There have been a number of occasions where naysayers have waited to pour dirt on Nintendo's grave. The time looked to be near with the flop of the Wii U console. While it had a decent library of games that included several Game of the Year contenders (and a few winners), the console just never caught on. It languished on store shelves and was quickly deemed one of the company's biggest failures.
One year ago today, Nintendo got off to its latest fresh start. Months prior to that, it unveiled its newest console, the Nintendo Switch. It was designed to be a home console that could be docked to televisions, but also taken off the dock and used as a portable gaming device. It would utilize controller components that could either be combined into one giant gamepad or split in half for two miniature controllers. And like the console itself, the Joy-Con controller was easy to carry around and bust out on the go.
The Switch was an instant hit and what a wild year it's been.
What's fascinating about the early days of the Switch was that its launch lineup was less than stellar. There was the party game 1-2 Switch, which served to utilize the Switch's core concepts. Select minigames used the Switch's motion sensors and gyroscope for players to compete against one another. The result is something that would have been fun as a pack-in game... if it had been a pack-in game. It was not. This game actually sold for full retail price.
Fortunately, the Switch only really needed one game to thrive in the beginning. And when that game is the 2017 Game of the Year, that's really more than enough to sustain a console for an extended period.
While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was more than enough to satisfy Switch owners for the first few months of its life cycle, Nintendo's new console was eventually going to need new games.
Fortunately, Nintendo was working overtime to make sure there were numerous first-party games available in the Switch's first year. A handful of them were Wii U games that were now getting an entirely new audience. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe led the way, finally getting the sales numbers to match its quality.
Those who didn't buy a Wii U also likely missed out on Splatoon. But this newer Nintendo IP also got its day in the sun, with the sequel Splatoon 2 enjoying newfound success with a summer release. Servers quickly filled up and it remains one of Nintendo's most active online games. (At least it is for the immediate future, but we'll touch on that in just a bit.) There's still new content rolling out for it on a regular basis, with Nintendo also supporting it with monthly Splatfest events.
Speaking of newer IPs, Nintendo launched an entirely new one with Arms, a new third-person fighting game that has two players duking it out with giant extend-o arms. It's a different kind of fighting game experience and one that proved to be a lot of fun. It also helps that Nintendo continued supporting the game all the way through the early part of the new year, adding characters, stages, and features to fully flesh it out.
The Little Guy
With the Wii U, Nintendo had taken more and more steps to help indie developers get their projects onto their console. The Nintendo Switch doesn't look to be slowing down on that idea. Numerous small-scale developers have had a chance to bring their best to Nintendo's new platform. And for multiple indie developers, the Switch's larger audience has been a godsend.
One big example is The Flame in the Flood, which previously released on Steam and Xbox One. In October, developer The Molasses Flood released their game on the Switch and was subsequently blown away with a far-better-than-expected sales performance. They weren't the only ones to see that level of success. A GamesIndustry.biz report also cited similar success from developers like Yacht Club Games (Shovel Knight) and Sumo Digital (Snake Pass). Indie developer Matt Thorson released his platform Celeste on multiple platforms, but has seen the most success on the Switch.
This influx of indie games greatly benefits the Switch owner, because there's always a great game just around the corner. There's surprise hit Golf Story from Sidebar Games, there's Mighty Gunvolt Burst and Blaster Master Zero from Inti Creates, there's Battle Chef Brigade from Trinket Studios and Adult Swim Games, and that's just scratching the surface. Games that have already been released elsewhere are also finding their way to the switch. There's Oxenfree from Night School Studio, there's Crypt of the NecroDancer from Brace Yourself Games, there's Owlboy that just released from D-Pad Studio, there's Enter the Gungeon from Dodge Roll that just released near the end of 2017. And the best part of all of these games is that most of them are selling for less than 20 dollars, with Nintendo also running sales on a regular basis.
There has never been a better time to enjoy an indie game on a Nintendo console, as the Switch is quickly taking the handheld throne once held by the PlayStation Vita. It helps that the graphics for all of these games are mostly on par with their current-gen console counterparts.
A New Odyssey
But at the end of the day, this is a Nintendo console. There's surely going to be Mario presence, right? Well, for the first time in several Nintendo generations, the company released a first-party Legend of Zelda game and first-party Super Mario game in the same calendar year. And Game of the Year conversations didn't get much more heated than Zelda vs. Mario.
If The Legend of Zelda was our Game of the Year, Super Mario Odyssey didn't come in far behind. Mario's joyful return to 3D platform was nothing short of a treat, with crisp mechanics, multiple new worlds to explore, and delightful characters to meet along the way. The best of those characters being Cappy, who has added one of the series' coolest elements in years: the ability to become Mario's enemies.
That would normally be enough Mario, but there's actually a second Mario game that has gotten a surprising amount of love in 2017. It would be a lie to say that anyone at Shacknews expected Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle to be good. Everyone on the staff expected this to be an odd mix, if not an outright terrible one. But everyone here was eating crow by the time all was said and done, because the game is shockingly great.
It was more than the surprising introduction of RTS elements into a Mario game. It was also the Rabbids, long dismissed as annoying gimmicks. They interacted wonderfully with the Mario cast of characters and even injected a lot of personality into the story. It was a crossover that nobody expected to work, but it did and it left everyone wanting more.
Now that Nintendo Switch: Year One has concluded, what's next? It turns out the second year will continue to be an experimental one for Nintendo. The Switch's online service is in line for a September launch and that's when things are about to change significantly. Online games like Splatoon 2 will no longer be free, but will require an annual fee. Nintendo will also seek to make the service worthwhile with additional features, like free classic games that have been updated to include online play.
Meanwhile, with Mario and Zelda already out the door, Nintendo will look to push the rest of its top-tier first-party franchises through to its new console. Kirby Star Allies is first, set to release later this month, followed by a new Yoshi game, the next entry in the Metroid Prime series, and even an honest-to-goodness Pokemon RPG.
That's without even mentioning the surprises that Switch owners are likely to see throughout the year. One of the biggest ones came earlier this week, with Blizzard teasing that Diablo 3 would be coming to the Switch, which would mark the first appearance of a modern Blizzard game on a Nintendo platform. Before that, there was the announcement of the cardboard Do-It-Yourself Nintendo Labo, which promises to be one of the most intriguing (as well as bizarre) experiments to hit a video game console in a long time.
There are plenty of surprises incoming, which means the Switch's second year could be every bit as fun as the first.