Summer Game Fest 2024
Image: Zion Grassl / Nintendo Life

Let me get this out of the way – being at Summer Game Fest was amazing.

The people were amazing. The variety of games, both big and small, were amazing. I was lucky enough to go to E3 twice back when I wrote for a different site, and I would take the laid-back vibes, the layout, and the ability to socialise at my own pace any day of the week over the crowded convention centre of E3.

But there was one noticeable difference between Summer Game Fest and E3. Over the course of the week that encompassed the SGF Opening Showcase and the Play Dates that followed, I’d bump into colleagues and friends and catch up with them – many in person for the first time in years – and they’d all ask the same sort of question: “What’s your week been like what with Nintendo and all that?” That is to say, Nintendo’s lack of presence at Summer Game Fest, for a second year in a row, was noticeable to everyone.

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SteamWorld Heist II, though! — Image: Alana Hagues / Nintendo Life

We know that Nintendo will be holding a Direct sometime in June, and we know the Big N has been marching to the beat of its own drum for a while. But there’s just a little bit of magic missing from the Summer Game Fest proceedings without some joyous new trailer for a Mario, or a Pokémon, or Smash Bros, or something.

Perhaps I’m a bit spoilt in that regard. 2019 was the last E3 I went to, and I was staying in a house-share with all my friends. This was also the first time I met my now-partner in person. We put the Nintendo Direct on the TV and relished the joy of it. This was the Direct that revealed both Hero from Dragon Quest and Banjo-Kazooie for Smash Ultimate, the Collection of Mana shadow-drop, Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ release date, and a teaser for “Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild”. Remember those days?

In 2024, there were plenty of fantastic Switch-bound games at Summer Game Fest, but watching the big Summer Game Fest Live showcase in person, it was missing some of that child-like glee that a Nintendo game can bring. LEGO Horizon Adventures, the very first game during that showcase, was really the only one that delivered that, mainly because the fact it's coming to Switch was such a surprise.

Wandering around the Play Days “campus”, there were still little moments of joy peppered throughout. Devolver’s area had a full-blown bar celebrating mascot Volvy’s 15th birthday, complete with fake grass, cocktails, mocktails, and birthday hats. And a stained-glass Volvy for good measure. Huge wall art featuring Monster Hunter Wilds, Dragon Ball Z: Sparking! Zero, and a whole greenhouse-like building full of Sega and Atlus games.

Summer Game Fest is a trade event. Some games are tucked away behind the fancy art and bar fronts, while others are in nicely-packed rooms with lighting, air conditioning, and another of those free bars. Don’t worry, iced tea, water, and other soft drinks were on the menu – not even I can live off of margaritas all week. This year, some appointments were off-site, hiding behind hotel doors and tucked in theatre basements, adding to that sense of mystery.

A lot of the stuff I covered is all locked away behind an embargo, too. So to readers, Nintendo SGF offerings probably feel even lighter. I also miss snapping pictures with Pokémon statues at E3 or peering past the queues to Link’s Awakening just to take a photo of the adorable Zelda dioramas.

But, because this is a press- and influencer-exclusive event, it was a lot easier to spot the people I knew, and, more importantly, the faces. Shigenori Soejima, artist for the Persona series, was tucked away in the Sega area, holding interviews for the upcoming PS5, Xbox, and PC RPG Metaphor: ReFantazio (which I was lucky enough to play and cover for Push Square). But he popped out a few times to just walk around, talk, and grab a drink. Takashi Iizuka, head of Sonic Team, was also wandering around the campus, perhaps taking a break from all of those weird Shadow the Hedgehog questions.

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Image: Stephen Tailby / Nintendo Life

Shuhei Yoshida, former President of SIE Worldwide Studios and now the man known for nurturing and celebrating independent games for Sony, was spotted multiple times wandering around, more than happy to take pictures with fans and friends alike. I saw Swen Vincke, founder and head of Larian Studios, enjoying a glass of something at the Summer Game Fest live afterparty.

Creators, developers, and journalists that I’ve respected and loved for years surrounded me, and it’s something I’ll always find a bit dizzying. But, from the outside looking in, Summer Game Fest probably feels very different. It’s just a collection of livestreams, announcements, and press previews that barely give a taste of the experience.

As someone who needs to do work at the event, I don’t think the show should be open to anyone who buys a ticket – if it ever is, then there needs to be a separate day where the campus is open to the public. Plus, the space just isn’t big enough to accommodate the E3-level crowds that the final few years invited through the doors.

But right now, there’s a real disconnect between what we as the press see and what the wider public sees. There are lots of events and demos that we’re invited to that aren’t as public as events like Summer Game Fest or Gamescom. And for the former, many people still view it as a wannabe E3 replacement. But Summer Game Fest is an entirely different beast – one lacking the presence of Nintendo and Sony, right now (except, once again, for LEGO Horizon Adventures for the latter). For Nintendo, it just feels a bit strange that the company isn’t at the show in any capacity.

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Sonic ice-cream, anyone? — Image: Alana Hagues / Nintendo Life

But 2024 is a weird year for the Big N, and we’re right before the Direct where the developer will be laying out its plans for the rest of 2024 for the Switch – presumably for the last time before the “successor” is announced.

And, arguably, if Nintendo used Summer Game Fest as a platform, it might just dominate the event as it exists today. I love Nintendo’s games – there’s a reason I write for Nintendo Life, obviously – but Nintendo’s announcements would drown out all of the cool indies and unique announcements that the variety of showcases offered this year. I wouldn’t want incentives like Innersloth’s indie fund, OuterSloth, to be overshadowed.

But the public response to Summer Game Fest Live, in particular, is a little damning. It doesn’t matter how much organiser Geoff Keighley sets people’s expectations, but people were still upset when Silksong didn’t show up, or that Square Enix’s presence (outside of the Xbox showcase, and for anything RPG-related) was minimal.

It might be because I was in Los Angeles for the event, but I thought the Live show was pretty good. There was a nice variety of titles and surprises on offer, like Digital Eclipse's new Power Rangers beat ‘em up (the crowd went nuts for it, and rightly so), Sonic X Shadow Generations’ new trailer, Boy and Deer, Neva, and Civilization VII. At this point, I know not every showcase is going to be for me, so I’m happy with just seeing a mixture of things. But if you’re a Nintendo fan in particular, it’s easy to feel rather let down.

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Workin' hard with the lovely Zion and Craig (Pure Xbox), though, amirite? — Image: Alana Hagues / Nintendo Life

And yet, I don’t think Summer Game Fest is the replacement for E3. It’s something fairly different, and that’s okay! E3 had 20+ years before it shut its doors for good last year; Summer Game Fest is only on its fourth year. There’s still plenty of time for it to improve, grow, and perhaps – one day – for Nintendo to join in.

Besides, that Switch successor? Next year could be the perfect time for Nintendo to make its Summer Game Fest debut.

Are you missing Nintendo's presence at the Big Summer Show™? Do you want to see something closer to the E3 of old? Vote in our polls below and let us know what you think in the comments.

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