If the Nintendo E3 2021 Direct proved anything, it's that it is implausible – if not outright impossible – for the platform holder to please everybody. This isn't a new state of play for 2021, mind; Nintendo has long suffered in the war against fan expectation. Managing anticipation has proven to be a constant challenge for the industry at large, although Nintendo seems to fall victim far more frequently - and with more extremity - than many of its competitors in the market.
Perhaps that's because Nintendo encompasses a broader coalition of players. The company entered the home console market in earnest almost 38 years ago, with the Famicom launching in the summer of '83. PlayStation launched a decade later, and Xbox didn't get in on the action until 2001. With every console generation that passes us by, the demands of the publisher shift and become increasingly difficult to satisfy.
Dusting off old IP
There's one section of the fanbase who only wanted to see 40 minutes of the Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel last night. There's another who screamed "new 2D Legend of Zelda or I'm selling my Switch" into the YouTube chat void, and I'd wager that they're playing the console right now. There's another faction who would burn Smash Bros. to the ground if it meant Donkey Kong could return to celebrate his 40th anniversary. Another is incredulous that Camelot is developing Mario Golf: Super Rush, rather than working to bring out a new Golden Sun as the series celebrates its own 20th anniversary. Then there are people like me, using their platform on GamesRadar+ to beg for a remaster of Boktai: The Sun is in your Hands – no, I don't know how it would work, I just know that I want to play it. We could do this all damn day.
If a game or character has appeared on a Nintendo console at any point in the last 40 years, you better believe that there's a contingent of fans expecting to see it represented at the next Direct – only to become incensed when something else gets its turn in the spotlight. After all, why should somebody else's nostalgia be catered to and not their own?
Nintendo's back catalogue elicits such intense, emotional responses because it's kind of outrageous. Nintendo's long history, combined with the creativity and ingenuity it has exercised throughout it, has helped establish a truly expansive library. Nintendo has been a constant in many of our lives, and we tend to go to bat for the characters and series that were there with us in our formative years. You just don't hear long-time PlayStation and Xbox players clamoring for the return of SOCOM and Blinx: The Time Sweeper in quite the same way.
And so Nintendo did at E3 what it does best. Broadly, it satisfied nobody, but it worked to ensure that pockets of its fanbase were satiated. And there's no rhyme or reason to it. WarioWare is back. So is Super Monkey Ball. The Danganronpa games are coming to Switch. Mario Party is getting matchmaking, because apparently that's a capability to be celebrated in 2021. Advance Wars is being revived and remastered. Fatal Frame's Wii U debut is being given another chance at life. Metroid Dread was announced. That latter title is a sequel to one of my favorite Game Boy Advance games, 2002's Metroid Fusion, but I can't be the only one that had forgotten that there was a storyline that needed resolving. We didn't get the long rumored Nintendo Switch Pro, but we did get a Legend of Zelda: Game and Watch. It was a weird showing, and I'm kinda into it.
What we see here is a company leaning into its niches. Where Xbox is eager to shout about new IP like Starfield and Redfall, and PlayStation is only too eager to lean into blockbuster sequels like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Horizon Forbidden West, and God of War 2, Nintendo is able to dust off the weirder parts of its back catalogue for small, but vocal, corners of its fanbase. The company will never win everybody over, it's a statistical impossibility, but then maybe it doesn't need to.
In a way, that's what makes Nintendo what it is. You never know when one of its most popular or recognisable series will go missing-in-action or when one will be revived to oversized fanfare. It was an Advance Wars revival and the first all-new 2D Metroid in 19 years this time around, but 2022 could be the year of Earthbound and Kid Icarus, or another franchise that you've forgotten even existed but some corner of the Internet will lose its mind over. There's no telling what Nintendo will do. It's that unpredictability that makes the company so wonderfully frustrating, and a big part of what makes the E3 season so compelling. Never change, Nintendo – but do try to get Boktai on Switch before summer is over.
We got a new look at Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope during the Direct, but for our exclusive interview with the team behind it you'll want to read our Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope preview.