In an age of endless delays, Nintendo’s first-party flow is extraordinary
When Advance Wars 1+2: Reboot Camp was postponed earlier this year in response to current events in Ukraine, there was an interesting prospect that made the rounds. This meant a longer than normal gap between Nintendo’s retail titles, and we had to wait – panting — for a few weeks to play Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Likewise with the delay of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 to ‘Spring 2023’; as it is, we will only have a new generation of Pokemon to enjoy this holiday season. My goodness, times are tough, although of course Nintendo will have a Direct or two to come that will likely fill in even more of the gaps. We were disappointed to see Zelda pushed back to next year, but there’s no shortage of other Switch games to occupy our thumbs.
We’re in the extraordinary position of Nintendo almost releasing one – often major – retail game every month of the year. Of course, we don’t buy all or even want to all of those titles, but the thing is, the Switch has a steady stream of top-tier games throughout the year. It’s been that way for most years of its lifecycle, although we’ve had some quieter times during the lockdown spikes and disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, that’s not even taking into account major third-party games and the constant stream of compelling Indie/eShop titles either.
Nintendo, it must be said, has always been equipped for this. Until 2017, the company’s core business model was to support two major pieces of hardware at once – a dedicated home console and a (usually) more capable handheld. In an underperforming generation, however, this became a problem – Nintendo tackled this in the era of the 3DS and Wii U, essentially having to put the console on the back burner to focus on handheld backup . These struggles, and the financial challenges they brought, were said to be one of multiple factors that led the company to adopt Switch’s hybrid approach.
The unification of its divisions and development teams began as early as 2013, and Nintendo also has many trusted partners and a small number of acquired studios to call on. Over the next two months, Next Level Games will bring us Mario Strikers: Battle League, while MonolithSoft has Xenoblade Chronicles 3 not far behind. Oh, and longtime partner Koei Tecmo also delivers Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. There will also be several notable arrivals in the fall and winter.
Games like these, all exclusive titles and IPs, help keep the Switch healthy despite all the arguments about its aging technology. People say it’s past its peak in sales, but it’s a no-brainer: it’s over five years old! Still, fun fact, Switch is expected to sell more hardware units this year than PlayStation 5; chip shortages are a major factor, but remember that the Switch is now in its sixth year as a 2015 tablet masquerading as a console. As always, Nintendo hardware is more than the sum of its parts.
As Nintendo fans, we often skim through the year’s lineup and sweat a bit if there’s an empty month…but elsewhere in the gaming hardware market the picture is a little different
It’s interesting, though, that as Nintendo fans we often skim through the year’s lineup and sweat a bit if there’s an empty month, or wonder if an undated game like Bayonetta 3 will fill October, for example. Yet elsewhere in the gaming hardware market, the situation is a bit different. The PlayStation 5 and the Xbox Series X | S are experiencing relatively quiet years and with a number of discrete months ahead. On PS5 (and PS4) it’s a lesser issue – the company has had a number of cross-gen titles arrive in due course since the new system launched. There have been Gran Turismo 7 and Forbidden Horizon West already this year, the two massive games, and God of War Ragnarok is still apparently due in 2022. Sony can also point to (often timed) third-party exclusives like Ghostwire: Tokyo this year, although not all upcoming titles in this category are likely to hit mainstream audiences.
At Xbox, Microsoft is in trouble. Despite all this wealth of Windows and all of the company’s acquisitions, there are currently zero first-party exclusives confirmed for 2022, and there have been none so far in the year. This has been exacerbated by the recent delays of Starfield and Redfall to next year, the only Xbox Game Studios titles that were actually locked in for 2022. As already mentioned, the first half of this year brought no games major first-party on Xbox, and even last year there was the delay Infinite Halo and Forza Horizon 5 to lead the way, but noticeable gaps in the schedule. This is after the launch of Series X | S without any new proprietary games, unless you count the console port of Gears Tactics.
For a more direct comparison, let’s take a look at the first-party games released by each of the big three over the past year.
Owner Exclusives FY2021/22 (April 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022)
To note. This list excludes Switch exclusives that Nintendo has released or distributed in certain regions (mostly outside of Japan), such as DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power and Triangle Strategy. It also includes titles that had a PC release but were exclusive to a single console.
Microsoft is certainly lagging behind in the first-party games department, and that also looks like a messy picture for Xbox for next year. The industry is plagued with rumors of major Xbox project reboots, studio overhauls, and many games without any release windows. No doubt Microsoft will bring Something for 2022 in his big showcase next month, but ultimately he’s under a lot of pressure to do so. From an Xbox perspective, its get out of jail card is Game Pass, the low-cost subscription that lets new (and some older) third-party players come in on a monthly basis and a value proposition that most gamers find it too good to pass up.
Of course, we have to recognize that the dynamics and businesses here are quite different. Sony and Microsoft compete in the high-end gaming market in terms of hardware, and one of the dilemmas they face is the demand for increasingly impressive gaming experiences. High-level projects now have huge development budgets, teams of several hundred (or even thousands) and exorbitant expectations; delays and budget overruns are almost the norm. Sony and Microsoft also get just about every major third-party triple-A title, so even without exclusives, there are often big-name cross-platform titles for PlayStation and Xbox gamers.
Nintendo, on the other hand, supports weaker bespoke hardware and generally misses out on most of those big-budget third-party games. There’s more to the Switch than 4K, raytracing, and cutting-edge graphics technology, and gamers/consumers of all skill levels intuitively understand that. It’s the cheapest option with games that are often more about color, creativity, and fun. While there are plenty of gamers who will deconstruct technology, the fact is that most don’t – Nintendo’s identity since the DS/Wii era has been about experiments on graphical prowess, uniqueness on the virtuoso technical showcases. Nintendo games can still be beautiful to the eyes today, but at 1080p and without HDR. And, of course, with the nice hook we can play on the go or at home on the TV.
Nintendo’s history, the way it has continued to grow its in-house development teams while fostering strong partnerships with third parties, and the fact that it is developing for a tablet-like device, give it various advantages; a near-monthly rotation of games published by millions of people who want to play is just one of those benefits, while Sony and Microsoft grapple with triple-A development budgets and projects. Time-consuming JRPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 at light and more affordable family pricing like Nintendo Switch Sports, there’s almost always something to look forward to in the near future on Switch.
How long this inherent advantage lasts will depend on how Nintendo’s industry and hardware evolve over the next five years. Ultimately, though, we wouldn’t bet against Nintendo continuing to chart its own course while doing everything possible to maintain that extraordinarily steady stream of quality games that has worked well for everyone this console cycle. .