On March 3, 2017, the Nintendo Switch was released amid a mixture of fanfare and healthy skepticism. Nintendo clearly had a cool piece of hardware with an exciting hybrid design on its hands, but with the Wii U’s failure still fresh on everyone’s minds, it was hard not to cast serious doubt on Nintendo being able to right the ship, so to speak. I’ll readily admit that I was not overly optimistic about the Switch’s chances prior to its launch, even going so far as to cancel my pre-order when I realized that there would be little else besides Breath of the Wild to play on it at the time of release.
However, over the course of 2017, Nintendo slowly but surely began to prove to me and its other detractors that the Switch was the real deal, releasing one must-have game after another and shattering sales records in the process. Now, one year later, the Nintendo Switch is a high-speed locomotive that’s showing no signs of slowing down, having easily surpassed the Wii U’s lifetime sales before 2017 was even over. It’s impossible to say how long the Switch will be able to maintain that momentum, but that’s a discussion for another day. For now, let’s take a look at the Switch’s first year on the market and highlight why it was able to achieve so much success.
10. Indie Support
While the main draw for Nintendo consoles will always be first-party franchises like Zelda and Mario, hundreds of games were released for the Switch over the course of its first year and only a handful of them were actually published and/or developed by Nintendo. The overwhelming majority of games available for the Nintendo Switch so far have been indie titles and when combined with its portability factor, the console has become the go-to platform for smaller games.
It’s true that many of these games are also available on other platforms but it would be foolish to underestimate that portable factor. Many indie developers have openly revealed that the Switch versions of their games have been outselling other platforms and with that kind of positive word-of-mouth, the Switch should continue to be a preferred platform for indie ports and exclusive software such as Astro Duel Deluxe and Golf Story. In a way, the Switch has supplanted the PlayStation Vita as a portable haven for indie games, but with the added benefit of better hardware and actual support from the company that makes it.
9. Multiplayer Focus
When I say the Switch is a multiplayer-focused console, I’m definitely not talking about online. In typical Nintendo fashion, the Switch is yet another console with poor networking features that fall woefully short of what the competition has been doing for years now. But if we’re talking about local multiplayer, the kind you play with friends and family on the couch, it’s a different story altogether. Nintendo has always placed a high value on playing games with other people in the same room and if the Switch’s first year is any indication, the company may have crafted its finest party console to date.
Games, of course, are the biggest reason for this, with titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, and even older indies like Overcooked and Rocket League providing gameplay experiences that anyone can jump in and have a great time with. But another reason I think the Switch has caught on so well is the variety of controller options people have at their disposal. Right out the box, two people could play Mario Kart together with single Joy-Cons, but you can play most multiplayer games with any combination of controllers, be they single Joy-Cons, two Joy-Cons docked on a Joy-Con grip or (ideally), Pro Controllers. Sure, all the Switch’s controllers are overpriced but at least the console’s best multiplayer experiences don’t require one specific input.
8. Sleek Hardware
Nintendo has always been a bit hit and miss when it comes to the build quality and aesthetics of its hardware designs, but the Wii U had to be one of the company’s worst. Specifically, the Wii U Gamepad, which should have been a sexy touchscreen device with “buy me!” written all over it, instead felt like a cheap plastic toy that felt vastly inferior to the iPad and other tablets upon its release in 2012.
While it’s true that the Switch also doesn’t hold a candle to high-end tablets currently on the market, it’s a massive step up from the the Wii U and has that sleekness factor that tech gadget enthusiasts crave. Part of this has to do with the Switch’s impressive 6.2″ screen, but the real design victory lies with the Joy-Con controllers and the ability to slide and snap them on and off the sides of the screen. This tactile innovation was hard to resist and offered consumers something they hadn’t seen before with a gaming system, making the Switch something you just wanted to get your hands on.
In addition to its sleek hardware design, the Switch’s sheer versatility is another reason it’s proven so successful. Nintendo has created a console that can be enjoyed in pretty much every situation imaginable and this can be attributed both to its hybrid design and multiple control options. You could get away with having the Switch be a dedicated TV console in docked mode, but being able to take it with you wherever you go — be it on a plane, in bed, or even (heaven forbid) on the toilet — makes it a console that you can truly have with you at all times.
But this doesn’t even take into account all the ways you can interact with it in portable mode alone, as you can opt to play it as a dedicated handheld with both Joy-Cons docked on the side, take the Joy-Cons off and set up the screen on a desk or table thanks to the built-in (though admittedly flimsy) kickstand, or even omit the Joy-Cons altogether and reach for a Pro Controller. Factor in how little time it takes to jump into a game on the Switch compared to a PS4 or Xbox One, and it’s evident that Nintendo’s versatile machine has struck a chord with consumers who may not always have time to sit down and game at home.
6. Surprising Amount of Third Party Support
When Nintendo trotted out its oft-repeated line that its new console would have strong third-party support prior to the Switch’s launch, it was all too easy to scoff at the idea. After all, Nintendo has been lacking strong third party support since the Super Nintendo era, so there was little reason to think that the Switch would be any different. And while the Switch will never get all the AAA multiplatform games that the PS4 and Xbox One will, Nintendo wasn’t lying when it said that third-party support would be coming.
