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Nintendo's off-kilter approach to the generation game just let it storm E3

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Nintendo's always marched to its own beat - it's what makes the company so fascinating, and just as often so frustrating. Sometimes that approach falters, sometimes it soars, and this week's E3 was a prime example of the latter. As the rest of the industry attempted the awkward - arguably impossible - balancing act of trying to put on a show while maintaining a holding pattern as Sony and Microsoft's next-generation consoles wait on the horizon, Nintendo delivered a breathless presentation that played to all of its strengths. Oh, and it delivered news of a Breath of the Wild sequel, too, which helped.

A funny thing happened when Nintendo decided to take a sideways step away from the generational arms race as it doubled down on doing things its own way - at first with the phenomenon that was the Wii, then with faltering Wii U and most recently, with a bit more success, with the Switch. There was a perception that Nintendo would forever be playing catch-up, receiving hand-me-downs in the shape of substandard ports and with games that were far from the technical cutting edge. Often it's felt that way - as anyone who endured the fallow years for the Wii U will attest - but really, over the years, the opposite has been the case.

And so, as publishers behind E3 showcases faltered by reeling out successions of cinematics in grand, expensive LA theatres, Nintendo did what it does best. A 45 minute online presentation, bustling with announcements and gameplay, and all with one incredible sting in the tail. I'd say it was all killer no filler, though that's not quite true - but when the filler is a brief skit introducing new Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser and playfully riffing off his improbable surname, it's probably allowed.

Everything else, though, just showed how well-honed the Direct format has become. No-one has to fumble on-stage. There's not much by way of hollow marketing talk. It's just games - lots of them - showing one after another in quick succession. It didn't even matter that a lot of the reveals weren't exactly new games, either, with headlines going to the unlikely appearance of The Witcher 3 on Switch, the emergence proper of the Panzer Dragoon remake and the stealth release of the Collection of Mana on the eShop, with Trials of Mana on its way early next year. It didn't even really matter that much that another headline was the delay of the new Animal Crossing into next year. It's not as if Switch owners will be short of games to play in the coming months.

What mattered wasn't so much the message as the delivery. Nintendo's Direct format has been as influential as any of its other innovations in gaming, something you could feel throughout this year's other E3 presentations. It's an influence you can see in Microsoft's revived Inside Xbox show, and perhaps most powerfully it's that influence which in part led to Sony's decision to skip this year's E3 as it begins to deliver its own semi-regular mini online briefings.

As ever, when it comes to imitating Nintendo many still can't quite get all the details right, and too often at this year's E3 publishers requested our attention only to spend the time saying almost nothing (why hello there, Bethesda). Nintendo used its off-kilter approach to the generation game with near-ruthless efficiency, making the most of this brief window before the new PlayStation and Xbox arrive to reassert exactly what it is that's made the Switch a success. Maybe Nintendo's hardware will be exposed as lacking at next year's E3 when the next generation truly does arrive, though I'm certain of one thing. When it comes to messaging clearly and concisely, I'm sure the rest of the industry will still be playing catch-up.

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Martin Robinson avatar

Martin Robinson


Martin worked at Eurogamer from 2011 to 2023. He has a Gradius 2 arcade board and likes to play racing games with special boots and gloves on.