If you'll allow this wistful 30-something to get out his pipe and slippers for some reminiscing, there was a time when game releases were a mystery and seemingly scheduled by the Marx Brothers. There could be months - or years! - between regional releases in the West, nevermind localising Japanese titles, and translation was so shoddy that many retro games provide the material for various memes nowadays. There was either no or only slow internet, too, so only enthusiasts with magazine subscriptions realised they were being wronged. Heck, I only learned how shoddy 50Hz games were - in terms of running slower - when the '90s were drawing to a close.
Of course, they were different times, and we're now in the online world, and businesses use all manner of clever things and have a love of keywords like connectivity and logistics. Everything happens quickly and we want the best products yesterday, and no mistake or quirky decision escapes immediate assessment and critique online.
Yet this year's been a bit of a throwback on the game release front, with bizarre differences in release schedules between Europe (and Australia) and North America. We've often joked about Nintendo of Europe and North America behaving like sibling rivals more than colleagues, but this year has brought a level of dysfunction that suggests it's only getting less organised between the two. Yes, they need to do some work independently of each other to cater to their relative markets, but game releases seem like something that should be shared by as many people together as possible. Instead, Nintendo likes to keep us in our own little boxes.
The year started badly with Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker's release in Europe being pushed to January, then bizarrely soft-launched - only in the UK, if memory serves - right after Christmas 2015. Then there was a drought in Europe while North American gamers had the chance to play Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, before Yoshi's Woolly World dramatically reversed the trend. While this brilliant platformer came out a month after Splatoon in Europe and functioned as a nice Summer release, it arrived in North America months later in mid-October, surrounded by big-name titles and seemingly - from my perspective - having a low-key launch.
At times it's hard to tell where collaboration between the two regions is and is not happening. Sometimes I'll be playing a Nintendo game, see American spellings and think that perhaps there's a bit of cohesion, but then it'll emerge that there are differences between versions of The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. While localisation variations aren't exactly a problem, when combined with release date discrepancies they point to the lack of intersection between the two major subsidiaries of company.
As mentioned above, there are always regional teams, as there's plenty of region-specific work to do around marketing, age rating systems and so on. Yet Nintendo doesn't seem to even try to keep its two siblings in sync and, by extension, allow its global fanbase to share gaming experiences. It's madness, and consider the consequences if major triple-A games on other platforms - you know, Call of Duty, Assassin's Creed etc - had a few months between EU and NA releases? There'd be petitions out before you could say hashtag.
To get to my main point, then, Nintendo's Holiday 3DS line-up perplexes me. First party releases on Wii U for the rest of 2015 are pretty well synchronised, to be fair, with the only oddity being the delayed arrived of Devil's Third in North America. Yet the portable's line-ups are completely different in Europe and North America, which means online buddies on social networks - you know, the communications tools that set trends - will have little in common on both sides of the Atlantic.
Let's break down the two key 3DS games out between now and the end of the year in Europe and North America - primarily those that will aim to drive sales of the portable.
- Nintendo Presents: New Style Boutique 2 - Fashion Forward - 20th November
- Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros. - 4th December
On a selfish level I'm particularly pleased that Mario & Luigi is out this year in Europe - though I'll be dropping the random 'Bros.' from the name as I did with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team - as it was high on my wishlist; it's now my 'Christmas game'. Just think about that line-up though - Europeans will have to wait for an already-crowded first half of 2016 for two major RPG franchises, while likewise North American gamers have to wait for two very different offerings. My suggestion isn't that all four should have come out in both territories this Holiday season - maybe three? - but greater cohesion would have been nice.
The frustration is that, at times, Nintendo allows what I suspect are logistical and process issues to get in the way of common sense and a re-focusing of its efforts. Games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf spread like wildfire on social media when players across the West jumped into it in Summer 2013. Twitter and Facebook timelines were awash with talk of Bug Hunts, and online buddies could share that conversation. The power with word of mouth has never been greater, and many of us probably have many friends online that we've never met because they live thousands of miles away; yet we can still talk about great games we're playing. Even looking beyond Nintendo right now, look at the buzz generated by the likes of Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Fallout 4 online - players around the world are talking about them.
For 3DS owners, though, this Holiday season is disjointed and those of us in Europe will likely be playing different games from buddies in North America, and vice-versa. This Holiday 'strategy' for 3DS isn't actually fit for the name, because each region is doing its own thing.
Sometimes I roll my eyes at localisation differences - Fatal Frame vs. Project Zero and so on - but except it's a daft thing that happens. Yet I get frustrated by bizarre release timings such as those highlighted early on in this article and, particularly, the portable's festive line-up. When we see Xenoblade Chronicles X hitting both territories at once there's a glimpse of sanity, before it tumbles down elsewhere. Heck, I haven't even talked about the whole New Nintendo 3DS mess over the smaller models.
Nintendo needs subsidiaries to manage their own areas, I'm not naïve enough to not know that's the case. There will always be differences in special editions and perhaps minor gaps between releases, and even the odd tweak to localisation texts. Yet there's no need for them to be so narrow in their focus that they can't keep their community close-knit through shared experiences. Yes, games will often hit Japan long before Europe and North America, but those Western territories need to do a better job of working together.
Nintendo clearly knows that its gamers are no longer meeting down the schoolyard to talk about games, nor reading the latest magazine to look up cheat codes. Its gamers are global friends, meeting in Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and various others. Many love to share their gaming experiences, showing off the box arriving in the mail or talking about how awesome something is.
The miles between territories and countries is less relevant than ever, and until Nintendo brings its teams - and schedules - closer together it'll continue to divide and frustrate some fans. I'd love to talk about Mario & Luigi this Christmas without feeling like I'm trolling my buddies Stateside.
Here's hoping for a more unified 2016.