A year for a human is about… 10 years for a video game console. That would mean that in a few days, the Nintendo Switch is hitting the big ol’ 4-0. I advise you to make sure your Nintendo Switch doesn’t go and buy a big shiny sports car just to make sure he’s “still got it.”
Actually, a privileged mid-life crisis is the perfect way to describe the Switch’s current state. It started out as a scrappy underdog, but it has clawed its way to the top of the gaming industry. As Reggie Fils-Aime recently divulged, Nintendo was sorely in need of good hardware sales by the end of 2016 due to the Wii U’s financial troubles. The Switch’s first year on the market was unlike anything I’d ever seen. Sure the Wii was a console leviathan when it launched, but its demand relied on the novelty of motion controls with Wii Sports and little else for its first year on the market.
The Switch, on the other hand, had a launch year full of diverse exclusive games; I’m still playing Switch games that I missed from 2017. By Christmas 2020, the Switch had officially sold more than the Nintendo 3DS with over 76 million units out in the wild, and it’s now on track to outsell the Wii and the PlayStation 4. It has also broken the record for being the best-selling console for the longest consecutive period of time — over 24 months. In fact, the Switch dominates the gaming market in Japan, and it even outpaces the next-gen consoles in Western regions, though that statistic is likely caused by difficulties in Sony’s and Microsoft’s supply chains. Still, the Switch’s financial success is now set in concrete, and several Switch games are considered modern masterpieces. Nintendo is in an entirely different place in 2021.
We did it, people. The Nintendo Switch has won Video Games. So… now what do we do?
The Wii U Deluxe
It’s no surprise that Nintendo has used a lot of the Wii U’s underrated library to help pad out the Switch’s game release schedule. As of March 2021, the Switch has bullied the Wii U into giving up an exclusive at least 10 times. In addition, the Switch sequels Super Mario Maker 2 and Splatoon 2 are highly similar to their Wii U counterparts, making those versions more or less obsolete. The Wii U basically only has the HD Zelda remasters and Xenoblade Chronicles X left in its pocket. You could say that the Switch is, in a way, the Wii U Deluxe.
Some may see the shrinking Wii U exclusive library as a sign that we will get more entirely new Nintendo games for the Switch. I’m sorry to disappoint you, but video games take a long time to make. There are smaller teams that work on projects like Wii U ports and remasters in order to keep fans in a holding pattern, while bigger teams work on the big new games until they are ready. The people working on the Diamond & Pearl remakes aren’t the same people working on Pokemon Legends: Arceus. So as the years go on, there are a number of things I envision Nintendo trying that will replace the Wii U port filler.
The first thing they may do is simply go father back in time and make remasters of Wii and 3DS games, the way they’re doing with Skyward Sword HD and Miitopia. I like the idea of putting their older games up on current hardware – it’s certainly better than leaving it behind – but I have two problems with it.
One, I’m not a fan of their pricing model. Two, taking the effort to spit and polish a handful of old games means that several others will never make it onto the Switch at all. I’d rather play 20 games on a Virtual Console in their original resolution over 4 or 5 HD remasters. If there was still one thing the Wii U excelled at, it’s the Virtual Console with its access to decades of Nintendo history, including the highly-coveted Nintendo 64 and Game Boy Advance games. The Switch, on the other hand, is 4 years old and still only has NES and SNES games. Coupled with the FOMO-inducing limited release of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, Nintendo is clearly creating a Disney Vault experience for their consumers, and I despise it. It’s a scummy way to run a business.
Even worse than their Disney Vault approach, however, is their complete disregard for drifting Joy-Cons. I can’t believe it has been an issue for this long. I can’t believe Nintendo hasn’t released a new version of the Joy-Con. I love their iconic look, but there’s nothing as disappointing as realizing your analog sticks have begun drifting for the 3rd or 4th time and you need to send it in for repair again, or fix it yourself again. I play video game consoles long after their life cycles end, and it makes me hesitant to think about Nintendo’s eventual end of Switch support, where repair services / spare parts will start drying up. The controllers might as well be called Kill-Joy instead.
With all of the class-action lawsuits happening in several different world regions, I sincerely hope that Nintendo will listen and engineer this problem away. In the best-case scenario they would replace the original Joy-Con with the hypothetical Joy-Con 2.0 as they’re mailed in for repair for free, but by this point I’d even buy full-priced Joy-Con 2.0 if they solved the drift problem permanently. For now my solution is to play with my 8bitdo controller and extend the life of my Joy-Cons’ analog sticks.
Entering Its Prime
Controller issues aside, the Switch and its library are aging gracefully. Nintendo has a robust array of games that will satisfy any type of player. Its 1st-Party lineup has some of the most inventive games of this generation, and its 3rd-Party support is still decent for a Nintendo console.
The library is hitting that critical mass where even gamers who aren’t traditional “Nintendo fans” should consider it just because its library is that impressive. Nintendo has offered something to please almost anyone.
At the moment, I think 3rd Parties have a good presence of the Switch. When done right, most Switch ports don’t sacrifice much in terms of visuals or performance; however, as the PS5 and Xbox Series X pick up momentum, I believe Nintendo’s share of multiplatform releases will get smaller than it already is. But that’s alright. I think the Switch will continue to get 3rd Party games made specifically for the system, like how Capcom skipped the Switch for Monster Hunter World and instead made Monster Hunter Rise. Thus, as the Switch gets older, Nintendo’s ecosystem will become more and more isolated from the rest of the gaming industry. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, only time will tell.
I expect Pokemon Legends: Arceus, Breath of the Wild 2, and Splatoon 3 will carry the Switch’s sales even higher than they already are. I still believe a sequel to Super Mario Odyssey is in the works as well. I think we’ll get another 2D Zelda game as well as ports of the Wii U Zelda remasters. I expect we’ll get both a 2D Metroid from Mercury Steam, the developers of Samus Returns, as well as the Metroid Prime Trilogy. I forsee major game releases in the Kirby and Fire Emblem as well. We’ll get dozens of indie darlings like Silksong, Axiom Verge 2, and at least one, if not two, indie developers will get to work with an established Nintendo IP. I think another Warriors spinoff is slated for the Switch, likely a “Xenoblade Warriors.” Monolithsoft will reveal their new IP and it will be another major release. I hope that Nintendo will capitalize on their large install base and revive an IP on their backburner, and I hope we get one more weird experiment, like Ring Fit Adventure or Nintendo Labo. Starting with the release of Shin Megami Tensei V, I believe Atlus will soon support the Switch in full, which is the 3rd-Party developer I like the most. I hope they will port over some past Persona games, a Vanillaware game like 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim, and their Etrian Odyssey team will make a new game tailored for the Switch. However, they do it, I expect Atlus will support the Switch long into its twilight years, much like they did with the 3DS.
We have anywhere from 4 to 6 years left of the Switch’s life. By the end of 2021, I believe Nintendo will announce a half-upgrade “Switch Pro” that releases in early 2022. In either 2025 or 2026, I believe Nintendo will release the Switch’s successor, and it will (hopefully) be backwards compatible with Switch games. It’s possible, however, that Nintendo noticed their iterative successors (like the 3DS) underperform when compared to original hardware (like the DS). With that in mind, they might try an entirely new concept; however, I think the hybrid approach is still so convenient that it’s worth keeping around for a while.
Regardless, I still have plenty of time left to enjoy my Switch, and a have a large backlog to play long after Nintendo officially stops supporting it. I just hope that, as game consoles age faster than I do, that my Switch doesn’t start telling me how easy it was for it to buy a house or save for retirement. Otherwise, I’ll have to start saying “okay, boomer” back to it and maybe block it on Twitter.