The Nintendo Switch just turned one year old, and what a first year it had, becoming the fastest-selling console in the U.S. and already outselling its predecessor. Of course, the Switch had some major help in reaching these milestones, particularly with the release of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as a launch title and Super Mario Odyssey as a holiday release, and Nintendo hasn’t announced any releases for 2018 that can rival these two powerhouses. Going into its second year, the Switch has yet to prove that it has the same staying power as its main competitors, and that might have Nintendo fans worried.
So, with no big first-party titles confirmed for 2018 (sorry, as much as I love Yoshi and Kirby and Fire Emblem, those franchises are just not system sellers, at least in the U.S.), the Switch has to consider what else it has to offer consumers besides Zelda and Mario. Fortunately for Nintendo, the Switch is flexible in more ways than just its physical design, and it needs to take advantage of this flexibility to make 2018 a year in which Nintendo sets up the Switch’s future by taking advantage of its deep Wii U library, appealing to third-parties, and continuing to innovate.
Ports, ports, and more ports
It’s no secret that the Wii U was a failure for Nintendo, at least in terms of hardware sales and especially following the smash success that was the Wii—13.54 million Wii Us sold doesn’t even come close to 101 million Wiis. The Wii U was such a phenomenal disappointment for Nintendo that they cancelled production in the middle of a console generation and started fresh with a new console.
But where the Wii U wasn’t a failure was in its games. As far as Nintendo’s first-party titles go, the Wii U’s have been criminally overlooked, thanks to the Wii U’s poor commercial performance and Nintendo’s failures in making the console a success. Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze were all arguably some of the best entries in their respective series, but they didn’t really get their due, not to mention Super Mario Maker, which perhaps encapsulates Nintendo’s current Switch-era spirit of creativity and experimentation more than any other game.
It should tell you something that the second best-selling game on the Switch launched for the Wii U. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe sold over 7 million copies in 2017, beating out both Breath of the Wild (!) and Splatoon 2. The weird thing is that Mario Kart 8 had already sold 8 million copies on the Wii U, which says something about how many new gamers and returning Nintendo lovers who skipped the Wii U (like myself) were wooed back by the Switch. The Switch’s other major Wii U port in 2017, Pokkén Tournament DX, also topped 1 million units sold.
Nintendo is obviously aware that people who love Nintendo but skipped the Wii U are craving the titles they missed out on. Bayonetta 2 just came to the Switch, and updated versions of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors are already in the works, but why stop there? Besides the aforementioned Mario titles, I’d love to see ports for smaller first-party titles like Pikmin 3, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and even Star Fox Zero are titles I would personally download day one. Bring more
The ports that I’m not totally sold on are some of the third-party ports that the Switch is getting. Putting Skyrim, Doom, and Wolfenstein II on the Switch seem like stunt ports, done more for the publicity than commercial practicality. That’s because, even in their mobility, the Switch versions of these titles simply cannot compete with the more powerful console and PC versions. Even Rocket League on the Switch, which I thought was a faithful port, seems like a second-hand version compared to the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and especially PC version, due simply to its lower resolution and the fact that I can’t voice chat with my friends.
Basically, I want ports of games that I haven’t played yet, and if Nintendo brings back more of its forgotten gems in 2018, this will help keep the Switch going into 2019, when more of its bigger releases like Pokémon and Metroid Prime 4 are most likely to launch. And if Nintendo can get Virtual Console up and running in 2018, the Switch will be even better off.
Third-party support without the ports
Of course, as Nintendo should know, it’s dangerous to go alone, and the Big N simply doesn’t have the resources to develop hundreds of awesome first-party titles. It needs to capture third-party support in a way that the Wii U (or even the Wii, for that matter) never could.
But, like I said earlier, the answer isn’t porting over games that are several years old and several resolutions worse than those of their Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC counterparts. The answer lies in games like Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes and Project Octopath Traveler, two games by big third-party developers that stand out as true third-party console exclusives. (Same with Bayonetta 3, but who knows when that’s launching.)
