Let's imagine Nintendo were to enter the world of mobile phone game development. What sorts of games would it make? Would social and physical activity be a part of the game?
You don't have to wait around to see such a game right now: Nintendo has stealthily released four of them on the Nintendo 3DS, but buried them in a place few people tend to check. And along with Animal Crossing, they represent a more mobile-oriented game approach than you'd expect.
When I say "mobile-oriented," here's what I mean: these games actually require you to go out and walk around, either to earn play coins for the steps you take, or to "meet people" who end up helping you play. They're meant to be played in small sessions, every day, like a routine. Much like Animal Crossing, the gameplay's accumulative.
Maybe you've looked at the Mii Plaza, Nintendo's odd little semisocial destination on the 3DS that's one part PlayStation Home, one part Wii dashboard. Maybe you haven't. I bet you haven't. It's an obscure area of an already somewhat obscure Nintendo 3DS platform. It's where you can find other people's Miis that you might run into, see their profiles, and use their avatars to play included games like Find Mii, or collect pieces to puzzles featuring Nintendo characters. The 3DS' built-in pedometer, which I often forget about, too, collects Play Coins for every 100 steps you take, and they're amassed here for unlocking extras in games (Animal Crossing actually lets you spend these play coins for fortune cookies with bonus knickknacks).
You leave your Nintendo 3DS in Street Pass mode, and go for a walk, and see what random Miis you collect.
The four new games that popped into Mii Plaza actually cost $4.99 each, or $14.99 for all four. You can't find them on the eShop; they're only in Mii Plaza.
What do they offer? Games that feel, in various ways, like mobile phone apps. Mii Force, Flower Town, Warrior's Way, and Monster Manor all have their own sets of content to unlock. Mii Force is a side-scrolling space shooter, Flower Town has you collecting and breeding flowers, Warrior's Way is a rock-paper-scissors battle game, and Monster Manor is a board-game-like ghost hunt through a multilevel house.
Each one requires you to find other Miis, which offer you starship weapons, puzzle pieces, or troops to reinforce your battle army. Play Coins can substitute for finding and collecting other people's Miis as you walk around, but that requires walking, too. If you have neither, you can't really play.
If you're not a 3DS owner, you probably won't care. Even if you are, you may not care. But they're actually fun, if you like a more casual play-a-bit-a-day style: Mii Force and Monster Manor, in particular, are two of Nintendo's better downloadable games. Just don't expect to play for more than a few minutes, unless you walk a lot or meet lots of Street Pass Miis.
If you've ever hoped Nintendo would enter Google Play or iOS App Store with a new breed of games, maybe you can dream of these as an inkling of how Nintendo could go mobile. Because these games are designed to be played on the go; in fact, you can't do that by just sitting down. It makes me wonder whether a type of Wii Fit game could ever make a move onto the 3DS, just focusing on recording/gamifying physical activity. Why aren't similar types of reward-earning pedometer games on mobile phones now? And if they are, why aren't they more popular?
Mii Plaza's games might be onto something, if enough people care to play.