Having been released little more than a month ago, Nintendo announced this morning that their free-to-play title Pokemon Shuffle has been downloaded more than 2.5 million times worldwide. And, with 1.5 million of those downloads coming in the past three weeks, it seems that the game's audience might only continue to rise in the coming months.
The timing of this announcement seems to have been carefully planned — it comes just one week after Nintendo declared plans to partner with DeNA to offer smartphone content based on their established franchises. It would seem that Pokemon Shuffle is part of a larger experiment to see whether that space was something the company should pursue.
The next step will be the release of a Mario-themed version of smartphone smash hit Puzzles and Dragons for the 3DS. Mobile downloads of that title stand in excess of 40 million — rather more than Pokemon Shuffle — and, as one of the biggest free-to-play titles on the market at the moment, it's clear why Nintendo are keen to utilize the IP alongside their own characters.
However, Pokemon Shuffle seems to be a better example of Nintendo's long-term plans. As one of the company's most well-recognized franchises, it's an easy way of tempting fans to dip their toe in the waters of free-to-play. The idea of a 'free' Pokemon game has seemingly been enough to entice millions already — although the real test will be how many of those players still open the game on a daily basis.
Nevertheless, the past year or so has seen Nintendo finally get with the times. Between their redefined stance on smartphones and free-to-play, not to mention their canny entry into the toys-to-life market with Amiibo, we're seeing the company fight tooth and nail to stay on top of trends as they happen.
The question now is whether Nintendo can balance their attempts at a broader than ever mainstream appeal with the high quality standards that have earned them such a dedicated hardcore fan base. There's plenty of reason for their devotees to be excited about a refreshed Nintendo — but there's also room for a little concern, too. Few would like to see Nintendo go smartphone-exclusive, as unlikely as that is.
It will perhaps only be when the Nintendo NX releases that we'll see for sure the long-term direction that Nintendo is headed in. It's certainly a time of change for one of the biggest companies in the history of video games — hopefully that change is for the better.
Pokemon Shuffle is available to download now for the Nintendo 3DS.