Mobile Monday: A Tribute to Satoru Iwata

Posted Jul 13, 2015

Well before many of us ever played a mobile game on our smartphones or tablets, we enjoyed a different type of mobile gaming:  handheld consoles like the Nintendo Game Boy.

Just four months ago, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata announced their plans to expand into the mobile games market, igniting imaginations worldwide with what this could mean for their favorite titles and characters, and what this could eventually mean for cross-device play.  Alas, just a few days ago, Iwata was taken from this world by cancer.

In tribute to the man who devoted his life to games and led Nintendo through the 2000s, this edition of Mobile Monday is taking a look back at Iwata’s projects, from early titles to the Nintendo DS and partnership with DeNA.

The Earlier Years
Before we take a look at the impact Iwata had on Nintendo with respect to mobile games, it’s important to appreciate his history as a game developer and why so many of us have come to call him Iwata-san. Well before Iwata was the President of Nintendo, he was a dedicated and ambitious video game developer that worked on numerous critically acclaimed titles, including:

Dedicated to his work and games, it’s not all too surprising that Iwata eventually became the president of Nintendo. As The Verge described him, “Satoru Iwata was Nintendo,” and the depth of his loss is clear at Nintendo corporate headquarters, where the Nintendo flag currently flies at half mast. (Image courtesy of The Verge.)


As a tribute to Iwata, video game composer Hirokazu “Chip” Tanaka composed a tribute that features a remix of the theme from NES classic Balloon Fight, which was the first title Takaka and Iwata worked on together in 1983.

Later on, the two would go on to work on Earthbound together, a game that still has a cult following to this day and is heralded as a masterpiece. While many may only remember Iwata’s projects as the head of Nintendo, it’s important to remember the game developer, and the gamer, inside the man.


Heart of a Gamer
Throughout all of Satoru Iwata’s projects, one element remained clear: he was a gamer at heart. Though he faced pressure and investor criticism at times for less than ideal successes, Iwata remained dedicated to the games and those who played them. Oft quoted from a speech he gave at GDC in 2005, Iwata stated:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Nintendo has been gamer focused, and not just a particular type of gamer, but all of us. As the BBC describes it, “Satoru was a firm believer in keeping things simple and making gaming fun for everyone.”


Making Games Accessible
Part of making gaming fun entails making it more readily available, whether the gamer is at home or on a train to school or work. Although Iwata was not the President of Nintendo when the Game Boy first launched in 1989, he understood the power of mobile gaming.

Thus, four years into his tenure as President of Nintendo, Iwata helped launch the Nintendo DS in 2004. Well before the first iPhone, the Nintendo DS introduced touch screen gaming to mobile devices. To this day, the DS is the second greatest selling mobile console ever.

Sadly, it’s often far too easy to forget how revolutionary these devices were in paving a pathway for new styles of gameplay. As Sam Byford described the phenomena:

“It’s easy to forget how revolutionary Nintendo’s products in the mid-2000s were, since they became ubiquitous so quickly.”

Indeed, Iwata and Nintendo had paved the way for many mobile gaming formats to come, including their inevitible foray into modern mobile games this spring.


The Move to Mobile
Although Nintendo had created portable gaming consoles for over 15 years and Iwata was driven by a desire to appeal to all gamers, the decision to delve into modern mobile gaming wasn’t taken lightly. After all, the DS was already a hit, and gamers could play Nintendo titles on the go easily with it.

However, as mobile gaming has grown into a formidable market reaching even more gamers, Iwata announced in March of this year that Nintendo was partnering with DeNA to produce mobile games. The partnership aims to leverage Nintendo’s strong IPs and characters with DeNA’s expertise developing for the mobile gaming market.

Currently, the first game slated to launch as part of this partnership is Pokémon Shuffle Mobile, with four additional titles on the way by March of 2017.

While many smaller mobile publishers release titles at a faster clip than this, what was important to Iwata wasn’t volume:  quality of gameplay was. As he explained:

“When we aim to make each title a hit, and because we want to thoroughly operate every one of them for a significant amount of time after their releases, this is not a small number at all.”

Although Iwata passed before the first Nintendo mobile title could launch, fans of Nintendo’s numerous IPs remain hopeful that Iwata’s vision will continue and that Nintendo will begin to steadily release high quality mobile games worthy of the IPs they represent.

Remembering the Legend
For all of us who have spent countless hours playing Iwata-san’s games, perhaps there is no better tribute than to dust off our old systems, blow gingerly into the cartridges, and spend a few hours tonight in nostalgia.  Let us remember Iwata’s vision to make games more accessible and enjoyable for all and look forward to a future of Nintendo games – mobile and otherwise – inspired by this.


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Featured image courtesy of SoyUnGnomo.

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