My Thoughts On The February 2021 Nintendo Direct

2020 threw everyone for a loop (to put it mildly), and Nintendo was not immune to the chaos: As the coronavirus sent developers to their home offices, new game development slowed considerably, and after Animal Crossing: New Horizons surged to unforeseen heights as people looked for virtual escapism, most of Nintendo’s major releases (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Pikmin 3 Deluxe) were ports of older games, and their presentations were limited to mini Directs and game-specific showcases. (Yes, we got Paper Mario: The Origami King, but the less said about that game, the better.) With the supply chain struggling and the coronavirus vaccine slow to roll out, it looked like we would get more of the same in 2021.

Instead, Nintendo spread the word on Tuesday that a full-blown Nintendo Direct would be dropping the very next game, teasing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-specific content while promising to lay out the Switch’s release schedule for the first half of the year. The announcement was well-received, but the questions remained: Could Nintendo deliver the goods after all this time, and after all that’s happened?

After watching the Direct, the answer turned out to be an emphatic “yes.” The Big N brought big news on several of its major and not-so-major franchises (as well as some highly-anticipated third-party games), and overdelivered on their promise by discussing games as far out as 2022! After what felt like a bit of a content drought at the end of 2020, the company laid a number of intriguing cards on the table as they kicked off the new year.

My specific thoughts on the presentation are as follows:

  • Nintendo didn’t mess around with the Smash Bros. reveal, leading off its presentation with the announcement that Pyra and Mythra from Xenoblade Chronicles would be the next fighters to join the battle. The announcement wasn’t a huge surprise (XC hadn’t had much representation in the game besides Shulk, and people have been clamoring for Rex and Pyra to be included for a while), but Pyra and Mythra are still a solid addition to the game, and their unique movesets and ability to swap freely should make for some really strategic gameplay. I’m not a Smash player, but I’m all in for this addition.
  • I’m not sure what to make of the Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout reveal for Switch. The game exploded on the Internet late last summer, but it fell back to Earth quickly and ultimately got its lunch eaten by Among Us. I’m sure it’s a decent game and all, but it’s fading fast – will a summer launch on Switch be too little, too late?
  • With the 3DS officially dead, it seems the Switch has decided to pick up the mantle as the RPG console, and it showed here: We got clips of Legend Of Mana, Monster Hunter Rise, Miitopia, Project Triangle Strategy, Bravely Default II, SaGa Frontier, and even some RPG elements in No More Heroes III and Mario Golf: Super Rush! I’m super hyped for many of these games (especially Miitopia, my 2017 Game of the Year), and I’ll hopefully have more to say on BD2 and Triangle Strategy once I try out their demos.
  • Speaking of Mario Golf: I haven’t played this series since MG: Toadstool Tour way back in the day, but that game was a lot of fun, and Super Rush looks to be a huge improvement. In addition to the classic golfing action, Speed Golf looks to add some seriously frenetic action (especially if you’re playing with friends, and especially especially if they’ve got decent online play), and a story mode that builds off of the acclaimed single-player mode from past titles. Mario Tennis Aces was a bit of a mixed bag based on the reviews, but MG: PR shows off a lot of potential, and I’m excited to check it out this June.
  • At much as I enjoyed Miitopia, I did NOT see it coming to Switch in a million years, but I’m super happy that it did (and not just because it means 3DS ports are just as much a possibility as Wii U ports are). I’ll never say no to more character customization options, and while I have no idea how they’re going to shoehorn a horse companion into the game, I’m all for anything that offers more options and/or assistance in battle (maybe now I can crush those pesky ham sandwiches!) The price tag ($50) ma feel a bit steep, but there’s a lot more content than you might think in the base game alone (which already $40 on the 3DS anyway), and who knows what else they might add? In other words, I’m excited enough to think about double-dipping for an HD remake.
  • I liked the Mario items in Animal Crossing: New Leaf enough that I recreated Mario and Luigi’s caps in the custom design app, so I’m happy to see the official versions return in AC: New Horizons as well. The warp pipes are a cool feature, especially for an island as hard to get around on as mine (always have your ladder handy), and they add a whimsical touch to an otherwise standard natural scene (or maybe that’s just my island because it’s overgrown with trees). AC:NH has done an admirable job holding my attention for nearly a year, and updates like these help ensure it’s keep us occupied for a while longer.
  • I liked Octopath Traveler enough to put it on my best-game list of 2018, so you better believe I’m ready for Project Triangle Strategy, bizarre working title and all. This game appears to be more of a tactical RPG experience similar to Final Fantasy Tactics and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, with some intriguing additions involving terrain interactions (burn it! soak it! shock it!) and a decision-driven “conviction” system that basically determines your character’s alignment and affects what might happen to you and what options you have available as the game progresses. I love the way it looks, and I’m excited to find out how it plays.
  • So, about Knockout City…I had fun with Super Dodgeball Advance back in the day, but this one looks like a cross between SBA and Fortnite, with your team working to knock the stuffing out of your opponents with standard dodgeballs and a few other interesting items (you can throw your teammates too?). I’ve watched a few gameplay videos on YouTube and it looks to be a fast-paced, chaotic experience, so if I get some breathing space among all these RPGs, I might have to try this one out.
  • Going into the presentation, there was a lot of speculation over what Nintendo would do for The Legend Of Zelda‘s 35th anniversary. Unlike with Mario, however, the anniversary was never actually mentioned in the presentation, and the obvious game to show (Breath of the Wild 2) was nowhere to be found. Instead, we got an Age of Calamity Expansion Pass, a full remake of Skyward Sword (which looks great, but isn’t a game I’m interested in), and some special Joy-Cons. Nintendo isn’t one to let something like this pass by, however, so expect a full anniversary presentation later this year.
  • Pokémon didn’t show up here despite its own anniversary either, but The Pokémon Company likes to do their own thing anyway, so expect a larger presentation from that franchise in the not-so-distant future. Let’s hope those Diamond/Pearl remake rumors are true!
  • And then there was “the last announcement for today”…
Image from Nintendo

