Dissecting Nintendo’s January Direct

For Nintendo fans, yesterday’s Nintendo Direct was an almost surreal experience. Announcement after announcement flowed from the mouths of Nintendo’s executives, all building up to the heavily prophesized official reveal of New 3DS. But while there was a lot of information to sift through, I’d like to invite you to consider the subtext of yesterday’s announcements.

Let’s start with amiibo. Nintendo’s line of NFC figures has taken the world by storm since its debut last November, and it shows no signs of slowing down with two new waves announced yesterday. There isn’t much to say about Wave 4 of the Super Smash Bros. line (except that it’s AWESOME), but the brand new Super Mario line deserves our attention. It’s the first sign we’ve seen of Nintendo expanding the reach of amiibo – and more specifically learning from the mistakes made with the Super Smash Bros. line. Every Super Mario amiibo shown stands in a firm, stable pose, which means there’s no need for the awkward colored plastic casts and crutches that have marred the figurines thus far. Nintendo is learning, and that will be crucial as amiibo becomes more and more central in its plans across 3DS and Wii U.

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The company is making very shrewd moves in that direction, too. Both Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. and Mario Party 10 will have unique amiibo support, and we’re particularly excited for S.T.E.A.M.’s utilization of Intelligent System’s own Fire Emblem characters. Amiibo haven’t had much purpose from a gameplay perspective up to now, but Nintendo seems to be working hard to make the figures worthwhile. Don’t be surprised to see an amiibo-centered game announced in the near future – possibly in the vein of Nintendo Land or Wii Play.

Many fans will surely be pleased to see Wii games on the Wii U eShop starting today with Super Mario Galaxy 2. At $20 (or $10 if you buy it within the week), Nintendo appears to have hit a perfect price-point for its vast library of Wii gems. Punch Out!! and Metroid Prime Trilogy will both be available by the end of the month, and Nintendo has promised more will come in the months ahead. Wii U owners have been demanding the digital distribution of Wii titles since the console launched in 2012, but now that it’s happened it’s taken a few other options off the table. With Nintendo seemingly content to digitally release un-touched Wii games, there’s little to no chance for HD re-releases for games like Super Mario Galaxy or The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though, as it means the company’s developers can spend less time porting old games and more time creating new ones. Of course, Nintendo could always revisit its Gamecube library for HD remasters as it did with Wind Waker HD, but let’s forget that for now and bathe in the shower of glorious Wii games coming down the pipe. Ah yes… feels good.

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You know what else felt good? Watching that Fire Emblem trailer. Nintendo kicked things off by unsheathing a brand new installment in its incredible turn-based strategy series, this time trading the medieval inspirations of past releases for something more akin to feudal Japan. It looks absolutely amazing, retaining the character designs of Awakening while adding new visual flairs like seamless transition from battlefield to battle animations. The Direct could have ended there and I would have been happy, but the reveal of this game does raise one daunting question: whatever happened to Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem? Back in January 2013, in a Nintendo Direct very similar to yesterday’s, Atlus and Intelligent Systems revealed a crossover of their two most popular franchises. We haven’t seen anything of it since, though, and nearly two years on Intelligent Systems is about to release Code Name: S.T.E.A.M on 3DS and is already working on another handheld Fire Emblem. Has SMT X FE been quietly cancelled? Perhaps, but Nintendo producer Hitoshi Yamagami assured fans at E3 last year that the game was still on schedule. It’s likely that, due to the collaborative nature of the game, Intelligent Systems and Atlus are taking special care to ensure the final product lives up to both franchises. Still, the lack of updates is more than a little worrying.

