It is hard to pinpoint exactly what was the biggest day of Nintendo's gaming history, as there are more than a handful of contenders to grab that crown. October 18th, 1985 saw the release of the NES, and was probably the ultimate solidification of the company's position in the gaming market. November 23th, 1998 came along with the launch of Ocarina of Time, widely regarded as one of the greatest games ever and, alongside September 26th, 1996 - Super Mario 64's release, an absolute landmark for 3D gaming. And that all goes without mentioning the launch of gargantuan titles such as Super Mario Galaxy, Super Metroid, the original The Legend of Zelda, or the arrival of Nintendo's two best systems ever: the Super Nintendo and the Nintendo DS.
Regardless of which date holds the fondest memories to each fan out there, the soon-to-come Friday of November 22nd has a great chance of ranking up there with all those unforgettable moments of Nintendo history. After all, for the first time ever, two major titles of the company's biggest franchises will hit the market on the very same day. Super Mario 3D World will try to breathe fresh air into the Nintendo Wii U's lungs to sustain it, and maybe push it forward while Sony and Microsoft get ready to unleash their new systems. Meanwhile, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds will keep the 3DS' stellar string of software releases going and make it increasingly obvious that it is hard to compete with Nintendo in the handheld market.
The first takeaways from that simultaneous release is that, firstly, Nintendo is fully aware of the independence they have been able to build between the two markets on which they act. Zelda and Mario are absolute must-buys for any Nintendo fan out there, and the fact that the 3DS complements the Wii U, rather than being a portable version of Nintendo's biggest console, means the two games will live in perfect harmony. Secondly, and most importantly, it indicates the company is very serious about powering their systems through the holidays and giving all those doubtful gamers great reasons to buy both the 3DS and, especially, the Wii U, which is so deeply in need of help that it needs something universally appealing to elevate its sales to an acceptable level.
Though vastly different, Super Mario 3D World and A Link Between Worlds share the trait of being two titles that are heavily inspired by parts of each franchise's long and glorious pasts. Super Mario 3D World, much like its predecessor - Super Mario 3D Land, bets on levels that are as simple and straightforward as they can be within a tridimensional environment. Where Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and the duo of Galaxy games attempted to create bigger levels, 3D World and 3D Land thrive on exporting the stripped-down, but still surprising, nature of 2D Mario levels and injecting it into a 3D world. It is a transplant that makes those games impressively accessible and gives them the potential of selling as much as the New Super Mario Bros series, which reached its ridiculously high sales numbers on the heels of its charming simplicity.
Speaking of New Super Mario Bros, the series started something that is now widespread among sidescrolling games: the wacky multiplayer that transits between cooperative friendliness and competitive madness. What was once a genre devoid of simultaneous multiplayer options has now grown to rely on it to a good extent, and Nintendo, with Super Mario 3D World, takes the first steps towards making it work on a larger-scale scenario. The multiplayer gameplay was yet another factor that made New Super Mario Bros so popular, and with the nod to Super Mario Bros. 2 - via the introduction of Peach as a playable character and the unique characteristics given to each of the four main characters, Nintendo looks to both further explore the game's commercial potential and please its longtime fans through an explosion of nostalgia that has great gameplay value.
A Link Between Worlds forms, with A Link to the Past, a knot that is pretty much unparalleled in the history of the Zelda franchise. Majora's Mask borrowed all character models from Ocarina of Time and shared the same Link with 1998's masterpiece. Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks are direct sequels to Wind Waker, with Phantom Hourglass even taking place in another part of the very same world presented in the Gamecube title. However, at first sight, none of those connections go as deeply as the one A Link Between Worlds makes with A Link to the Past. Their overworld seems to be the same down to every hill, tree, rock and location placement, and given how important the overworlds are in the definition of the characteristics of Zelda games, A Link Between Worlds could end up feeling a whole lot like A Link to the Past.
In the lore of 2D Zelda games, there is nothing quite like the overworld of A Link to the Past. It is incredibly immersive, it possesses an amazing sense of freedom, it packs a great variety of scenarios that are all seamlessly connected, and it offers plenty of locations where puzzles, sidequests and character interactions take place. And that all goes without mentioning the thrilling storyline possibilities produced by the existence of two parallel worlds. The perspective of seeing that overworld once again, and now more beautiful than ever, is undoubtedly exciting and it will make up for a very pleasant experience, especially to those who have not played A Link to the Past in a while.
Although the outlook for the two games is undeniably bright, each has major challenges to overcome. Super Mario 3D World is a game, apparently, made in the mold of its predecessor. Super Mario 3D Land, in spite of being a good game, suffered from often being simply unremarkable. It was a pleasant experience, but in the wake of Super Mario Galaxy 2, it left a whole lot to be desired. Super Mario 3D Land, as the console Mario game that will directly follow the two Galaxy titles, has to deal with that shadow, and it will only be able to do so successfully if it does more than simply betting in rewriting elements of the past.
A Link Between Worlds also has to make its light shine through the darkness cast by the enormity that is A Link to the Past. It is a fact that becomes especially true when one considers that the game has chosen to put itself in such position by having its adventure take place in the very same overworld. In such a proximity to A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds needs to find ways to distance itself from it and build its own legacy. Although it does not have much to live up to in terms of direct predecessors, given how both Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks were the weakest - albeit not bad - handheld Zelda games, it faces a daunting challenge considering how highly regarded A Link to the Past is.
Super Mario 3D World and A Link Between Worlds are two games that are very rooted in the past, but in order to take the leap that is necessary to reach the pantheon of their respective franchises, they will need to take great steps towards the future. Nintendo knows it, and within a couple of weeks, we will see if they have succeeded in that task.