E3 2019: Nintendo

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Nintendo is the originator for the technique of spreading your announcements throughout the year and lubricating their distribution to the audience through live but accessible video streams. For the fans, it's meant no more arduous year-long waits for Nintendo news, and if there was a game they weren't hot on, it was easier to avoid it. A built-in flaw of the press conference format is you have to chew your way through the husk of monotonous games to get to the sweet fruit of the titles that you enjoy. With the Nintendo Directs, you could instead skip over the broadcasts that didn't suit your preferences and only tune back in when there were titles worth seeing.

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Nintendo had had a lot of success with this format which sorted games into their own dedicated boxes, and they roughly based their E3 2018 briefing on this formula. That show had sundry new titles nestled around the edges, but the meat of it was an extra-large serving of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It alienated fans who weren't followers of Nintendo's signature fighting series, and even for players like me, who hold a degree of interest of it, it was a bit much. It felt like you needed to be a veritable Smash devotee to finish out the forty minutes without your mind drifting, and arguably, this was an inappropriate style for E3 because the expectations for streams at the expo aren't just set by other Directs during the year, but also by different press conferences. We tune in to see a tapestry of announcements and not one experience that hogs the whole frame. Nintendo appeared to take that to heart this Tuesday as their 2019 briefing was an assorted parade of fresh-faced entertainment items.

The masters of ceremonies this year were Yoshiaki Koizumi, the Deputy General Manager of Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development Division, Shinja Takahashi, the General Manager of the EP&D Division, and the relatively green President of Nintendo of America, Doug Bowser. Taking over presenting duties from former N.o.A. President, Reggie Fils-Aime, they had big shoes to fill. Reggie's role was one of an upright businessman who was unafraid of letting audiences in on his nerdy homelife and was bizarrely affable in his peculiarity. Koizumi, Takahashi, and Bowser don't have the same command; they never looked as comfortable as Fils-Aime did in those moments where they were letting loose. However, I have to give it to Koizumi: he exudes calmness and politeness. Even when he's telling you that the company has to push back the release date of the next Animal Crossing, it feels respectful. What's more, Takahashi has this effect where when he smiles, I want to smile.

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This was also a stream in which the Japanese foundation of the company was highly visible. Historically, Nintendo has handled western stylisation effortlessly, and Nintendo of America has been a titan in the industry. They've also not always let the waters of their Japanese releases mingle with those of their American output, and for all of these reasons, it can be easy to forget that they were an East Asian company before they were anything else. But this year saw high concentrations of anime aesthetics and dialogue in Trials of Mana, Collection of Mana, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Daemon X Machina, Contra: Rogue Corps, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles: Remastered Edition, Dragon Quest Builders 2, Astral Chian, and the modestly named Dragon Quest XI S: Echoes of an Elusive Age: Definitive Edition. It was potently Japanese. The most exceptional of that lot may be Contra: Rogue Corps, a rare Konami product from a company that has all but checked out of the games industry.

On a few occasions, I wondered if Nintendo's mission of carrying the torch for retro and long-running games series was getting them into some trouble. While hosting and publishing games with one foot in the past has made Nintendo the kings of nostalgia, there are a few works that are better left as part of history. It may be that media like The Dark Crystal and No More Heroes are more entertaining as memories than modern sequels, and on the back of the winning Resident Evil 2 remake, I'm not sure the Resident Evil 5 and 6 remasters compare well. The abandoned house setting of their trailer would send chills down your spine if you were there in person, but 5 and 6 were, contrarily, the Resident Evil games known for stripping back the horror mechanics in favour of more placating action. And sometimes it's the process of the adaptation which warps the game: Contra: Rogue Corps twists the 2D into the 3D, but when it does, it tarnishes it with this grotty visual quality. I'm also surprised that Nintendo is still commissioning Mario & Sonic at the Olympics entries. Whatever the fun factor of the new edition, it's weird to see one two generations on from the Wii on a non-Olympic year.

