Nintendo Indirectly Killed a Lot of Their Own Hype
Nintendo held their first full-length Direct in over a year and a half this week and the internet at large seems pretty disappointed. Many fans were expecting the Direct to focus on the imminent 35th anniversary of the iconic Legend of Zelda franchise, a milestone the company is currently celebrating for the Mario franchise. After sitting through 40 minutes of ports and a handful of interesting new titles, Eiji Aonuma appeared to reveal an HD Remaster of the controversial and often maligned The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword alongside a gorgeous new pair of Zelda-themed Joy-Cons. A handful of DLC for Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was revealed, before Aonuma appeared to mention that there wouldn’t be any new information released regarding the Breath of the Wild sequel during that direct. Sufficient to say, this is not the Direct that many Switch owners were looking for.
The expectations of a slew of Zelda content weren’t set by Nintendo themselves. Those expectations grew from fan and media discourse, and this pattern is familiar to anyone who follows the industry on a regular basis. While these predictions are often wishful thinking, they also come from industry experts discussing what they think would be the best business moves for Nintendo when it comes to releasing products for consumer purchase. From an outside perspective, there really is a ton of absolute no-brainer, guaranteed-mountains-of-money moves that Nintendo could make. Fans aren’t shy about what they’d like to play next, so you can find them in just about any Nintendo-related Twitter thread or fan forum. When Nintendo releases a Direct that doesn’t include almost any of those things, you get social media timelines full of disappointment, while others take a defensive posture on behalf of a multibillion-dollar company.
Hello, Anybody Home?
The reason for such widespread disappointment is that it shows Nintendo isn’t listening to their community. And why would they? More often than not, discourse around Nintendo and their products is devoid of even the gentlest criticism, as their fans are some of the most die-hard the industry bears witness to. Additionally, the Switch was the best-selling console of 2020 by a long shot, partially due to people trying to keep themselves entertained or socialize with friends during the ongoing lockdowns and quarantining. Three of the top ten best-selling games of 2020 were Nintendo first-party titles – Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
All of this makes perfect sense given that Nintendo has the widest appeal of any game developer or console manufacturer. Their name is synonymous with video games, and Mario is essentially the face of the medium. Their games are ingrained in the memories of older gamers and continue to appeal to today’s youth simply by being safe and colorful family-friendly games. The vocal die-hards of the internet make up such a small portion of Nintendo’s sales, why would the developer bother listening to them when doing whatever they want continues to reward them handsomely?
Something else to take into consideration is the long-rumored and much-desired 4K Switch hardware upgrade. This is an interesting and bizarre piece of the Nintendo business plan puzzle because they continue to shoot down these rumors, instead of embracing the market that wants games with higher graphical fidelity. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have been selling out in seconds consistently since their launch back in November (for better or worse), and the PC gaming crowd continues to grow with players hellbent on staying on the bleeding edge of gaming technology. All of that hardware is marketed on their ability to produce incredible 4K resolution and higher frame rates that often do affect the gameplay and presentation in a tangible way.
Time for a Shake-up
I recently started up the Bowser’s Fury portion of the Super Mario 3D World re-release, and immediately noticed the massive visual difference compared to other recent titles. I could see the jagged edges of every model and the smudgy blurs of every mesh. The map looked huge until I finished the first area and more of the playable area revealed itself to be spares bits of land spread out over a stretch of water that actually wasn’t very big at all. Finally, when Bowser sprung out of the sludgy oil and I grab the Giga Bell to transform into Kitty Kaiju Mario, the game interrupted this exciting and climactic moment to display a loading screen that brought the momentum to a screeching halt.
Of course, these aren’t deal-breakers, and I’m in the minority crowd that will actually notice these things as unpleasant or hindrances to the experience. But compared to the seamless dual-world gameplay of The Medium on Xbox Series X/PC, or better yet, the exceptionally impressive real-time world-changing of Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart on the PS5 – the Switch is definitely showing its age.
Despite Nintendo’s insistence that they don’t have plans for an upgraded hardware version of the Switch, fans and media alike are still pretty confident that one will be announced or released by the end of 2021. That same crowd is similarly confident that Nintendo will release Switch ports of the Wii U remasters of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess later in the year as part of Zelda’s 35th anniversary.
If all of these things do come to fruition then it’ll be a great year for Nintendo fans, but I just don’t know if I can count on Nintendo to pull it off correctly. Not because I don’t believe they can, but because I don’t really trust them to. Between releasing games for arbitrarily limited windows of time, selling literal cardboard to people, and adding uninteresting titles to the Switch Online Virtual Console (which is a whole mess on its own), I just don’t trust Nintendo to give fans what they openly want instead of cooking up some monkey’s paw version of a good idea. And honestly, I haven’t hoped or been this eager to be proven wrong in quite some time.
Thank you for keeping it locked on COGconnected.