My thoughts/impressions on the state of Nintendo in 2018 (with some additional early 2019 details!).
Nintendo in 2018
Nintendo had an amazing 2018. According to an article by VentureBeat, Nintendo Switch was the best-selling console in the US for the month of December. Despite its hallmark year, however, according to Screen Rant, Sony managed to claim the spot for the best-selling system in 2018, due in part to their excellent 1st-party titles, massive install-base and a capable, now affordable VR box. Microsoft’s focus on Game Pass and its legacy content (in the way of backwards compatibility) helped differentiate their box from its competitors, but Nintendo still held strong in terms of overall sales and positive reception. For some fans (including myself), despite the hardware’s financial/commercial success, the Nintendo Switch didn’t have as strong of a year in 2018 as it did back in 2017 and here’s why.
3rd-Party Reigns Supreme
In 2017, where games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2, Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Mario Kart 8: Deluxe and Super Mario Odyssey released, anything Nintendo would announce and subsequently launch after the fact was going to be a tough act to follow. In-between the more low-key releases of Kirby Star Allies, Super Mario Party and Mario Tennis Aces, Switch’s library saw many indie games and last/current-gen 3rd-party ports in 2018. Machine Game’s Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, for example, was ported by the wonderful folks over at Panic Button (who also happened to port 2016’s DOOM to the Switch back in 2017), but unfortunately launched with an undesirable FPS (30) and a low-resolution (720p). 3rd-party ports from last generation continue to be a hard sell unless one truly values the portability factor of the Switch. Although, a portable Dark Souls: Remastered is pretty cool, I guess.
Nintendo’s 3rd-party partners have wasted no time taking advantage of Switch’s large install-base. Square Enix’s The World Ends with You: Final Remix launched last year and is a port of the original game first released back on the Nintendo DS with some additional features. Ubisoft’s Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which is said to be a slightly more arcade-y No Man’s Sky, launched on Switch with exclusive crossover content with Nintendo’s very own Star Fox franchise. Bandai Namco ported their cult classic PlayStation 2 game in the way of Katamari Demacy REROLL. But perhaps the strangest addition to Switch’s library is Microid’s re-master of the late 80s/early 90’s arcade platformer, Toki. Needless to say, 3rd-party developers/publishers will continue to support Nintendo’s hybrid machine moving forward, including id Software’s upcoming DOOM Eternal and NetherRealm’s Mortal Kombat 11.
It’s also been interesting to see certain PC games launch with continued success on the Switch. The hugely successful Hollow Knight, which first released on Steam back in 2017, has claimed its spot among the greats along with Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (according to genre enthusiasts). The rogue-like strategy game from Subset Games, Into the Breach, made its way from PC to the Switch in just a few short months after its initial release, too. Many have claimed it as one of 2018’s best games and it perfectly suits Switch’s portable pick-up & play nature. GRIS, developed by Nomada Studio, a beautifully animated 2D puzzle-platformer, saw a late December release as well. Finally, there was Black Bird, developed by Onion Games and from the visionary mind behind such titles as Chulip, Little King’s Story (a personal favorite of mine) and Rule of Rose, comes a side-scrolling shooter that’s said to pay homage to the classic arcade shooter, Fantasy Zone. It’s a game that mostly certainly flew under most people’s radar, so check it out!
As a huge role-playing game (RPG) fan, 2018 has been a stellar year for both the Nintendo Switch and 3DS alike. Square Enix and Acquire launched Octopath Traveler for the Nintendo Switch over the summer, but due to my investment in Destiny 2 and Monster Hunter: World at the time, I only managed to play an opening chapter or two for a few characters. I’m really looking forward to devoting more time to the game in 2019, however, as its unique pixel-like visuals, traditional turn-based combat system and soundtrack composed by Yasunori Nishiki has me intrigued to see more. Speaking of Monster Hunter, Capcom also released Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate on the Switch. Ultimate is an HD port of Monster Hunter XX, an expansion to Generations on 3DS, which launched exclusively in Japan. Confusing, right? One can only commit to so much Monster Hunter and my hands were tied with World at the time of its release, however.
The release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!/Eevee surprised many fans last year. When first announced, these two games were met with many questions and a degree of hesitation. Was the new Smash going to be just a port of the Wii U game with some minor additions? Would Pokémon GO infiltrate and ruin mainline Pokémon games for years to come? These concerns were quickly squashed as both games exceeded commercial/critical praise. As someone who isn’t the biggest fan of either franchise, however, I found 2018 to be personally lackluster in terms of new and interesting games from Nintendo’s first-party divisions. The first quarter of 2019 will bring us Grasshopper Manufacture’s Travis Strikes Back: No More Heroes, Nintendo’s port of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and Good-Feel’s Yoshi’s Crafted World (one of my most anticipated games).
