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- Ori and the Blind Forest
Earlier this week, Nintendo announced that the Ori and the Blind Forest Switch release was happening during its Gamescom Indie Showcase. While the uninformed might see the beautiful platformer as yet another indie title landing on the Switch, it’s far more important than that as it’s a game published by Microsoft Studios. Originally released in 2015, it was one of the Xbox One’s most highly regarded console exclusives, so it moving to another manufacturer’s console — all while still being entirely owned and published by Microsoft — is a big deal. It shows that Microsoft isn’t just talk when it talks about being pro-consumer; it has the actions to back it up. And those actions are intelligently Microsoft prepare for the future.
However, this isn’t the first time that Microsoft has put out games on Nintendo handhelds. It’s actually been a long-running tradition, although one that previously used other publishers so its name wasn’t on the box. The team up between Microsoft and THQ was the most notable of them as it allowed all of Rare’s handheld titles to find a home on Nintendo platforms. It gave a Microsoft first-party studio a presence on Nintendo consoles as they put out It’s Mr. Pants and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise. Microsoft even allowed Rare to team up with Nintendo for a number of enhanced ports of its beloved Donkey Kong Country platformers and Diddy Kong Racing.
However, this relationship had mostly dried up in the past decade as Microsoft didn’t put out any games on the Nintendo 3DS. However, under the guidance of Phil Spencer, we’ve seen the relationship between the two companies strengthen as the two basically went “Facebook official” when Microsoft published a Switch version of Cuphead on Nintendo’s hybrid console. The gorgeous 2D action platformer was a perfect fit for handheld play, but it was also a bold moment as for the first time Microsoft was putting one of its exclusives on another home console since the Xbox brand launched.
The Ori and the Blind Forest Switch version builds Microsoft’s userbase
Now Xbox is once again putting one of its older exclusives on Nintendo Switch with Ori and the Blind Forest, which originally released two years prior to Cuphead. However, this is more than just Microsoft trying to recoup costs on exclusives it had published by putting them in front of new users. Instead, it’s a brilliant investment in the futures of both Ori and Cuphead. The former has a sequel coming out early next year on Xbox One and PC, while the latter has a Netflix series and some DLC on the way and a sequel would make a lot of sense down the line.
While Microsoft isn’t bringing its biggest franchises like Gears of War, Halo, or Forza to the Nintendo Switch, they are getting more eyes on important pieces of their future. This isn’t just a great pro-consumer move as two groups of console owners (and anyone with a PC) can enjoy these titles, but it’s also setting up Microsoft’s next generation of consoles to have a better odds of succeeding. After all, the Nintendo Switch is largely viewed as a great secondary console, one that both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One owners will buy to complement their existing catalog of games. So, when they’re looking at what console to pick up next year, knowing that future Ori and Cuphead games would be available on Microsoft’s console could be the tipping point on where they go. It’s a brilliant way to get players invested in some of Microsoft’s less essential series while not taking away from what it offers its own players.
Microsoft has also spent this generation making sure almost all of your Xbox content works on their current system, which is quite important. Everything from original Xbox games like Fuzion Frenzy and Blinx: The Time Sweeper to the latest releases are playable on the Xbox One. That is three generations of content, and players can get the bulk of its first-party offerings by subscribing to Xbox Game Pass. Phil Spencer has been open about how important keeping their history alive is and that the next Xbox console will be able to play all of these titles as well. So, anybody that wants to play Ori or Cuphead in the future can buy an Xbox system and enjoy it by subscribing to Game Pass. This is a long-term play and Microsoft is pulling it off well especially as it adds more and more hot titles. People get more games in more places and Microsoft gets to hook players into its franchises. It’s clever and both the consumer and Microsoft win.
Is Ori and the Blind Forest on Switch Microsoft’s last Nintendo game?
The future support of Nintendo platforms was recently put in doubt after Microsoft issued a statement to GamesIndustry.biz saying that “going forward these new studios will focus on making games for our platforms,” and that they “have no plans to further expand our exclusive first party games to other consoles.” However, that statement doesn’t totally mean that we won’t see any select Microsoft games appear on Nintendo consoles when it makes sense. Given the audiences and their platforming roots, Cuphead and Ori are those games that make sense. After all, are we not going to see Ori and the Will of the Wisps come to the Switch eventually? It would be quite cruel to withhold it at this point.
Microsoft clearly likes to use the Switch to promote its brand to other users that might not have an Xbox One. Throw in the fact that it helps them get into Asian markets, an area that they have historically struggled with, and it has a lot more value than one might initially see. Plus, it’s not like the company is just going to give away all of its future plans when asked. Sometimes due to marketing plans and the fact that plans often change, companies have to be intentionally vague or slightly misleading in statements. Will most of Xbox’s exclusives come to Switch? Certainly not, but don’t be surprised if some of their smaller titles make their way over after a few years.
Microsoft is a company that is refocusing for the future after having a rough generation with the Xbox One. Phil Spencer and his team at Xbox have clearly learned a lot of lessons due to the system’s disastrous start, and they’ve taken those losses and channeled them to positioned the brand to make a good comeback. More transparency is an obvious way to bring the Xbox brand back to its glory day and can be applied to almost any business. But strategically placing your titles on a competitor’s system isn’t as obvious, yet it’s still a smart way to show how much Microsoft just wants to own the living room in the most consumer-friendly and forward-thinking way possible.