What a difference 35 minutes can make.
Going into this Direct, the game I was most looking forward to this year was Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. Sure, Pokémon and Animal Crossing had been announced for sometime this year, but with no gameplay to generate buzz, the year didn’t look all that exciting yet.
For its part, Nintendo seemed to be operating with a lot of confidence as the year began. Where once the company would dump half-baked titles like Mario Tennis Ultra Smash onto the market just to have something to sell, the Big N now was taking the incredible step of scrapping two years worth of Metroid Prime 4 development because the game wasn’t meeting their expectations. Where once they jumped at the chance to remind gamers that they were still around with Directs and other presentations, Nintendo was suddenly operating like a company that knew everybody knew their name, and could put out a presentation on their own darn schedule.
And then they dropped a Direct the day before Valentine’s Day…and showed that their confidence was well-founded.
Nintendo was dropping bombs from the word go, showing off Triple AAA blockbusters, unexpected surprises, and more RPGs than you could shake a stick at in yesterday’s presentation. It was solid from start to finish, and seemed to have something for everyone (except Animal Crossing fans…sorry gang). Instead of rehashing every game shown off in the Direct, I’m going to change things up a bit and just hit the highlights and some of the interesting tidbits that struck me.
- With Super Smash Bros. Ultimate out, Super Mario Maker was about the only reason to use your Wii U anymore…and Nintendo drove the final nail into its coffin right from the start, opening with its announcement of Super Mario Maker 2. (When the trailer started and the Super Mario World theme appeared, I thought “Is it Mario Maker…or SNES games for the Switch?”) This has basically everything people were asking for and them some: Slopes, vertical levels (and even diagonal scrolling), angry suns, water in non-underwater themes (and more themes total, like ice and forest), more enemies and mini-bosses, more characters (Luigi, Toad, and…Toadette?), and on and on and on. I was really surprised by the amount of Super Mario 3D World content that was included (including the cat suit!), which was a nice nod to a game that’s been mostly forgotten in the wake of Super Mario Odyssey. Nintendo went right for the jugular for this Direct, and Super Mario Maker 2 was a great way to open the show.
- Co-op play turned out to be a running theme, which makes complete sense given the Switch’s focus on local multiplayer. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker got a new co-op mode, Box Boy got a new co-op mode, Dragon Quest Builders highlighted its co-op mode, Yoshi’s Crafted World showed off its co-op mode briefly…even Unravel talked up its co-op mode! (Super Mario Maker 2 didn’t mention co-op specifically, but come on: They’ve got a bunch of new playable characters, all of which are drawn from New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. I guarantee it’s got local co-op.) Nintendo is all-in on bringing people together with the Switch, and with games like these, they can definitely make it happen.
- RPGs turned out to be a huge part of this presentation as well: In addition to big announcements like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy VII, we also got announcements from Rune Factor 4 and a logo/reveal for Rune Factor 5 (nice try, but it’s not quite the same as Metroid Prime 4), as well as trailers for Oninaki, Deltarune, and of course Fire Emblem: Three Houses. This indicates that publishers are starting to view the North American market are more receptive to these kinds of games, and also that games like Octopath Traveler exceeded initial expectations. Either way, I am totally on board with this.
- Older versions of popular titles continue to flood the Switch, with Dead By Daylight, Assassin’s Creed 3 Remastered, and HellBlade: Senua’s Sacrifice leading the pack this time around (FF7 qualifies as well). Sadly, older versions of Nintendo titles continue to be meted out in drips and drops (no SNES games yet…)
- Aside from Yoshi’s Crafted World, Nintendo left many of its already-announced 2019 titles (Pokémon, Animal Crossing, and even less-heralded games like Town) on the shelf this time around. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was only teased, and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker got some time for a small update (seriously though, I was done with that game three years ago, why is it still a thing?). For now, Nintendo appears to be content with riding the success of its already-released lineup, and when said lineup includes Piranha Plants fighting Persona 5 characters, who can blame them?
- I’m really not sure what to make of Astral Chain yet. The trailer felt better suited to a move than a game, and the chained-together combat looked a little intimidating to me (although the two-character setup might be another opportunity for co-op play). For a game that got a prime slot near the end of the Direct, the overall reaction to it seems a bit muted compared to other games.
- Speaking of muted reactions: Am I only one who yawned at the Link’s Awakening remake? I know there are a lot of people who are super excited about this game, but as a casual Zelda fan who doesn’t even remember the series coming to the Game Boy, I really didn’t get what all the fuss was about. This falls into the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate category for me: Well-designed and sure to be loved by many, but I’ll probably skip it.
While I’m sure that millions of network packets will be spent on what wasn’t talked about during the Direct, I want to drop a bold prediction on you: This Direct was basically an announcement that the Switch Mini is real and is on its way. Here’s my thinking:
- The 3DS always got a fair bit of mention is Directs from the recent past, but it got absolutely zero representation here, indicating the Nintendo is moving on from its aging handheld.
- However, Nintendo continues to insist that the 3DS is a big part of their business strategy going forward, even as sales are slipping. They’re not ready to give up their new-player and younger-player markets just yet.
- A month ago, I declared that I would be okay with letting the 3DS go if Nintendo would “release a 3DS-like version of the Switch.” Doing so would allow the Big N to transition away from the older system while still keeping a foothold in the new/younger-gamer markets.
Put it all together, and all signs point to Nintendo replacing the 3DS with some sort of entry-level Switch that can play the same role, and making that “switch” sometime soon.
For now, however, we’re left with one of the stronger Nintendo Directs in recent memory, with something in it for nearly everyone to enjoy. When once I was feeling kind of “meh” about Nintendo’s 2019, I’m back aboard the hype train today.