“Pick a game and play!”
Since the release of Pokémon Go in July 2016, one of Nintendo’s prime focuses has been to slide themselves into the mobile market. The huge popularity of smartphone games during the past couple of years made it the only real competitor for the handheld market that Nintendo had dominated since they released the Game Boy in 1989. Instead of trying to fight against it, however, Nintendo seems to have embraced what mobile gaming can do, as they’ve released apps based off of a few of their most beloved properties. From my perspective, Nintendo hadn’t yet got the hang of what mobile gaming is all about since the release of Pokémon Go, but when they released Fire Emblem Heroes this past Thursday, I quickly changed my mind.
I’ve been skeptical of Nintendo’s handheld games in the past because what they had released prior to Fire Emblem Heroes hadn’t convinced me that they really knew what they were doing. Pokémon Go became an international phenomenon when it first came out, but it just didn’t have the substance to make it last as long as it could’ve in my eyes. It’s gotten content updates, sure, but it needed them a lot sooner. Super Mario Run was successful financially and, while critics seemed to like it okay, I didn’t think it was spectacular enough to warrant a ten dollar purchase. Nintendo recently released Pokémon Duel internationally; Japan’s had it for a while. I liked what I played of Pokémon Duel, but my play through was bogged down by severe connection issues and a game play style that just wasn’t developed enough to be interesting.
So what makes Fire Emblem Heroes stand out? Well, the main reason is that the app is exactly what I want from a free-to-play mobile game based on a successful franchise: a lite version of the game’s mechanics with adjustments made to make it more mobile friendly. Fire Emblem Heroes is basically your standard Fire Emblem game on a much smaller scale. There’s still plenty of tactical role playing rock-paper-scissors action, just condensed to better suit mobile gaming. Missions will usually only take a few minutes at most to complete, and your party (as well as the enemy’s) has shrunk down to a maximum of four. The arenas are smaller, too, which means that the elaborate maps we’ve seen in previous Fire Emblem games aren’t present here. In addition, there are some standard mobile game practices like micro-transactions and a stamina meter that prohibits you from playing too much in one sitting (though you have so much to work with that it seems worthless).
All of this tells me that Nintendo’s gotten much smarter about designing for mobile platforms. Fire Emblem is the sort of game that works well on handhelds with its mission based structure and focus on guiding your team rather than directly participating in combat. Further condensing these elements for a mobile version of it was a smart move, as was making it free-to-play. Out of all the mobile games Nintendo’s released so far, Fire Emblem Heroes is the one I believe has the most longevity. I think it has the potential to be a flagship mobile title for the company if they keep supporting it. It’s clear that Nintendo wants you to play this game in short bursts over a long period of time, considering the daily log-in bonuses and how short the missions take to complete. That, in my opinion, is the definite way to approach a game like this.
This is assuming that I’m correct in what Nintendo has planned for Fire Emblem Heroes, of course, but I truly think that Nintendo has something great on their hands here. It has the potential to be the dominant Fire Emblem title until Fire Emblem Warriors launches and, hopefully, it’ll extend even beyond that. I’m glad to see that Nintendo has finally struck gold with a mobile release (not just in sales, but in critic and audience responses, too). Fire Emblem Heroes has made me much more optimistic about Nintendo’s foray into the mobile market, and I’m excited to see what their next mobile product is going to be. If the Switch ends up being successful and they keep producing mobile titles like this, then 2017 will definitely be a year to remember for Nintendo.