It's been another good year for Nintendo's hybrid system.
While 2019 was largely a transitional year for Sony and Microsoft as both companies began laying the groundwork for their next-generation consoles, Nintendo spent the year maintaining the Switch's impressive momentum. Since it launched nearly three years ago, the handheld/home console hybrid has been selling on pace with the Wii, and in 2019, Nintendo buoyed it along with another great string of exclusives, not to mention a new, portable-focused addition to the line, the Switch Lite.
As successful as Nintendo has been during the past year, however, 2019 was not all sunny for the company. The 3DS, which had been sputtering along for the past several years, seems to have been quietly put to rest, with no new releases for it on the horizon, and Nintendo's paid Switch Online service still hasn't lived up to its potential despite some improvements. With 2019 soon coming to a close, let's take a look back at how Nintendo fared during the year that was.
A Strong Year Of First-Party Games
Nintendo ended 2018 on a high note with the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which would become the Switch's fastest-selling game to that point and break numerous other sales records for the company. 2019, by contrast, began much more mildly. Nintendo kicked off the year with New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, a Switch port of the Wii U launch game, and its next big first-party release, Yoshi's Crafted World, wouldn't follow until March. Both were good games in their own right, but neither were "must-haves" on the level of Smash Bros., and the first half of the year felt lackluster as a result.
That would all change come summer, when Nintendo unleashed a veritable deluge of first-party titles. The torrent began with Super Mario Maker 2 in June. From then on, at least one major first-party game hit the system each successive month. The critically acclaimed Fire Emblem: Three Houses followed in July; a new Platinum Games title, Astral Chain, arrived in August; The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening remake and Daemon X Machina both released in September; and Luigi's Mansion 3 capped off October. This steady release schedule culminated in November with the launch of the latest mainline Pokemon games, Pokemon Sword and Shield, which quickly set new sales records for the console and surpassed Smash Ultimate to become the system's fastest-selling titles to date.
Complementing Nintendo's impressive lineup of games was another string of high-profile third-party releases. Switch received ports of numerous critically acclaimed titles in 2019, including a few that did not seem technically possible, such as Dragon Quest XI, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Mortal Kombat 11, Divinity: Original Sin 2, and even Blizzard's popular hero shooter, Overwatch. And that's to say nothing of the system's continued indie support. 2019 saw a number of great indie games arrive on Switch, among them the Zelda/Crypt of the NecroDancer mash-up Cadence of Hyrule, the arcade hit Killer Queen Black, and the breakout Untitled Goose Game. Despite its slow start, 2019 has turned out to be the strongest year the Switch has seen yet in terms of software.
Switch Online Takes One Step Forward, One Step Back
After numerous delays, Nintendo's premium Switch Online subscription service finally arrived in September 2018, and the company worked to bolster the service's appeal in 2019--although it still has much room for improvement. One of the most notable perks Nintendo Switch Online offers is access to a library of classic NES games, and that lineup grew steadily this past year as Nintendo added a small handful of titles to it each month. The NES library now spans nearly 50 games, including some all-time classics such as Zelda II, Super Mario Bros. 2, and Punch-Out--all of which joined the service in 2019. However, the glacial pace at which Nintendo added NES games this past year made the wait for new titles excruciating, and gave the impression the service was merely an afterthought to the company.
Thankfully, Nintendo Switch Online received a much-needed shot in the arm around its one-year anniversary, when Nintendo finally began offering a library of classic Super NES games to subscribers at no additional cost. Switch owners had been eagerly anticipating the eventual arrival of SNES titles on the hybrid system, and the initial lineup was impressive, featuring some of the 16-bit system's best releases, including Super Metroid and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.
However, the excitement of finally being able to play SNES games on Switch was tempered by one significant drawback; rather than continuing to add new classic games to the service each month, as it had done up to that point, Nintendo announced that future NES and SNES titles would no longer be added at regular intervals. Sure enough, since the SNES library arrived back in September, the company has not added any more classic games to the Switch Online service, so those hoping to play other SNES titles like Donkey Kong Country or Super Mario RPG on Switch will likely be waiting a long time. [Update: As luck would have it, Nintendo announced Switch Online's first new batch of NES and SNES games in three months just a few hours after this piece was published.]
Beyond that, this past year saw the surprise release of Tetris 99, a battle royale-inspired take on the classic puzzler. Switch Online subscribers could download and play the game free of charge, making it one of the best incentives to subscribe to the service. Nintendo would eventually release a paid Big Block DLC for Tetris 99 that added a handful of offline modes to the game, but those who want to play the title online against other players can still only do so by subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online.
