Today in news that makes you say, "Aw man, that would've been great," former Blizzard North programmer Jonathan Morin says he had an idea for a Pokemon-inspired "Diablo Junior" game that was ultimately shot down.
Morin talks about the project in an interview published today on Variety. While he was thinking up a new project following the completion of Diablo 2, Morin happened to catch sight of a Game Boy development kit. At the time (around 2002-2003), the initial wave of Pokemon hype was still rolling strong. An idea lit up in Morin's head like a happy Ampharos.
"Look at how successful Pokemon is. How can we do something similar?" Morin recalls saying. "There weren’t a lot of games on the Game Boy like that at the time. We could bring the Diablo universe to Nintendo. I think it would have done awesome."
Morin's small team of three or four developers never went far beyond the planning stages for Diablo Junior, though they had some rough ideas like capturing and trading different Diablo monsters and shipping different versions of the game that let you play as different characters (e.g. a "Knight" version, a "Mage" version, and so on). Blizzard North never had a chance to seek Nintendo's approval for the pitch unfortunately, because the bosses at Blizzard South and Blizzard's owners at the time, Vivendi, put an arrow in Diablo Jr.'s heart.
“Blizzard South came in and they were asking what everybody was working on. Oh yeah, I’m working on this Game Boy game! … They had no idea," Morin recalls. "They’re like nope, sorry, we’re going to cancel that."
Morin speculates Blizzard South didn't see much potential for profit in a Game Boy game. Nintendo's high license fees combined with the Game Boy and Game Boy Color's cartridge format and lack of online capabilities (and thus no potential for DLC distribution across Battle.net) likely would've added up to low profit margins.
In fact, Blizzard's never been very gung-ho about publishing on Nintendo's platforms in general. The (excellent) Switch port of Diablo 3 marks the first time Blizzard has brought a game to a Nintendo system since StarCraft for the Nintendo 64. The premature death of Diablo Jr. therefore isn't surprising, but it's a little sad.
I still think the world has room for a Pokemon-style Diablo game. Imagine collecting all the series' best-known demons! Well, except for Ghom. Ain't nobody wants to collect Ghom.