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This past weekend the Nintendo Switch, and its flagship launch title Breath of the Wild, turned one year old. It’s a milestone for a console that was eagerly awaited and heavily questioned. No one could predict how well the Switch would do, especially within its first 365 days. Nintendo has to be enjoying this success, and I’m just as excited as anyone else to watch the Switch grow. So let’s take a look back to see if we can discern where the Switch may go.
There’s no doubting the strength of the Switch’s sales. The console has already sold more than its predecessor, the Wii U, and is on a sales pace rivaling the PS4 and Wii. That said that doesn’t mean the Switch is without weakness. Supply problems were so prolific consumers still wonder if they’re available in stores. And there were Joycon disconnects, weak kickstands, and easily damaged screens which were all pretty frequent amongst early adopters. Those issues haven’t really gone away and, according to the Wall Street Journal, Nintendo has no intention of revising hardware this year. Instead Nintendo will focus on peripherals to help boost sales. This will obviously include Nintendo Labo, a children’s toy made of cardboard that interacts with your Switch. While Labo looks like a nice departure from the series of plastic add-ons of Nintendo consoles past, it probably won’t do much to satisfy the more hardcore Nintendo fans.
Despite those problems, and the potential of a living room filled with Nintendo branded cardboard, the Switch has been a massive success. The portability of the system, the intense fervor for ports, and its effect on how players view their consoles cannot be understated. What could have been a quick and dirty gimmick has turned into a key selling point for the system.
Sales might be strong but the everyday game player is awaiting something else. Games.
A lot of the Switch’s success, especially at launch, can be attributed to one game in particular. In the Switch’s first month, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s attach rate, the rate at which a game sells alongside a console, was immense. Nearly everyone who was buying a Switch was also grabbing Breath of the Wild. Nintendo didn’t relent either. Despite having a lineup of games supported by Wii U ports and sequels, the Switch’s library has slowly grown into a force to be reckoned with.
Mario Kart 8 was ported and updated, building upon the already successful Wii U release. Splatoon 2 wasn’t just a short changed sequel, as it added on new characters, maps, modes, and an improved single player campaign many were hoping for. Even a title like Arms, a strange motion controlled fighting game, sold over one million units. This is all ignoring Super Mario Odyssey, an amazing refresh of the 3D Mario franchise sitting at just under ten million sold.
However, plenty of fans worry Nintendo front loaded their first year, and haven’t left enough for the future. Even with a slate of games coming our way we still don’t know exactly when. Pokemon Switch is slapped with a vague “2018 or later,” Fire Emblem Switch is slated for 2018, and both Bayonetta 3 and Metroid Prime 4 don’t have any dates at all. Even with potentially successful titles from Kirby and Yoshi, and ports for Hyrule Warriors and DK: Tropical Freeze, it may not be enough. The Switch has a lot of fans now awaiting another tent-pole title to give them another excuse to keep their Switches nearby. With E3 on the horizon, hopefully Nintendo is preparing to assuage our doubts, otherwise they might just end up with a repeat of the Wii U.
When it comes to doubts, many fans are beginning to wonder if they’ll ever see the return of the Nintendo Virtual Console. A beloved feature, Nintendo hasn’t said much of anything about the Virtual Console at all, preferring to only talk about their eventual online service. Their silence is still giving fans hope that the Switch is still ramping up and will, at some point, become feature complete.
They’ve been left waiting a while. That online service will feature those old school Nintendo games in some capacity. When you pay for online access with Nintendo, you’ll also be able to download a few of Nintendo’s classic titles. Since announcing this feature Nintendo has been pretty vague about what this will all entail. Initially it seemed like the service would provide one or two games a month, maybe with some added online features, and would mostly feature games from the NES and SNES eras. Now all we know is that there will be an online service, it’ll launch later this year, and you’ll get some games along with it. With a strong enticement, Nintendo could easily launch a successful service to compete alongside Xbox Gold and PS Plus. The lack of information and details leaves me to assume Nintendo itself still isn’t too sure what their service will be, which leaves me very worried for its potential.
Online services don’t stop there for Nintendo. Many features of their other hardware devices are seemingly absent from the Switch. Themes, menu music, menu customization, and so much more just isn’t included with the current Switch software. Maybe this is something they’ll add later, once online is firmly established, but a year into its lifecycle and the Switch still feels very sparse. I still don’t feel like I’m holding a console until I boot up a game. The menus and interface all feel very last minute and feature incomplete. It’s even missing apps we’re used to seeing alongside every console, such as Netflix, Crackle, or Crunchyroll.
There can be no doubting the Nintendo Switch’s current success. What we can doubt however, is its future. The Wii U wasn’t a failure because of the hardware, it failed because of Nintendo. Poor marketing, poor communication, and almost zero support after its feeble launch doomed that console. However I do have hope for the Switch. Nintendo clearly did not expect this level of success, but quickly recovered and now seem absolutely enthused about their own future. Whether it’s the next Nintendo Direct or at E3, I think we’re all awaiting Nintendo’s next big announcement, because it’ll be a true indicator of what way the wind is blowing for the Nintendo Switch.