Here’s my thoughts on the second half of last Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct. Find my write up of the 3DS related news and announcements here.
terrible terrific fate for the transforming console
Shifting to the Switch segment, a lengthy spotlight was given over to epically-proportioned upcoming JRPG Xenonblade Chronicles 2. As much of a fan as I am of this franchise – the amount of hours I put into the first game would make my mother despair – I couldn’t help but feel this segment went too in-depth. Lengthy lore exposition and multi-layered combat tutorials isn’t exactly how I’d go about trying to entice new players at any rate. Still, being introduced to the Titan known as ‘Azurda’ (AKA ‘Gramps’) was fun, and the numerous Aussie and regional-English accents on display were dreadfully beautiful to hear. Most importantly, we got a definite release date, that being 1st December. As is JRPG tradition, an expansive special edition set will be released, as well as a themed Pro Controller.
Compared to the (9-minue long) Xenoblade segment, the Splatoon 2 updates were rapid-fire. The ‘Kelp Dome’ arena will be returning from the original game (or rather, did return yesterday) with a few changes to keep things interesting for veteran splatters. A new addition called ‘Snapper Canal’ is also on its way, featuring a river running across its centre, adding yet another strategic layer to the frenetic third-person shooter. There’s also a new weapon coming in the form of the ‘Tenta Brella’, which boasts an impressively wide shield that can be unfurled whilst the player is stationary. What’s best is that – as will all new Splatoon content – these updates are free for everyone who owns the game. That’s the Iwata spirit!
The presentation double-dipped for Fire Emblem: Warriors, as it’s receiving a cross-platform release (despite the 3DS version of Hyrule Warriors being quite flawed). The game’s story-premise is a near carbon-copy of that found in mobile title Fire Emblem Heroes (2017): a prince and princess of a kingdom original to the game summon heroes from throughout the series to battle a cohort of corresponding villains. The voiceover stated that characters will “mingle and bond” on the battlefield, suggesting the ‘pair-up’ mechanic seen in the more recent Fire Emblem games is going to be implemented into the hack-and-slash gameplay somehow. Lyn, a classic character from the first Fire Emblem entry released in the West (2003), was also revealed to be playable. A new trailer was released alongside the Direct, and both the game’s special edition and series-specific amiibo were plugged.
One of the most delightful disclosures of the evening was that new content is coming for Snipperclips. As the game’s been one of our favourite cooperative gameplay experiences of the year, my girlfriend and I can’t wait to get our hands on this DLC, which’ll add new stages and a randomised-shape mode to the laugh-out-loud paper puzzler. Newcomers can purchase the entire package as Snipperclips Plus, and it’ll be unfolding onto the Switch eShop on 10th November.
A few highlights of Nintendo’s ever-growing indies lineup (now known as ‘Nindies’) were examined in greater detail. First was Morphies Law (coming this winter), a title whose gameplay quirk is almost as ingenious as its titular pun. Simply put, it’s a shooter in which, when you hit a given part of your opponent’s body, it becomes simultaneously smaller on them and bigger on you. This in turn effects the player’s capabilities (and obviously how easy it is to get shot). This system takes a skill-reward mechanism that I usually dislike in shooters and transforms it into humorously idiosyncratic gameplay I can get behind. We also got a recap of the Nintendo themed content exclusive to the Switch version of Rocket League, also launching at an unspecified time this winter. Finally, a beta version of the awfully named Arena of Valour – which is simultaneously little known yet also one of the most played MOBAs in existence, apparently – will, yet again, be coming sometime this winter. Guys, get these dates nailed down!
Once these less visible titles had been given due attention, the focus on third party support moved into AAA territory. After Skyrim for Switch (which is now confirmed to be a version of the enhanced special edition) was finally given a release date of 17th November, the most shocking revelation of the night came in the form of yet more Bethesda support: both the 2016 remake of DOOM and the upcoming Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus are bound for the Switch, the former arriving this winter. This partnership is not only showing dedicated support from one of the biggest developer-publishers in the world, but is also pushing the genre boundaries associated with Nintendo platforms. Wolfenstein II is the first yet-to-release third-party blockbuster to be confirmed for the Switch outside of sports simulators, and this show of confidence will surely boost overall developer support. Exciting times indeed, and I probably won’t purchase or play either of these games!
Taking us from the least-Nintendo like part of the evening to the company’s very quintessence was the reveal of Arcade Archives. Beginning with a release of Mario Bros., this arcade anthology draw from the Vs. System arcade games, which were multiplayer-focused (sometimes enhanced versions) of Famicom/NES games such as Super Mario Bros., Balloon Fight and Ice Climbers. A few thoughts sprang to mind upon seeing this announcment: firstly, Nintendo have clearly noted the popularity of Namco Museum and the numerous Neo Geo games on the eShop, and want to attempt a similar format of retro-releases; secondly, it bears potential negative implications regarding the progress of Switch’s Virtual Console; and thirdly, it might tie-in with the classic games coming with the forthcoming paid online service, as they will has a newly added multiplayer focus.
One of the notable omissions from the night was any mention of the second Breath of the Wild DLC pack. We did however find out that the Champion amiibos will unlock Divine Beast themed costumes (which will apparently have specialised in-game functions), and that they’ll be released 10th November. Locking content like this behind amiibo has always rubbed me the wrong way, especially in my favourite franchise. At least the figures’ release date might provide some indication of when the DLC is arriving.
