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It's time to kill the Nintendo Direct | Opinion

Nintendo has never been more predictable

I do often struggle with these digital showcase events.

I am told this is the future of game announcements, but why do they have to be so dull? The very nature of them requires me to sit through reams and reams of games that really aren't for me, before getting the one or two products that do suit my tastes. In this digital age, surely we can come up with something more creative or entertaining or bespoke? This is the video games industry after all.

It didn’t help that last night’s Nintendo Direct, sitting in its usual February slot, was lacking in big surprises. It was a Direct full of remasters and DLC, its Nintendo Switch Online service has been enhanced with Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games (both the base and enhanced tiers), and the big games that opened and closed the show were known to us already.

It won't have reassured nervous shareholders who are concerned about how Nintendo plans to build on the success of Switch. But if the rumours are true that Nintendo has a quieter line-up this year (post-Zelda), that's okay. It happens. COVID-19 lockdowns had slowed down development for everyone, and gaps in the schedule are inevitable. And at least they've got digital options, like its subscription service and DLC, to keep its players engaged.

It wasn’t all the remasters, or the endless stream of JRPGs, or the lack of big surprises that had me frustrated with last night’s Direct. It was something far more fundamental, and something epitomised by the reveal of The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom's collector's edition.

Nintendo has a formula for special editions these days. It’s basically you get the base game, a steelbook, an artbook and some other small trinket. This is then released in limited quantities for double the price. See also: Metroid Dread, Xenoblade Chronicles 3 and Fire Emblem Engage. With Zelda, I started to think they would do something a little fancier. After all, their Breath of the Wild collector’s set featured a replica of the Master Sword and a lovely soundtrack.

There was a time when the Nintendo Direct concept was fresh. But like anything when you do it too much, they’ve become stale

But no, that wasn’t to be. It’s an artbook, steelbook and some pin badges, as decreed by the formula.

The same is true of the Directs themselves. We knew it was going to start with a first-party game (the moment it was Pikmin, we knew how it was going to end), there’s a bunch of niche indie and JRPG games stuck together, the Nintendo guy pops on to ask how you’re finding it, he’ll click his finger for some minor first-party reveal… that repeats for a bit, there’s a rapid montage at the end and then finally the ‘big’ showstopper (in this case Zelda). Where’s Pokémon? They’ll be saving that for Pokémon Day (February 27th). Just like they do every year.

It's fine if Nintendo doesn’t have big surprises up its sleeve. The key bit is making the most of what it does have, and lately it feels like it's not been doing that. I think back to that 3D collection of Mario games Nintendo did in 2020. It was a great collection that sold really well, but it was the minimum viable product. It was three games stuffed in a cartridge with a bit of music. Where was the fancy anniversary set? Or even a digital collection of artwork? Or secrets hidden away on the cartridge? Or even… just a fancy box?

I was never a fan of the Wii U. It wasn't the best system. But I look back at that era and saw a Nintendo that was trying to create their way out of a hole. When it had digital events lacking in big content, it entertained us by presenting the show as muppets or Robot Chicken characters. When its line-up was lacking, like it was back in 2016, the company steered all in on Zelda: Breath of the Wild, making it one of the most powerful launches Nintendo has ever achieved. Remember that E3? It lingers in the memory more than the ones where Nintendo presented dozens of titles.

There was a time when the Nintendo Direct concept was fresh. But like anything when you do it too much, it's become stale. When people ask me if I’m worried about Nintendo’s future, they’re asking it because of the lack of visibility on the games, or the dropping sales of Switch, or the company’s historical challenges with console transitions. I’m not so worried about any of that. Nintendo has its ups and downs, but it’s got the level of IP and game making ability that means it’s one of the safest bets in gaming.

But what does concern me is this lack of creativity, and the fact that I can’t really remember the last time Nintendo made me sit up and go ‘Oh, that was interesting’.

So it’s time to kill the Direct. Cast it into the fire. Nintendo led the way for how games are announced today, and I'd love them to lead the way in how they're announced tomorrow.

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Christopher Dring avatar
Christopher Dring: Chris is a 17-year media veteran specialising in the business of video games. And, erm, Doctor Who
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