Four years of Switch

Four years of Switch

On March 3, 2021, a few days ago, Nintendo Switch blew out four candles. A ripe old age for a consul; if for dogs it is rumored (erroneously) that one year corresponds to seven of humans, for gaming platforms we could hazard a ratio of 1:15 (more or less). So, Nintendo Switch would be a 60-year-old in great shape; yet ... yet, the first hybrid console developed in Kyoto, could still hold several surprises.

Not everyone was optimistic when Switch was presented, two months before launch; indeed, to tell the truth, the perspectives of most of the audience, expert or otherwise, were rather disastrous. Everyone agreed on one point, also because it was undeniable: with the hybrid platform, Nintendo would have gone all-in. No alternative to success, no portable market to count on in the event of a false start: for the first time in decades, the company would have focused on a single console, a single island where to channel all the efforts of each internal team.

Nintendo Switch: the Neon version. The funniest thing is that, as we said a few lines ago, even after the presentation of the console and the line-up someone had serious doubts on the software side. Any opinion on the price (too high?), On the nature of the Joy-Con (unnecessarily complex?) Was legitimate, but only a careless, not very capable or insensitive glance, could have doubted the software presented.

And we're not just talking about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild, which was triumphantly announced, with one of the best trailers in history, at the end of the conference; a game of which, until the day before, some insiders still fear yet another delay. Arms, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Super Mario Odyssey were shown in that presentation (and we probably forget someone). With the promise that they would all be out by the end of the year; that 2017 which, on the software side, would have proved to be amazing and, probably, unrepeatable.

Nintendo Switch: Joy-Con. Unrepeatable because Nintendo certainly did not organize it without effort. To engineer the perfect launch (because - as Iwata said - once the reputation of a platform is established, then it is hard to change it), the company has abandoned Wii U, and its users, to its fate. Basically with two years without major releases, two years that have proved fruitful; twenty-four months of holidays that, in the future, Nintendo will no longer be able to enjoy.

Now let's recall together some of the most significant records achieved by Nintendo Switch from 2017 onwards.


Nintendo Switch was a huge commercial success. Indeed, it "is" a huge commercial success, and we do not know exactly what its decline may hold for us (we will try to elaborate some hypotheses in the next paragraph). At present, Nintendo has surpassed eighty million consoles sold. On average, twenty million every twelve months; 2020, in the future we will understand (perhaps) how complicit the pandemic was, it was the most lucrative and fortunate year of his life. Probably the pinnacle of his entire existence. It will soon exceed the sum of Wii U and 3DS, which amounts to eighty-eight million units. It may not reach the total two hundred million Nikkei predicted a few years ago, but it is still in the running, with some optimism, to become the best-selling platform ever (PlayStation 2, between 155 and 159 million copies). It is unlikely that it will not arrive, barring unforeseeable collapses, and excluding the mighty blows of the tail of the PlayStation 4, on the podium of the most successful consoles (target ideally set at 120 million copies). Already in its first month, the Switch hit a strange record.

Nintendo Switch: the 35th birthday edition of Super Mario. At the end of April, the console had sold less than its main launch game, Breath of the Wild (which, for the record, was the best debut of the saga): 2.74 million consoles, against 2.84 million for The Legend of Zelda. Could it have been the last major launch game in history? The latest Killer Application used to pave the way for the new platform? Sony and Microsoft inaugurated the new generation of systems at the end of 2020; they did it without any particular fireworks, from a software point of view. A situation already tasted in the past, but never as evident as this time. Nintendo, from this point of view, is still linked (fortunately?) To old-fashioned launches; perhaps, unlike his "rivals", he cannot even do without them. In any case, whatever the future holds, Breath of the Wild has done its job more than decently. Indeed, it was something magnificent, extraordinary, pyrotechnic, a game that has been awaited for years that has not in the least disappointed expectations, glorified the new platform, detonating its success. Here, this description is more in line with what happened.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: the panorama of Hyrule. For twenty-four months, Switch has been the best-selling console in the United States (the previous longevity record belonged to Xbox360); not even the new generation has managed, even for limited stocks (but not only) to worry the Nintendo hybrid. Even in historically hostile (let's face it, pro-Sony) territory like the UK, in 2020 it celebrated an illustrious achievement: Switch sold more than all other platforms combined.

