After a bit of a wait and a release lineup that, apart from the odd exception, has been drier than the Sahara desert in recent weeks, Luigi jumps to the rescue with New Super Luigi U. It's arrived in this week's Nintendo Download update as DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U, but will have a life of its own as a boxed retail release later this summer, with that version coming in 33% more expensive but functioning as standalone software. Nintendo of America has even weighed in with a promotion for double Club Nintendo coins and a chance to win a pin on today's DLC, throwing up extra incentive to tempt gamers into the eShop option.
It's a notable piece of paid-DLC, of course, and we've already considered the potential importance of this extra content on Wii U, particularly in terms of third-party games. Luigi U represents an interesting approach from Nintendo, however, as it's allowing gamers to have their cake and eat it. Those that want the most affordable option and extra 2D platforming goodness can opt for the DLC — assuming they own New Super Mario Bros. U — and others that want a nice green box for their collection can pay more at a later date. In one swoop Nintendo's making a move to increase digital revenue — and paid-DLC is a standard in modern games — while also aiming to satisfy a traditional userbase.
It's a different approach from Nintendo, not in terms of the current DLC option, but making the expansion significant enough to merit its own release. It's not completely unheard of, there are some similar examples, but typically a lot of games get later "special" releases with all DLC bundled in with the original software, making some day one buyers curse the publisher's name. Nintendo isn't doing that, however — at least not yet — but is saying that New Super Luigi U is enough of a product to sell for $29.99 on its own, with none of the Mario goodness. In the eyes of a consumer that isn't necessarily clued into the many Mario reboots or the presence of Luigi U on the eShop, it'll be an all-new platformer at around half the normal price.
Luigi U sets an interesting precedent, in that sense, but does it successfully flirt with the boundaries of being in-game DLC and a standalone game? We're playing it for our review — about half way through at the time of writing — and the current answer is yes, just about. It'd be easy to lose count of the re-used assets, not to mention the fact that you're running through the same overworld and stages utilising backgrounds and obstacles that are mostly the same. With that said, they are new levels, and combined with Luigi's different mechanics and short level times, it has a different dynamic and gameplay focus from its launch day predecessor. Whether it represents good value at $19.99 / €19.99 / £17.99 and then, alternatively, $29.99, is something we'll be able to answer after playing through the whole game.
This release does, however, raise the possibility of similar initiatives in the future. We've written recently about the strains of Nintendo's development workload, and the catch-22 of having to tempt vital third-parties with greater hardware sales, but only being able to shift more units with major first-party titles. We've seen a number of delays — leading to a bit of a software drought — and third-party exclusives lost, as it's become clear that the dual issues of maintaining high standards and establishing resources for HD-level projects has pressurised Nintendo's development teams. Games are just taking longer to get out of the door.
If big-budget and high-profile games take longer to arrive, perhaps Nintendo can leverage the upcoming lineup of releases to churn out additional spin-offs in the future, adopting this DLC/retail standalone model. This wouldn't necessarily work with everything — something like Mario Kart 8 would likely adopt conventional DLC, if anything — but other titles seem more than suitable. Obvious examples are Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Super Mario 3D World, 2D and 3D platformers that, in theory, seem ideal for a similar tie-in / standalone spin-off. Wii Fit U would in fact merely be following up the trend of the two Wii releases, but on this occasion adjusting and adopting the additional content as both DLC and standalone software. Wii Party U and, if we go back to launch, Nintendo Land, also seem like games suitable for this dual release approach.
This tactic works due to some key reasons. There's little doubt that, despite the bursts of creativity and tight gameplay we've seen so far, New Super Luigi U will likely have been put together by a smaller, less stretched development team. The building blocks and assets are all there, including the graphical engine tweaks that would have taken up resources for the launch day release. The foundations can be time consuming in any project, and developments like this can bypass that initial step and, surely, move a lot faster.
And so with various new titles — some of which have already seen delays, let's not forget — coming, those are more foundations that establish engines and tools for Wii U titles. If Nintendo looks ahead at its development cycles and sees gaps that can be filled, the reception of New Super Luigi U could potentially open the door for relatively quick and easy projects to satisfy game-hungry fans.
The balance is important, of course, when adopting a dual release and the pricing that we've seen. Even going in with an expectation that it's an expansion of an existing game, for the retail option to seem fair the content has to be relatively significant and demonstrate enough variety to stand apart from its predecessor. We're still gauging whether Luigi U achieves that, for our part, but we will say that its feel is different enough so far. And while we've given examples where this model may work, there are other franchises where it would probably be a mistake. Not all franchises should necessarily have DLC in any form, of course, while we have doubts that something like the Zelda franchise would receive spin-offs of this nature, due to the image of the series — particularly on home consoles — and consumer expectations of detailed, lengthy adventure titles.
Like so many of Nintendo's moves in the past 12-18 months, New Super Luigi U seems like an experiment and testing of the waters. It's serving to give extra life to a launch title and being released as a standalone game, and the company will no doubt be closely monitoring sales of both versions. If both succeed, and as Nintendo seeks to maintain regular releases and sales momentum of the Wii U, we wouldn't rule out similar approaches in other franchises in the coming years.