game for ds/3ds.

  12. Here’s the thing though. Is it a watered down version of Scribblenauts, or is it the full game? (by watered down, I mean less levels/subjects/adjectives etc)

  13. I believe it has around 40 levels, while super scribblenauts had 200. Who knows what updates will bring however (which is yet another arena nintendo needs to jump on).

  14. @GameCollector 44:

    I can spot about 50 levels so far, but I’ve been spending most of my time playing with sandbox mode, trying every word I can think of. It seems to have all the nouns and adjectives from Super.

  15. @Neil N,

    The iPhone plays games, ergo, it is a gaming device.

  16. @Richard: It’s not a gaming device because it’s not it’s main focus, simple as that. Also, iOS sales will never be as high (and profitable) as DS, 3DS or Vita since the price of entry is so high (cost of iPhone or iPad) even if the games are priced lower (except for Square Enix).

  17. Astute observation. In terms of portable gaming, Richard, are you more excited overall as an iPhone owner or 3DS owner?

  18. The only element holding me back from adopting the iPhone or iPad as my portable gaming device at this point versus the DS or 3DS is the stylus control!

    Honestly, I may be in a small minority on this, but I just can’t substitute the feeling and accuracy of the stylus on the DS (or on the old touch screen devices for that matter) with the frustrating finger tapping of the smart phones, even on non-gaming apps. I just use the finger-tapping touch screen when I have no other choice…

  19. Blake, although I’m most excited about the first party games coming to 3DS, I won’t be playing them on the go. So, as far as portable gaming goes, I have to say I’m more excited as an iPhone owner by the quality stuff iOS has been getting recently. I’m still counting on SM3DL and Mariokart 7 to be my favorite releases, though! 🙂

    (and I’m logged out right now because logging me in from work is one thing my iPhone sucks at.)

  20. Nvm, if it’s not the full game then meh..

    In other iOS news, no new itouch yet is sad. My old 2nd gen 32gb itouch is showing it’s age. I’m planning on buying a new one for the sweet retina display, the A5 chip, and camera’s. Hopefully they include the A5 and better camera’s, maybe even a gps receiver.. If not 2 of those 3, then no way bro.

  21. Nintendo innovated themselves out of business. Or more likely, damaged their foothold in their core market by doing the best thing for their business.

    Following the casual market with the DS and then the Wii was the right thing to do. They couldn’t have known that a convergence device (or two) a few years down the road would destroy all of the inroads they made into that market.

    Fully featured, stupidly expensive, home entertainment devices seem a better play at this point than the Wii. Hindsight is perfect and I’m sure that Microsoft and Sony lucked into the position rather than directed themselves to it. Sometimes you can do everything right and still end up the loser and I’m starting to worry that Nintendo did exactly that.

    WiiU is really important for Nintendo. I think this is actually an exciting time for this blog. Who knows what’s going to happen but whatever it is it will be news worthy. Let’s hope it isn’t the Segafication of Nintendo.

  22. @Hitokiri_Ace:

    I’d call it a full game, since it combines elements of the first two with new material and, most importantly, the full, amazing game engine. It doesn’t have as many levels as Super (yet) but the sandbox mode alone is worth $5.


    Great points! Of all the major players in the game industry, I think Nintendo’s in the most interesting position, simply because they’ve got the classic IPs everyone wants. It certainly is going to be fascinating watching how this all plays out over the next few years.

  23. Awesome article, Richard. The fact that Apple is calling the iOS the world’s leading gaming platform tells a clear story, one that console makers seem content to ignore.

  24. @Derek B: What? Leading gaming platform? Only thing it leads in is copyright infringement since Apple has a useless “screening” process for the apps. Zelda and Mario pop in there all the time illegally and Apple uploads said games into their servers.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ve only spent $40 on my iOS purchases and $15 of those was for a work related app I needed. I do my portable gaming on DSi and PSP and use my iPhone games only when I don’t have those at hand and ONLY for 5-10 minutes at most to not return again till a week has passed. And they’re all free games or some I’ve bought for a buck and at that level we can’t say that all publishers/developers are getting rich with iOS releases. For every Angry Birds there’s a 100 games that don’t break 5,000 in sales.

  25. EdEN,

    The price pressures will kill Nintendo for the casual market. You can no longer sell Mario Vs. Donkey Kong March of the Minis 15 for $30. At some point level 5 is going to figure out that the Layton games work on iOS and they’ll sell it for at least half of what a cart sells for. Without casual games (BrainAge, Nintendogs, Layton, Scriblenauts, etc) the DS would have sold PSP numbers and wouldn’t have been the top selling console of all time.

    It’s not just about the price, developers can develop for the iOS for less than $1000 all in. Nintendo’s licensing agreement for even WiiWare and DSiware are more than that. Nintendo needs to rethink their developer agreements otherwise iOS is going to eat their lunch. It’s really not that hard to see that mobile platforms are already eating into the casual gaming market. Apple is up to 500 million paid to developers per quarter now. That’s up nearly 200% from last year. I bet Nintendo would like that growth with the 3DS, hell I bet they’d just take the 500 million per quarter in 3DS software sales at this point.

