Nintendo Brings Gaming Back To Basics at SDCC With Stronger Showing Than E3

(by Brian Davidson)

The Nintendo Experience at The Marriott Ballroom is always the biggest off-site highlight at SDCC.  The last few years however have been trying years for the company.  With the Wii U’s inevitable failure becoming more evident in 2015, Nintendo’s presence in 2016 was understandably underwhelming.  Relying on Splatoon for the showfloor inside the convention showfloor itself, which had at that point been a game out for almost two years, and relying heavily on demos of Super Mario Maker at the offsite Nintendo Experience, it became a telling sign that the company was in dire straits.

Fast forward to 2017 and what a difference a year makes.  Whereas Nintendo was relying on still a small sample of games at this year’s offsite showing, the titles shown were by far the biggest AAA products has ever shown in the history of their SDCC presence.  On hand were demos of Splatoon 2, Arms, Pokken Tournament DX, and most notable Super Mario Odyssey – all for the Nintendo Switch.  While all of these games with the exception of Mario had been released on the starting day of SDCC – each shown how far Nintendo has come in the past year fixing the errors of their past to a family-oriented audience.

Gone were the complexities of showcasing user-interfaces of Super Mario Maker, and now focused on tried-and-true…but SIMPLE platform mechanics of Super Mario Odyssey.

Gone were the solo demos of endless lines to play a meager 3 minutes of game demo and in were group sessions showcasing the Switch’s multi-player capabilities with Splatoon 2.  A game we might add that was more similar to the first Splatoon but at this year’s SDCC felt refreshed and revitalized with the Switch’s simpler controls.

Gone were the lack of new IPs, rehashes of Zelda and Kirby, and in were new properties based on the Chibi Robot series for the still-supported 3DS and of course the highly-anticipated ARMS.

What made Nintendo’s showing at SDCC even more impressive than any videogame related exhibitor on the showfloor and off-site was their willingness to not only embrace team multi-player but their uncanny ability to provide fun, quick-learning experiences for gamers of all ages and types – old/young, casual/hardcore, single/family-oriented.  Nintendo essentially went back to their roots since their 2016 showing and rightfully put themselves back in the driver’s seat to command the most attention at SDCC of any gaming booth.

Nintendo's offsite SDCC showing was packed with setups that gamers of all levels and experience could appreciate

While booths such as Capcom and Konami were touting their standard faire of titles – Street Fighter to Monster Hunter to Yu-Gi-Oh – to name a few – they felt stale in comparison for once to Nintendo’s revitalization of pick-up-and-play gaming.

While the Switch was an immediate commercial success launch-wise,  Nintendo has effectively made a statement at SDCC, more so than even their own presence at E3 just two months ago, that the remainder of 2017 will only see a string of releases to wet gamers’ appetites.

Nintendo further livened their off-site experience at the Marriott with the inclusion of Youtube influencers and a cosplay Splatoon 2 contest to further celebrate the game’s release at the SDCC kickoff.  In private backstage meetings, Nintendo representative Krysta Yang revealed that trailers shown at the Nintendo booth but not in playable format – most notably Fire Emblem Warriors and Xenoblade Chronicles were indeed on pace to make a 2017 release, more fuel to a strong sign for Nintendo’s Q4.

Last but not least was probably Nintendo’s fail-proof trump card this holiday season should all else go to bust (unlikely) – The SNES Mini Classic.  Shown on display for the first time to the general public, as they did previously with the NES Classic at SDCC 2016, the miniature 16-bit retro-console is already a bonafied hit with passerby’s to Nintendo’s booth.

If all else fails, Nintendo's SNES Classic Mini - shown only on display at SDCC - will still be a hit this year

San Diego Comic Con has now become Nintendo’s premiere consumer showcase – more so than their past CES showings and undoubtedly higher profile than their recent E3 showings.   Even as the big boys of Microsoft, Capcom, Konami, Sega entice SDCC crowds with flashier activations, Nintendo relied more on what they do best when given the treatment of user-interface and development time – games and catering who matters most – not the media, but the fans themselves.

(all images taken by Brian Davidson)

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