By the time the 2017 Nintendo World Championships was entering its final stretch, it was clear we wouldn’t be getting any new game announcements. Nintendo of America President and living meme Reggie Fils-Aime teased some secrets in a prerecorded opening video, but aside from a brief glimpse of a potential new Dark Spring Man character in Arms, all we ended up seeing were games we already knew about.
I can’t be mad, though. The previous Nintendo World Championships in 2015 were held during E3, which naturally lent itself better to surprise game announcements. Also, Nintendo has so many exciting things it could announce at any given moment (Animal Crossing! F-Zero! Mother 3!) it’s not fair to expect them to announce all of them, or even any of them, at once. Add in Nintendo’s new tendency for faster marketing cycles, and you understand why games like Super Mario Maker Deluxe or Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo Switch remain unconfirmed.
So instead of looking at it like a failed press conference, I enjoyed the 2017 Nintendo World Championship for what it actually was: a successful celebration of positive competitive spirit in Nintendo games you can buy right the hell now.
The crowd certainly had the right idea. While the show occurred during New York Comic Con, the event itself was held in the nearby Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom. In the VIP balcony, I could peer down on the hyped up Nintendo fans waving their red towels around cheering for favorites like returning champ John Numbers, celebrity ringers like WWE’s Bayley, and the adorable kids who qualified from the 12 and under rounds giving interviews with their parents. Everyone watching in the ballroom, on the internet, or live over Disney XD could marvel at how good near-Spider-Man Asa Butterfield is at video games. He ended those Games.
Hosted by Andrea Rene and a team of commenters and Nintendo employees, the format this year was pretty similar to 2015, if perhaps expanded. The main stages had players from all over the world competing in big Nintendo games while losers were knocked to an underground bracket featuring more unexpected hits. And since we were in New York, the games kicked off with some classic Punch-Out!! iconography (not gameplay, unfortunately).
What made the competition more entertaining than a normal eSports tournament, to me at least, was the variety of games on display. And it wasn’t just game you’d expect to see in a competitive setting. Naturally, we saw Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and Arms. Nintendo is determined to make every fantasy in that initial Switch trailer, from rooftop parties to midnight fake basketball to jam-packed Splatoon tournaments, come true.
But we also saw events like shield-surfing in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or speed-running through a tough boss section in Metroid: Samus Returns. A recent Cuphead event at Microsoft’s Mixer Studio showed me how cool it could twist a game not made as an eSport into one, and this was similar.
The Underground had even more peculiar picks. Watching kids fail at old Game Boy Tetris made me appreciate the conveniences of more modern entries like Puyo Puyo Tetris. We saw a mine cart race in Donkey Kong Country Returns, possible Iwata tribute Balloon Fight, a selection of Mario Party minigames (coming soon to 3DS and not Switch for some reason), and even Birds & Beans, which made me that much more thirsty for a new WarioWare.
In fact, for as fun as it was to see these old games get some love, it also made me want Nintendo to acknowledge them again in new games. Wouldn’t this event be such a better commercial for Nintendo if competitors were playing Super Smash Bros. and Super Mario Maker on the Switch and not the failed Wii U? Why show Cloud in Smash when you can’t even play Final Fantasy VII (like Hotline Miami in Travis Strikes Again) on a Nintendo system? But whatever.
The final stretch featured a Mario trio. Players traveled through another custom trolling-heavy Super Mario Maker stage from Treehouse developers. That was followed by a race in Game Boy Color classic Super Mario Bros. Deluxe. And in a scene echoing the debut of Super Mario Bros. 3 at the first 1990 Nintendo World Championships in The Wizard, the final two players competed in the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey.
Stakes were high. Players had to figure out the never-before-seen gameplay on the fly like the puzzle-heavy 2D sections or a bit with flinging and capturing objects in mid-air. John Numbers nearly held onto his crown. But ultimately, 21-year-old Thomas Gonda was the first to throw his hat on a giant stone fist and punch the boss to become the new Nintendo World Champion. Super Mario Odyssey for Nintendo Switch launches October 27.
In the past, Nintendo has had… difficult relationships with the competitive communities surrounding its games. The company still does things on its own terms. But if those terms are as fun as the Nintendo World Championship, maybe that’s okay.
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