Well, this was a thing, I guess.
I know people start predicting the next Nintendo Direct the moment the previous Direct finishes, but this just felt like the right time for the company to lay out its plans for 2023, and as we expected, Nintendo dropped a hefty Direct on us this evening, ostensibly focusing on the first half of 2023 (but they’ve said that before, the truth is that anything is possible). I laid out my predictions a week ago, but how many would come true, and how many unexpected surprises would the Big N hit us with?
In the end, the biggest surprise here was how few surprises we actually got.
While the presentation had its moments, I don’t think this was one of Nintendo’s better Directs. I’ve been harping about execution in song reviews lately, but the execution here felt pretty poor, with some bizarre unforced errors that really dragged down the presentation. I walked away feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole thing, and generating such a muted reaction is the worst possible outcome for a company who wants to keep people talking.
My specific thoughts on the Direct are as follows:
- I’m not interested in the Pikmin series at all, but I think the Pikmin 4 trailer did a decent job opening the Direct and showcasing some of the game’s mechanics. I would have liked to see more about what individual Pikmin do (people who aren’t familiar with the series will have no idea what different colored Pikmin mean), but the ice Pikmon got some decent screen time, and we got a long look at the new dog companion that will accompany you on your journey. (I was also kind of surprised that we weren’t playing as Olimar, and that there were more humanoid characters around. Zelda‘s blood moon also seems to be a part of the game…) It didn’t entice me to buy the game, but it did a good job showing us what was new and what the game was all about.
- I’m not a Xenoblade Chronicles fan either, but holy cow is XC3 huge! With a new character, more challenge battles, and an intriguing story teaser for the next wave, there is a lot to do in this game, and while I’m still not interested in real-time RPG combat, I think Xenoblade fans are doing very well in the Switch era.
- Deca Police was the first hint that there were going to be issues with the presentation. In the wake of the killing of Tyre Nichols, showing off a game where the police fight the criminals and declare “we must use whatever means necessary” felt more than a little tone-deaf on the part of Level-5 and Nintendo. The gameplay looked okay (but also looked like more real-time combat, no thank you), but this just didn’t feel the right time or place to announce this one.
- Bayonetta Origins: Cereza and the Lost Demon looks like an interesting game with some intriguing mechanics (Cereza is a pure support character who can only freeze enemies in place), and traversing the world looks like it could be fun, but it didn’t quite reach the point where I might consider trying it out. Bayonetta fans will likely enjoy it, but I’ll pass.
- Good grief, that might have been the worst Splatoon trailer I have ever seen. We got no information about additions for the coming season (no weapons, no modes, nothing), Inkopolis Plaza is just a retro re-skin of the current plaza with no additional…well, anything to justify its existence, and the Side Order teaser didn’t give us a good-enough look at the mode to know exactly what was coming. I can’t believe Nintendo wants to make people pay for this DLC, and unless Side Order is actually the next Octo Expansion, I don’t think I will.
- I never thought I’d say this, but…Disney’s Illusion Island looks like a pretty solid platformer to me. The characters seem to have a large and varied moveset, the 2D environments look like they’d be fun to bounce around in, the boss battle looked interesting, and I even like how characters have their own personalized spin on different moves. I’m actually getting some Celeste vibes from this thing, and while I don’t think it would be as hard as climbing Mt. Celeste, I’ll bet this could be a really fun game, especially with its co-op capabilities. This one might be worth investigating further.
- I kind of missed Fire Emblem Engage when it came out, but it looks like this game is getting some warranted attention (even it feels a bit too much like a fan service game with all these returning characters). More emblems mean more intriguing battle strategies, and the game still has a solid tactical RPG foundation at its core. I’m not quite ready to dive into this one, but I might revisit it later this year.