Nintendo also experimented with more exclusive offers for NSO subscribers this past year. In addition to periodically offering in-game freebies for various titles, Nintendo implemented a Switch voucher program, which gave NSO members the option to purchase a pair of game vouchers that could then be redeemed for select first- and third-party Switch titles. It was an enticing offer, but the program was curiously short-lived; while vouchers can still be redeemed up to a year after you first purchased them, Nintendo stopped offering the ability to buy vouchers back in July, so if you didn't take advantage of the program before then, you effectively missed your chance. For all the steps Nintendo has taken in the right direction with Nintendo Switch Online in 2019, the service still has much room to grow.
Switch Lite Is The Final Nail In 3DS's Coffin
While its best days were clearly behind it, the 3DS still showed some signs of life heading into 2019. The dual-screen handheld received five notable releases during the first half of the year. A remake of the beloved DS RPG, Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, led the charge in January; Yo-kai Watch 3 and Etrian Odyssey Nexus both followed in February; an expanded port of the Wii classic Kirby's Epic Yarn arrived in March; and finally, Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth received a Western release in June.
Since then, however, 3DS releases have all but dried up, and Nintendo has not announced any new games on the way to the system, suggesting it is finally moving on from the dual-screen platform. While the company continues to push 2DS and 2DS XL as budget-friendly devices for younger players, the lack of any news about new 3DS games on the way speaks volumes about the system's future, and its fate seems to have been sealed with the arrival of a new Switch model: the Switch Lite.
Released alongside The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening in September, the Switch Lite is a smaller, less expensive version of Nintendo's flagship system that removes features like the ability to dock to a television in an effort to emphasize portability. Even before the model was officially unveiled, rumors had been circulating that Nintendo was working on a portable-focused version of the Switch that would act as a successor of sorts to the 3DS, and the Switch Lite, with its sturdier body and cheaper price point, fits that bill. Early sales numbers for the Switch Lite have been positive, so barring any surprise announcements by Nintendo, it appears that system is taking the 3DS's place as a kid-friendly alternative.
A Promising Look At 2020
While both Sony and Microsoft are readying their next-generation consoles for launch in 2020, the Switch is still very much in the early years of its life, and next year will likely see Nintendo continuing to support the system as it has thus far--with new, appealing games. The company has only given us a brief glimpse at what lays ahead for Switch next year, but it already looks promising, with a port of the underrated Wii U gem Tokyo Mirage Sessions arriving in January and a new installment in the Animal Crossing series following in March. The cult favorite series No More Heroes and Deadly Premonition are also receiving Switch-exclusive sequels in 2020, and a remaster of Xenoblade Chronicles is on the way at some point next year as well, giving Switch owners another epic RPG to dive into.
And that's to say nothing of the other games we already know are in development. Nintendo and Platinum have been silent about Bayonetta 3 since it was first announced back in 2017, and Metroid Prime 4 is still looming on the horizon. Neither game has a release window yet, so they may not necessarily arrive next year, but we're due to hear more details about them. We also got our first tantalizing look at a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild at E3 2019, so we may learn more about that game in 2020. On top of that, even more DLC is in development for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate next year. We still don't know everything 2020 will hold for the platform, but the Switch's future looks bright.
Other Matters, In Brief
- Nintendo replaced the base Switch model this past August with an updated version that boasts better battery life.
- Nintendo launched two new mobile games in 2019, Dr. Mario World and Mario Kart Tour, the latter of which has been very successful thus far and was the most-downloaded free game on iPhone this year.
- Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, which hit mobile devices in 2017, received a new paid membership tier.
- The first images of Super Nintendo World, a Nintendo-themed attraction being developed at Universal Studios Japan, have appeared online. The park is slated to open in Spring 2020 and will feature two rides and an "interactive element."
- Nintendo opened a new flagship store in Tokyo.
- Nintendo Switch has sold 15 million units in North America as of October 2019, surpassing Wii U's global lifetime sales.
Despite some rough patches, 2019 was another great year for Nintendo, particularly with regard to the Switch. While the year may have started off slowly in terms of releases, the system received a string of great first-party exclusives as well as a handful of noteworthy third-party ports and indie titles. Switch owners may still be waiting on some basic, commonly requested features like folders, and the Nintendo Switch Online service is still lacking in many regards, but this year has arguably been the strongest one yet for the system, and it is well-positioned heading into 2020.
|The Good||The Bad|
|The back half of the year was filled with a ton of great exclusives and critically acclaimed ports||NES/SNES games are no longer being added to Nintendo Switch Online at regular intervals, and the service still can't measure up to rival offerings|
|Nintendo Switch Online's appeal was significantly boosted with the addition of SNES games||Switch still lacks some basic features like folders|
|Switch's 2020 lineup already looks promising, with a handful of noteworthy titles on the way next year|