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But then Nintendo also brought titles that made the old new again, and these more than made up for their misses. The developer is often accused of squeezing nostalgia out of their audience with lazy recycling of existing experiences, and there's a shred of truth to that accusation. However, this press conference was also full of examples of how Nintendo is increasingly reviving games not by printing carbon copies of them but by remoulding them. Perhaps the prime example of this was Link's Awakening. There are not many people who'll tell you that Link's Awakening was their favourite Zelda and its re-release could have been a dull affair if Nintendo had been uninspired enough to bring it back with the original art style. Instead, they did something much smarter. Our attachment to any retro game is affected by when we played it and the view of that game that has developed in the collective consciousness over time. The best memories of Link's Awakening are nostalgic ones, and so rather than just trying to replicate the art of the original, Nintendo recast the game with an appearance that invokes nostalgia, using a tilt-shifted perspective that calls to mind the toys and miniatures of our youth.

With Cadence of Hyrule, Nintendo and Brace Yourself take Crypt of the Necrodancer, a game inspired by early fantasy romps like The Legend of Zelda, and bring the concept full-circle to build a Zelda game on top of that interpretation. Cadence of Hyrule suggests that what looked like a one-shot rhythm game could be an endlessly adaptable format because there have been so many grid-based combat games with killer soundtracks. And while Cadence may not match the genre of the original Zelda, it works with its strengths. By making Koji Kondo's rousing score and the satisfying sensation of Link's sword cleaving through an enemy its bedrock, it incorporates key elements of the series rather than simply using them to wallpaper over an unrelated box of mechanics like many spin-off games.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is not going to rewrite the book on Animal Crossing, but it does rethink a fundamental assumption of the series. These games are about existing somewhere that feels like home, and while previous instalments were about finding that home, New Horizons is about creating it. It's a reunification of the dynamics of Animal Crossing as it reels Happy Home Designer's increased emphasis on customisation and Pocket Camp's objective of attracting animals to your town back into the series proper. Through it, we can better understand why Nintendo's games usually don't stray too far from essential templates. In familiarity, there is comfort, and due to them being a company so heartfully invested in games which bring people comfort, Nintendo makes familiarity their best friend.

The original Luigi's Mansion was as unique as it was because, while many other games accept an established core mechanic and fiddle with the framework around it, Luigi's Mansion's primary action of vacuuming was without equivalents. The title was also a fascinatingly specific fusion of two pieces of media that you wouldn't expect to touch in a million years: Mario and Ghostbusters. What I love about the trailer for Luigi's Mansion 3 is that it lulls you into thinking that it's using grounded, common sense additions to its current gameplay before unleashing the absolute absurdity that is Gooigi. It's almost going through the motions with mechanics like a grapple and a non-lethal burst attack, and then the creators reveal a green slime clone of Luigi who cannot be killed through conventional methods. It's one more pillar of Ghostbusters represented in the series, they have their own Slimer now, and our gooey companion sits at this crossroad of traits that tend to make characters popular on social media. He's a surreal twist on a famous character we have nostalgia for using endearingly dumb wordplay. What I'm saying is that Gooigi is this year's Bowsette.

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Where Ubisoft had a stretch during their conference in which they only managed to announce one game in thirty minutes, Nintendo discussed plans for a whopping thirty-three in a snug forty-minute slot. And you'd think that given that, they would have had less time for showing the games in-action, but on the contrary, they reserved a smaller space for pre-rendered trailers and developer speeches than other companies, and so were able to fit in more gameplay footage. It read as a dedication to the actual games over the glitzy spin that so many other firms coat their experiences in. That Nintendo could fire off this unceasing volley of new games and updates despite already having expended announcements on heavy hitters like Super Mario Maker 2 and Pokémon Sword and Shield is supremely impressive. If the publisher can keep up this pace year on year, they've got nothing to worry about. Thanks for reading.

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