Nintendo Direct | The smaller gems lurking beneath the big hitters

Zelda and Metroid Prime Remastered rightly hogged the limelight, but there were also some exciting indie games packed into the Nintendo Direct roster.

Harmony: The Fall of Reverie

In marketing terms, Nintendo’s long-running series of Direct webcasts are a masterstroke. Social media’s abuzz with speculation in the build-up to each one, and then there’s plenty of chatter about what was announced afterwards – whether it’s excitement over a big reveal or disappointment that Nintendo still hasn’t got around to making a new Kid Icarus game.

Let’s start with the obvious bits first.

The Big Hitters

February 2023’s Nintendo Direct was rightly dominated by The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, finally out on 12 May after what feels like decades of teases and anticipation. The trailer gives us glimpses of its darker, more ominous tone, which cements the widespread theory that it is to Breath of the Wild what Majora’s Mask was to Ocarina of Time.

Following close behind in the excitement stakes was Metroid Prime Remastered – a welcome HD refurb of Retro Studios’ classic GameCube shooter. That it even exists is surprising enough; the true revelation, though, is that it’s available right now on eShop. A physical release is due on 3 March.

Then there’s Pikmin 4, the latest entry in the always-delightful real-time strategy series. The sentient radish-wrangling premise is present and correct, though the big mechanical twist here seems to be the addition of a big, soppy dog. You’ll hear no complaints from us.

The Less Surprising Stuff

Ranking just under the big hitters, we then got all the pleasant but less eye-bulging announcements. Xenoblade Chronicles 3, Splatoon 3 and Fire Emblem Engage are all getting new expansions. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is getting a Booster Course Pass slab of DLC. Octopath Traveller 2 and Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe have new demos available to download from the eShop now; in a curious move, both games are out on 24 February. Nintendo’s reboots of Advance Wars 1 and 2 – in a collection imaginatively called Advance Wars 1+2 Re-Boot Camp – have a release date, too: 21 April.

Then there was the news that Nintendo Switch Online is getting Game Boy and Game Boy Advance titles added to it retro line-up: Tetris, The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap and Super Mario Land 2 are among the handheld games available on the platform now, with more due soon.

The Smaller Gems

Among all the big, glitzy names, meanwhile, were a number of smaller, potentially brilliant titles – some familiar, others entirely new.

The most unexpected one for us was Disney Illusion Island. This 2D platformer very consciously harks back to the Illusion series of Mickey Mouse games on Sega’s consoles in the eighties and nineties. It’s a four-player co-op platformer that sees Mickey team up with Minnie, Donald and Goofy for a light, charmingly-animated adventure. It’s out on 28 July and looks thoroughly wholesome.

Another blast from a previous time is Samba de Amigo: Party Central, a new take on Sega’s much-loved arcade/Dreamcast-era rhythm-action game. It’s due out this summer, though we’ll be shaking the Switch’s Joy-Cons rather than the original game’s plastic maraca peripherals. Let’s just hope it’s better than the disappointingly imprecise Wii version.

Continuing the nostalgia, developer Motion Twin announced a Castlevania-themed DLC for its hit Metroidvania, Dead Cells. Then there’s the surprise return of Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective – Capcom’s macabre adventure for the Nintendo DS that was widely overlooked on its original release in 2010. The upcoming remaster, due this summer, should help it find the wider audience it deserves.

Speaking of overlooked, the announcement of a new Level 5 game was in danger of slipping under the radar as everyone clamoured over the new Zelda trailer. DecaPolice looks like another action RPG in the vein of Ni No Kuni and its sequel, albeit with a more mature anime theme than the Studio Ghibli-designed fantasy of those earlier titles.

Nor was that the only title from Level 5, who must be one of the busiest developers in Japan. There was also Professor Layton and the World of Steam, a continuation of its long-running adventure-puzzler series. Then came Fantasy Life i: The Girl Who Steals Time – a sequel to the distinctly kawaii Fantasy Life that graced the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. It’s due out at some point this year.

Tron: Identity shouldn’t be ignored, either – even if you’ve been less than convinced by other recent tie-ins based on Disney’s oddly resilient sci-fi franchise. It’s the pedigree you need to look at: the latest Tron is from Bithell Games, who brought us the wonderful Thomas Was Alone and the solid strategy tie-in, John Wick Hex. The trailer doesn’t give us much to go on, but we’re confident that developer Mike Bithell can deliver the neon-coloured goods.

Here’s another intriguing spin-off from a well-known franchise – Bayonetta Origins: Cereza. A prequel that takes the hack-and-slash series into a lighter, cel-shaded new arena, Cereza is an unexpected change of direction but one we’re looking forward to checking out. We won’t have long to wait, either – it’s out on 17 March.

Equally colourful is Harmony: The Fall of Reverie, a new game from French developer Don’t Nod. The Life is Strange games were enthralling enough, but you should check out the animation in the trailer below – if the whole game looks like this, we’re in for a visual feast.

Sea of Stars, the upcoming RPG from the creators of The Messenger, has some beautiful visuals, too. Harking back to JRPS from the Super Nintendo era, its 16-bit sprites look good enough to eat. The game’s been in development for some years, given how much better it looks since the last time we saw it. The time’s been well spent. Sabotage Studio’s fantasy epic is out on 29 August and is one well worth keeping an eye on.

Incredibly, we still haven’t covered everything jammed into the announcement. There was Fashion Dreamer, which has something to do with clothes, and a free-to-play multiplayer title called Omega Strikers, which recalls the Windjammers games. There was the Etrian Odyssey Origins Collection, an HD compendium of three cult JRPG classics, and Baten Kaitos I & II HD Remaster, a revival of two JRPGs from the GameCube era. Both are due this summer. Bandai Namco has the surreal action-puzzler Love Katamari Reroll+Royal Reverie rolling out in early June. Spike Chunsoft (they of Daganronpa fame) announced Master Detective Archives: Rain Code, a detective RPG that looks like a darker take on Yokai Watch.

That is, we’re sure you’ll all agree, an awful lot of games. Perhaps too many games – more than most of us would be able to play in one year, even if we gave up silly habits like eating, sleeping and going to the loo. Still, the breadth of genres, styles and ideas on display is hard to deny; the Switch may be approaching its sixth birthday, but the level of support for it – both from major studios and relatively tiny indies – shows no sign of slowing down.

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