March 31st, 2014, was the last day in the fiscal year for Nintendo. The previous year had not been particularly kind to the Big N in terms of profits and perception: low Wii U sales, the emergence of the next-gen competitors, a fiscal forecast that plummeted almost 750 million which resulted in a bottom-line loss, Iwata cutting his own pay, and speculation of his resignation continues to agitate. All of this is precisely why the last two weeks have been so unique. Since the beginning of April, 2014 (the new fiscal year), Nintendo has been nothing short of aggressive in its pursuit to capture our attention. They are doing this by augmenting their most recent marketing plans (Nintendo Directs, controlled media output of game features, disclosure of release dates) through transparency and depth of future content.
Let's do the quick list.
The Joke: April 1st, Nintendo partners with Google to bring gamers one truly impressive April Fool's Joke. Yes, the video pitch was misleading, but the distraction of searching your GoogleMaps app for Pokemon, cleverly hidden, around the world was a joy. This is likely the product of Nintendo's stated initiative in late January to foster partnerships with other companies, allowing them to use Nintendo licensed characters. Other examples of this could be Nintendo's partnership with Pennzoil at South West Interactive last March, or Nintendo's agreement with Tecmo Koei to develop Hyrule Warriors.
The Turbo-Boost: A few days later, games media sites around the internet exploded with Mario Kart 8 information, sparking numerous discussions on forums, podcasts, videos and blogs the internet over. This is more of a traditional move by Nintendo, but it does remind us of a few things. Nintendo needs this games to sell, and hopefully that means they will make this game a feature-complete home run release.
The Nostalgia-glasses: Almost within 24 hours, we're told that Gameboy Advance games were arriving on the Wii U eShop in April, and given a list of ALL of the months GBA releases. This is unique in a few different ways. We nearly never get a formal heads-up from Nintendo about what VC games are coming out, let alone the beginning of a new VC platform. It's strange that GBA isn't on 3DS (outside of Ambassador games), but I have slowly grown to the idea of playing GBA games on my new Super Deluxe GBA XXL..... I mean, the Wii U Gamepad.
North America and Europe
April 3 - Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Metroid Fusion, Advance Wars
April 10 - WarioWare Inc: Mega Microgames, Kirby and the Amazing Mirror
April 17 - Golden Sun, F-Zero: Maximum Velocity
April 24 - Yoshi's Island (Super Mario World 2): Super Mario Advance 3
The (Falcon) PUNCH: Another hundred hours later, we're getting information bombs from Sakurai about Super Smash Bros 3DS/Wii U. In terms of Nintendo's marketing, presenting information through a Direct isn't unusual. The depth of the coverage was. 40 minutes of Smash, with details catered for the all parts of the Smash community. Not to mention to 200 photo info drop that snuck onto the internet afterwards. For Fun! For Glory!
The Fever Dream: But we didn't get just one Direct, we got two of them within forty-eight hours. Tomodachi Life (not to be confused with Tamagachi) is, in essence, Nintendo's 2DS/3DS crack at a Sims-like-game which you populate by importing Mii's. Frankly, I don't care about this. But it's hilarious and bizarre appeal doesn't escape me either. Imagine the wildfire of gossip in Middle School hallways when different cliques of pre-teen girls hear about who is marrying who in-game. If nothing else, just watch this eleven minute Nintendo Direct on Tomodachi Life; it's truly ridiculous. How many Nintendo execs want to date Samus? Will Reggie and Iwata ever stop wrestling over that bar of gold? Will Bill Trinen ever stop hallucinating? My Body is Ready!
All of this within ten days. This is unusual. This is a noticeable change. Good change. But is this a change that will continue? Currently, we are seeing Nintendo participate in marketing awareness with new fervor, but it's short term release calendar gives us something to be anxious about. Firm dates are only really set for games that are being released this month (with the exception of May 30ths Mario Kart 8 release). For the month of April, the Wii U will release: the aforementioned GBA titles, Lego: The Hobbit, NES Remix 2, and Child of Light. After that, we simply don't know. Reports suggest that Shovel Knight is on the horizon, but what about the rest of May and Summer 2014? Smash Bros 3DS will probably sell great, but I doubt it can shoulder that load by itself. Hopefully we will get more information soon, and avoid another Wii U drought.
Nintendo and Google did a good job together, but will Nintendo regret associating with Pennzoil? Will their character licensing plan fail, making a joke out of Hyrule Warriors? Will the GBA continue to be supported or will it ultimately be a pathetic smattering of games (I'm looking at you N64 VC)? And will Nintendo be able to deliver with Kart 8 and Smash Bros, achieving the sales that they need, or will it be good-not-great 3D World/Tropical Freeze level of sales? Was it a mistake for Nintendo skip having a formal presence at PAX-East? What do you think?
About Thumb Scar One of us since 11:57 AM on 02.25.2014
Been gaming since the NES days. I remember computers, before the internet. My motivation to learn how to read was to play Final Fantasy. Games have, wonderfully, helped shape my life. I love games, history, writing and discussion. Pursuing that is the goal.
I've played games on Nintendo consoles for most of my life, but PC gaming opened up to me in the mid-90's. Current platforms: Wii U, 3DS, Steam. Typically playing: backlog of retro games.
We live in interesting times. I can't wait to see where the industry goes next.