Good Lord, that was an absolute stormer of a Nintendo Direct last night, wasn’t it? I think it was a pretty telling one, too — after all the recent talk of acquisitions in the video game industry, plus the inevitable questions over how Nintendo would “respond” to Microsoft’s purchase of Activision and Sony’s purchase of Bungie, Nintendo’s approach to the situation was never in doubt. They have but one response: games. Lots of games.
And what games they had to offer, too. While we didn’t get an update on the still-untitled sequel to Breath of the Wild as many people expected we would in this Direct, we did get an astonishingly good lineup of games to look forward to — with many coming surprisingly soon. It’s highly likely that all the projects across the world that were delayed by COVID are finally coming to fruition, which means we’re in for a bumper crop of excellent games in the coming months.
One thing that was particularly interesting about the Direct as a whole was its emphasis on remakes and rereleases of games from a very specific period: the late Super NES and PlayStation era. And specifically, we saw a lot of Square Enix games from that era — most notably Front Mission First, Chrono Cross and Live A Live — plus remakes of the Klonoa series, whose entries are astronomically expensive to collect in both their PS1 and Wii incarnations these days.
The Square Enix releases are particularly noteworthy for us here in Europe, because Front Mission First and Live A Live were never officially released outside Japan, and Chrono Cross made it to America but not Europe.
Not only that, but the new port of Chrono Cross also incorporates the first official English translation of the Super NES Satellaview visual novel Radical Dreamers. While writer Masato Kato was supposedly unsatisfied with the quality of the game on its original release — so much so that he refused to allow it to be included with the Nintendo DS and PlayStation ports of Chrono Trigger — a fan translation allowed it a certain amount of cult popularity among the western audience, and there is definitely demand for it.
There’s another reason these games putting in a prominent appearance in the Nintendo Direct is noteworthy, though, and that’s how they represent Nintendo’s clear understanding of its expanding demographic. While the company has built its reputation on family-friendly games that can be shared with others, over the course of the Switch generation in particular we have seen a Nintendo that is very aware of the fact that a lot of gamers are fully grown adults — with some (hello) even being well into middle age.
Those ageing gamers grew up with Square Enix’s games for the Super NES and PlayStation — and the existence of a number of former Japanese exclusives has doubtless been a source of frustration to them for many years. (Plus if you’re a European ageing gamer, you have the added frustration of all the Square Enix games that came to America but not Europe — here’s hoping for Xenogears, Brave Fencer Musashi and Parasite Eve at some point.) Consequently, going “hey look, here’s a bunch of games you never thought you’d play” is an absolutely genius move.
This isn’t even a new thing for Square Enix, what with them releasing remastered versions of various titles in the SaGa series over the course of the last few years. But Nintendo making a big deal of these titles in this Nintendo Direct is significant: it demonstrates, more than ever, that the big N is all about both the games and a clear understanding of its audience. And that’s important as we sit in the middle of an industry that increasingly feels like it’s all about the money, sod what the audience thinks or wants.
While for many the Square Enix titles were a highlight of the Nintendo Direct, it’s worth noting that Nintendo absolutely wasn’t resting on its laurels, either. With Switch critics often keen to point out that Nintendo tends to trickle out first- and second-party titles, the way this Nintendo Direct was peppered with solid-looking Nintendo games made a very clear statement: “we know what we’re doing”.
It’s particularly interesting to see the arrival of Nintendo Switch Sports. While the Switch itself does have a certain amount in common with the Wii thanks to its Joy-Con controllers, there’s a distinct sense that after the disappointing performance (and unfair derision) of the Wii U, Nintendo was keen not to rush into making a system that people would simply perceive as “another Wii”. Thus we’ve seen a platform that has spent considerable time, effort and money building up one of the most impressively solid and varied libraries of eighth-generation gaming. No accusations of “shovelware” here — well, so far as retail releases go, anyway; the eShop is arguably another matter, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Now the Switch is firmly ensconced in modern gaming culture as a console that absolutely should be taken seriously, it’s not only “safe” for Nintendo to release a casual, family-friendly title such as Nintendo Switch Sports, it’s outright desirable in terms of nostalgia factor — the original Wii is absolutely in “retro” territory now, and Wii Sports was one of its most well-received games.
This isn’t a simple remaster, though. Nintendo Switch Sports takes the core mechanics of Wii Sports and builds a much more substantial game around them — most notably with the addition of online play for all six sports included in the package. While the game will almost certainly still shine the brightest when played in the same room with others, the inclusion of online play is an acknowledgement that in the age of COVID, getting together is still not practical, possible or desirable for certain members of the community.
And this isn’t even getting into some of the really exciting news, such as the fact Xenoblade Chronicles 3 is coming this September!
This Nintendo Direct is just one of many signs that Nintendo is paying attention to what its audience wants, what its audience will enjoy — and, with the notable absence of anything even vaguely NFT-related, what its audience absolutely, definitely does not want, ever. That latter aspect in particular is worthy of praise these days!
This was one of the best Nintendo Directs we’ve seen for a long time — and a timely reminder that it ain’t all doom and non-fungible gloom in the games industry of 2022!
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