Will Nintendo’s little console be able to compete in the future?
For those of you who have forgotten, the Nintendo Switch launched in March 2017. That’s three whole years after the Xbox One and PS4. You could say that, given the past history of console lifespans, the Switch released halfway through a console cycle. The Switch was considered underpowered compared to its competition when it launched and that makes it even more so given the fact that the PS4 Pro and Xbox One X have both come out as well. Both Microsoft and Sony have also announced that they are actively working on new consoles. Given this fact, can the underpowered Switch hope to continue competing into the future? The short answer is yes, I think it can, but it will face an uphill battle in a number of ways. Below will be all my thoughts about what the Switch’s strengths and weaknesses will be moving forward.
Let’s start with the Nintendo Switch’s impressive sales record so far. The console was the fastest-selling console of all time in both the United States and Japan during 2017. Not only that, but by the time the Switch hit its first birthday, it had sold almost eighteen million units worldwide. That is an impressive number by any stretch of the imagination. It is even tracking ahead of the most popular console of all time, the PS2. The real question is can the Switch maintain its incredible momentum? Nintendo plans to sell twenty million more Switches during its second year on the market but it only sold 1.88 million units during the first quarter of its second year. That is a sign of a slowdown but keep in mind that the holiday season is usually where consoles sell the most so maybe Switch sales will pick back up.
Perhaps the area of biggest concern for the Switch is third-party support. Ever since the Nintendo 64, this has been Nintendo’s biggest problem. This is where the issue of the Switch’s power comes into play: it’s lack of it compared to its rivals will keep most third-party games off the system (Overwatch is a prime example of this). Not only that, but it has led to the Switch receiving inferior versions of several games. Content was cut from FIFA 18 (though EA gave a different reason than simple computing power) and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus had framerate and resolution issues on the Switch. These problems will only get worse as both Microsoft and Sony release new iterations of their console line which will lead to third-party developers making bigger and more demanding games.
Although the Switch hasn’t received third-party support from every publisher, it has gotten some support from notable companies. Bethesda, which has never released a single game for any Nintendo console ever, has been a huge supporter of the Switch. Skyrim, Doom, and the aforementioned Wolfenstein II are all on the Switch. The only problem is that these titles released way later (similar to Dark Souls Remastered) on the Switch than on the PS4 and Xbox One. This meant you could purchase all these titles for cheaper on other systems than if you waited to get them for the Switch. In the case of Bethesda, this phenomenon may change since the company plans to release Doom: Eternal on the same day across all systems. Even though most publishers aren’t releasing their games on the Switch at the same time as on other consoles, it’s nice to see a major company like Bethesda doing it. Maybe they can convince other publishers to follow suit.
In addition to Bethesda, two other companies that have shown major support for the Switch are Square Enix and Ubisoft. Square Enix released the excellent Octopath Traveler for the system along with Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition (note that it is the Pocket Edition and not the full version) and it plans on bringing several classic Final Fantasy games to the Switch throughout 2019. Ubisoft has always been the biggest third-party supporter of Nintendo systems (at least in the past decade). This is no different with the Switch. Not only has Ubisoft developed the Switch-exclusive (and weirdest crossover title ever) Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, but it is also brought Just Dance 2018 to the system and is bringing its space-faring game Starlink: Battle for Atlas (with Star Fox included) to the Switch very soon.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Ubisoft, however, is that it is bringing the latest entry in its most popular series to the Switch: Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. It will be released on the Switch but it can only be streamed to the console from the cloud. It is important to note that this isn’t the only game to do this. Resident Evil 7 from Capcom has the distinction of being the first game to be streamed on the Switch. The curious thing about both these cases is that these games are only available in Japan at the time of this writing. It is unclear why this is. If both of these titles are successful on the Switch by using streaming, then maybe more third-party publishers will want to do the same thing. Maybe this feature will be expanded to more territories besides Japan in the future as well. This method of delivery provides the best way for the Switch to receive all the blockbuster AAA games (like Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII, Red Dead Redemption II, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, etc.) it is currently missing out on.