The success of the software, and in particular of the internal titles, is even more extraordinary. Already now more games have been sold on Switch than on Wii U and 3DS (added together): 532 million against 488. A holistic system has been created for which, evidently, the attention of "home" and "portable" players has focused on same works. This cannot be enough to explain the situation, of course; cannot explain, for example, why indie titles tend to sell more on Nintendo Switch than on other platforms. But it is one of the main reasons behind the extraordinary success of the works developed in Japan. Breath of the Wild is the most successful episode in the history of the series; the same can be said for Animal Crossing: New Horizons (the second best-selling game ever, at least in Japan) and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Super Mario Odyssey surpassed every other three-dimensional Super Mario. The same goal - presumably - will soon be crossed by Mario Kart 8 Deluxe; Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has already celebrated it, and also Splatoon 2. Although Pokémon Sword and Shield have partially disappointed expectations, especially at a technological level, they are still the most successful couple of the last twenty years, limited to the saga.

Switch Pro and the future

Of all the records set so far by Nintendo Switch, the most enjoyable may be those yet to be achieved. This is because, after the 2020 transition (it probably would have been even without a pandemic), we are entering the final act of his life; a final act that, at least potentially, could be totally different from that of previous Nintendo platforms. No longer having to support two consoles, each internal team still has (at least) one more cartridge to fire on this system, before - theoretically - devoting themselves to the next one.

This, however, is not the only consequence to support a single platform. Because this time, unlike in the past, the transition that will be managed is only one, not double; this means that there are not two upcoming launches (either in 2023 or 2024), but only one. Which, at the software level, could create very important divergences. And the future Switch Pro, which the most recent rumors are coming by the end of 2021, is here to testify: Nintendo has the possibility, and hopefully the intention, not to abandon its hybrid in preparation for the next one. It will be a gradual process.

Super Mario Odyssey: Image from the launch trailer. But how gradual? This has not given us to know. At the moment it is impossible to predict what the next console will be, and the inevitable transition is equally nebulous: will Switch Pro have exclusives that, in a few years, will be playable only there and on the actual successor of Switch? This is not a trivial question. Nintendo went all-in once, and in 2017 it was an exception; now it has become the norm. This certainty raises several interesting questions. For decades now, in the home console department, Nintendo has not been able to repeat itself; from the SNES onwards, every generation of platforms, with the exception of Wii, has gone downhill from previous results. Above all, one aspect should not be underestimated: every time Nintendo has tried to create a more powerful version of the previous one, without altering the course, things have not gone great. With the notable exception of the SNES, which however worsened the results of its predecessor. Think about it: GameCube after Nintendo 64, Wii U after Wii. Switch 2 after Switch?

At the same time, there is no logical reason to be pessimistic; Beyond the technological innovations of Switch, starting from the hybrid nature of the platform, its real strength has been to enclose, in a single system, all the greatest efforts of the company. All software built on one platform. While Nintendo has often missed the transitions from one home console to another (with obvious conceptual impediments in the Wii era), it has never failed a generation of handheld consoles. Also in this field, therefore, we are entering an unknown situation, which is difficult to predict.

Splatoon 3: the presentation trailer. Other than Nintendo Switch Pro, and Breath of the Wild 2 and Splatoon 3, what could give the platform a notable final acceleration? An acceleration that makes it the best-selling console in history? Well, a phenomenal swan song. The "casual division" of the Japanese company (EPD 4) has hit the mark with Ring Fit Adventure, also facilitated - in this case certainly - to the deadly pandemic in progress; at the same time, the results obtained by Nintendo Labo, of which many Kits came out, probably fell short of expectations. A successful product in this area, aided by a price drop, could certainly heat up the Switch winter.

We've talked about casual titles, but a final hit could come in the most unexpected ways. Maybe in the last year of the consul's life, with the successor already out; a bit like the Game Boy, through the first Pokémon. At that point Nintendo Switch could really think about overtaking PlayStation 2. Whatever happens, paradoxically we are entering the most unpredictable and potentially full of surprises phase of the console. Hoping that it is not marked only by sequels, however welcome, such as Splatoon 3.

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