Downloadable content is a bit of a touchy subject these days. For every well-received, fairly priced piece of DLC that comes along, there seem to be two examples of half-baked, overpriced junk. While Nintendo has been effectively defying this trend with its stellar Mario Kart 8 content packs and the extended roster of Super Smash Bros., this year it took things a step further. Super Mario Maker and Splatoon, Nintendo’s two biggest tentpoles of 2015, have fundamentally changed my definition and expectations of post-release content.
Let’s start with Splatoon. At launch, was a bit lacking; it was hard to argue that five maps and two modes would be enough to sustain an online, multiplayer-focused shooter. But Nintendo promised (though there was no precedent for this), that there was lots and lots of free content on the way. We had to take its word for it– for the past decade or more, DLC has been largely defined as a paid affair of extremely variable value and quality. We’ve gone from balking at Oblivion’s horse armor to heaping praise upon the undead adventures of reformed outlaw John Marston, and everything in between. Only time would tell if Nintendo could really deliver on its generous promise for Splatoon, and which end of the spectrum the game’s DLC would land on.
The summer of Splatoon came and went, and after just three months, the game had nearly tripled in size in terms of maps, modes, weapons and equipment. These updates came with many welcome refinements to the core of the game as well, and Splatoon owners had yet to pay an extra dime for any of it. I felt comfortable in August saying that Nintendo had satisfied its promise, yet the company insisted that there was more to come. It’s been over six months now since Splatoon’s release in late May, and hardly a week has gone by that hasn’t brought something new to the game.
Truth be told, Nintendo could have started charging for Splatoon content months ago, and I doubt anyone would be too upset. This free DLC has been consistently high quality, has added many new maps and modes that are now among my favorites, and has made simply turning the game on a joy just to see what’s new. It looks like Splatoon’s updates will be coming to a close in January, but after everything Nintendo has gifted this wonderful new franchise since its launch, it has certainly earned the industry acclaim that it’s been receiving this year.
So, if Splatoon proved that a small title with a great premise can grow into something extraordinary, then Super Mario Maker shows us that even when you already have unlimited possibilities at your fingertips, there’s always room for more. From day one, Super Mario Maker never felt limited or restrictive. Players have been making absurdly creative and diverse levels since they first got their hands on it in September. Here at Nintendo Inquirer, we praised it for being a playground with unlimited possibilities and a fitting tribute to Mario’s 30 year history. Little did we know that Nintendo had plans to keep spurring our imaginations with additional content, free of charge, well after its release.
Naturally, Maker couldn’t include every element from every Mario game, so requests began swirling for specific mechanics. We even published a want list of some of our own hopeful additions. Far and away the most fan-requested tool, and the one at the top of our list, was level checkpoints. Well, either Nintendo was listening to these pleas or great minds just think alike, because less than two months from its launch, checkpoints arrived in Maker’s first major update, among other features. A couple more months and another big update later, the game now boasts many new tools, a web-based level search portal, event levels with mystery costume rewards, and many other minor improvements. If this early support is any indication, we can expect many more interesting additions going forward, which translates into countless new level ideas from creators around the world.
The DLC, or post-release content– whatever you want to call it– for these two games is unlike any I can recall. Some games see small lists of bug fixes or balance tweaks after release, and some receive large pieces of paid add-on content; but Nintendo’s approach this year doesn’t exactly fit in either category. These aren’t patches, because they’re not fixing problems, and though they’re small, incremental additions, over time they add up to become massive overhauls. Nintendo has treated Splatoon and Super Mario Maker like services, rather than games. In fairly different ways, these two titles have illustrated a brand new approach to the long-term value and fun proposition of Nintendo’s IP. It’s the most refreshing trend I’ve seen this year in gaming, and I hope to see it continue into 2016 and beyond.Leave a Comment