Back in January, 2014 was promised as the beginning of the new generation of video games. The Xbox One and Playstation 4 were finally out, and developers had had nearly half a year to let the creative juices start flowing. Anticipated titles from iconic developers like Bungie were going to reshape their respective genres, while also showing the power of the fresh hardware. But as 2014 pushed on, these supposedly “revolutionary” titles turned out to just be more of what we’re used to. While Watch Dogs, Titanfall and Destiny weren’t trainwrecks, their launches suffered from an endless wave of pre-release hype. By the time the games launched, there was no way for them to live up to those monolithic expectations.
EA, Ubisoft and Activision each invested millions into making these games sell. Their financial return was massive, no doubt, but in the wake of the hype generated through the marketing, the quality of the games suffered. Commercials, product tie-ins, and downloadable content by the motherload only served to distract from the actual software. The more these games were pushed as the “defining next-gen experience”, the less possible it was to achieve it.
The antithesis of this hype gorging came from an unlikely place: Nintendo and Super Smash Bros. Famous (or infamous) for steering their own ship, Nintendo didn’t drop millions to build hype for the upcoming installments in their beloved fighting series. Instead, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS gained anticipation in a much less in-your-face manner – Masahiro Sakurai drip-fed us screenshots, character profiles, and announcements over the course of 2014, complemented by a few Nintendo Directs. Nintendo kept their cool and presented Smash Bros. with a high level of restraint.
This all culminated at E3, where Nintendo’s “digital event” highlighted new features and characters. Between the humble Treehouse presentations and some hilarious GIF fuel in the “Iwata Vs. Reggie” battle, Nintendo was clearly comfortable letting anticipation build organically. Smash Bros.’ hype built to a fever pitch with a special pre-release tournament, which put skilled players on the stage to compete against each other in the Wii U version of the game. Nintendo built their marketing strategy on a very simple axiom: show, don’t tell. When the pros got their hands on Smash Bros. U, it became clear that Nintendo didn’t need a bloated ad campaign to get fans salivating – they only needed to give them a taste of the action.
In stark contrast to the marketing of Destiny, Watch Dogs, and Titanfall, Smash Bros. is being hyped through the gamers. Downloadable demos, in-store challenge kiosks, and Miiverse reveals from Sakurai himself are just a few of the clever ways Nintendo is getting fans talking. Nintendo wants the game to speak for itself. It’s not about redefining what a game could be or presenting a “true next-gen experience”; it’s about giving players something fun to discover for themselves. Smash Bros. is one of the few games this year that can live up to the hype, because it’s earned every bit of it.