Do you know what I love more than anything? Game announcements. And while big events like E3, Gamescom, and The Game Awards are like Christmas, Nintendo likes to spread the love over the course of the whole year. These semi-regular Nintendo Directs aren’t quite the concentrated hype fest we expect in June, but I always look forward to having something to chew on in anticipation for the months ahead. So how did this February Direct hold up?
We start with Super Mario Maker 2, a hotly sought after game for the Switch after the original was such a phenomenon. I was surprised a port wasn’t released last year after it got a 3DS release to little fanfare. But it looks like it was worth the wait for a plethora of new level creation features like sloping terrain, enemy and platform pathing, and a slew of new enemies, items, and art styles from Super Mario Land and 3D World. I skipped out on the original SMM because I was kind of underwhelmed by the presentation and basic gameplay, but if the sequel brings back amiibo costumes (maybe even in SNES style pixel art) I think the Switch is the perfect console for an endless stream of new Mario levels.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was given it’s first meaty spotlight since E3, and this was the time to really sell me on it. While the game looks significantly less drab than it’s reveal, I still don’t think this will be the installment to pull me into the main franchise. The Direct highlighted some world-building and the monastery/school where you’ll be teaching your students to be soldiers or something. Kind of got a Harry Potter vibe as opposed to the strictly military theming of previous entries. Again, this series seems too overwhelming for me with the amount of customization and min/maxing of your units. The character designs stood out a little more than I was anticipating, but nothing really drew me in. Time will tell, but I’ll wait for reviews before I consider.
The whole middle half was bloated with a lot of uninteresting fluff. A lot of focus on obscure JRPGs like Oninaki and a truly mind-numbingly long overview of Dragon Quest 11 – a game that’s been out for months and won’t come to the Switch until the Fall. And they totally glossed over the new features like orchestrated music and Japanese voice work (two crucial complaints of the original release) as well as brand new scenarios. If the game runs okay I might consider, but the whole thing felt like a wet blanket. Daemon Ex Machina actually showed some characters for the first time, making it seem a little more fun, but nothing would make me interested to actually play it. We saw Yoshi’s Crafted World hopefully for the last time, which is still cool, but I’m so over it. We saw a free-to-play Tetris Battle Royale in Tetris 99 which was honestly a highlight for how absurd a mash up it is, but actually seems kind of clever. We can expect a new Smash Direct before April to highlight Joker and the 3.0.0 update, but it’s exclusion today left a bad taste in my mouth.
One of the only new announcements of note was Platinum’s new IP Astral Chain – a very “Psycho-Pass” meets “Xenoblade Chronicles X” cyberpunk cop action game. I was initially turned off by the crunchy visuals and anime aesthetics, but some of the designs are intriguing and the Persona meets Bayonetta combat might be fun. I typically stand clear of Platinum’s games (like RTS or Shooters, it’s just not my cup of tea) but I’d be willing to be turned around by a cool new take on the formula. The big alien guy looks a lot like Metal Face from Xenoblade 1, I just liked his design.
But the real star of the show was, of course, the new Link’s Awakening Remake. Much like “A Link Between Worlds”, this game reimagines the classic Gameboy adventure in a poppy new isometric view – this time with a more puppety “Crafted World” aesthetic, which I really dig. The original Link’s Awakening was not a Zelda game I’ve played much, but I’m so down for this new installment. While I doubt they’ll transform the core experience as much as “Between Worlds” did for “Link to the Past”, having a cute, bite-size 2D Zelda on Switch will certainly satisfying my appetite while we wait for the inevitable Breath of the Wild 2.
Now, it’s totally not fair to rate these Directs (or any press conference) on our own expectations or what wasn’t shown, but for our first look at 2019, I was underwhelmed. Nintendo is certainly holding some surprised for E3 and possibly an early Spring Direct, but outside of Zelda and Mario Maker, there weren’t really any big reveals. I gotta hope Pokemon is planning some reveals for Gen 8 soon, and more Smash DLC is in the pipeline, but 2019 doesn’t really have a major app yet, while Animal Crossing, Retro’s previous game, Pikmin 4, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and plenty of more interesting 3rd party and indie releases are MIA. I really enjoyed last year’s January Direct, which had tons of worthwhile ports like The World Ends with You, Tropical Freeze, and Dark Souls, but everyone was disappointed. With only two really great reveals, I can’t give this Direct a higher grade than swimming in sevens.