Hopefully we’ll see Platinum Game’s Bayonetta 3 and Nintendo’s Daemon X Machina, Luigi’s Mansion 3 or the new Animal Crossing (and a few other surprises) before year’s end. With the current development of Metroid Prime 4 being halted and rebooted by the original developer, Retro Studios, Nintendo has some release windows to fill and they’re being awfully quiet on future announcements (perhaps the rumored port of Metroid Prime Trilogy Collection will be released shortly…).
Nintendo’s eShop, Online Subscription and the Digital Landscape
Many independent developers and small studios continue to find success on Nintendo Switch’s eShop than on any other digital marketplace. Last year, I wrote about FDG Entertainment/Castle Pixel’s Blossom Tales and how it sold double the amount of copies on launch day than its life-time sales on PC/Steam. In 2018, FDG Entertainment continues to make bank with Game Atelier’s Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, which happened to sell 8 times as many copies on Switch than both the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions (see Twitter quote below).
“Nintendo Switch continues to amaze us. Not only does it bring so much joy with its original games, it’s also the most profitable console business ever for us. It’s another universe in regards of sales numbers… Ratio is 8:1 vs everything else.”
In just one year since its launch, the Nintendo Switch eShop went from a handful of games to 500+ titles available to download. At the end of 2018, Nintendo released a promotional trailer to showcase the fact that there’s now a game for everyone, too. With 1,000+ games now on their eShop, one would hope that would be the case! Nintendo continues to curate and promote particular indie titles through their indie highlights/showcases/directs (named accordingly depending on the region). I wrote about the state of the eShop last year and how their library has grown at in increasingly steady pace. With new game launchers/storefronts cropping up each year (see Epic’s Game Store or even Discord’s launcher) developers continue to struggle/compete for visibility, yet the Switch seems to be a wonderful avenue for developers big and small.
Nintendo Switch’s eShop is still not without its problems, however. Many folks continue to criticize the console/portable hybrid for relying on ports of last/current generation titles to fill-in the gaps between major 1st-party releases. It’s something that Nintendo has been guilty of in the past and despite having a large (and diverse) library at the moment, the Switch is still guilty of such “1st-party droughts” it seems. Most ports are reasonably priced (considering their age), yet some titles (as mentioned earlier) are rarely optimized at launch. Until the heavily rumored hardware revision for Switch is announced (and subsequently released), its portability factor will remain the de-facto reason for those who are willing to double/triple-dip on particular (older) titles.
Nintendo Switch Online is an online subscription service that leaves much to be desired. At $3.99 for a single month, $7.99 for 3 months or $19.99 for year, Switch uses can enjoy a variety of features and benefits, including ones that were originally free (there’s also a Family Membership where 8 different account holders can share a membership at a discounted price of $34.99). In addition to having to pay-to-play all of your favorite Switch games online (Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, Splatoon 2, ARMS, etc.), consumers gain access to classics from the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), some of which have been enhanced with online features and “SP” versions (which are essentially easy-mode variants of particular games). There’s also save data backup via the Cloud, but it’s only compatible for certain titles. Finally, there’s a smartphone application for voice chat (which I can’t imagine anyone uses) and special offers/discounts for those who are subscribed.
For $20.00 a year, it’s a decent value proposition, especially if you already play a lot of Nintendo’s 1st-party flagship titles online, but it could be better (where’s the eShop music!?). Nintendo’s classic NES game offerings bring a barrel full of questions/concerns, too. Many of the games can already be found on Nintendo’s very own NES Classic Edition and while it’s nice that some of these games now offer local/online multiplayer, it’s still not a very interesting selection of titles to choose from. There’s also been discrepancies between the Japanese and North American releases (sometimes the later territory receiving 2 new games instead of 3) as Nintendo’s drip feed-like approach continues. Rumor has it that Nintendo plans to release Super Nintendo (SNES) games for their Switch online service, however, there’s been no official announcement as of yet.
