Let's kick off this article with some current-day realities - not negative as such, but perhaps uncomfortable. At the moment, especially with the Wii U, Nintendo is responsible for producing the bulk of high-quality retail releases. There are partners or second-party studios producing some key efforts - like Xenoblade Chronicles X and Devil's Third - and some multiplatform releases, such as LEGO Dimensions and Guitar Hero Live, but those are very slim pickings in comparison to current-gen home console rivals the PS4 and Xbox One.
There are limits to what Nintendo can do, too, especially as - in this generation - it's also working on a range of 3DS titles, the 'NX' platform, mobile content with DeNA, and its Quality of Life (QoL) projects. Producing major retail games isn't exactly a rapid process, especially for any project that's taking a fresh start - Intelligent Systems can utilise a number of familiar assets and techniques with Fire Emblem: If, for example, but we imagine Code Name S.T.E.A.M. was in the works for much longer. High quality takes time, but even more so if you can't simply tweak work done in previous games.
We're seeing an interesting trend at present, as Nintendo is becoming hugely familiar with DLC practices and is becoming increasingly active in that area. The intriguing part is that it's not so long ago that 'sequel-itis' was a hot talking point among Nintendo gamers - particularly in relation to New Super Mario Bros. U, there was some argument over whether we were having too much Mario and, beyond that, too many of the 'same games'. Naturally not everyone agreed with that argument in late 2012 / early 2013, but it was certainly discussed.
Yet the attitude towards DLC seems to prompt instinctively different reactions. In a series of polls earlier this weekend we asked for reader's views on the prospect of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. almost as 'platforms within platforms'; in other words, if DLC was a continual feature for the rest of this generation, would that be welcome? The majority seemed to like the idea, which has been helped by the general popularity of the DLC.
Perhaps it's about branding and format, in terms of perspectives around 'too much of the same thing', and Nintendo seems to have learned that lesson. If, for example, there are another two Mario Kart 8 DLC packs, that would effectively deliver enough tracks for what could have been a figurative Mario Kart 9, but there'd likely be little sentiment of Nintendo over-milking its kart racing cash cow with this DLC, and instead - potentially - a public perception that fans are being given great additional content to keep a top title active.
Much of that comes down to how good the DLC is and how much it costs, of course. It's not a stretch to say that the two Mario Kart 8 DLC packs - the second of which is just days away - have been very well received, in terms of how good the new tracks have been but also the pricing. On the flipside, you can pay more for a bunch of superficial Mii costume outfits across the two versions of Super Smash Bros., so there's a sense of Nintendo still finding the right balance and primarily acting as a business. The Smash Bros. audience is perhaps a little more of a 'core' base, so the big N is pushing its luck with committed gamers whereas, perhaps, the broad universal nature of Mario Kart has prompted a more generous approach.
This perspective of 'platforms within platforms' is an interesting one, however, especially as both franchises can incorporate a range of IPs and brands; Mario Kart 8 is the first (non-arcade) entry in that series to do so. Additional DLC could just keep on coming in both cases, and that seems to be a welcome possibility, especially for the racing title. It's a slightly more curious situation with Super Smash Bros., where the extras so far are characters and costumes - Nintendo still remains a little too quiet of the arrival of online Tournies. After fears that Masahiro Sakurai was burnt out and contemplating his future, we now have the Smash Bros. Fighter Ballot suggesting DLC will continue for the rest of this year at least. How much of that is being driven and led by Sakurai-san will be interesting to see.
What we're seeing is a blend of Nintendo sticking to its principles while also adopting ideas pioneered by rivals. The idea of consistent DLC to keep selling a game well beyond launch is familiar in racing games, FPS titles and a range of genres besides, with 'season tickets' being particularly common - Koei Tecmo is a master of this too, as we saw with Hyrule Warriors. Yet Nintendo is doing this instead of a frantic annual turnaround of its biggest brands, an area for which it was criticised with Mario games between 2010 - 2013, in particular.
Games like Call of Duty lay it on thick with DLC but still have new games every year, but Nintendo is adamant that key 'one per generation' rules won't be broken for some brands. Mario Kart and Smash Bros. fall into that rule. As 'platforms', both can certainly sustain themselves over the next two years if required, too - it's harder work with Super Smash Bros. across two systems with diverse capabilities, but it's not hard to envisage that we'll still be looking ahead to more DLC across both these games into 2016.
From Nintendo's perspective it's logical to flesh out these games - it fills gaps in release schedules (as these April arrivals have done) and is likely to be economical in terms of resources. The expertise and engines are in place and finely grooved, unlike when starting afresh; with so many early delays in 2013 to Nintendo games in this HD era, that's a comforting place for the company to be.
In the question of resources, though, safe bets like these could divert attention from fresh projects. For every piece of DLC we enjoy, those developers will have been working on these extensions rather than other projects. Balance is key - when do we want less DLC and more diverse releases? Or do you we want as much of a good thing as possible? At the moment the sentiment in our polls was for the latter, but that could change in months to come.
With Nintendo's focus spread across so many projects and platforms, efficiency and 'easy wins' will always be sought. Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. seem to be delivering that - more gameplay with less games.
The new evergreen for Nintendo could be digital-only, and just one more example of Nintendo's move away from old-school policies.