For the first time ever, Nintendo Co.’s games will be playable on gaming hardware that wasn’t made by the Kyoto-based company.
In a new initiative limited to China, Nintendo has begun distributing classic Wii and Gamecube titles through Nvidia Corp.’s gaming tablet Shield, the game-maker said in a statement. The device went on sale Tuesday in mainland China with three classic Nintendo games, including “The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess,” “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” and “Punch-Out!!,” which were released globally roughly a decade ago.
It’s a significant shift for Nintendo, which has kept its homegrown games exclusively for its own home and handheld consoles since the early 1980s. The maker of Wii, DS and Switch machines only reluctantly began releasing mobile titles for third-party smartphones last year. With China surpassing the U.S. as the world’s largest gaming market, pressure has been building on Nintendo to bring its titles to the mainland.
“We’re very happy to have this opportunity to let our entertainment products bring joy to the vast body of Chinese players,” Nintendo said in the statement, issued in Chinese. More classic titles will be released next year and will receive visual upgrades, it said. “Due to Nvidia’s excellent staff, these games will get high-resolution ports.”
A Nintendo spokesman said the agreement is limited to China and the Nvidia Shield, and isn’t indicative of a broader strategic change. He said efforts to bring its new Nintendo Switch hybrid console to China continues independently of its partnership with Nvidia.
Until now, the majority of Nintendo games haven’t been legally available in China, limiting the popularity of “Super Mario” and “Donkey Kong,” which are household names in the U.S., Europe and Japan. Instead, mainland China is dominated by personal-computer and mobile gaming titles such as “Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds” and “Honor of Kings.” China’s gaming market generated $24.6 billion in revenue last year, compared with $24.1 billion in the U.S.
There are still barriers for non-Chinese game publishers to release titles in the country, including state censorship and the need to establish joint ventures with local partners. Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp. and have achieved limited success since releasing their consoles on the mainland since 2014, partly due to the declining popularity of console gaming and the absence of blockbuster titles such as “Grand Theft Auto V,” which are banned for its violent and sexual content.
Nintendo’s family-friendly lineup means it may fare better with China’s censors. In September, it announced plans to release Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s “Honor of Kings” for Nintendo Switch. That spurred speculation the Chinese web and gaming giant will help Nintendo tap the mainland market. Nintendo’s spokesman declined to say when the Nintendo Switch might go on sale in China.
Nvidia Shield was introduced in 2014 globally as a portable gaming device, but has seen limited success. It’s similar to a tablet, but is capable of better graphics and can be connected to a TV and played with a controller. That’s roughly same idea behind Nintendo’s Switch, which also combines home and portable gaming. Nintendo has sold 7.6 million units since it went on sale in March, becoming its biggest product success in a decade and helping to double the Japanese company’s stock price.
“For Nintendo, their main goal is probably to have their intellectual property recognized more in China,” said Hideki Yasuda, an analyst at Ace Research Institute. But as the Chinese console market is limited, “there won’t be much impact to Nintendo’s earnings.”