On January 30, 2019, Nintendo also closed their original Wii Shop Channel for good. While digital content has been pulled/lost due to licensing issues or other factors in recent years (see certain digital-only titles on PSN, Xbox Live or even Steam), the closure of the Wii Shop Channel doesn’t help paint a pretty picture for an all-digital future. One of the best things about the original Wii Shop Channel was its selection of games. too. There were numerous systems/libraries to choose from, including Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis and even TurboGrafx-16. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been unable to emulate that breadth of choice since the original Wii. While pirating and digital-archiving is a very real alternative to video game preservation, it’s still sad that many games are becoming lost to the virtual-ether as the industry moves forward.
Season Passes, GaaS & DLC
Despite Nintendo’s inability to release 1st-party titles at a reasonable pace, what’s different about the company today as opposed to their position in year’s past is the fact that they continue to update their titles post-launch. In an age where Games as a Service (GaaS) is both a necessity for certain publishers/developers and a reality for many consumers, Nintendo has embraced the new “release now, add more or fix later” philosophy that other publishers/developers have been so keen on preserving. Between games like Splatoon 2, Kirby Star Allies and ARMS, each game has received free updates or DLC waves since launch, including new maps, weapons, modes and characters. Nintendo’s also been no stranger to seasonal events. Both Splatoon 2 and ARMS continue to host their special events in the way of Splatfests and Party Crash Tournaments, respectively.
In addition to traditional DLC and updates, certain 1st-party titles and 3rd-party games continue to receive expansions and significant DLC well after their initial releases. Splatoon 2 received its first paid single-player DLC in the way of Octo Expansion (which surprised launched during Nintendo’s E3 2018 Direct). A few months later, fans of Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle were treated to a new expansion starring everyone’s favorite monkeys in Donkey Kong Adventure. Monolith Soft’s Xenoblade Chronicles 2 received a standalone prequel story with Torna – The Golden Country. Finally, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate launched with a season pass which promises new characters, stages and music for those who wish to partake. While this isn’t anything new for other publishers/developers on competing platforms, it’s still a relatively new road for Nintendo’s 1st/3rd-party partners.
Nintendo’s do-it-yourself (DIY) cardboard/game hybrid launched last year to mixed results. The Variety and Robot Kits released on April 20, 2018 and the Vehicle Kit (which is said to be the most interesting of the three kits) launched on Month XX, 2018. Many first adopters claimed that while the product, cardboard and accompanying software was, for a lack of a better word, well-constructed, Labo’s usage beyond the initial creation left much to be desired. Nintendo Labo is clearly geared towards children and older crowds who are engineers-at-heart, but broadly speaking, for those who primarily play and purchase games like Mario, Zelda and Smash, Labo is most definitely a hard sell. If you’re limited on space/living in an apartment, I also can’t imagine finding room for a bunch of cardboard prototypes, so there’s already a lot going against the sale and success of the product’s shelf-life. According to an article by Variety, however, Nintendo has also partnered with certain schools to promote Labo as a teaching-tool. Where this product goes and how much longer it’ll last is anyone’s guess, but it seems to have its place in the market at the moment.
The Nintendo 3DS is the gift that keeps on giving. While Nintendo has been re-releasing some of their older titles on the little-portable-that-could, Atlus has been secretly championing the hardware from beyond the grave and it appears like they will be doing so well into the platform’s final moments. The Alliance Alive, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology and Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux all released last year under Atlus’s umbrella. I can only speak to Radiant Historia’s quality (as I completed the original game back on the DS and it’s a wonderful time-travelling RPG with a decent turn-based battle system), but similar to the re-release of Strange Journey, its slightly enhanced 3DS version comes equipped with new features and modes. The Alliance Alive is a follow-up to Cattle Call’s The Legend of Legacy and is said to be an amazing RPG sawn-song for the platform, too.
Finally, Nintendo hasn’t quite tapped the well for the 3DS in 2019, so to speak. We will see new releases from AlphaDream’s Mario & Luigi: Bower’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr.’s Journey, Good-Feel’s Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn, Level-5’s YO-KAI Watch 3 and Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey Nexus. Needless to say, Nintendo and some of their 3rd-party partners plan to support the 3DS well into 2019, but beyond the first quarter or two, nothing substantial has been announced and one has to wonder if 2020 will see the portable’s well-deserved final farewell. While Nintendo has gone on record to say that the 3DS is an affordable/appropriate choice for a younger audience, at some point, developers and publishers alike will have to move onto the Switch exclusively, which is something consumers have been wanting since the hardware’s launch. Regardless, with Switch being a huge success, both commercially/financially, it’ll be a win-win scenario for everyone when the time comes to put the little guy to rest.
Let’s see how Nintendo fares in 2019!