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The Nintendo Switch: A Year in Review

-Co-written by Jay Petrequin and Derek McCurry

You could say Nintendo really ‘Switched’ gears in 2017

 

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On October 20, 2016, Nintendo released an announcement trailer for it’s new Nintendo Switch console, and a few of us here distinctly recall more or less agreeing, “This looks both terrible and gimmicky as hell.”

On January 12, 2017, Nintendo released a full presentation showing off the games and hardware that would be available on the system. There were drunken shouts and hopes skyrocketed, and the next day, pre-orders were quickly made.

To this day, it’s hard to tell exactly what drew people in. Maybe it was the on-point marketing towards a generation that is always on the move. Perhaps it was the odd presentation of games like ARMS and Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 that just made them look fun. Maybe it was the hype around the idea of something more accessible and worthwhile than the Wii U was for most people. Either way, the Switch’s first year has been one of the most remarkable launch years for a console in generations.

 

Legacy by the numbers

 

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It’s been a year, but the Switch has already broken several sales records. Back in December, it hit over 10 million sales worldwide. In the US, it has become the fastest selling system within its first 9 months, surpassing the record-holding Playstation 2. In Japan, the UK and France, it has surpassed total lifetime sales of the Wii U within the first year. Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aime can be quoted saying “We dramatically over delivered, and yet demand still outpaces supply.”

And Nintendo’s stock reflects this. By E3 of last year, stock in Nintendo was the highest it had been in over 5 years, and after the announcement of the Project Labo and quarterly earnings, it has gone up almost another 10%. It’s a rising force that isn’t showing signs of falling anytime soon.

What was amazing about that January 12 stream last year was how many first-party games Nintendo showed, announced for 2017 releases, and then, by god, actually released in 2017.

This is Nintendo, the same company that shuffled Skyward Sword’s launch date back and back until it became the Wii’s final swan song. A lot of people still have problems trusting the big N when it comes to reliability. But the Switch became the first sign of newfound dedication to fans’ hopes.

Breath of the Wild was an amazingly strong launch title, winning game of the year accolades from far and wide. It was a water cooler game. People talked about their adventures and experiences and mistakes in Hyrule for months on end. Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey carried hype through most of the year, with newcomer ARMS and cult sequel Xenoblade Chronicles 2 there for their respective camps of curiosity.

Not every single game was great, but every game needed to be. Even at low points, content is content. Not only was the Switch a great console to launch, it came out alongside a new Zelda and a new Mario in the same year, two primary flagships coupled by a bunch of other smaller hits. Nintendo planned out the Switch’s launch year to be as surefire a success as they could engineer, and they appear to have nailed it.

Flagships be what they may, no small part of the Switch’s success comes from it’s excessive support of the indie industry. Indie games have thrived on the Switch, with titles like recent hit Celeste selling better there than all other platforms combined. Enter The Gungeon reeled in a whopping 75,000 copies sold in just two weeks. It seems like with each visit to the digital marketplace, there’s more new.

 

What the people want

 

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Despite all the numbers, it’s not all about numbers, either. In an article we published last November, we talked about how the Switch found new ways to dominate the market. It looked gimmicky, yes, but those gimmicks have wound up being its biggest selling point.

Go onto any Switch-focused Facebook group or Reddit thread or other seedy armpit of the internet and you’ll likely find a lot of discussion on desired upcoming releases. And sure, a lot of it is people wanting to see more of Metroid Prime 4, or to get their hands on a new Animal Crossing. But they also talk about ports and remakes. They talk about ports and remakes more than PC groups, more than other console groups, more than any other circles of gamers dedicated to particular platforms on which to do their thing.

When the Playstation 4 and Xbox One were new, there was a decent amount of flak thrown over how many remasters and upgrades of previous-generation games came out. It happened for a while, too, from upgrades of already high-profile titles like The Last of Us Remastered to ones nobody ever asked for, like the Prototype remastered editions. Remasters and remakes became seen for a hot minute as lazy, as a way to sell games with less effort than making something new.

But the Switch changed that. Through its gimmicks, through the things about it that could have been one-trick ponies, the Switch made ports worthwhile again. Taking console games on the go is really more than just a gimmick. It’s something that people have wanted since the days of the Game Boy. Taking a home console experience on the go as easily as pulling a rectangle out of another rectangle instantly adds new value to any game released on it.

Back in November, Ubisoft reported game sales on Nintendo Switch as nearly even with Xbox One. That’s with only a few months and way fewer titles than on Microsoft’s powerhouse. Shovel Knight’s Switch release saw its highest numbers when it launched on Switch, considering it had been out elsewhere since 2014. Ports and re-releases aren’t droll fluff for Switch owners. They’re upgrades in a whole different way.

 

The Switch Ends With You

 

The Switch was a big risk for Nintendo. If it failed after the harsh decline of the Wii U, there’s a solid chance that the home system market of Nintendo might have ceased to exist. Yet, despite this risk, they still felt the need to try something new and innovate, rather than fall back on safe philosophies. Nintendo became the icon they are through being quirky, innovative, and more than a little bit out there. And it’s by those same philosophies that they’ve pulled themselves back on their feet.

2018 still lies largely ahead for the big N. So far, we don’t have as solid an idea of what’s coming other than a few titles scheduled for vague releases sometime in the spring. Hyrule Warriros and DS classic The World Ends With You are both on their way. We know Metroid Prime 4 is a game that in some way exists in some corner of an office. Outside that, some of the Switch’s greatest strengths are in its constantly-refreshed indie marketplace. We know the Labo system is coming for younger gamers. As for the rest of us, we’ll have to see.

Whatever Nintendo makes in 2018 will, to many, have twice the value it ever would have before the Switch existed. Whatever third-party stuff is released on it, there will be a rabid and hungry fanbase ready and able to pick those games up on Switch first and foremost. The Nintendo Switch’s debut year has been a smash. Now it’s all down to whether they can keep it going.

Jay Petrequin started writing at HeyPoorPlayer in the summer of 2012, but first got his start writing for It's Super Effective, a Pokemon podcast that happened to be a reflection of two of his biggest interests: pocket monsters, and making people listen to him say things.

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