What a difference a year makes.
Just 12 months ago, Nintendo (NTDOY) arrived at the E3 2017 video game convention with a cool new system but with many questioning how their new Switch console would fare as the industry moved into the lucrative holiday season.
The answer, it turned out, was “resoundingly well.”
Riding high on the success of the Switch (nearly 18 million units were sold worldwide in its first year), the company displayed a confident focus in its E3 2018 Direct presentation. Pre-taped and streamed directly to fans, Tuesday’s 45-minute showcase covered a number of big titles coming to the Switch this year and beyond, though it shed little light on Nintendo’s deeper strategy with their system.
Smashing into the future
The lion’s share of the event was dedicated to the newly minted “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.”
Due out December 7, the next game in the popular mascot-bashing “Smash Bros.” series (and the first entry on the Switch) takes fan service to the next level by including every character who has ever appeared in a previous “Smash” game. That’s over 60 fighters – the largest roster in franchise history – from staples like Mario, Kirby and Link to rarities like “Metal Gear’s” Solid Snake and newcomers like Ridley from the “Metroid” games and Inkling from “Splatoon.”
Nintendo spent an unusual amount of time diving into the nuances of the fighting game, catering to hardcore fans by extensively detailing subtle changes to certain characters, new moves, animations, sounds, stages and more.
It’s a strategy Nintendo has developed over time. Two years ago, “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” was the only playable game at the crowded Nintendo E3 booth. Last year, all eyes were on “Super Mario Odyssey,” and now, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” gets the star treatment.
“We want our games to speak for themselves and we want to highlight content that’s near-in,” Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime told Yahoo. “But as we craft our overall strategy for a particular year we look at what’s available, what the fans want to hear about and structure accordingly.”
Expected to be the Switch’s flagship game for the 2018 holiday season, “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate” will have a competitive presence at E3 with a Nintendo-sponsored on-site tournament. Competitive players will be happy to learn that “Smash Bros. Ultimate” will include support for GameCube controllers, though, when it comes to fully committing to supporting “Smash” esports year-round, Nintendo is still playing coy.
“Fundamentally, we believe that the Nintendo play environment is owned by the players,” said Fils-Aime. “We’re providing great content and thoughts around tournament rules and things of that nature, but from there we’re encouraging and working with the EVOs of the world to put on the tournaments. That’s a different approach than these companies that are putting up prize money. That’s not the way we want to approach it.”
Fighting game fans have grown frustrated with this strategy, particularly when compared to the likes of Blizzard/Activision (ATVI), who over the years have built, managed and financed dedicated leagues devoted to games like “Overwatch” and “Call of Duty.”
Switch joins the “Fortnite” party
Nintendo surprised no one by confirming one of the biggest leaks heading into E3: battle royale phenomenon “Fortnite” is indeed coming to the Nintendo Switch.
They did, however, surprise quite a few by revealing that the game would launch immediately following their presentation. That’s right – if you own a Switch, you can go download and play “Fortnite” for free, today.
Considering that Nintendo’s online network isn’t as robust as what players will find on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, it’s a bold – and risky – move. Launching the biggest online game in the world on the hottest system without a public beta test and during the biggest conference of the year is a recipe for server disaster.
But Fils-Aime is confident that the servers will hold up.
“This speaks to the capabilities of [Fortnite developer] Epic Games, it speaks to the strong support we’ve given them technically, to make sure this game executes well on our platform,” Fils-Aime said. “Knock on wood…because we fully expect a strong rush of consumers to download the game and play. And we have to be ready for that.”
Filling out the calendar
And all that just scratched the surface. Nintendo covered a wealth of other Switch games during their briefing.
“Pokemon” fans will be able to play two new titles – “Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu” and “Evee” – on November 16, with the option to use a new Pokeball game controller to catch and store critters. “Super Mario Party,” a Switch take on the family-friendly virtual board game franchise that can utilize multiple Switch screens, arrives October 5. Third-party games like first-person shooter “Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus,” platformer “Mega Man 11,” and toys-to-life game “Starlink: The Battle for Atlas” (the Switch version boasts exclusive Star Fox content) are coming later this year.
Just two of the games on display won’t launch until 2019: crazy new mech game “Demon X Machina” and anticipated turn-based RPG “Fire Emblem: Three Houses.” Switch fans can rest easy knowing that a metric ton of games are in the 2018 pipeline.
Missing in action
Unfortunately, just as notable was what Nintendo left out.
“Metroid Prime 4,” first announced in a teaser image during last year’s E3, was a no-show. So was the Nintendo 3DS handheld, which wasn’t even mentioned in passing. As the Switch can function as both a traditional console and a handheld system, the lack of 3DS content in their Direct could infer that the company is planning to move on from their top-selling handheld system sooner rather than later.
And though Nintendo recently outlined their upcoming Nintendo Switch Online service – finally giving gamers a reliable online system and, perhaps more importantly, the ability to save games to the cloud – they didn’t use the Direct to lock in a firm release date.
But as Fils-Aime points out, the Direct is really just the tip of the spear for Nintendo’s E3 efforts.
“I believe that the fans understand our strategy. This is a continuous rolling thunder of information. It will continue through E3.”
Expect more Nintendo E3 news to make headlines as the biggest week in video games wears on.
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