Bad Press Didn't Stop Nintendo From Releasing Devil's Third

Devils Third
Early press reports bode poorly for this violent action game. Nintendo

Since Nintendo complete ignored upcoming action game Devil’s Third at this year’s E3, there has been considerable speculation about the fate of the game in North America, fueled by rumors and by Nintendo’s own taciturnity. Today Nintendo finally stepped forward to say that yes, they are still publishing the game in North America, although the multiplayer component will now also be available on the PC.

But after the last month, the question is no longer “will Nintendo publish the game” but rather “how big a disaster will Devil’s Third Be?”

The History: Rising From the Ashes of THQ

Devil’s Third is the first game from Valhalla Game Studios, which was formed by Dead Or Alive/Ninja Gaiden developer Tomonobu Itagaki after he left Tecmo. Gameplay is a combination of melee and gunplay.

Originally planned for a PS3/360 release by publisher THQ, Devil’s Third was thrust out into the cold by that publisher’s collapse in 2013. After some time in limbo, the game was rescued by Nintendo, which had similarly rescued the game Bayonetta 2 to much critical – though not commercial – success.

Nintendo announced release dates in August for the game for Japan, Europe and Australia, but no date was announced for North America.

The Rumors: It’s Not Coming. It Is. It Shouldn’t Be

Notably absent from Nintendo’s 2015 E3 video presentation was any mention of Devil’s Third, even though it was generally expected to reach North America in late 2015.

A few weeks later, the rumors started.

First someone called Unseen 64 claiming insider contacts released a video saying that Nintendo of America hated the game and would not release it.

Next, Siliconera “confirmed” Unseen 64’s “news,” but said the game would still be published by a third party in North America.

Then Nintendo of America tweeted a surprise: “We are excited to bring [Devil’s Third] to Wii U and will have more to share soon.” Game blogger Emily Rogers announced that Nintendo would publish the game in partnership with Xseed.

The Previews: Not Good

Shortly afterward, several press outlets wrote previews of Devil’s Third in which they declared the game a disaster that neither looks nor plays well. Some suggested it might fall into the “so bad it’s good” category.

Itagaki leapt to his game’s defense, although that defense felt weak, as he announced the game wouldn’t include split screen or voice chat. He later, like many developers before him, blamed the bad press on journalists who lack the skills for his game.

And Then …

On July 21, Nintendo finally announced a launch window for Devil’s Third: Q4, 2015. They also announced that the game’s multiplayer component would be released for PCs using the free-to-play model.

What does it all mean? Possibly that NOA had no faith in Devil’s Third but wasn’t sure what to do about it. Definitely that some game journalists like to overstate the certainty of their rumors. Certainly that Nintendo’s behavior and the bad press are going to hurt sales of a game that wasn’t really going to appeal to a lot of Nintendo’s fan base to begin with.

For Nintendo, the lesson may be that attempts to expand the Wii U library by rescuing mature games is a losing strategy. I’ll be surprised if they announce any more deals in the immediate future. Unless, of course, Devil’s Third is a surprise smash hit. 

Update

Devil's Third has received a  December 11 release date in the U.S. It's August release date in Europe and Australia, however, means there are already English-language reviews out, and they are not good. On the other hand Japanese gaming site Famitsu reviewed the game well and it's getting solid user reviews on Amazon's Japan site.