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Perspective | Nintendo won a summer of game showcases with a key factor: Surprise

Nintendo just closed out a summer of video game showcases with a barnstormer — despite the fact its Switch console is seven years old and at the end of its market life.

“The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom” is a brand new title in the series releasing Sept. 26, finally giving players a chance to play as the titular princess. Nintendo also announced “Metroid Prime 4: Beyond,” originally publicized seven years ago for the Switch and finally nearing release. It’s likely that the latest Metroid game will also be a launch title for the expected successor console to the Switch, which Nintendo said should be released sometime next year.

Surprise was the key element in Nintendo’s showcase that was missing in the last few weeks of gaming showcases from competitor publishers and platforms. At the now-defunct Electronic Entertainment Expo, video game companies would surprise and delight attendees with shocking announcements. But this year, the industry has been coming to terms with the high costs of making games, especially PlayStation and Xbox studios who produce high-fidelity, realistic-looking titles that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take five years to a decade to produce.

This issue is particularly keen in the PlayStation 5 ecosystem, which will not release a single title from one of its marquee franchises like God of War until 2025. Instead, PlayStation’s summer showcase only highlighted only two new titles, the follow-up in the niche but beloved Astro Bot platformer series and a multiplayer game called “Concord” that has not been well-received due to its similarity to the far more popular “Overwatch” by Blizzard Entertainment.

No doubt, Xbox had a winning showcase June 9, showing footage for big upcoming titles like “Gears of War E-Day” and “Doom: The Dark Ages.” But much of its showcase comprised updates on projects announced long ago, with very little new information. Xbox’s long-awaited update to the Fable role-playing series was exciting but showed almost nothing of how the game actually plays. The new Doom game would’ve been Xbox’s only surprise, undercut by early reports that had leaked the announcement.

Meanwhile, Nintendo made some long-underserved gaming communities hysterical with several first- and third-party announcements, including:

  • The long-dormant “Marvel Vs. Capcom 2” arcade game is finally being released on modern video game platforms in the “Marvel Vs. Capcom Fighting Collection: Arcade Classics,” to be released this year. The game was delisted from PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 platforms due to licensing issues, and fighting game fans have been demanding a rerelease for years in a “Free Marvel Vs. Capcom 2” campaign. The announcement made longtime fans vomit (one said) and scream on Twitch streams.

  • The original trilogy of Dragon Quest games, the series that pioneered role-playing games on console, are being remade. Fans have been waiting for remakes for years as well.
  • “FANTASIAN Neo Dimension” is the latest and possibly last video game made by the creator of Final Fantasy, Hironobu Sakaguchi. It’s also expected to be the final body of work for Nobuo Uematsu, who many consider the best video game music composer ever. The game has been exclusive to Apple’s Arcade subscription service. But along with “Hello Kitty Island Adventure” (think “Animal Crossing” with Hello Kitty characters, a natural fit), it is escaping Apple’s walled garden for modern consoles.
  • Fans of Capcom’s Ace Attorney games got a surprise with remasters of the Ace Attorney Investigations series, which stars prosecuting attorney Miles Edgeworth.

Nintendo had several new first-party announcements, too, including “Mario & Luigi: Brothership,” a new title in its long-dormant Mario & Luigi role-playing series; “Super Mario Party Jamboree,” the latest in the best-selling board game franchise; and an HD remake of “Donkey Kong Country Returns.”

The Direct has underscored Nintendo’s strength and the wisdom of its long-term strategy, which many doubted years ago. The late and former Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi said in 2001 that he steered the company away from the race toward high-fidelity graphics, saying that “costs are skyrocketing, users get bored faster than ever. … it’s getting difficult to make a profit producing video games.” As such, no Nintendo games look anywhere close to the photorealism of PlayStation’s “The Last of Us.” Yet its Luigi’s Mansion series, a puzzle game made by a small team, outsell most of Sony’s high-budget games.

Its remarkable that Nintendo is able to remain extremely profitable and backfill the end of the Switch’s life with fresh and surprising titles while other consoles struggle to rein in expenses. Tuesday’s showcase was the result of Nintendo’s stubborn and smart strategy of focusing on games, not graphics.

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