    Nintendo needs to come up with something big for the casuals or cede the market to the mobile phone/iPod/iPad market and retreat to core gamers. The funny thing is, I’m ok with them returning to pamper me in the core gamer market.

  26. Not a worry when a 3 year old game finally shows up on iOS. Just helps add to some sales.

    Mobile gaming is great for core gaming fans. Why? No more Petz and Imaginez and other casual BS. Why? It’s all going to iPhone. Only meaty games will be left on the 3DS, and that is fine by me.

    I’d rather 2 quality games come out per week retail than 10 games, with 2 being good and 8 being rubbish.

  27. Do we really need this game to make the point you are trying to make? There were a bazillions of other examples prior to this game that did this.

  28. Just keep thinking that XC. Yea in the DS lifetime there were big games, but smaller games were a huge chunk of DS game sales. At this point there are hardly any DS games I would put in such a category. They could all be on the app store as far as I’m concerned. The fact of the matter is iOS games keep getting better year after year. As the gaming library gets bigger and better, with deeper games, then what then? What area will exclusively be the dedicated portable’s domain? That’s including Sony. This is not specifically a Nintendo problem. I think your view was correct a couple years go, but doesn’t apply anymore, and as time goes on will apply even less. Nintendo to remain competitive will have to adjust their game prices at some point. To not do so would be unwise.

  29. FYI phoenix wright was in iOS store for $5 since May 2010 as just one example.

  30. @AC: There were not “bazillions” of Nintendo-exclusive franchises that went to iPhone before this. Phoenix Wright deserves mention, but that was a clunky port that took up WAY too much storage space on iPhone. Scribblenauts Remix is a polished reworking of the franchise that looks beautiful and plays sharply on iPhone, and I think it’ll do well on the iOS. I’m a huge Scribblenauts fan, and until now I’ve always associated it with DS only. Having just finished Remix’s 50 levels (now trying to guess the words that’ll unlock the bonus playgrounds), I have to say that was five bucks very well spent. It’s a perfect fit for iPhone.

    I agree with your above comment that Nintendo needs to lower their prices, but I still think they can survive by focusing on big, grand, elaborate games that are simply too big for iOS to handle…for the present.

  31. @ richard

    I wasn’t talking exclusives here; you misunderstood. I was talking about equivalent games on iOS versus and on whatever nintendo platform, and comparing the prices. anyone can see that there are big descrepancies in pricing. i personally have encountered many. you can do your own research and find more. i’m not going out to make a big list here. there are many price descrepancies for equivalent games on iOS and DS (plants vs zombies), 3DS eshop/DSiWare (Cut the rope), VC (megaman 2 comes to mind) and wii ware (swords & soldiers, sonic 4). the lines that everyone has created over the years is blurring whether they want it to or not. this is a real problem for nintendo, and its going to get worse. if we are talking only console-style gaming (on a handheld), with a new and improved iteration of iphone/ipad every year, you don’t think they can catch up to 3DS and Vita from both hardware and software stand point? yes, finger touch controls are an issue that everyone agrees on, but the point is still valid. there are multiple blue tooth controllers on the market today that are getting more and more support that could solve their issue.

    here’s another one:

    another big problem (tetris axis 3DS):

  32. world of goo is another big one.

  33. @AC:

    The point of the post was that Scribblenauts– a brilliant and previously Nintendo exclusive title–popping up on iPhone for five bucks is a pretty significant occurance for Nintendo fans.

    Scribblenauts was a fan favorite, a shining example of superb third party cartridge software, and a reason for owning Nintendo’s device. I’m sure I’m not the only one who had hoped to see the franchise continue to evolve and thrive with more releases for Nintendo as an exclusive and amazing property.

    Poof. Gone.

  34. Does it really matter if something is a dedicated “gaming device” or not? PCs weren’t designed for gaming, let alone mice and keyboards, yet many swear it’s the best way to play a FPS. TVs weren’t designed for gaming, yet home gaming consoles depend on them. The iPhone is more than a phone, and the iPod is more than a music device, and they’re both fantastic gaming devices.

  35. @ MechaKingMinos:

    The distinction becomes less clear every year. Enough quality titles I’ve really enjoyed have hit iOS in these last six months for me to now consider it a legit gaming device…though one that’s a challenge for developers to create good control schemes for. Right now, a lot of us still have a fondness for dedicated portable game machines, and with good reason: We won’t see anything on the scale of Super Mario 3D Land or Mariokart 7 on iPhone for–I hope–a long time.

    But the 3DS itself is blurring the line: it’s not as easy to carry in a pocket as an iPhone, and it does far more than play games. We’re entering the era of the “Portable All-Purpose Entertainment System.” As always, it comes down to: “Which games can I play on it?”

  36. Level-5 switches Mystery Room from a 3DS offering to a iOS offering.

    I bet this will be a more common event from all publishers in the near future.

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