It’s been a pretty good year for Nintendo. Aside from the obvious domination of the Switch, Nintendo seems to have been ticking a lot of the right boxes. It’s supported its new console with some excellent first-party offerings; indies and larger third-party developers have gotten behind the system, and the 3DS got its fair share of standout releases as well. Not to mention Nintendo’s smartphone offerings have been fairly solid affairs, even if there is still some room for improvement.
Of course, things weren’t always so peachy for Nintendo. Just a few years ago, fans were in a pretty bleak place. The Fisher-Price-esque Wii U had been largely abandoned by major third-party developers and, aside from a game every quarter or so (if that), Nintendo, too. Hardware sales for the Wii U stalled at just 13.5 million worldwide, and while the 3DS was carrying the company, fans weren’t getting the blockbuster, home console titles they wanted on a competent system.
It’s fair to say, then, that Nintendo has turned things around quite a bit in the space of a couple of years, and most of that comes down to its marvelous new system. That doesn’t mean that Nintendo’s completely righted the ship and has fully redeemed itself since the dark days of the Wii U, though. In fact, Nintendo may have owned 2017, but there’s still a ways to go until those days are long forgotten.
A lot of this comes down to the fact that the Switch is a far more competent system in just about every conceivable way over the Wii U. It’s got a sturdy, premium design compared to the cheap plastic feel of the Wii U. It pretty much nails the unique selling point that the Wii U was seemingly prototyping with its Gamepad, and the fact that this year’s two highest-rated Metacritic titles released exclusively on the system certainly didn’t work against its sales in its first nine months or so on the market. Top that off with a plethora of other first-party titles headlining almost every month since its release, and an eclectic selection of indies and third-party offerings supplementing Nintendo’s own titles and you have yourself a winning library of games. Heck, it was even enough to see the Switch outselling the competition for four consecutive months earlier this year, and having sold 10 million units since its launch back in March.
This is just the start for the Switch, though. And while I sincerely hope that I and my fellow Switch owners continue to get a great lineup of releases each month, 2017 was exactly that. A start. Nintendo clearly had to do something to get waning fans back on the big N boat after the turbulent tides of the Wii U era, and, if those sales figures are anything to go by, it’s succeeding. However, the real question now comes down to whether Nintendo can sustain this momentum, and with Zelda and Mario adventures already out in the wild, it’s likely going to get that little bit tougher. Sure, Metroid, Pikmin, Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Smash Bros., and dare I say Animal Crossing (please, Nintendo) are either set, or very likely to see Switch releases in the coming years, but even with the support of indies and a growing of warmth toward the Switch from major third-party developers, it’s unlikely to be enough to continue the unstoppable pace of the Switch.
Then you have the bigger picture, outside of the outstanding 2017 lineup and uncertainty of software hitting the Switch in years to come. Let’s be real, Nintendo has handled its online service terribly. Whether it’s because it still hasn’t really worked it all out yet we’re not entirely sure, but considering we’re in 2017 and a console launched without a dedicated online platform in place, there’s still signs of the old Nintendo present. An issue highlighted by the spaghetti junction-esque mess of wires that is the Splatoon 2 headset’s setup instructions.
Then you’ve got the lackluster library of media and streaming apps available to download. These are apparently things that “will come in time,” but an install base of 10 million in nine months certainly seems like a big enough number to add a sense of urgency to these negotiations. Considering how great the screen looks and the convenient form factor of the Switch, this seems like a huge missed opportunity, and one that’d help really drive home the notion that a Switch is your perfect travel companion.
Moving away from the Switch bubble, however, things were a mixed bag when it comes to the 3DS. Fire Emblem fans got to finally experience Fire Emblem Gaiden, renamed as Shadows of Valentia on 3DS; Pokemon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon marked the end of the series on the hardware with another exceptional Alola-based adventure, and Samus Returns reminded us all how good Metroid II was all those years ago. But then, there were some serious misses. Hey! Pikmin didn’t see the series transition to the 2D perspective all that well, Miitopia was largely forgettable, and Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World took all of the challenge out of the original Wii U experience.
But perhaps the most frustrating releases were those that almost felt like they were on the 3DS because Nintendo didn’t want to let go just yet. I mean, c’mon. Someone out there tell me you’d have preferred Mario Party: The Top 100 – a compilation of the 100 best Mario Party mini-games – on your 3DS rather than your Nintendo Switch. Y’know, that portable/ home console that’s all about multiplayer fun wherever you are? Similarly, something like Mario Sports Superstars, while only releasing mere weeks after the Switch, could have been a great multiplayer title for quick bursts with friends when you’re out and about. Maybe I’m just obsessed with getting games on my Switch, but considering the 3DS has been out for nearing seven years now, putting these multiplayer-centric titles on a more powerful, multiplayer-focused system during its opening 12 months on the market seems like a much more sensible option.
Right now, Nintendo is riding on the success of the Switch and I couldn’t be happier to see the big N back doing what it does best. However, to say that Nintendo has redeemed itself in the space of nine months for the mistakes of the Wii U generation that dragged on for just over four years is a bit much. Has it learned from its mistakes with the Wii U? There’s certainly evidence to support that, especially in the Switch’s 2017 release schedule, but Nintendo does have a habit of making some pretty big mistakes before righting its wrongs the generation after. Only to do it all over again and repeat the cycle. Taking that into account, it could just be that right now, we’re riding another Nintendo upswing after the horrific stumble it made with the Wii U. Perhaps in a few years down the line, we’ll still be asking why Nintendo still doesn’t have a trophy or achievement system, or why they still love friend codes so damn much.
With 2017 pretty much over, there’s plenty of truth in the arguments that Nintendo won 2017. Is the Switch a more desirable console than the Wii U? Absolutely. Do its sales numbers speak for themselves? Yep! Has it exclusively hosted two of the best games of 2017? Check. But if Nintendo wants to completely redeem itself from the Wii U era, it needs to continue this momentum at least a couple more years in the Switch’s life-cycle. Otherwise, if the games dry up, what makes it any different to the Wii U by the end? I have faith in Nintendo and the Switch, but it’s not smooth sailing for the big N just yet.