I’d heard some predictions that new Splatoon content might be announced, but I had my doubts about it. In hindsight, I probably should have seen this coming: Online multiplayer games in this vein (Overwatch, PUBG, Fortnite) seem to have a much faster development cycle than other genres, constantly adding new features/items/abilities/etc. to keep players engaged, so it make sense that Splatoon 3 would beat, say, Mario Kart 9 to market.

Nevertheless, Splatoon 3 is coming in 2022, and as someone who has sunk 2,000+ hours into Splatoon 2 and written entire blog posts dedicated to the Undercover Brella, I am 100% on board with this. The introduction of the “Splatlands” gives the developers a chance to dive deeper into the lore of the series (what’s left of humanity besides an upside-down Eiffel Tower?) and cater to the Chaos faction that won the final Splatfest, while also not leaving behind all of the other stuff that made the first two games great. The game features more character customization options, more weapon types, more maps, more movement options, more special weapons (the inkzooka is kinda-sorta back?), and the confusing ability to spawn from a flying espresso machine and launch into battle (I don’t feel like it adds much to the game tbh). While there’s no evidence of Brellas in the game just yet (no sign of dualies either…), most of the remaining weapon classes are back, with certain weapons getting a redesign to suit the chaotic vibe of the game (admittedly I’m more a fan of the classic .96 Gal look). With over a year before launch (I predict an early summer release similar to that of the other games), Nintendo has plenty of time to fill in the gaps on things like Salmon Run, so we’ll be hearing a lot more from this game in 2021 (and by extension, you’ll all have to put up with me endlessly gushing over it).

So what’s the final verdict? Honestly, this is probably my favorite Direct since I started watching them, and after spending the back half of 2020 wondering if this blog would stop focusing on gaming entirely, I think we’ll have plenty of gaming content going forward (assuming I can get my hands on some of these games). I get that people may have gripes about what was shown off (no BotW2, Xenoblade characters aren’t that exciting, non-RPG fans had to suffer through a lot of trailers), but for me this was a nearly perfect presentation, and I’m excited to try some of these games out (starting with the demos and likely Bravely Default II). Nintendo kicked 2021 off with a bang, and I hope they’re able to keep the momentum going as the world trudges slowly back to some semblance of normality.

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