Nintendo announced a new installment in the Super Mario Maker series this afternoon, along with a polished and remastered edition of the classic Link’s Awakening, a brand-new action game called Astral Chain, and news about the forthcoming Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3.
Those were the big surprises in the latest Nintendo Direct, the company’s semi-regular series where it shares updates, announcements, trailers, and other news. Nintendo had already announced earlier this week that today’s conference would involve Three Houses, the latest installment in Nintendo’s long-running, popular Fire Emblem strategy franchise.
Other than that, though, it was anyone’s guess what they’d have to show off, as the announcement that they were starting over on Metroid Prime 4 seemed to leave a big potential gap in Nintendo’s upcoming release schedule.
But along with the surprises were some noticeable omissions. There was no news about the new Animal Crossing that Nintendo teased last year; there was no news at all about future characters to be added to the Smash Brothers Ultimate roster; and all that was said about Bayonetta 3 was, basically, “we’re working on it.”
The online event, hosted by Nintendo deputy manager Yoshiaki Koizumi, came out swinging with a surprise trailer for a sequel to the well-regarded Super Mario Maker. One of the must-have titles for the Wii-U, SMM is a build-your-own title that lets players come up with an endless array of custom-built levels for several different eras in the Super Mario Brothers series. There’s still a community making new levels to this day.
The new Super Mario Maker 2 features more monsters to add, more power-ups to place (most notably the Cat Suit from Super Mario 3D World), and an additional style of gameplay, letting users bring Mario forward into the 3DS/Wii era. It’s actually a lot closer to release than I expected, and is currently planned for June of 2019.
The Fire Emblem series has been running for much longer than a lot of Nintendo’s American fans realize, going all the way back to the Super Nintendo, but the games only started getting translated for Western release in 2003, during the heyday of the Game Boy Advance. A given Fire Emblem title is a lengthy turn-based strategy game, set against a complex wartime backdrop, and characterized by its challenge. Unlike a lot of other games in the same genre, if a character in most Fire Emblem games dies, they aren’t just out of action for that battle. They’re permanently gone, and the battles are punishing enough that you can easily lose your best soldiers in one or two bad turns.
Three Houses puts you in the role of a mercenary turned professor, who works with a class of students in one of, well, three houses at a military academy. Whichever of the three you pick, which not-coincidentally also aligns you with one of three nations that control the continent around you, your job is to help your class realize its potential, by teaching them skills, helping them to pass exams, and taking them into live combat exercises.
Given how Fire Emblem games tend to go, you’re probably going to also end up as a pivotal commander in a nation-spanning war of conquest with no easy answers and no comforting illusions about who’s actually the “good guy” in the scenario. (Hint: it’s not you, because nobody is.) At the very least, your character starts the game by occasionally getting visions of a girl named Sothis, and that’s usually not a great sign.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses was originally scheduled for release this spring, but as of today’s Direct, has been pushed back to a release date of July 26th.
Platinum Games is a Japanese third-party studio that’s perhaps most famous for Bayonetta, and notorious for making challenging, unique action games in roughly the same mold. Astral Chain continues that trend. Made in part by Hideki Kamiya, the director of the original 1998 Resident Evil 2 and the creator of the Devil May Cry series, Astral Chain is a cyberpunk action game where cops battle robot monsters in a futuristic city.
Past that, your guess is as good as mine. It being a Platinum game, though, it can be readily assumed that it’ll be a flashy, easy-to-learn, hard-to-master action extravaganza that will probably harshly judge you at the end of every level unless you turned in a masterful performance. (Platinum games all tend to feel like a high school class with a real taskmaster of a teacher.) It’ll probably find an audience.
The real surprise of the Direct, however, was its ending announcement. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, one of the most notoriously weird entries in the franchise, is being “reborn as a new experience” for the Switch.
The original Link’s Awakening was a 1993 Game Boy Color release that’s gotten a lot of attention in later years. On the surface, it’s a lot like A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo, with the same sort of top-down graphics, and it proved weirdly influential on later releases. Among other things, it’s the first game to introduce a Hyrule that’s, well, full of weird characters, a decision that was inspired by one of the developers’ familiarity with the then-popular TV show “Twin Peaks.”
(It’s also the first game in the series where you can just outright steal items from the shops, but if you ever go back inside, the merchant will angrily zap Link to death with a lightning bolt.)
The Switch port updates the graphics… slightly. If you compare it to the original Link’s Awakening, the perspective is almost the same, and the color palette is the same. It’s a faithful modernization of a game that proved to be a turning point for the Legend of Zelda series, modernizing it while keeping it surprisingly faithful to the original version.
Other big news from today’s Nintendo Direct included:
- Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is an action-RPG for up to four players, currently exclusive to the Switch, which features an all-star cast of Marvel superheroes. All that was known before today was that the game existed, as per a short trailer at the Game Awards, but Nintendo confirmed today that the game can be played both online and locally with your friends. The roster is also confirmed to include Iron Fist, Captain Marvel, and “the Defenders,” which could mean either the classic Marvel team (Hulk, Doctor Strange, Silver Surfer, a bunch of others) or the recent Netflix show (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil).
- Members of the Nintendo Switch Online service will receive a free download of the surprise release Tetris 99, available as of today, which is basically a Tetris battle royale; 99 players enter, but only one can win. Given the weird lack of head-to-head action in last year’s otherwise-successful Tetris Effect, this is low-key one of the biggest announcements of the Direct.
- The BAFTA-winning Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is coming to the Switch this spring.
- Daemon X Machina, a Switch-exclusive mecha combat game, has a demo up on the Nintendo eShop as of today that features several “prototype missions.” Players who fill out the attached survey may be contacted to participate in the game’s beta.
- Deltarune: Chapter 1, Toby Fox’s surprise sequel to the indie hit Undertale, will come out on the Switch on February 28th.
- The asymmetrical horror game Dead by Daylight is getting a Switch port in the spring.
- The farming/adventure game Rune Factory 4 will be remastered for release on the Switch later in 2019, with a full, brand-new sequel, Rune Factory 5, in the works.
- Dragon Quest XI, the hit Japanese RPG, is coming to the Switch in a new “Definitive Edition,” with new side stories that place a spotlight on the various members of the supporting cast.
- Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker on the Switch gets a new update today that lets all the courses in the game support 2-player cooperative mode, with the second player using Toadette. On March 14th, DLC will be released that adds 18 new challenges, 5 new courses, and new objectives to the existing courses. A bundle is available for sale online now that lets players pick up both the normal game and forthcoming DLC at once.
- The only Smash Brothers Ultimate news to be had was that this spring will see the release of the game’s version 3.0, with additions that “you’ll just have to wait to find out.” The first DLC character, Joker from the Persona series, is part of the Challenger Pack 1 DLC, available before the end of April.