The next major trailer was for Square-Enix’s Switch exclusive RPG Project Octopath Traveller (giving their games ridiculous Engrish names is sort of a Square tradition). The game’s twists on the tried-and-true Final Fantasy formula include being able to pick any of eighth characters to begin the game as – each with their own unique ‘path action’ for use in obstacle resolution – and a ‘boost’ mechanic that can strengthen player attacks and quicken the tempo of battles. A key selling point of the game is the “HD-2D” aesthetic, a beautiful marriage of pixel-sprites and textures with elements that provide greater depth and spectacular battle-effects. The release of the game’s demo as soon as the Direct finished was a great surprise, and I’m writing up a review for it now that I’ve put in about 3-4 hours (it’s quite a deep demo!).
The final new release announced was Dragon Quest Builders, a delightful mashup of the gargantuan JRPG franchise Dragon Quest and Minecraft-esque gameplay. The colourful sandbox game lets players build their own RPG villages and towns from block-shaped elements, and then defend them from classic series’ monsters. It’s a title that gave critics a delightful surprise upon its initial release in 2016, being considered by many to be the best riff on the Minecraft formula thus far. Until now it’s been exclusive to Playstation platforms, so I’m sure the jump to Switch will win it plenty of new fans. Having the capability to create on the go (along with an exclusive sabre-toothed tiger cub companion) may well make this the definitive version come its spring 2018 release.
Also releasing next spring will be Kirby’s first Switch outing, which we learnt is called Kirby Star Allies. Up to four players will be able to play cooperatively, and the expectation is that they’ll all work together to create interesting move combos, such as bombs that allow the player to levitate. In solo mode the player will also have to control multiple characters at once: hopefully this is implemented better than in the single-player portion of Zelda: Triforce Heroes (2015). In other news, King Dedede has gotten seriously buffed! Kirby‘s trailer was followed by a recap of some of the Nindies lineup, which was detailed in depth at the end of August. The standout for me is definitely Golf Story, an absurd homage to NES sports simulators-cum-RPG that is just about the only thing to ever interest me in the titular sport.
The Direct’s penultimate piece was a montage of titles from larger 3rd party entities. These were: Lost Sphear, another ridiculously titled Square retro-JRPG that fails to excite as Octopath does; Sonic Forces, yet another reboot of the 3D Sonic series, the developers of which must be feeling the pressure after the success of Sonic Mania (2017) which was ostensibly developed by fans; Resident Evil Revelations 1 & 2, the latter of which initially snubbed Nintendo platforms despite the former originally being a 3DS game; and Rockstar’s detective game L.A. Noire, which – like DOOM and Wolfenstein – suggests great potential for future AAA releases on the Switch.
Finally, what else was there to end on but another look at the soon-to-release Super Mario Odyssey. This was no mere retread of what fans have learnt over the past few months, with many likely coming away from the Direct with minor-spoiler fatigue! We were told what drives Mario’s new magical-cap companion, shown footage of the never-before seen Snow and Seaside Kingdoms, teased with a hint of tropical islands (possible Super Mario Sunshine or Yoshi’s Island related content?), and witnessed yet more of the incredible transformations Mario can assume.
In order to access all these kingdoms, Mario must collect ‘Power Moons’ hidden throughout the game. As well as an in-game list that tracks those you have found, the trailer revealed that a tropical bird NPC named ‘Talkatoo’ will offer free insight – perhaps he’s a distant relative of Breath of the Wild‘s avian minstrel Kass? – whilst Hint Toads will dish out tips in exchange for coins (clearly Captain Toad’s taught them a thing or two about entrepreneurship). A strange robot NPC called ‘Uncle amiibo’ will also aid you in the hunt, but only if you scan in figurines from his favourite toys-to-life range.
The game is replete with mini-games which will have their own online leaderboards that can be checked in-game, which is a neat feature for a single-player adventure game. Some of the collectable in-game costumes were shown, including attire inspired by Mario Paint, Super Mario Maker and Dr. Mario. We were also reminded the we’ll be able to deck-out the Odyssey – that being the hat-shaped airship Mario uses to travel between kingdoms – with souvenirs and furniture that can also be acquired from the in-game stores.
The coolest feature shown off though was a previously unknown one: ‘Snapshot Mode’. This feature allows the player to take a picture not just at any point in the game, but also from any angle and at various zoom lengths. There’s also a large variety of visual effects and filters that can be applied. Essentially, it’s in-game Instagram, and whilst snapping selfies with Link in Breath of the Wild was amusing, this mechanic fits far better with Odyssey‘s travel theme. Notably, one of the example snapshots shown caused a stir in that it revealed what Mario’s naked torso looks like for the first time. Scary stuff.
My highlight of the trailer came at the very end, when one of the game’s 2D segments was shown to emulate the level design of the original Donkey Kong. From this reimagining of his roots to being able to control a T-Rex, Odyssey looks set to be a total celebration of all that has made Mario’s adventures great, whilst simultaneously borrowing a leaf from Link’s latest and completely reinventing what a 3D platformer can do. The final announcements regarding the game revealed there’ll be wedding themed amiibo (whoop…), a special edition Switch case (genuine whoop), and an Odyssey-Switch bundle complete with themed Joy-Con. I would not be surprised it this bundle ends up being one of the highest selling game products this holiday season. As for me, I’ll be grabbing this inevitable masterpiece as soon as it comes out, that being 27th October.
That covers it for this Direct. I’ll be writing up my thoughts on several properties and projects that were absent (inexplicably or otherwise), though before that I’ll be posting my review of the Octopath demo and an article on in-game architecture. Till then.