This Week in Games - What's NeXt for Nintendo?

by Dustin Bailey,

You might notice that the news section is more than a little lacking this week, and that's not just because the massive pile of new games took up all this column's space. I'm actually writing to you from the past. As you're reading this I'll be enjoying a lovely sojourn in the Irish countryside, enjoying the view and probably some high-quality beer. I definitely won't have my nose buried in a 3DS with a copy of the Phoenix Wright trilogy, no sir.

That being said, a bit of news did strike between the publication of last week's article and my flight. Nintendo had one of their trademark Direct events, explicitly focused on upcoming software for the 3DS. The company's big question mark is their mysterious next console, and they went out of their way to make sure this event would in no way reference the NX. Despite that, the presentation offered some clues as to how Nintendo views its present position and what that might mean for the future.

Opinion: What's NeXt for Nintendo?

The Wii U is a failure. Not a disaster, but a failure. It's played host to some of the best games Nintendo has ever made, including new concepts like Super Mario Maker and entirely new franchises like Splatoon, but the console's commercial performance has been well below the company's hopes and expectations.

Those facts, the quality of the games and the console's small install base, is why we're suddenly seeing a bunch of ports from the HD home console to the less powerful 3DS. Nintendo's most recent handheld didn't see the runaway success that the original DS or Wii did, but it's performed very well despite its rocky launch.

A lot of people own a 3DS, and those people want to play Nintendo games like Super Mario Maker, Yoshi's Woolly World, and Hyrule Warriors. Sure, two of those titles are “just okay” in the grand scheme of things, but these ports indicate Nintendo trying to recoup the lost potential of the Wii U by bringing its games to the more successful handheld.

This points to the thing that's been rumored about the NX for ages, and the thing that both I and I think most Nintendo fans have wanted for ages: convergence. You buy a Nintendo console primarily to play the games Nintendo makes. That's largely been the case ever since the Nintendo 64, and third-party support for their systems slowly dried up to nearly nothing through the Wii and Wii U generations. The Wii U's only great third-party titles were made by PlatinumGames, and even those were published by Nintendo itself.

There are a variety of reasons for that, ranging from the focus of Nintendo's playerbase on first-party titles to the one-step-behind hardware that's powered the company's consoles for the last two generations. Whatever the causes, though, the end result is the same. Nintendo software is what owners of Nintendo consoles buy.

Now that third-party development on Nintendo hardware has vanished almost completely, the question is “Are you willing to buy two Nintendo consoles to play everything the company puts out?” Looking at the 3DS and Wii U, it turns out that the answer for most people is “no.” One of those systems is about to break into the top ten best selling game consoles of all time. The other is a commercial failure that's home to excellent software.

As the leaks and rumors become more and more prevalent, it seems increasingly safe to say that the NX will be a system that combines the properties of a handheld and a home console. If that truly is the case, then it's an incredibly exciting direction. Now there will be a single device that's the home to every single piece of software Nintendo creates. I'm sure the company will continue to support the 3DS, at least for a time, but remember that the Game Boy Advance was supposed to be a “third pillar” alongside the original DS before getting quickly and quietly cut off.

The other thing Nintendo didn't address in this Direct is their plan for upcoming mobile titles. Pokémon Go saw a massive stock boost for the company until, of course, investors realized that Nintendo didn't actually produce the AR game. We know there will be mobile entries coming up in the Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing series, but I increasingly suspect that those titles won't be full new games up to the standards of previous games. At yesterday's Apple event, Nintendo announced Super Mario Run - which looks fun, but for now it looks like a pretty simple endless runner, something we're used to seeing on smartphones.

What's the point, then? Games like Pokémon Go and Miitomo on phones keep Nintendo properties in the public eye. We'll see how this theory pans out when Pokémon Sun and Moon release in a couple of months, but my suspicion is that the absurd success of Pokémon Go is going to have a major effect on the sales of those titles.

The same thinking applies to the NES Mini. If you already own a Nintendo console, that thing's completely pointless. The Virtual Console already offers better official HD emulation options without the restriction of a limited set of games. But that thing isn't for hardcore Nintendo fans. It's there to keep Nintendo brands and Nintendo games in the mind of mainstream consumers. Even if it's not the slickest piece of technology, it's a brilliant marketing move.

All this is why I find the possibilities presented by the NX so exciting. Nintendo's development teams have been on fire lately, and if the company is able to maneuver away from an attempt to recapture the absurd mainstream fad success of the Wii and DS, they're in an excellent position to build a far more sustainable single-console ecosystem boosted by clever marketing through mobile games and cheap micro-consoles.

With all that being said, I'm no business analyst, and I'm certainly not privy to the details of Nintendo's marketing strategy. But with the decades-long calls for the house that built Mario to quit the hardware business and focus on third-party development or mobile games, the direction they seem to be taking offers up a ton of promise for those of us who are still fond of the company's roots.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DEAD RISING
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One
Release Date: September 13
MSRP: $19.99

Dead Rising helped to spawn the cultural obsession with zombies when it launched back in 2006, but I can forgive its part in that fad thanks to its delightfully weird time management mechanics and its utterly straight-faced goofiness. Dead Rising 4 looks to be continuing the mainstreamification of the series that started with the series' third entry, but thankfully Capcom hasn't gone and forgotten about us older fans entirely.

