Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day
Nintendo’s first Direct of 2019 opened and closed with two previously unannounced first party games — Super Mario Maker 2 and a remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening. Both are Switch exclusives set for a 2019 launch, and yet, as terrible as it is to be ungrateful for what we did get, it’s easy to slip into the “why didn’t they show X?” state of mind.
And while many of the already announced 2019 exclusives didn’t receive a spotlight at this Direct, it’s not really a cause for concern. In fact, Nintendo holding back some of its heavy hitters shows the company has learned from its mistakes, and taken as a whole, has responded to the criticisms of Switch experiencing a lighter second year than its launch year.
Nintendo doesn’t like to reveal games too early in advance. In an IGN interview at E3 2018, COO Reggie Fils-Aime noted that the early discussions around Metroid Prime 4 and the core Pokemon title for Switch was actually the company bending its own rules.
“We don’t believe it’s in the fans’ best interests to tease them year after year after year about a piece of content. We want to say here it is, here’s when it’s coming, and get ready for it,” Fils-Aime said.
More, when it comes to Directs, Nintendo tends to hone in on the upcoming months or year ahead at most. This Direct’s focus on Super Mario Maker 2 and other games with firm release dates like Fire Emblems: Three Houses and Platinum Games’ new Astral Chain is in step with this.
If anything, Metroid Prime 4 has likely been an incredibly teachable moment for the company. The announcement of its existence at E3 2017 was, in no uncertain terms, a massive shock. But the long silent gap between then and Nintendo’s recent announcement that development on Metroid Prime 4 had been rebooted development had fans — and the press — pestering Nintendo at every turn for more info. To Fils-Aime’s point at E3 2018, radio silence benefits neither Nintendo nor fans.
If most of Nintendo’s already announced 2019 titles are fall releases, it makes no sense for it to spend most of this early 2019 Direct focusing on those games. Nintendo also has its E3 Direct, and any other Direct the company could put on throughout the year. (And let’s not forget that Pokemon Day, and my birthday for the three of you who want to know, is just a couple weeks away. Nintendo and The Pokemon Company could easily be holding back a reveal for that anniversary day.)
And it’s not as if Nintendo doesn’t have other games to talk about in 2019 — New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe U recently released, Yoshi’s Crafted World is on the way in March, Super Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order are all slated for the summer.
Throw in other, smaller exclusives like BoxBoy + BoxGirl, whatever Nindies Nintendo shows off in the coming months (the company has made a habit out of Nindies Showcases at March’s GDC) and other surprises, and Nintendo has shored up a solid, lively library.
And in doing so, it’s avoided the issue many took with the Switch’s library in 2018. In the shadow of 2017’s The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Super Mario Odyssey, Switch’s second year had a lot to live up to. Though Switch’s second calendar year undoubtedly had some hits — Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokemon: Let’s Go! Among them — the lack of major releases was noticeable.
Nintendo’s seems to want to avoid that issue in 2019. While not everything can be a Mario Odyssey or Breath of the Wild, it’s set up first party exclusives for January (New Super Mario Bros. Ultimate), March (Yoshi’s Crafted World), June (Super Mario Maker 2), July (Fire Emblem Three Houses), and August (Astral Chain) already.
That leaves Link’s Awakening, Animal Crossing, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, Pokemon, and Luigi’s Mansion 3 to fill in the gaps and round out the year. Nintendo could plug each of those games into the last five months of the year and still have one leftover to pad out the holidays, or even offer as a surprise drop in April or May. This strategy closely lines up with the effect Nintendo created in 2017, giving almost every month of the calendar year a marquee game for Switch players.
Nintendo has plenty to work with in 2019, and its lineup could evolve with plenty more surprises, both large and small — Metroid Prime trilogy rumors continue to persist, after all — that could round out an even more packed Switch library. It’s incredibly easy to go “Yeah, but why didn’t they show x game,” but it’s pretty clear Nintendo has a lot it can and probably wants, to show players. It just doesn’t need to until those games are more realized, closer to their release dates, and distanced other games that could use the attention.
But really, I could use a good word about the Pikmin franchise right about now.
Jonathon Dornbush is IGN’s News Editor, Beyond! host, and PlayStation lead. Talk to him on Twitter @jmdornbush.