7 years of Nintendo Switch

And counting

3rd March 2024


It’s hard to believe but 2017 was already 7 years ago. The world was different back then, as Nintendo itself. Nowadays it seems almost unthinkable, but the house of Mario was in serious trouble before the release of the hybrid system that revolutionised the gaming market and gave a whole new life to portable systems.

Let’s look back at the inception of the Nintendo Switch, how it became so successful and what it still has left to give.

Nintendo’s ace in the hole

Saying that Nintendo had a few rough years before the release of the Switch is quite an understatement. After the staggering success of the Wii, the company decided to release its successor, the Wii U, in 2012. Although, its confusing proposition, baffling name and terrible marketing caused it to flop hard. For “hardcore” gamers, it wasn’t powerful enough to deliver the third party games present on the other systems (which was already a problem with the original Wii), and the “casual” audience didn’t even understand that Wii U was actually a new system, neither needed one (as most of them only played Wii Sports anyway). Even the relative success of the Nintendo 3DS wasn’t enough to compensate for the huge financial losses caused by this misstep. As a consequence of that, the company’s president Satoru Iwata famously cut his salary in half to avoid layoffs, a move that made him be in good graces of many fans, alongside his charisma and genuine passion for gaming. Unsurprisingly, his death in 2015 was another hard blow in Nintendo’s already low spirits.

Not everything was doom and gloom though, with the development of the next system being already underway. In that same year the first news about it surfaced, while the full reveal only happened one year later, in 2016. It was undoubtedly a smart move. Nintendo always had a strong grasp on the portable gaming market, so, an hybrid system like the Switch was the logical step in hindsight. Instead of supporting two systems simultaneously, like it happened before (the 3DS still coexisted with the Switch for a couple of years, but it was quickly phased out), they could combine all their efforts on a single platform. Of course there were still concerns about the system modest specs, as it could fall in the same pattern of not getting third party multi-platform games due the disparity with the other available systems. Luckily the Nintendo Switch was a success right out of the box when it launched, in March 3 2017, in due part to their other ace in the hole.

❖ The Nintendo Switch was introduced to the world with this trailer, back in late 2016.

It’s all about the games

The lineup of games available on launch day was nothing to write home about, but it didn’t matter. The highly anticipated The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the most compelling argument to get the Switch day one. The game was so successful that not only revolutionised the Zelda franchise, but the entire open-world genre. While it was also released simultaneously for the Wii U, it was more out of obligation its loyal user base, since it was developed with that system in mind to begin with.

Breath of the Wild was enough to keep the new Switch owners busy for a few weeks (if not months), but the first year of the console would see an influx of great exclusive releases, such as Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Super Mario Odyssey. By the end of 2017, it was clear that the Switch was here to stay. With a good user base and the novelty of playing on TV or on the go, third party developers interest grew substantially. The efforts put in ports like Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Doom or Dark Souls proved that there was market for this kind of re-releases. The graphical downgrade was a compromise many people were willing to accept, with the prospect of having the flexibility of playing this games on a portable form factor. The indie scene was (and still is) also a force to be reckoned with in the Switch library. Since those games usually aren’t as graphically demanding as high budget ones, they are released on Nintendo’s system without compromises, making the Switch the ideal place to play them.

In my case, what made me jump to the Switch bandwagon was the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, in late 2018. I was already a fan of the series, so, when Ultimate was announced with the promisse of including all the characters from the previous entries, I knew it was time to get a Switch. Sadly I had to wait a few months to play it, since the physical edition of the game was sold out everywhere during that holiday season. Instead I ended up picking Super Mario Odyssey as my first Switch game. Case to say that I had no regrets with that decision, because it was absolutely fantastic! It became instantly my favourite Mario game.

❖ The game reveal that made me buy a Switch back in the day.

Something called Animal Crossing

While the Switch concept was more than solidified to the gaming audience, it wasn’t until the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons that the system had its breakout moment with the casual public. Animal Crossing was a life simulation series where the player could live a parallel life with cute anthropomorphic animals, following the real life time and calendar. After a few years of hiatus, the fans were eager for the series return. The concept of this new entry, titled New Horizons, was to move to a deserted island and developing it with cultivations, houses, infrastructures and more, while creating relationships with the few animals who choose to live there as well. The game looked great and promissed a ton of content, judging by the trailers revealed until then. The hype machine was building up for the game release in March of 2020. I don’t know if you remember by now, but there was another global trend that started to grow insanely that same month. Covid-19 forced many of us to obligatory lockdowns and many people started looking into forms of escapism to deal with the situation. What could be more enticing than living a nice life in a island far away from all the real world problems?

From that point onwards sales of the system and software skyrocketed and a new wave of games appeared trying to appeal to this new audience interested in farming simulators and “cozy” games. The Switch truly felt like a system for everyone.

❖ Animal Crossing: New Horizons success is one of the best examples of right place, right time.

Fading into the sunset

Everything good eventually comes to an end, as is the case with the Switch. While 2023 was still an incredible year in terms of new releases, (Super Mario Wonder, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Pikmin 4, to name a few), 2024 looks much more bleak in contrast. Most of the exclusive titles of this year are essentially remakes and remasters, some justifiable (Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door), others not really (Mario vs Donkey Kong). Having the knowledge to make an educated guess, I say this is a clear sign that the main development efforts are being put somewhere else, very likely in a new system. This statement can age either like wine or milk, but I’m truly confident that this will be the last year of the Switch as the main Nintendo system, with the reveal of the next one not very far away.

It’s impossible to know for sure what’s going to happen next, but nobody can take from us the seven years of the tiny gaming tablet (yes, it has a touchscreen, even if few games used it) that served as home for some of the finest games ever made.

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