A physical edition of Dead Rising hits PS4 and Xbox One this week, returning Frank West to the zombie outbreak at Willamette, Colorado just in time for the franchise's tenth anniversary. On the digital stores, you can pick up a triple pack containing this game, its maybe better sequel, and Off the Record. Dead Rising 2 will be on disc later this month, but it doesn't seem that the title's Frank-starring reimagining will see a standalone release.

DRAGON QUEST VII: FRAGMENTS OF THE FORGOTTEN PAST
Developer: ArtePiazza
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: 3DS
Release Date: September 16
MSRP: $39.99

Dragon Quest VII first released on the PS1 back when we in North America were still calling it Dragon Warrior, so this is the first time we've had the chance to play the game since collectively getting hip to Japan's cultural touchstone. Even this remake is three years old by now, meaning that we're once again behind on the localization curve. I thought we got this whole “worldwide release” thing worked out.

The seventh installment of the series is a game of absurd scale, with a main quest pushing well past the hundred hour mark. The class system here allows for a ton of customizability, allowing you to swap each party member's class at will, mastering new abilities and unlocking more powerful options as you go.

MEIQ: LABYRINTH OF DEATH
Developer: Compile Heart
Publisher: Idea Factory
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: September 13
MSRP: $39.99

MeiQ: Labyrinth of Death is moe-filled dungeon crawling RPG, which I think now describes enough games for that to actually be a genre. Hey, if you're going to be trapped wandering a deadly dungeon, it may as well be with attractive company, right? MeiQ has been deemed TOO HOT for Australia, as their rating board has denied it classification, effectively banning it in that country.

Sure, the collector's edition comes with a boob mouse pad and everything, but clearly it's acceptable in North America, since the ESRB has given it a Teen rating, which basically means it's squeaky clean. The adorable, scantily-clad cast will pilot magical mecha to take on a fierce cast of dungeon-dwelling monsters.

MYSTERY CHRONICLE: ONE WAY HEROICS
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PC / PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: September 13
MSRP: Unknown

The indie title One Way Heroics has been around for some time, even in localized form, having hit Steam early in 2014. It's procedurally generated roguelike where every step and every action you take forces the screen to scroll toward apocalypse. Get trapped between a wall and the darkness and it's all over.

Spike Chunsoft's updated, Mystery Chronicle edition of the title features overhauled gameplay and visuals, as well as guest characters from Danganronpa and Shiren the Wanderer. The Steam release is set for September 13 and I'd expect the PS4 and Vita releases to be near the same date, but the exact timeframe on those versions has yet to be confirmed.

PSYCHO-PASS: MANDATORY HAPPINESS
Developer: 5pb
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PlayStation 4 / PlayStation Vita
Release Date: September 13
MSRP: $49.99 (PS4) / $39.99 (Vita)

Here's an oddity: an English-localized visual novel appearing on a home console. While the success of Phoenix Wright has opened the Western doors for text-heavy games ranging from Danganronpa to Zero Escape, those titles have typically been limited to smaller, less expensive releases on handhelds and PC.

The Mandatory Happiness story takes place during the anime's first eight episodes, introducing new characters and adding new backstory and world-building for the dystopic setting. The choices you make could lead toward any number of endings, some revealing the mysterious secrets you're seeking out and others leading to a sudden end.

RECORE
Developer: Comcept / Armature Studio
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platform: PC / Xbox One
Release Date: September 13
MSRP: $39.99

Here's a massive question: Will ReCore be any good? When it was first announced last year, the thought of Keiji Inafune's Comcept studio building a 3D action-adventure title in a unique setting was incredibly exciting. But since then the studio's Mighty No. 9 came out and, well, you probably already know the story there. That's just one game, though, and ReCore is being built with the help of the Metroid Prime veterans at Armature Studio, so there's still reason to be optimistic.

You play as a woman named Joule, who can power up and command a variety of robotic companions for help with battle and navigating the game's desert environments. You'll collect blueprints and build upgrades for your machinated minions, shooting down bad guys and platforming though the levels along the way. Cross-buy will let you grab a digital version for PC and Xbox One at a single price.

VALKYRIE DRIVE: BHIKKHUNI
Developer: Meteorise
Publisher: pCube
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: September 16
MSRP: $39.99

See, Australia, MeiQ wasn't even the lewdest game this week! ...Oh, you're banning this one, too? Well, I guess they're consistent down under, at the very least.

Alright, so you know the well-endowed, school uniform disintegrating action of Senran Kagura? Alright, what if we did away with even the pretense of that game not being entirely about sex? Valkyrie Drive: Bhikhunni is an action game with an all-lesbian cast each of whom turns into a weapon when they're sexually aroused. You did it, guys. You came up with a game concept that is entirely immune to criticism. Congrats.

Now, you might be surprised to learn that Bhikhunni isn't the most mainstream or widely documented of Western titles, and its release date is a minor mystery that I can't quite clear up. The officially announced release date is September 16th, but Amazon has it listed at September 20th. In either case, you'll be able to enjoy the surely deep, excellent gameplay of this title soon.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
That's a lot of games, and we still have a couple of minor titles left to cover.

Did I say minor releases? I meant Persona-freakin'-5. We've still got a few months to wait for this Japanese release to come West, but in the meantime you can expect lots of gameplay footage in a language you probably don't speak to surface online.

Noitu Love: Devolution is a downright primordial indie game, released nearly a decade ago as the independent boom was just heating up. It's a Treasure-inspired old-school action game, and it hits 3DS and Wii U on September 15th.

That's it for this week! I'll be back again next Thursday, hopefully refreshed, recharged, and ready to provide some slightly more timely coverage of the week's biggest gaming news.


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