We’re only a handful of weeks into 2023, and it already feels like we’re in the midst of a new gaming trend — the surprise reveal and shadow drop of a game at the very same event.
We saw it in January when Xbox and Tango Gameworks lifted the curtain on Hi-Fi Rush, only to have it downloadable on Game Pass within the hour. And then it happened again at the most recent Nintendo Direct with news finally confirming the existence of Metroid Prime Remastered, which could be immediately downloaded off the Nintendo Switch eShop. And while both of these games absolutely nailed their surprise landings, the fact of their very particular circumstances means that they feel more like exceptions that prove the rule.
So what makes Hi-Fi Rush and Metroid Prime Remastered unique? Well, when it comes to the former, it’s a combination of Tango’s pedigree and the sheer usability of Game Pass. For the millions of people who subscribe to Xbox’s stellar subscription service, there was no barrier to entry to at least give Hi-Fi Rush a shot. And once folks were in, a combination of its eye-popping presentation, tight gameplay, and charmingly nostalgic design sensibilities caused it to spread like wildfire, immediately making it one of the most critically acclaimed games of this short year.
As for Metroid Prime Remastered… well, it’s Metroid Prime, remastered. It’s one of the most celebrated games of the entire sixth console generation, with some added modern visual and gameplay flourishes. The popularity of the Switch dwarfs the GameCube, meaning a massive new audience will get to play the game that has been praised for decades by its diehard fans.
It also helps that Nintendo has perfected the art of weaponizing hype for its Nintendo Direct — all it takes is a simple tweet 24 hours in advance, and the internet seems to lose its mind in anticipation, making it the perfect place for this kind of shadow drop.
These two games aren’t the first ones to employ this tactic of simultaneously being revealed and released. Apex Legends was simultaneously revealed and launched in February 2019, while Hideo Kojima’s P.T. demo did the same at Gamescom 2014. And again, both went on to be hits because of their developer pedigree, quality, links to established franchises, and the fact that they were free to try for anyone.
There’s also a long history of games that we already know about getting a sudden “and it’s out now!” trailer during an event – Hades came out of early access after a 2020 Nintendo Direct to much excitement. We’ve also seen it happen with ports, like the PC version of Persona 4 Golden dropping during the PC Gamer Showcase in the summer of 2020.
But for every yin there’s a yang, and I don’t think there’s a single person out there who hasn’t been frustrated at one point or another with how early a given game has been revealed. Whether it’s a game that eventually released like Cyberpunk 2077 or Kingdom Hearts 3, a game that still hasn’t released like The Elder Scrolls VI or Star Wars Eclipse, or a game that seems to be in some kind of limbo like Metroid Prime 4 or Beyond Good and Evil 2, having to wait upwards of a decade with only a drip feed of details over the years can cause any excitement you might have for a game to wane over time.
That’s why I’ve always appreciated it when a big game from a big publisher is revealed and then released within a matter of months, like Fallout 4, Mortal Kombat 11, or Paper Mario: The Origami King. This short runway means that we don’t grow apathetic after seeing a game a dozen times over a dozen events, while it simultaneously curbs the years of anticipation to create unrealistic expectations.
Now, obviously a lot of games don’t have the benefit of being able to create excitement over such a short amount of time. Indies in particular oftentimes need to build momentum over an extended period through social media, trailers during various events, and demos that can get into the hands of prominent streamers, journalists, and fans.
2022’s Stray gained attention as “the cute cat game with robots” over the course of several years before finally being released to critical and commercial success. If it had just suddenly appeared into existence one day and dropped into our laps, there’s no guarantee that it would’ve landed with the same splash.
I see the recent pair of shadow drops as happy coincidences rather than a sign of things to come. Is it possible that we see it happen again with a high-profile game this year? Well, sure – there’s a world where FromSoftware and Bandai Namco reveal and drop an Elden Ring expansion during the Super Bowl, or Sony debuts the new “Factions” multiplayer during the season finale of HBO’s The Last of Us.
But those would once again be a perfect storm of product and timing. For the most part though, I’m hoping that the success of Hi-Fi Rush and Metroid Prime Remastered shows more AAA developers and publishers that, if you’re confident in your game, you can wait to show it off until the finish line is in sight, rather than just after you’ve barely left the starting point.