Cast your mind back to E3 2014 - Nintendo's first 'Digital Event' had finished and, by many accounts, had gone down rather well. It was a broadcast designed for all audiences, so a surprise immediately followed with the announcement that mature title Devil's Third, originally planned for PS3 and Xbox 360 before collapsing due to its publisher's financial woes, was now coming exclusively to the Wii U.
Led by Tomonobu Itagaki - best known for his work on the Ninja Gaiden and Dead or Alive franchises - and developed by Valhalla Game Studios, there was a lot of talk on how active the partnership with Nintendo had become. Though Itagaki-san has led the project, the emphasis was on a strong working relationship and an exchange of positive ideas with Nintendo. It was all a bed of roses, and the shooter even got a spot on the Treehouse live stream:
Fast forward to this year, however, and it wasn't mentioned by Nintendo of America at E3, unless it was whispered when we weren't listening. It's as if the game no longer existed, and that's particularly odd considering the fact that the week before the LA extravaganza brought fresh assets and release dates for Japan and Europe; in fact, it's now just two months away from release in the EU.
It was assumed that Nintendo of America was saving a date and some updated coverage for E3, and that's made its absence from the event all the stranger. The one 'mature' slot in the Treehouse schedule was given to Fatal Frame: The Black Haired Shrine Maiden; in the aforementioned announcement for Japan and Europe - a week prior to E3 - Devil's Third had a 10 minute showcase video on Nintendo's official Japanese YouTube channel. In North America, nothing.
Considering the fact the game is clearly finished - or close to being finished - and has been localised for Europe, this silence is peculiar. Yet while that could be attributed to strategy, there have been some minor but head-scratching occurrences in the past week. On the one hand the game's listing dropped off the eShop in North America, and then Itagaki-san conducted a somewhat chaotic Q & A on Facebook, in which he also confirmed it was localised into English. Below are some of the answers from Itagaki-san when quizzed about a North American release.
I can't tell you guys the specifications for now, but you'll see those soon.
I will release my Devil's Third in North/South America! My will.
Rather like with the upcoming Fatal Frame release, some conclusions are being drawn that Devil's Third could be eShop-only in North America; that's possible, but unclear right now. What's intriguing is this silence around the game in the region, right down to its absence in a North American E3 infographic designed to highlight the strengths of the Wii U and 3DS library in the coming months.
There are multiple possibilities to explain these circumstances, some of them positive. This silence on Nintendo of America's part could be the precursor to a major - game specific - push for the mature title, similar to the Bayonetta 2-only Nintendo Direct of last year. The E3 absence, Itagaki's vague comments and the matter of the eShop listing are certainly counterpoints to that possibility, yet with Nintendo it can be rather hard to tell.
Another possibility is that it's going to be a particularly low-profile release, sliding down in Nintendo of America's list of games to promote and market heavily.
Thirdly, there are mutterings - again driven by Itagaki's comments - that Nintendo of America may not actually pick up the conventional publishing duties as we've seen in Japan and Europe. It's a possibility, and was famously the case in the 'Operation Rainfall' days on Wii, with XSEED Games stepping in with two of the titles and Xenoblade Chronicles being heavily delayed when published by Nintendo in the Americas, with the latter also having an unpopular exclusivity deal with GameStop. While Nintendo of Europe largely - it seems - follows specific directions from the company's Kyoto HQ, it's long established that Nintendo of America has a slightly more independent remit in what it publishes and promotes in the region.
A final possibility, and possibly the least likely, is that there are currently some delays to details for North America over quibbles with the name or other localisation aspects. While Nintendo's policy on games with words like 'Devil' in the title aren't as firm as in the NES and SNES days, games localised for the region are still sometimes tweaked in this respect. Even in this generation Dr Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused? - which still hasn't come to 3DS in Europe - was rebranded as Brain Age: Concentration Training in North America. It's possible that it's a sticking point in localisation that's holding back formal confirmation for its North America release.
This is all speculation, and our hope is that in the coming days it'll all be put to rest with details from Nintendo of America. Even if that happens, though, it's interesting to see how little focus has been given to this title since its high-profile announcement at E3 2014. Along with Bayonetta 2 it was a beacon of a different kind of Wii U exclusive, in this case an anarchic shooter with aspects of melee, a fantastical style and an impressive array of online modes and ideas. Itakagi-san has, at different points, talked it up as an evolution of the shooter genre, a game unlike any other that would drive people to buy a Wii U.
Yet less than two months away from its release, the only notable hype is from Itakagi-san's Facebook page and occasional media in Japan. Even the pre-E3 release date announcement was mainly out of Japan, with Nintendo of Europe issuing a press release and little else. If there's going to be a big build-up for this one, Nintendo sure is leaving it late.
When talking about Devil's Third in Nintendo Life HQ, we often talk about it being a 'weird' Wii U game, a term given with a smile. It's exciting that a title as quirky and off-the-wall as this was revived as a Wii U exclusive, and we're pretty excited to try it. As it stands, though, Nintendo isn't helping Wii U owners to get excited, at least not in the West. We hope that'll change soon, as even if it's ultimately flawed or rough around the edges it'll be unlike anything else on the system.
It'll be better the Devil's Third we know, ultimately; hopefully it won't make its way out into the world with little more than a snowball's chance in Hell of succeeding.