2022 challenges us once again to recalibrate our expectations of the gaming industry’s hype machine. Megatons are out this summer; Minitons are in.
Nintendo clearly sidestepped the stunted Summer Game Fest (aka Not-E3) hype train in early June, opting to wait a couple of weeks before previewing what’s to come Xenoblade Chronicles 3, and then another week before the highly qualified Nintendo Direct Mini Partner Showcase presents us today. The show, Nintendo stressed in advance, will be short and center around third-party games.
Our expectations were met so thoroughly that it’s hard to feel either over- or underpowered with the Mini Direct. We’ve been taught to expect big news every summer and big games every winter, and Nintendo’s PR, along with many other game companies, are looking for ways to gently let us know that things aren’t working that way anymore, at least for now.
Nintendo and its partners are suffering the same post-pandemic production woes as the rest of the industry, and Mini Direct’s announcements relied disproportionately on news that legacy games were coming to Switch. portal! Nier: Automata! person 4
The lineup also showed how good Nintendo was at identifying and nurturing a more low-key, less loud type of success story on Switch. There’s a category of games here that might not qualify as AAA in terms of production values, budget, or hype factor, but still sell quietly by the bucketload on such an accessible platform with such a broad player demographic. Minecraft Legends, Sonic Frontiersand Monster Hunter Ascension — the big new expansion for which sun break, opened the show – are perfect examples of this. It’s games like this that mean Switch can thrive without Call of Duty or FIFA (proper FIFA, anyway).
Another great example of this phenomenon is the stealth Nintendo game smuggled into this partner showcase from a technical point of view. Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope was developed by Ubisoft and co-published with Ubisoft, but it’s still a Mario game. Its predecessor came from left field with what appears to be a niche concept that’s best summed up as “What if XCOM but Mario?” It was also an excellent game, selling 8 million copies. It’s the kind of game that looks like filler but is actually a stable, mainstay of the release schedule. Who is to say that harvest
The Switch 2022 lineup taking shape here might not seem all that exciting – partly because we’ve been specifically told not to get excited about it – but it’s more solid than it looks. It’s at least a little more solid than Xbox’s. A shaky release schedule doesn’t matter too much to Microsoft, as it’s in the process of convincing people to subscribe to a catalog of games on Game Pass rather than buy them when they come out. Nintendo, on the other hand, is still very active in the retail business, but has secured itself against the dry spell in another way: through diversification.
Whether internally or with its partners, Nintendo likes to put together many smaller teams that develop small to medium sized games. The space between indie games and AAA mega-productions can feel cramped on other platforms, but this space is exactly where Nintendo thrives. With lower overhead and fewer trips on them, these games are just easier to get out the door. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2
Nintendo does something else that few other publishers can do: it finishes games, sometimes in complete secrecy, and then puts them on hold until the right time to release them. A Switch remaster of Metroid Prime Reportedly completed development already in the summer of last year; in this week, said Jeff Grubb of Giant Bomb He was told “pretty definitely” that the remaster exists and would be released in November 2022 to coincide with the game’s 20th anniversary. This has a nice resonance, but also helps fill in a quieter year and benefits from the momentum built Metroid horror.
Add bayonet 3 and the guaranteed monster hit Pokemon scarlet and violet – which is oddly easy to forget, perhaps because Nintendo allows The Pokémon Company to do its own PR – and Switch does have a heavyweight lineup, at least in the game-hungry environment of 2022. Nintendo’s relatively humble approach to making games, signing partners, and promoting itself may not be sexy, but it delivers. It’s the embodiment of the philosophy of the Switch hardware itself: size isn’t everything.