At this point, it’s already too late for Nintendo to get a ton of third-party exclusives ready for 2018 if they don’t have them already. What Nintendo can do, however, is put as much effort into promoting these third-party exclusives as it does in promoting its first-party titles with events like Nintendo Direct, Treehouse, and E3. Not only will this show other major publishers that Nintendo is dedicated to taking their games seriously, but it will also help sales of these titles, which is how you really get the attention of an EA or an Activision.
Make sure Switch Online doesn’t suck
Nintendo is launching its paid online service, Switch Online, in September 2018. While this might be too late in the year to have that much of an impact, a crappy online offering could really hurt Nintendo when it matters most: during the holiday season. If Nintendo going to start charging people $20 for a service that is free right now, it needs to make sure that the service offers something unique, or at least functioning, unless it wants to face the reactionary rage of the online community and, potentially, earn some bad publicity right before the holiday season.
There are a couple of ways to make sure the Switch Online doesn’t suck. One is to figure out a better way to voice chat. A simple party system with reliable voice chat is the key to console online gaming, and if Nintendo can’t nail that, Switch Online might be in big trouble.
The Switch Online’s launch will also mark the debut of its new Classic Game Selection program, which gives subscribers access to a library of classic games with some added functionality. Unlike Xbox One Game Pass, this comes with your subscription to an online service. However, if this is meant as a replacement for virtual console, Nintendo needs to make sure that the game library isn’t underwhelming or else it will piss off faithful Nintendo fans who’ve already spent a ton of money on older Nintendo games, not to mention its NES Classic and Super NES mini plug-and-play consoles, too. Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima previously stated that, in order to “popularize the service, it is less about the mechanism and more a question of what kinds of products we can offer.” Hopefully, for Nintendo’s sake, that means a strong offering of classic Nintendo titles—and if they’re free with the service, even better.
Labo of love
It’s a little too early to tell how well the Nintendo Labo will sell when it launches on April 20th, but it certainly offers something that Xbox and PlayStation just can’t offer, and that’s interactivity with the console itself. While PS4 might offer PSVR and the Xbox One might offer Play Anywhere titles, the mass-appealing innovation of Nintendo Labo cannot be denied.
The Labo has the potential to replicate a small version of the Wii’s success, in that it may appeal to consumers who don’t consider themselves core gamers but want to add a bit of interactivity to their lives, the same way that stuff like Wii Sports and Rock Band pretty much became staples at parties my friends and I hosted in college. On the flipside, it could take after the Wii U’s biggest failure, which was communicating just what the heck it was. The Labo is unique, but that also means it’s unusual, and people unfamiliar with the Switch hardware (or even those parents who bought their kids a Switch) might not understand what exactly the Labo does.
That’s why the release of the Labo could be one of Nintendo’s most significant events in 2018. Not only will Nintendo find out exactly to whom the Labo appeals, but it will also discover whether or not it has capably communicated its purpose to consumers. The Labo feels like the foundations of a secondary direction for the Switch, and while dressing up like robot or playing a cardboard piano might appeal more to children than drunk college students, Labo could be a great starting point for Nintendo to build off the Switch’s innovation and interactivity on a more casual scale.
Just release Pokémon
To be honest, the Switch is going to be fine no matter what happens in 2018. And that’s because of one thing: Pokémon. Once the Switch Pokémon launches, the Switch will probably fly off shelves faster than when it launched. But, at this point, it seems doubtful that Pokémon will launch for the Switch in 2018.
But that’s okay. All Nintendo really needs to do is keep people interested and, therefore, investors happy until that day comes. Bringing more Wii U ports to the Switch, solidifying its relationships with major third-party developers, nailing the Switch Online’s launch, and continuing to focus on innovation will all send a clear message to investors and gamers alike that Nintendo has a vision for the Switch’s future that doesn’t necessarily rely on core Zelda or Mario experiences. If the Switch’s freshman year was all about exciting new experiences and a boatload of hype, it needs to buckle in and settle down in its sophomore outing, and set itself up for success in 2019.