Sage’s Gaming Corner: What’s Wrong With Nintendo’s Q1?

by Sage Ashford

In a world where Nintendo just released the fastest selling console of all time in America, is it wrong of them to take it easy for a quarter?

Hello everyone, and welcome back to Sage’s Gaming Corner.  This week, I want to talk about the latest Nintendo Direct and what it might mean for Nintendo going forward into this new quarter. If you missed it somehow, Comicon.com’s very own Christine Marie Attardo covered the news here.  But that’s more or less talking about the release schedule, and I want to get into why fans seem to be so upset about it, and if its worth being upset or not.

To be sure, Nintendo has one of the most ravenous fanbases in gaming. People that love Nintendo really love Nintendo, as seen by the feverish excitement the rumors of the Direct caused–people spent the majority of that week anxiously awaiting just the announcement of the day the Direct would be revealed, which made it all the more hilarious that Nintendo simply shadow-dropped it. Kotaku gave it more respect by mentioning it would appear the following day, to be honest.

At any rate, what’s certain is that at this point we’ve got a good grasp of what’s coming to Nintendo’s main console for the next six months. And while there’s certainly time for the months of May and June to get more crowded if we actually get a February Direct next month, at this point January through March is basically set in stone and April is probably about as full as it’s going to get too for reasons I’ll go into in a second. Let’s run things down and I’ll try to give some explanations as to what Nintendo might be thinking.

In January, well…there’s nothing. And I’m not surprised. Nintendo is a toy company, through and through. If you look at the ethos behind most of its products over the last twelve years that starts to become obvious. And if you’ve made a toy that was successful throughout the holidays, you don’t follow that up with something in January. Parents are generally least likely to buy their kids any of your new crap the month after Christmas. Especially with this being the Switch’s first Christmas on the market, so they’ve already spent likely in excess of $400 on your stuff. So yeah. January’s empty, and I can’t argue with Nintendo for leaving it that way. Even if they want to get the dollars of adult gamers, they’d be competing with Monster Hunter World, Final Fantasy Dissidia, and Dragon Ball FighterZ.  If you don’t have a major first-party title to compete, it would have just gotten swallowed up.

That explains the lightness of the month of February as well. The two “big” titles hyped by the Direct are Payday 2 and a collection of Platinum’s Bayonetta 1&2. This is a good month for both of these, as its biggest competitors on other systems is Dynasty Warriors 9 and Shadow of the Colossus remake. There’s no Horizon: Zero Dawn to compete against, so if Nintendo wants to finally get the Bayonetta train running properly this is the best time to do it. How the collection does here along with the performance of the third game whenever that comes out will set the tone for whether it’s truly a long-running franchise or a miracle of a trilogy that held on due to the collective will of character action game fans.

It’s not until March that we get our first new first-party title in Kirby Star Allies. In this current-gen, March/April has generally been when a lot of major first-party and third-party titles start coming out to play again: in 2014 it was Titanfall and inFamous: Second Son, in 2015 it was Ori and the Blind Forest and Bloodborne, so on and so forth. This year Nintendo’s competing against Microsoft’s Sea of Thieves, and possibly Sony’s God of War depending on how things go, so this is very much intentional. They’re still appealing largely to their base and kids, but Kirby games typically do well so this is as strong a choice as anything. They can still ride their momentum for now, since the Switch has already beaten even the most optimistic sales estimates.

With April comes the start of FY2019 so you’d think we’d get something strong for this month, but currently nothing is confirmed. If I had to guess I’d say Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition will be their first major Spring release. This doesn’t feel like a strong title for the start of the Spring, but remember that Hyrule Warriors did well enough to garner a port to the 3DS and sold over a million copies on the Wii U alone. And even though it’s already come out twice in four years, I’m willing to bet this will encourage some people to double or even triple dip, as having an “ultimate” version of the title with all the DLC and content from both versions of the game will be more than enough to entice fans.

Lastly, we come to May where we’re out of the weeds of predictions and back in the land of solid release dates. Retro’s popular Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze on the Wii U is coming to the Switch on May 4th. Now while Hyrule Warriors seems to be a large improvement over either of the older versions by combining the content on both, Tropical Freeze’s only change is the addition of Funky Kong, something of an “easy mode” for players. The fact that they’re relying on a title like this (along with Dark Souls, a port of an eight year old game) rather than try to come up with any heavy hitters is actually very telling.

See, the Switch was never supposed to happen in the first place. The Wii U launched in November of 2012 and if Nintendo had had their way it would’ve stayed on the market at least five or six years before they placed a new console on the market, meaning we likely wouldn’t have seen that system until the end of 2017 or the beginning of 2018 at the soonest. Instead, near the end of March a new system pops onto the scene with all the portability of Nintendo’s 3DS/DS line and as much power as they could reasonably pack into something so small. The fact that Nintendo was able to put something into R&D and get it out onto the market so quickly speaks volumes as to the geniuses they’ve got working there, but that still doesn’t create shortcuts for the production line.

Even though 2016 wound up being barren for the Wii U, they still supported the 3DS as best they could all the way into the end of 2017. But that comes at a cost. There’s a reason Nintendo’s porting everything from major franchises like Mario Kart and Donkey Kong to small games like Bayonetta 2 and Hyrule Warriors to the Switch: they need the time to develop new games. There was a rumor that Mario Odyssey was near finished around the launch of the system, but they held it off until the fall–if that’s true then that should give you an idea of just how hard they’re having to work right now. Clearly they’re doing their best to publish new titles while maintaining the level of polish we’re used to from Nintendo games, but for them to do that without having the same kind of empty months the Wii U often had, they’re going to have to port some things.

I’m not mad at that. For one, there are several titles from the Wii U that I’d love to see get a second chance on the Switch.  Smash 4 is obvious, but less so are games like #TokyoMirageSessions, Super Mario 3D World, and Xenoblade Chronicles X. And at the same time, new titles simply don’t pop up out of nowhere.  Last year Nintendo had one of the most impressive slates of a first-party publisher I’ve ever seen: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, ARMS, Fire Emblem Warriors, Super Mario Odyssey, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Every single one of those games sold well and reviewed great, proving Nintendo to be one of the best in the business when it comes to what they do.

In my opinion, they’ve earned a small break while they gather up their forces for the next year. Keep in mind, they’re not even out of their first year yet–those seven games (plus Mario x Rabbids) are just what they did in the first nine months. Their second year doesn’t start until April, and I suspect between now and then we’ll have received a Direct that’s much more impressive. We’re aware of several more heavy-hitting first party titles on the way already, including Fire Emblem, Metroid Prime 4, and Pokemon. There’s still plenty of time for them to own the Summer, which is usually when Sony and Microsoft tend to take some time off.