- We got about what I expected for Octopath Traveler II, and honestly I don’t think it moved the needle either way for anyone. Kirby’s Return To Dream Land Deluxe didn’t get much mention at all (I suppose it’s understandable; it’s a port that in theory we should know all about already), but the new Magalor-centered epilogue at least seemed kind of interesting. I’ll probably get OT2, but I’m still waffling on Kirby. Finally, Sea Of Stars looked like something I might explore later this year: I like the art style and the combat setup, and I’m a sucker for a good RPG.
- Good grief, that might be the worst Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp trailer I’ve ever seen. I know they had revealed most of the game before it was delayed, but to just TL;DR the whole thing over a cinematic trailer with no gameplay really minimized the game’s strength. Nintendo also made the tone-deaf decision to drop the game in mid/late April, which will be right about when the war in Ukraine ramps back up and the world is reminded why the game was delayed in the first place. I’m sure this one will be fun to play, but Nintendo is doing its level best to set it up for failure.
- After years of rumors, Game Boy games are finally coming to Nintendo Switch Online! …And just like the other consoles, we’re starting with a paltry lineup that includes very few games I actually want to play. There are just nine game here to start, and there are some glaring omissions here (how can we get Super Mario Land 2 and not get the original Super Mario Land?). I counted maybe three games that I might check out at some point, and none of the advertised upcoming releases interested me at all. (Game Boy Advance games are coming too, but I don’t have much of a history with the GBA and they’re locked behind the NSO expansion pack that I refuse to buy, so they’re a no-op for me.)
- Metroid Prime 4 got no mention here (not a big surprise), but the first Metroid Prime is coming to Switch as a remaster, and while I only played the original game once, I’m impressed by how much the visuals are improved here. It’s not something I’m interested in, but at least Metroid fans get something to tide them over while MP4 continues to flounder in obscurity.
- As much hype as been generated by the Mario Kart 8 Deluxe booster pass, it hasn’t done a great job of re-engaging fans in the series: You play the new courses a few times, you set the controller down, and you wait a few more months for the next wave. Nintendo seems to have sensed this, because they’re going bigger than expected for Wave 4: We didn’t get the full list of tracks this time, but in a surprise twist we got a completely new course (Yoshi’s Island) and a new old character in Birdo (which is significant because Nintendo never said anything about adding more characters to the game). It looks like the course is going to make good use of the MK8D mechanics, indicating that the trend of improving the course offerings with each wave will continue. (It makes you wonder if lackluster reactions of sales from the first wave or two have spurred Nintendo to get their act together and finally bring their A-game to the table.) I don’t know if this will be the jump-start for the game that Nintendo was hoping for, but you can’t fault them for trying.
- I did not think in a million years that the Power Pros series would ever return to North America. I had so much fun with MLB Power Pros on the Wii back in the day, and I love the look of the new characters that have been added since then. Not only am I probably going to buy this game (wait, it’s only $1 on the eShop?!), at first glance this could a dark horse candidate for my Game Of The Year.
- Saving The Legend of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom for the end was a bad idea: Like Rickey Henderson on first base, everybody knew what was coming next, and it took a lot of the surprise and anticipation out of the moment. Still, this was a decent trailer much like Pikmin 4: We got to see the world and the enemies therein, got some hints at the story, and got to see a few of Link’s new tricks (and some new mechanical contraptions as well). It could have been better, but it probably would have had to be longer too, so with the time it had, it was fine.
- The surprise no-show here was Mario: Despite the movie coming out soon, there was no mention of any new mainline games to capitalize on the publicity. Mario Baseball didn’t show up either, which was a bit of a surprise given that a March release to coincide with the MLB season would have been the best move for the franchise. Finally, my off-the-wall prediction of ARMS 2 didn’t materialize, which probably means that the franchise is pretty much history.
Overall, this was a mixed bag in the gaming department, and seemed to be weighed down by some questionable decision-making on the part of some games. I think I saw 3 games that I really wanted (and a few more that were borderline), and given the broad audience Nintendo is trying to placate with all this stuff, I suppose I’ll have to take what I can get. Still, some better execution would go a long way towards improving the presentation, and I hope Nintendo does a better job showing off their stuff next time around.