Nintendo’s in a good place right now. 2018’s jam-packed launch schedule is strong and is generating considerable buzz across the webosphere, with gamers hotly anticipating such titles as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu / Eevee! And yet despite all this, there appears to be one game that has been planted at the bottom of the priority pile. Why has the Super Mario Party release received so little attention, and does this mean that the game is now destined to fail?
Super Mario Party is an upcoming title for the Nintendo Switch from developer Nd Cube. The 11th instalment in the Mario Party series, the game is scheduled to release this autumn on October 5th 2018, offering some colourful ‘board game’-style party action alongside a host of co-operative mini-games. There’s quite a few of these, in fact; I believe the total is something in the region of 80, so there will be little time to snooze.
And yet despite such a colourful premise, with at least 20 playable characters from Nintendo’s popular roster, this title appears to have been eclipsed by the behemoth that is the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which is slated to release in December. In a way, this is understandable; to promote both thematically-similar titles with equal vigour could potentially dilute the marketing, but conversely I’m not sure the current strategy of ‘promote the hell out of one and more-or-less ignore the other’ is the best way to go. To me, Super Mario Party feels like a DVD Easter egg, that only those ‘in the know’ will be fortunate enough to discover.
I guess the thinking behind this approach could be to use the Super Mario Party release as a kind of ‘teaser’ for the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate juggernaut, to whet gamers’ appetites and tide them over before the big title du jour. There’s also a good chance that both games will appear on many a player’s Christmas lists, so an October launch for Super Mario Party is healthy in this respect; it’s better than January!
Actually, as I write this I’m struggling to think of a better approach for Nintendo. What to do? In hindsight, the game might have worked better as a summer release – a big push at E3, and then “ta-dah! Play it now!” But then of course, the game would not have been ready…
Okay, so then do you go later and release it in, say, March, where it could potentially look like a cheap cash-in or even an afterthought in the wake of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate? Or could it release even later? Could Nintendo throw a ton of money at it and create Super Mario Party Ultimate with 999 playable characters, including Lance Vance from Vice City(!) and have it as a huge pillar release for 2019? Possibly, but I’m not sure it would pay off. The Mario Party series doesn’t have quite the pull of Smash Bros.
One thing that it does have in its favour, though, is the screen-linking technology that players can make use of in Toad’s Rec Room (see this in action in the E3 trailer.) Essentially, this means that gamers can lie their Switches face-up on a flat surface and synchronise them so as to expand the size of the play area. Characters can then move freely between the two Switches, and even ‘hide’ in the blind spot where to the two screens meet to gain a tactical advantage, which is fun. Of course, this innovation requires two Nintendo Switches, and two copies of Super Mario Party and, y’know, FRIENDS, so it won’t be for everyone. But will it be enough of a unique selling point for those purchasers who are on the fence? I’m not so sure.
Despite these reservations, I have to conclude that Nintendo’s current marketing strategy is probably the best one for the Super Mario Party release (although I still think it could have done with a bit more coverage…) I don’t think the game is necessarily doomed to fail, but I do think it will suffer slightly; some players will arguably choose to pass on this title and wait for the perhaps more exciting Smash Bros. in December. Still, we’ll have to see how it all plays out.
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