The Switch has also gotten support from other notable third-party titles as well. The biggest game has to be Fortnite, which continues to be massively popular the world over. It even allows crossplay which surprises the hell out of me since Nintendo is not known for its online multiplayer support. A close second in popularity has to be Minecraft (which also supports crossplay on Switch, imagine!). Additionally, ever popular games Warframe and Diablo III will be arriving later this year on Switch. These are all huge games with devoted fanbases and the fact they are coming to the Nintendo’s system shows that publishers (at least some of them) believe the console will be popular for many years to come.
One area of the third-party world that the Switch is competing in, and quite successfully I might add, is Indie titles. Called Nindies by Nintendo, these games are developed by small teams of people (sometimes only one person) and they don’t require that much horsepower in order to run them. Couple this with the fact that the Switch can be taken on the go and it becomes clear that the system really is a perfect fit for Nindies (indeed, the fact you can take it with you is a big reason people buy AAA games for the Switch even though they look worse on the system and the games can cost more). Golf Stoy, Hollow Knight, Celeste, Undertale, Dead Cells, Stardew Valley, Super Meat Boy, and so many more are available on Switch at this very moment. Unlike many AAA third-party games, most of the Nindies are available on the Switch at the same time as other systems or they even released on Switch first (like Golf Story and Hollow Knight). In fact, Nindies are so popular on Switch that Nintendo wants twenty to thirty of them releasing on Switch each week. I think that’s overkill but it does show how popular Nindies are on the system.
And now we come to what has arguably been the biggest selling point for the Switch: the first-party lineup. Although we’ve had kind of a dry period over the past few months when it comes to first-party releases, the first year of the Switch’s lifecycle saw the release of some of the best games of the past decade. Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were the games that drove the Switch’s sales numbers during its first year. By selling 10.41 million, 9.22 million, and 8.48 million copies respectively by the end of March 2018, these games obviously had wide-ranging appeal. In addition, Splatoon 2, ARMS, 1 – 2 Switch, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 were no slouches either. All of these games are exclusive to the Switch (except for Breath of the Wild, which also released on the Wii U) and they will probably continue to tempt people into buying Switches. Although there has been a lull over the past few months, the good news for Nintendo (and for Switch owners) is that more great first-party games are on the way.
The most imminent releases on the horizon are Pokémon Let’s Go: Pikachu and Eevee and Super Smash Bros.: Ultimate. They are coming out in November and December respectively and will undoubtedly give the three top-sellers of last year a run for their money. These titles are just the tip of the iceberg since there are a whole lot more first-party (or exclusive) titles that have been announced: an as of yet untitled Pokémon game slated for next year, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Bayonetta 3, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Animal Crossing, and, of course, Metroid Prime 4. This isn’t even an all-inclusive list of the games that have been announced as I’m sure I’ve missed some of the smaller titles. Of all the things the Nintendo Switch is missing, first-party titles are not one of them and it looks like Nintendo has plenty more games coming in the future.
So, what should we make of the Nintendo Switch’s prospects going forward? Yes, there are some problems Nintendo will have to come to terms with: most notably the lack of power leading to a dearth of third-party content. For the third-party titles that have come or are coming to the system, they are oftentimes missing certain features and do not play or look as good on Switch as they do on other systems. However, the fact that you can take these titles with you wherever you go makes getting them on Switch that more compelling (not to mention the ability to stream larger games to the Switch could be an option sometime in the future). In addition, the continuing popularity of Nindies, Nintendo’s impressive first-party output, and all the second-party exclusives will be a force to be reckoned with as the Switch grows older. Although the Switch may miss out on some of the most popular AAA third-party games, I believe it will continue to sell well for the foreseeable future.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts about the Switch’s viability going forward? Will it continue to be as massive of a success as it has been? Let me know!