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Nintendo nailed it at E3 2010. Off the heels of one of the best games of the previous generation, Super Mario Galaxy 2, they announced the resurrection of Donkey Kong Country and Kirby for Wii. Team Ninja’s Metroid: Other M was a mere two months away and they showed off Square-Enix’s Dragon Quest IX, which was localized by the big N. They also hyped up third party titles like the newly announced successor to Goldeneye, Just Dance 2, Sonic Colors and Epic Mickey. Other than the announcement of the Nintendo 3DS, nearly everything else that Nintendo introduced at their press conference released that same year. It was crazy since most of those titles were announced during that conference!
Since then, Nintendo has tried to imitate that success by holding back most of their biggest game announcements until the E3 prior to their release. Granted, this tactic was used prior to E3 2010 (the last new Star Fox game, Star Fox Command, was announced two months before its launch at E3 2007), Nintendo hit a particular sweet spot then, and has failed since trying to recapture that moment.
This is not because of when they announce their games but what games and how. Donkey Kong Country Returns and Kirby’s Epic Yarn were huge unveils because Nintendo has left these two classic characters high and dry on the console spotlight since the Nintendo 64 days (spin-offs like DK Jungle Beat and Kirby’s Air Ride just didn't cut it). These two games hit Nintendo fans square in the heart because it was like seeing old friends again after so long, and both DK and Kirby arrived on Wii that year to critical and commercial acclaim. So when Super Mario 3D World and The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds were announced earlier this year, these familiar, regular franchises couldn't capture that familiarity, even if they’re going to be great.
Now that we know that familiar games that have been dormant for some time make the best game to try this tactic on, we need to discuss how they do it. Both Mario and Zelda were announced with teaser trailers during Nintendo Directs, with are both bad things. First, nothing can beat a big, live press conference to announce something entertaining. When the Wii was shown off for the first time in 2006, when Zelda: Twilight Princess was announced in 2004, when the iPhone was first unveiled and when Jay Allard sat down on the floor and casually talked about how the Xbox 360 was changing the gaming landscape in 2005; these were all magical moments, and they could have only been done correctly live.
Announced during this year’s E3 on a pre-recorded Nintendo Direct, Super Mario 3D World is the console successor to 2011’s Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS. 3D Land was lauded for blending what was good about the 3D and 2D Mario games and was the first 3D Mario to incorporate a more traditional Mario aesthetic. Sadly, its debut trailer did little to impress and pretty much told the world “hey, this is 3D Land, but with co-op, a cat suit and it’s on Wii U instead,” and literally nothing more.
But then the second trailer came out! We saw powerups both new and old, a new way to confront Bowser and an overall entertaining trailer to watch. Super Mario 3D World launches on November 22nd and it wasn't until the first of October when Nintendo truly showed it off. Look at both the E3 and the October trailers and see which one really sells the game:
It is the same with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds. Shortly before E3, the May Nintendo Direct ended with a teaser with a successor to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, which is also coming out in November. There was no real title, no real emphasis on what it is about and all we knew was that the dungeons will be very vertical and that Link has a new ability to become a drawing. It again took until this week to know that this new Zelda game was going to have all new villains and allies, as well as break traditions with the Zelda formula with rentable weapons and non-linear progression. You’d think that they should lead with these and show off these game changing trends to an aging franchise. Again, see the footage of the Nintendo Direct from when Reggie announced it back in May and when Iwata detailed its new gameplay enhancements:
The sad thing is that Nintendo hasn't learned their lesson either. Case in point the finale of the same Nintendo Direct when they announced a new Kirby game for the 3DS and guess what? It looks generic! It looks just like Kirby’s Return to Dreamland or Kirby’s Adventure with the same backdrops, the same gameplay and same music. Nothing looks special, but we’ll wait to a month away from launch to see what’s going to be neat with this one.
The worse part of all this is that Nintendo gets it so right when showing off games too. The problem is that they just refuse to do it with their big franchises, only newer titles or those that are far off into the next year. Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, and of course my most anticipated game, the new Monolithsoft Project (which needs a name pronto) all are getting Nintendo fans salivating far before their release thanks to brilliant trailers. If Nintendo did this with all their games, there wouldn't be a need for an article like this.