The least-important problem of 2020 might be Nintendo’s newfound reticence to hype its games, but it’s still worth taking a moment to recognize how unusual—and even potentially positive—a situation this is.
At this time last year, Nintendo Switch owners were able to bank on at least one Switch-only game per month, from July through November.
Nintendo would’ve just released one exclusive game (July 19’s Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3), with another (July 26’s Fire Emblem: The Three Houses) slated for the end of the month. Then you could plan for a new game in August (Astral Chain), one in September (The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening; two if you count a port of Dragon Quest XI), one in October (Luigi’s Mansion 3; with a surprise second October exclusive, Ring Fit Adventure, announced later in the year), and one for November (Pokémon Sword & Shield).
In contrast, Switch owners are flying blind into the second half of 2020. Switch saw just one exclusive released this month (July 17’s Paper Mario: The Origami King). And announced for the months to follow? Nothing yet, other than some general idea that the externally developed No More Heroes 3 Bravely Default II will be out this year.
That is indeed weird. For years, Nintendo, a company that specializes in selling the future based on memories of the past, conditioned its fans to expect a Nintendo Direct presentation every other month or so, using those digital events to perpetually map out the next several months of releases. But Directs have been scarce since last September, and Nintendo skipped the chance to do its annual second-half line-up E3 presentation this year.. No E3, no showcase. Nintendo hasn’t done a Direct that featured its own games since March. Monday’s new “mini” Direct only showed other companies’ games.
This isn’t a bad thing, really. Arguably, this is a very healthy situation for a gaming population used to constantly being sold upcoming games. We don’t really need to know much about what’s coming next, right? There are countless games out now that are worth playing and discussing. There are possibly even more games to get to in all of our backlogs. Now is a chance to engage with the games already in front of us, without the distraction of theoretical games that are months away.
Plus, there’s the pandemic. Nintendo management’s indicated that it is adapting to work-from-home conditions and doing okay in the short-term, at least. Earlier this summer, Nintendo head of game development Shinya Takahashi said, “while product development is a little behind schedule in some areas due to the impact of covid-19, game releases planned for this fiscal year are currently not affected. However, if the impact of covid-19 is prolonged or becomes more severe, we may not be able to release future titles in line with existing plans.”
The ethical thing to do here, of course, is to accept any delays and refrain from rushing workers to make games faster at the risk of their health.
That’s not to say that this lapse in communication isn’t a little strange, especially because Nintendo probably does know if New Pokémon Snap is coming out this year, or if/when the rumored Mario game collection will be out. And it also probably knows if it’s running behind on certain projects, and may have to shift some existing dates around.
But here’s the other thing: Nintendo’s already released plenty of games this year. In the first half of 2019, Nintendo and its Pokémon partners released six Switch exclusives across the months of January, March, April, and June. This year, it’s released eight games—nine if you count Jump Rope Challenge, a tiny game Nintendo says its developers made for kicks while working from home. In other words, even without Directs, Nintendo’s delivered so far.
I get it. People want distractions during these miserable times, and a Nintendo Direct showcasing fun-looking, upcoming games could be a joyful, momentary escape for a lot of us. It would even be helpful to have a few dates to look forward to, same as we would all love to know when this nightmare of a pandemic will abate. We’ll get there, eventually.
For now, it’s probably for the best to not get too hyped about an uncertain future and, if you’ve got a gaming system with a game worth playing in it, to focus on that bit of brightness in the present. Nintendo will return to hype mode soon enough.