This past year has been something for Nintendo. Not only did we get the greatest iteration of their biggest franchises, we also got fresh takes and unlikely second chances for existing characters. Nintendo even graced us with a few fresh IPs. Their latest, Splatoon, has become a classic overnight, with fans drooling over the usual Nintendo Polish© on this spin of the shooter genre.

But those thing’s haven’t been the star of Ninendo’s line-up since last E3. No, the real star this year has been Nintendo’s adventure into the world of DLC. The market for downloadable content is a real sore point for a lot of gamers, with an unsettling number publishers and development studios offering minimal content for extreme prices. A few good game makers tried there best to alleviate the problem, but it got to a point where DLC, a three-letter acronym, became a four letter word for gamers.

DLC was such a blemish on the community that for a long time Nintendo refused to consider it. Some fans loved that about Nintendo because we’d never see an unfinished game come to market. Others saw opportunity to keep games fresh, if only Nintendo would do it. Luckily, after testing the waters with small titles, Nintendo has finally figured out how to make DLC both a successful revenue stream and a fair deal for their fans.

Nintendo has been painting their walled garden with beautiful frescos enviable by Michelangelo. The murals that DLC has painted between those big releases. The quantity and quality of downloadable content that Nintendo has given gamers this past year is staggering. Not only did they provide, but they did so with a variety that worked wherever they included it, across genres, games, and systems. As we ramp up to this years E3 events I’m sure we’ll see plenty of more DLC announcements.

Micro-games:

3DS Mii Plaza

One of Nintendo’s key tenants has been a marriage of hardware and software. The Mii Plaza is a testament to that fact. When the 3DS released with the Mii Plaza it was a little lackluster; a novel concept, but the execution was bare bones. Some time after it’s release (and after the 3DS found it’s legs after a rocky start) we saw a slew of DLC mini games that revolved around the eponymous IP. Mii’s found themselves gardening and battling with incredible vigor.

Nintendo hasn’t relented with Mii’s on the 3DS either. We recently got a fresh serving of fantastic DLC for the Mii Plaza. With the inclusion of Battleground Z and Ultimate Angler we now have a total of 8 games that take advantage of the 3DS’s unique functionality. Even with the very affordable price point, Mii Plaza’s content more than tripled with games that took advantage of Miis and the 3DS hardware. It innovated and provided a meaty but bite-sized game for us on the go. Now if only would give us something to expand the Mii’s world on Wii U.

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Additional Episodes & Map Packs:

Fire Emblem: Awakening & Pokemon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire

Fire Emblem: Awakening brought Fire Emblem to the masses, and has since become a key franchise in Nintendo’s lineup. It’s made such a mark that we will be seeing a new iteration soon here in the US in Fire Emblem: IF. Though the main game is the true star, Nintendo saw fit to offer a full suite of DLC episodes along with accompanying characters. This being one of the first real forays into DLC for Nintendo, we see it being a little light on content, but for what came after and will be coming soon it’s a great start.

X & Y brought Pokemon into a new dimension and new generation, and Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire refined that formula even more. But one of the things that helped define the ORAS generation was it’s new post game content (in all it’s game-breaking Pokemon glory): The Delta Episode. When players and journalist saw the title many people hoped it would be a hint of more to come. With the inclusion of currently unavailable Pokemon or foreshadowing of the Battle Frontier, we could be at an advent of Pokemon DLC, where additional areas and stories become the norm. A time in Pokemon where it’s about more than catching them all. It’s about the evolving and expanding Pokemon lore.

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Season Passes:

Hyrule Warriors & Mario Kart 8

The Season Pass has become a norm across game development and publishing, wish most companies having one or two on offer. Nintendo was late to the game, but arguably delivered the Season Pass DLC idea best. Not because they have figured out a magic formula, but instead they found a balance between content and price. For a nominal fee you could enjoy all the content that came out for a game over the course of a year.

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And what a year-full of content was! Mario Kart received two FANTASTIC releases, including new characters and courses. We even saw the inclusion of non-Mario characters Link and Isabelle, making Mario Kart more Smash than Mario. Whether or not that’s what you want, there’s no denying that the advent of DLC for this title was the turning point for Nintendo and DLC. Since it involved a mainline title there wasn’t a way consumers could avoid the hype, and in the same way Nintendo couldn’t have this DLC fail. Fortunately for everyone, Nintendo did what they did best: Made it just work.

Hyrule Warriors did a lot of the same thing, only also providing even more content via free updates. Nintendo knowing what to charge for and what not to really made a difference here. And even now we’re still seeing more great content with the leaked info of Wind Waker casts joining in the 3DS (and Wii U) release. I’m looking forward to them putting it into more titles, because it seems like they know where and when to do it, and do it right!

Characters & Costume Sets:

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U & 3DS

Oh Smash Bros. Wii U, how do I love thee, let me count the ways: You are the quintessential Smash game, offering more content per dollar than nearly any other game, Smash or not. Period. Sakurai puts so much into the game that he’s probably creating a horcrux with each new entry. We are even seeing more content (thanks to leaks) coming with Lucas, Roy, and Ryu this week, along with all new stages.

How can you make a game with so much content even better though? Lots of ways if you ask a gamer.Along with an extended Stage Editor (PLEASE) and a few more new and classic stages (PLEASE PLEASE), the easiest DLC inclusion would be adding new costumes to existing characters. More suits for Samus, more outfits for Peach, more Villagers, more everything. Little Mac has 16 costumes, and everyone else has 8?! Please, more Nintendo! These characters have history, so show it off. (And thanks for bringing back Mewtwo.)

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Amiibo:

Amiibo are a funny thing. They aren’t typical DLC, where you pay for a content on a single title but they aren’t Figurines that open up massive content with only with one game. They are DLC for all games. It’s like a physical key that opens more than one. Nintendo hasn’t really figured out the best way to implement (Or even supply them to consumers!) But with each title we see more and more pushes by Nintendo to include them. Yoshi’s Woolly World will be the first (Outside of Smash) to use the majority of the figures to unlock somewhat meaningful content,

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Of course there’s a lot of other franchises where Nintendo has left their mark with DLC like Pikmin 3, Mario Golf, and New Super Mario Bros. Nintendo has nailed free-to-play right/freemium with titles like Stretchmo and Pokemon Rumble World. Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball was an experiment in turning DLC into a game that only Nintendo could pull off. They’ve even had the wisdom to make content available for free via game updates, like in Splatoon or Tomadachi Life. These are just a sampling of DLC models Nintendo has tried, and I’m sure they will find creative (but somehow still fair) ways to include it in the future.

For a long time gamers were simultaneously clamoring for extra downloadable Nintendo content and happy that Nintendo stayed out of the long-maligned DLC business. Though they tiptoed into the DLC market, taking a few cautionary steps at first, Nintendo has found a way to make it work, and the gaming world (especially for Nintendo fans) is better for it. This past year DLC has been the show-stealer, and I think that it will be the case for E3 and beyond this year as well. Whatever they show in the coming week will probably knock many socks off, but the DLC that comes with it is what will really leave lasting impressions and keep gamers coming back for more.