In its first calendar year, the Nintendo Switch came bursting onto the scene like a gangbuster. Though its library was small (but mighty) upon launch, Nintendo peppered enough noteworthy releases each month to maintain the public’s attention, but most significantly, bookended its 2017 with new entries for both the Mario and Zelda series. The magnitude of this perhaps isn’t fully appreciated; Nintendo pulled out its two biggest weapons in year 1, and it led to the Switch selling at a blistering pace.
Now, one begins to ponder on the risks of diminishing returns, and whether the console will lose steam going forward. Tucked away amidst the minutia of Nintendo’s latest earnings report, it has been noted that the upcoming Pokemon title for Switch is slated to release in “2018 or later.”
On the base level, this could be nothing more than typical caution from industry veterans. Development cycles can be treacherous, and the best-case scenario could actually be a summer release, for all we know. It’s wise to be cagey when there is so much that can go wrong, particularly with a franchise as important as Pokemon. On the other hand, no further details yet exist on this mysterious game. We don’t know any names, any regions, any protagonists or antagonists, any new types or cover mascots. Doubtless, many if not all of these questions will be satisfied in a Pokemon-related Nintendo Direct, along with a release date. Such concerns will be dissuaded once we have that precious, valuable date.
But what if it is the ambiguous “later?” By itself, Pokemon being pushed back to 2019 isn’t the end of the world, but in the current framework of the console wars – a battle in which Nintendo is still trying to recover from the considerable setback of the maligned Wii U – a lineup that seems thin, particularly in comparison to that of 2017, could prove somewhat catastrophic.
The major Switch releases last year were headlined by Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey, Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and Mario + Rabbids. Even if you add stipulations to this list (Mario Kart was a port, ARMS was rather underwhelming for a new Nintendo IP, and Mario + Rabbids was more of a pleasant surprise than a blockbuster), the strength of those first two titles is enough to carry the load. By most accounts, Super Mario Odyssey would be a surefire Game of the Year in most other contests, but happened to have been trumped by one of the greatest epics of this decade in Breath of the Wild.
The Switch was bolstered further by the vaunted Nindies, where digital darlings like Stardew Valley, Overcooked, Shovel Knight, and Battle Chef Brigade felt right at home on the hybrid console. Some may have accused the Switch of getting off to a sluggish start, where disasters like Vroom in the Night Sky haunted its early eShop, but by the end of the year, it had quickly become a melting pot for smaller studios to find success: case in point, Matt Thorson, creator of Celeste, has confirmed that the unforgiving platformer has sold best on the Switch.
2018’s current biggest titles for the Switch include Kirby Star Allies, Mario Tennis Aces, Bayonetta 3 (plus ports for the original two games), Yoshi, and the Nintendo Labo kits. We also have a tentative release for Fire Emblem and Metroid Prime 4. All of these are sure to be fine games, which is exactly what we have come to expect from the Japanese giant. But none of them quite measure up to Mario or Zelda. It would behoove Nintendo to strike while the iron is hot, and there is no better way to do this than with the franchise that once transcended gaming.
Pokemon may not be the multimedia juggernaut it was in the early 2000’s, but it is still one of the fastest-selling handheld series on the market. According to Nintendo’s financial data, as of December 2017, Pokemon X and Y (16.26 million pcs.), Pokemon Sun and Moon (16.05 million pcs.), Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire (13.94 million pcs.) and Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon (7.17 million pcs.) rank second, third, fourth, and ninth, respectively, in worldwide sales for 3DS games.
They’re bonafide sellers, but it’s worth considering that delaying the game into next year would be a missed opportunity to capitalize on all of the collateral Nintendo has been putting into the franchise at the present time. Pokemon GO keeps chugging along with creatures added from gen 3 and potentially new daily quests on the horizon, the aforementioned Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon remain fresh in our minds, whetting the appetite for what comes next, and Pokken Tournament DX continues to receive updates to draw in more players. Does this not sound like the perfect storm, building towards a crescendo that culminates with the definitive Pokemon game?
It would be infuriating for Nintendo to return to the mean after their raucous debut, but the competition is steep in 2018, to the tune of Monster Hunter: World, God of War, Far Cry 5, Kingdom Hearts 3, Sea of Thieves, and Red Dead Redemption 2 releasing on rival consoles. Nintendo had to scramble to gain the ground they did, throwing its best at us in a bold declaration of the Switch’s viability, but they could very well lose that position if they don’t continue to hit the lofty standards they set for themselves.
The 2018 Switch lineup, as presently constituted without a Pokemon release, is worth salivating over for dedicated Nintendo fans for Metroid Prime alone, but that’s a harder sell to the casual gaming market – the same market that was entranced by the Wii, and presents Nintendo’s best chance to hold a sizeable chunk of the market.
Throw a pair of Pokemon titles into the mix, however, and you have an admirable follow-up to the stellar catalog of 2017. Those hesitant to commit to the sizeable investment into a console, who weren’t swayed by the decidedly single-player focused adventures of Mario and Zelda could find themselves intrigued by the grand multiplayer scope of a new Pokemon game. After all, it was this community aspect that first caught the interest of gamers more than two decades ago. The same people who have been clamoring for a fully-fledged RPG title starring the pocket monsters to come to the home console.
It never felt right before, but it does now, and more specifically, it does particularly so in 2018, a year that is in need of a marquee title to put a stamp on the Switch as a contender; one that shows competitors that Nintendo is here to stay.