Nintendo Joins Niantic, Pokemon for 2016 Smartphone Game

Nintendo Co. is staking out more ground in smartphone gaming next year with a Pokemon title that uses a bluetooth-ready button to interact with characters displayed in the real world.

Affiliate Pokemon Co. teamed with former Google Inc. game developer Niantic Labs to offer a location-based title for mobile devices from 2016, Pokemon President Tsunekazu Ishihara told reporters Thursday in Tokyo.

Nintendo is trying to win back casual gamers lost over the years as it declined to follow them to smartphones. Pokemon Go uses characters from the popular children’s card game, animation and videogame series in an augmented-reality setting similar to Niantic’s +Ingress game.

Niantic, a startup that announced its split from Google on Aug. 13, said +Ingress has been downloaded more than 12 million times and attracted more than 250,000 people to live events around the world, according to the company’s website.

Pokemon Go will be available on Apple Inc. iPhones and Google Android devices. Users can hold up their smartphone camera in a public place to “see” game characters placed around the landscape by the game, according a video demonstration on the company’s website.

A wristband also notifies users of the presence of characters by vibrating or lighting up. Players can collaborate with other users in the same location to battle the virtual-reality monsters.

Nintendo has yet to announce how or when it will use its best-known videogame characters including Mario and Zelda in smartphone games, after announcing a partnership with mobile system operator DeNA Co. earlier this year.

Nintendo’s mobile games will generate about 6 billion yen ($49.7 million) in profit this fiscal year and 10 times that in the next, Eiji Maeda, an analyst at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc., estimates.

The company resisted turning to smartphones for years, saying its games were designed for its own machines, where players can use a joystick and physical buttons to move through the virtual world.