Publishers such as Bethesda, Square Enix, and even Rockstar can now be counted as Switch supporters and given the console’s ever-growing install base, we’re likely to only see more publishers double down on Switch development in the coming years. Sure, most of the AAA experiences released so far have been ports of older games like Doom and Skyrim, but the portability factor has helped make these games appealing again and any support is a good thing at this point. If Bethesda releasing yet another version of Skyrim on the Switch means that the publisher will support the console with actual new games in the future, that’s a win in my book.
5. Ease of Use
While the Switch’s user interface could use some sprucing up (how about some actual menu music, for starters?) but the system’s bare-bone menus are a small price to pay for how intuitive the simple act of accessing everything is. This is one of those improvements that doesn’t get enough attention, probably because most of us forget just how cumbersome the Wii U was to navigate by comparison.
Heck, even Nintendo of America’s senior product marketing manager readily admits that the Wii U was a frustrating system to use. “”If you look at the Wii U hardware system, just the system menu itself — the time that it took to boot that system up, to get into gameplay — was something that was a frustration for a lot of players early on and actually became a hindrance,” Trinen told Business Insider ahead of the Nintendo World Championships back in October.
By contrast, accessing games on the Switch is quick and efficient, requiring only a few button clicks after powering the system on. The console may still be barren when it comes to additional features and stuff like apps, but having almost non-existent barriers between players and the games has paid off so far for Nintendo.
4. Offering Something Different From The Competition
In terms of raw technical power, the Nintendo Switch lags far behind the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and your average gaming PC. For this reason, there are simply some games that are never going to be released on the Switch, which means that it’s not exactly the best option if you’re a one console household. That being said, much like how the Wii offered an experience you simply couldn’t get on an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, so too has the Switch carved out a niche for itself by offering games and an overall entertainment experience that can’t be replicated by the competition.
In terms of consoles specifically, the differences between the Xbox One and PS4 are negligible for the most part and outside of certain exclusive games, you’re getting nearly all the same features no matter which one you choose. The Switch, by contrast, not only has a number of must-have exclusives, but is the only hybrid gaming platform on the market, which has helped it stand out over the course of its first year.
3. Incredible First-Party Games
The Switch would be nothing without games to play and to that end, Nintendo went allout in making sure their new console was stacked with incredible exclusives over the course of its first year. Right off the bat we got The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which would go on to win multiple game of the year awards, as well as a legitimate contender in the neverending “best game of all time” debates among gaming enthusiasts. Any year Nintendo releases a new Zelda is cause for celebration but Nintendo also shipped Super Mario Odyssey in the fall, which to the best of my knowledge is the first time the company has ever released mainline Zelda and Mario games in the same calendar year.
Those two games alone made the Switch worth the price of admission but there were a number of other releases that could only be found on the Switch, including remasters (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe), sequels (Splatoon 2) and even a new IP (Arms). Releasing a new console is already an exciting event as it is, but Nintendo made the Switch’s debut even more memorable with the staggering quality of its exclusives lineup, making 2017 easily one of the best years Nintendo has ever had.
2. Release Schedule
Of course, the Wii U also had some fantastic exclusive games, so simply having good software isn’t enough to guarantee a console will find success. The core appeal of the Switch hardware itself has certainly played a major role in its success up to this point, but I’d argue that Nintendo’s well-executed release schedule throughout 2017 was instrumental as well. Prior to the Switch’s launch and even during its first month, it was easy to write the console off as a “Zelda machine,” as there really wasn’t much else to play besides Breath of the Wild (not that this was necessarily a bad thing given how all-consuming an experience that game is).
However, it didn’t take long for Nintendo’s true plans to become apparent and by the time Super Mario Odyssey was released in October, the company had essentially run a clinic on how to properly structure a software release schedule. Nintendo may have only released a handful of its own games in 2017, but releasing them on a monthly basis went a long way in keeping a steady stream of content flowing:
- March – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
- April – Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
- May – Minecraft Switch Edition
- June – ARMS
- July – Splatoon 2
- August – Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
- September – Pokken Tournament DX
- October – Super Mario Odyssey
- November/December – Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Factor in all the indies released on a weekly basis throughout the year and the notion that the Switch “has no games” quickly became absurd. Not bad for a console that had less than 10 games available on launch day!
One of the Switch’s main selling points at launch was that you could play an epic experience like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the go and even a year later, this remains a novel experience. With the Switch, Nintendo has picked up the baton from Sony’s abandoned Vita in giving players console quality games on a handheld device.
For all the talk about mobile gaming being the death knell of dedicated handheld consoles over the last 5-10 years, the Switch proves that many people still put a lot of value in quality gaming experiences. And even though there are a lot of great games on iOS and Android, the platforms are flooded with truly awful software, making the Switch the clear winner when it comes to gaming on the go.