Just over a year ago on March 3, Nintendo released the Switch, a colorful and sleek mobile-console hybrid. A week later the company declared it to be their fastest-selling console in the company’s history, beating even the venerable and widespread Wii. Less than two years later the Switch has already outsold Nintendo’s previous console, the Switch’s chunkier, slower cousin, the Wii U, with 14.86 million units sold worldwide, compared to 13.56 million Wii U over its entire lifetime. The Switch is a complete success for Nintendo, and it came right when they needed it most.
One year before its release, Nintendo revealed that they were developing the Switch, at the time simply called the “NX”, and information was scant. Rumors were abundant, the messaging was confusing (the company’s president at one point referred to the NX as “neither the successor to the Wii U nor to the 3DS“), and there wasn’t much confidence in Nintendo at the time. In 2014 Nintendo posted a net loss of $240 million, driven by the Wii U’s poor sales and the company’s continued resistance against a move into the mobile game space.
Soon after the NX announcement, Nintendo President Satoru Iwata passed away. Iwata was widely loved in the gaming community for making the classic N64 fighting game Super Smash Bros. His leadership was imperative in creating the Wii and the Nintendo DS, which later became the best-selling games console of all time with over 150 million units sold.
Nintendo continued to falter, including the disastrous launch of the NES Classic, which was barely available for the entirety of its miscommunicated “short term run,” and later with further miscommunication around the release of AR-fad Pokémon GO. The game was incredibly popular on launch, but is now the sort of thing we all fondly remember happening like it was a decade ago. The confusion doubled Nintendo shares temporarily before the company had to clarify that it did not own the Pokémon license nor did it develop the game. Its shares promptly dropped and so did its market value, losing $6.7 billion in a day.
And then the Switch happened. Apart from being a commercial success, the console has become a rallying point for players of all ages, introducing millions of children to gaming and de-throning other consoles, even ones by Nintendo, as older players’ new favorite console. Releases like Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are the first-party bait that the company has always used to get players to hand over their money, but Nintendo has been surprisingly diligent in bringing experiences new and old from outside their own stable to the console.
Unlike the Wii and the Wii U, the Switch has proven easy to develop for – popular game engines like Unreal Engine and Unity even have single-button exporting for the Switch, provided the developer has a license. That’s given developers the ability to bring small indies like Celeste, Night in the Woods and Darkest Dungeon to the console. It’s also allowed big companies to bring their back-catalogs to the mobile screen, including the Bayonetta games, Rocket League and even The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
So what’s next? Well, in April the DIY cardboard toy-game hybrid Labo will be released, and reception hard to predict. It could usher in a new gaming style, or it could end up like any number of Nintendo’s bizarre experiments over the years. After that, the releases will start coming in hot, including Dark Souls Remastered, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Kirby Star Allies, amongst so many others that it’s a bit exhausting to look at the list. (Which in and of itself is a victory – never in recent memory has a Nintendo console had such a deluge of content coming its way.)
If Nintendo continues to focus on the games and the act of playing, instead of getting bogged down in the Microsoft-Sony power wars or in the race to the bottom that characterizes the mobile marketplace (and maybe brings the Switch just a bit more in touch with modern gadgets), it will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.
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