Nintendo has long been known as a master of the unexpected, and every direct has included one surprise or another. I feel like Nintendo outdid themselves this time, though — both for better and worse. Animal Crossing getting delayed into next year was a gut punch I thought I’d never recover from, but once I was dazzled by Banjo-Kazooie’s fakeout reveal for Smash Bros., and the bombshell of a Breath of the Wild sequel, I was floored.
Nintendo has stuck with a recent trend of teasing expectations with a bunch of quick looks and trailers to get you interested, while luring you into watching deeper dives into select games shown on their Treehouse livestream right after the direct. The result is either awesome or a bit frustrating, depending on your schedule. With the big spread on Pokemon Sword and Shield covered last week, the direct was free to focus on many more titles than we could have possibly expected, and we even got a nice (and funny) introduction to the new President of Nintendo of America, Doug Bowser.
Starting the direct with a Smash reveal set the tone for more fast paced reveals. Even if a Dragon Quest addition to the roster is a bit more niche, revealing that you’d be able to play as multiple characters in one fighter was a pretty nifty way of making “The Hero” stand out among the other anime-looking swordsmen. It also started the great rollercoaster that was this year’s Nintendo Direct by getting everyone excited.
Prior to today we had only been told of a few playable games at Nintendo’s booth E3, and there was a bit of worry that this would translate into a fairly quiet E3 for Nintendo. As expected, we got a proper introduction for what Luigi is actually up to in Luigi’s Mansion that didn’t just focus on silly cutscenes, but actually gave us some good info on how everything will work (if you were worried about more bite-sized mission from Dark Moon, fear not!).
Seeing Luigi’s new moves get highlighted — like the ability to get smashy on the poor ghosts caught in his Poltergust — was a great reminder at how clever and unique the series is… though I’m still wary of Gooigi. Sure, puzzle solving with a gelatinous Luigi might be fun, but the gooey doppleganger just unnerves me. The only thing that unnerved me more was a lack of a release date, as we’re already halfway through the year that the game is supposed to come out in.
Ever since Mario Maker came out, we’ve all been asking for a Zelda Maker, but who would have thought it would be hiding inside the Link’s Awakening Remake. Everything shown so far from updated Gameboy Zelda has seemed meticulously re-created to be faithful to the original, so seeing a mode for something as wild as crafting your own dungeons was a huge deal. It wasn’t exactly clear if we’ll ever be able to share our creations with friends, though — I think Nintendo would have benefitted from some clearer messaging on that front.
Speaking of clearer messaging: Having Nintendo’s Yoshiaki Koizumi tease Resident Evil before showing kids run into what looked like the spitting image of Resident Evil 7’s Baker Mansion — only to have them play Resident Evil 1, and then announce it was Resident Evil 5 and 6 that were getting ported — let me down in a big way. With the announcement coming so soon after something massive like The Witcher 3 (!!!), I felt bummed we didn’t get something a bit more recent from Capcom.
Thankfully, from The Witcher 3 to The Secret of Mana, there were plenty of port announcements that weren’t disappointing. Plus, the reveal of New More Heroes 3, new looks at Daemon x Machina, and Astral Chained had me feeling pretty excited. And then came the moment everyone was waiting for: Animal Crossing.
A deserted island. Crafting your town from scratch. Players meeting up and exploring together. I thought the dream had finally arrived — until the release date faded into view and the floor fell out beneath me. There’s no way around it: Animal Crossing New Horizons getting delayed into 2020 is hard to hear.
Miyamoto himself has been quoted on wisely delaying games that weren’t ready — and I want to believe it’s truly not ready for a fall release — but man this would have been a good to know before the direct to better temper expectations and not send the “hype train” to a screeching halt. This also would have been a terrible way to close out the direct, but thankfully, Nintendo had a few tricks up its sleeve to bandage my wounded soul.
The guest fighter we all hoped for, but dared not believe in. With the double fake-out and callback to the last fake-out character reveal, Banjo-Kazooie’s DLC fighter reveal was pure brilliance, and had everyone around me screaming. There’s something inherently magical in the way Sakurai knows what will elicit the biggest response. It just wouldn’t have had the same effect with Dragon Quest’s Hero — but to set the scene with other Rare characters, the nods and winks to the source material shows an incredible amount of respect and playful reverence for Smash Bros.’ guest fighters.
And, by rights, that should have been it. Animal Crossing delay aside, there was a lot to be excited for in 2019 and beyond — but Nintendo just wasn’t finished. In what was probably the biggest surprise since Metroid Prime 4’s teaser (even though that hasn’t panned out how we’d hoped so far), we got a look at darker, creepier sequel to Zelda: Breath of the Wild. More than just a logo or a verbal confirmation, it gave us a tantalizing look at Link and Zelda in a new adventure, hinted at some fascinating story possibilities, and left us with plenty to gossip about until next year.
It may not have been as showstopping as previous years, but Nintendo’s E3 2019 Direct did a great job of filling a void left by bigger first party games with a slew of interesting looks, and some great promises of what’s to come.
Brendan Graeber is IGN’s Guides Editor, and really hopes we get some big ol’ undergeround dungeons in Breath of the Wild 2. Follow him on Twitter.