On a brighter note, Nintendo is in for its liveliest spring in years. Yesterday’s Direct fleshed out the company’s release schedule through May and my oh my is it sexy. Notable releases include Majora’s Mask 3D in February, Mario Party 10 in March, Xenoblade Chronicles on New 3DS in April, and Splatoon in May – almost too many games to keep track of. Nintendo is confidently surfing the wave of momentum it built last year with Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros., and all signs point towards an incredible 2015. Mario Maker, Yoshi’s Wooly World and Zelda Wii U are on the way as well, along with the consistently stunning Xenoblade Chronicles X. Nintendo’s fortunes are looking up, ladies and gentlemen, and not a moment too soon.

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Nintendo showed off Mario VS. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars yesterday too, focusing on the game’s unique star-tipping mechanic that lets you reward other players for their creativity and effectively fund their next level-designing venture. It’s an intriguing idea, but keen-eyed viewers will be more interested in the promotion Nintendo plans to offer when the game releases. As Tipping Stars will be available on both 3DS and Wii U, Nintendo will reward anyone who buys one version of the game with a free code for the other – almost like the Playstation Network’s cross-buy system. It’s not much, and certainly doesn’t mean we’ll see similar deals offered with Virtual Console titles anytime soon, but it does at least show that Nintendo is thinking about cohesion on its network. Nintendo is often very set in its ways, but in recent years the company has become more comfortable with trying new things, albeit at its own pace.

Japan’s oldest game company did a lot of things right yesterday, but let’s not overlook the slap in the face Nintendo of America dealt us all by only releasing New 3DS in its XL size. Today North America became the only territory in the world without access to the standard New 3DS, and frankly that’s infuriating. Sure, I was probably going to buy an XL anyway, but I would have appreciated the option of a modestly-sized alternative with colorful buttons and swappable faceplates. Instead, I get to imagine all the fun the rest of the world is having comfortably slipping their New 3DSs in their pockets and collecting gorgeous faceplates. The company did speak out about the decision, saying “We think New Nintendo 3DS XL makes the most sense for our market.” Oh yeah? What about the millions of dollars you’re leaving on the table by not giving consumers the chance to nurture a faceplate addiction? I’m more than a little peeved at this decision, but I will concede that it probably makes sense from a business standpoint. Be it due to supply constraints, poor consumer testing, or simply a lack of belief in the smaller handheld, Nintendo will have to live with this decision until it releases the standard New 3DS here later this year. That’s right, I think we’ll still get it. I’ll probably even buy it. Such is the life of a Nintendo fan.

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But what about the fact that the New 3DS XL doesn’t come with an AC adapter? The internet was immediately up in arms after this came to light, and it’s easy to see why. Nintendo has shipped its handhelds with AC adapters ever since the company turned away from disposable batteries with the Game Boy Advance SP, and stopping now means prospective buyers have to add on an extra $10 to the $200 price tag of the New 3DS XL. Of course, if you’ve ever owned a DSi, 3DS, 3DS XL, or 2DS, you already have a perfectly capable AC adapter for your New 3DS XL, but that doesn’t help consumers new to Nintendo’s handheld family. I want to believe Nintendo’s intentions are pure with this decision; it’s far less wasteful to ask you to use the AC adapter you already have than to give you another one you don’t need. But it’s also extremely inconsiderate to those looking to dive in for the first time, and may even stop some from taking the plunge. It’s important to note that Nintendo has been getting away with this same practice in both Europe and Japan for years now, so it was really only a matter of time before we fell victim as well. You don’t have to be happy about it – in fact, please don’t be happy about it – but it’s a reality we’ll have to accept moving forward. It really isn’t anything to boycott Nintendo over, so kindly douse your torches and cork your pitchforks.

Nintendo’s tendency to play its cards almost unbearably close to its chest has paid off once again, setting the internet ablaze with hype for a barrage of exclusive titles. It may have tripped itself up slightly in regards to New 3DS, but come February 13 western fans will still be happy to join the rest of the world with c-stick nubs and boosted processing power. It’s not always easy being a Nintendo fan, but days like yesterday remind us of the company’s uncanny ability to capture our hearts in new and surprising ways time and again. Get hyped, people. It’s going to be a great year.