Nintendo details 2019 line-up for Switch - but why so early?
Latest Nintendo Direct showcases loads of games, answers loads of criticisms about Switch lineup
Last night's Nintendo Direct video was a bit of a triumph for the platform holder.
Almost 50 games were on show that answered some of the biggest question marks still hanging over Nintendo's rapidly selling Switch console. Where were the third party games? Where are the big Nintendo brands? Where are all the games in between? Here they all came via a string of rapid-fire reveals that was almost exhausting by the time the demonstration rolled to an end.
It was so busy that the rather muted reveal of Nintendo's Online Service for Switch passed by with little criticism.
"In 2019 Switch will see New Super Mario Bros U, Yoshi's Crafted World, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Luigi's Mansion 3... probably Metroid Prime 4"
Nintendo has had the challenging task of trying to live up to Switch's impressive first 12 months, which although lacked depth, was full of some of the best games the company has put out. 2018 has been significantly busier, but it's been left to games like Kirby, Donkey Kong Country, Mario Tennis and Mario Party - games that are more B-grade titles compared the headline acts of a new Mario or Zelda.
Slowdown in development output is to be expected from time-to-time, but what's made fans increasingly frustrated is the paucity of new products in the firm's regular Direct videos. E3 was probably the worst offender, although focusing on the big Christmas game (Super Smash Bros) made perfect PR and business sense, to fans it wasn't enough.
I was fascinated by the comments that were going out alongside the Direct video last night, choice quotes included: 'Where's Fire Emblem?', 'No Waluigi in Smash? Rubbish.', 'Worst Direct Ever', 'Metroid Prime 4 footage?' 'Stop with the ports! Nobody cares''Where's Wind Waker HD?', and that was just 5 minutes in. It was just a stream of demands no matter what was being shown on screen. It reminded me of kids at Christmas who open one present, immediately set it down, and demand another.
Last night felt like a response to those demands. Two big first party reveals (beginning with Luigi's Mansion 3 and ending on Animal Crossing), a handful of strong ports, a bunch of big third-party games and even a couple of new IPs. If you are a fan of Nintendo there was surely something in all that to bring a smile to your face. It certainly featured more content and more variety than Nintendo's E3 Direct video.
Yet you have to wonder if the sheer level of noise from fans is forcing Nintendo to make these reveals perhaps earlier than it would have liked. We now have five Switch games on the release schedule that exist in logo-form only: Pokemon 2019, Metroid Prime 4, Bayonetta 3, Luigi's Mansion 3 and Animal Crossing. This isn't like Nintendo. This is a company that typically prefers to pre-announce its line-up for the year in the first few months, fully reveal its big Christmas titles at E3, and have them on shelves within months. That's how they've approached this year's Super Smash Bros and Pokemon Let's Go. Almost everything the company released in 2017 didn't exist publicly in 2016.
It seems that we already know Nintendo's entire first-party line-up for 2019. New Super Mario Bros U, Yoshi's Crafted World, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Luigi's Mansion 3... probably Metroid Prime 4, and then some partner games like Game Freak's Town. There's bound to be a few more ports, expansions and Labo-type products, but that already looks like quite a strong first-party showing for the year. Certainly more sizeable than what fans have had in 2018 so far.
There's nothing necessarily wrong with that. Teasing a game in advance, revealing it fully closer to release and getting it on shelves a few months later actually seems like a sensible strategy when faced with complaints over a lack of titles. Indeed, some of the announcements Nintendo has made seems primarily designed to prevent a fan backlash. Metroid Prime 4 was revealed early to stop fans getting disappointed about a new 3DS Metroid game that was about to be revealed (Metroid: Samus Returns). It was effectively a 'don't worry, we have a bigger one coming, too.' Bayonetta 3 was announced to satisfy anyone who may have been disappointed by the 1 + 2 re-release on Switch. Could Nintendo get away with announcing [Animal Crossing character] Isabelle in Super Smash Bros without revealing a new, fully-fledged Animal Crossing at the same time?
But fans will always be like that. They'll always want more. The dust had barely settled on last night's Direct before certain gamers started questioning why Final Fantasy VIII wasn't included amongst the spate of Final Fantasy re-releases (which was part of last night's reveal). It's one of those good challenges, when you have an excited and demanding fanbase that just want it all. And immediately.
The instinct is to give it to them. But ultimately this will catch up with you. A good example is the situation at PlayStation. Faced with a huge number of excited gamers after the launch of PS4, the company found itself announcing new projects years from release. It was inevitable that eventually we'd get a year (or two) when Sony would have to basically go into hiding and wait for its developers to catch up. There was disappointed around PlayStation's E3 showing this year, but it wasn't because of a lack of big games coming up, but rather that we already knew all about them. Showing new gameplay footage is great, but it's the genuinely new reveals that generate the most noise.
In an age of instant gratification and openness, when fans and shareholders aren't satisfied until they know every little thing that's being worked on, it may feel like you have to lay all your cards out for the world to see. But actually the more prudent strategy might be to encourage a bit of patience.
It'll be interesting to see what's left for Nintendo to get us excited about next time a Direct rolls around.