Don’t count Nintendo out of reckoning for E3 this year.
Nintendo has been very quiet about its E3 plans this year. We know they’ll be there, with another Direct, and we know they won’t announce new hardware there (so all those rumors about a Switch revision must wait for a while). But apart from that, they haven’t shown their hand much. Which is unusual- for the last few years, for example, Nintendo have always announced beforehand what game they will be making the centerpiece of their E3 showing. It was Breath of the Wild in 2016, Super Mario Odyssey in 2017, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate last year.
But this year? We don’t know. We have no idea what Nintendo is planning on. The official description for their show has been very vague, too.
It would be easy to assume that Nintendo will have a satisfying, but ultimately uneventful E3 as far as this year is concerned. After all, the Switch already has an obscenely stacked back half of the year, with games such as Astral Chain, Super Mario Maker 2, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Daemon X Machina, Pokemon Sword and Shield, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening all lined for release by this year’s end (and this isn’t counting the third party and indie games that will also release on the Switch in this period). Nintendo could just focus on upcoming games for this year, all of which have already been announced, along with some token third party announcements, and have a good show. An unremarkable one—not the kind of bombshell filled event that “wins” E3–but good enough.
But while evidence, at least at first glance, suggests that Nintendo doesn’t have anything major to announce, there is some evidence to suggest that that may not be the case.
The most importance of these is the official description for the Nintendo Direct, which only says that it will feature “upcoming games for [the Switch]”. Unlike last year, where the official description explicitly emphasized that only 2018 games would be shown off, this year doesn’t seem to be committing itself to any such rigid window. This seems to suggest that Nintendo may be about to relax its “close to release date announcements” cardinal rule, at least a little. We could see games coming to the Switch next year and beyond, too.
That opens up the window to some surprise announcements a little more. It is also encouraging that Nintendo has already had, or scheduled, major Direct streams focusing on Super Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and Pokemon Sword and Shield, and a month long blowout of Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 with Game Informer, well in advance of E3. This suggests that none of these four games will get a particularly long segment during the E3 show. Which begs the question: why? Obviously because Nintendo has other things it wants to talk about during the show. But what could these be?
Nintendo still has some major cards it can play, as far as exciting reveals and releases go. The most obvious of these is that they could, for instance, show off the next 3D Zelda and Mario games at the event. Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey came out in 2017, which means that next year marks three years since their launches. Three years is a feasible enough window to assume development of iterative follow-ups for both games, and seeing a new Zelda that reuses the Breath of the Wild template ala Majora’s Mask, or a Super Mario Odyssey 2 shouldn’t be out of the question.
Even one of those alone would be a major announcement—and it is tempting to assume that Zelda, especially, may be held back for a reveal in a Nintendo Direct or at The Game Awards, since Link’s Awakening may be the game Nintendo wants to focus on. But the audiences for 2D and 3D Zelda games are different enough that Nintendo may feel comfortable having the next 3D one shown off now as well.
There’s no shortage of other exciting announcements they could make—there have been leaks of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt coming to the Nintendo Switch later this year, and if there is any merit to that announcement, it would be a major bombshell of an announcement. One of the best games ever made, and a technical showcase for the current gen consoles, is coming to the Switch, and will be playable on the go? That’s a fantastic get for Nintendo, and even though the game itself is a few years old now, is the kind of reveal that would make headlines and excite fans. Or Apex Legends, which is another game that has been rumored for the Switch, getting officially announced for the hybrid system. Or Sypro: Reignited Trilogy, which, again, has been previously leaked for the Switch. Or Ori and the Blind Forest, which, again, was previously leaked for the Switch
To be fair, these are ports of games already available elsewhere—and as exciting as the prospect of Switch versions of these games is, announcements of ports is not the kind of thing that “wins” you E3. But combined with the other “higher grade” surprises Nintendo could potentially have at the show, as well as the obscenely packed Switch lineup already confirmed for this year, these would contribute towards a very headlines-packed show, and one of their best ones in years. Updates on a very packed, diverse, and exciting upcoming lineup, a handful of jaw droppers, and some smaller-scale announcements and reveals, sounds like the ideal E3 show.
On the other hand, all of this could be fan fiction. Maybe Nintendo does just show off the games it has already confirmed for release for this year, announcing release dates and the like, with the odd confirmation of a Switch version or port of a third party game. Even in that case, however, their show would be far better than last year’s, where Nintendo spent more than half of its time talking only about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or the more muted affairs of the Wii U era. The bar, to be fair, is not too high when it comes to Nintendo’s E3 shows in the last few years.
But a low bar doesn’t preclude from how great even a “safe” showing for Nintendo at E3 this year will be. That’s because, even if Nintendo does miss out on having very many “surprises”, the future of the Switch is bright enough that even just talking about the stuff we already know about will lead to a fantastic E3 Direct for them.