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Nintendo’s answer to ageing hardware? A steady stream of solid Switch exclusives

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A steady stream of exclusives has given the Nintendo Switch another excellent year, even without a Switch Pro or The Legend of Zelda.

Despite impressive sales, it’s a challenging time for the Nintendo Switch. The PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S are gradually overcoming supply issues, and Valve’s Steam Deck provides a compelling alternative for gamers who like to play portably. In comparison, the Switch is looking a little long in the tooth as it approaches its sixth anniversary and calls for a hardware upgrade are increasing.

Following the release of the Nintendo Switch OLED model last year, Nintendo has instead focused on delivering a regular cadence of first, second, and third-party exclusives. None of these games are system sellers, but they have ensured the Switch remains relevant.

One of this year’s biggest games is God of War Ragnarök, which comes to PlayStation consoles on November 9. A week later, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet will release on the Nintendo Switch. It’s an ambitious game for the popular RPG franchise, but it looks archaic compared to Santa Monica’s latest work. However, despite the chasm in visual fidelity and performance, it’s tough to call which game will be the biggest hit.

Both are tent-pole releases for their respective systems, but, amazingly, Pokémon Scarlet and Violet is also the second major Pokémon game of the year and the third in just over 12 months. It demonstrates how much of a quiet success story 2022 has been for Nintendo’s console. Not every exclusive has been top-tier, but a glance at the release list below shows a library of genre depth and broad audience appeal.

Nintendo Switch 2022 exclusives

  • January – Pokémon Legends: Arceus
  • March – Kirby and the Forgotten Land
  • March – Triangle Strategy
  • April – Nintendo Switch Sports
  • June – Mario Strikers Battle League
  • June – Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes
  • June – Monster Hunter Rise Sunbreak
  • July – Xenoblade Chronicles 3
  • August – Splatoon 3
  • September – Kirby’s Dream Buffet
  • October – Mario + Rabbids: Spark of Hope
  • October – Bayonetta 3
  • November – Pokémon Scarlet and Violet
  • Delayed– Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp

Every console needs its flagship games, those 10/10-rated killer exclusives that break new ground and push the medium forward. But there’s also something to be said for a reliable release slate of 7s and 8s. The Switch has thrived this year, not by being cutting edge, but by constantly having something new to enjoy that you can’t play on other consoles. A continuous flow of high-quality releases is never a bad thing.

Nintendo has even been able to postpone the long-awaited Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp and survive without a bunch of Zelda and Metroid remasters that were allegedly, er, a “dead cert”. (According to someone’s uncle who works at Nintendo, presumably. This is why you shouldn’t report on unsubstantiated rumours.)

Meanwhile, Xbox continues to struggle for big exclusives (despite its studio investments), focusing on the value-packed, all-you-can-play model of Xbox Game Pass. Perhaps those acquisitions will bear fruit when the deals with PlayStation expire and the likes of Bethesda and Activision bolster its roster of exclusives. Sony, on the other hand, talks a big game about major releases, but is cheekily trying to have it both ways. It repeatedly cites protecting the quality of its AAA games as a justification for keeping its tentpole releases (like God of War Ragnarök and Grand Turismo 7) away from subscription services, but also brings some of its biggest games (like Uncharted and Horizon Zero Dawn) to its improved PlayStation Plus service (and PC) at a later date.

Splatoon 3 - Nintendo Switch

At a recent launch event for Splatoon 3, Nintendo of Canada marketing manager Andrew Collins spoke to Thumbsticks about the breadth of the Switch library.

“The Nintendo Switch is a system that has games for everybody,” he says. “I’ve got kids, they’ve all got their own systems, and they all play different games. My youngest, as we speak, is downloading Splatoon 3 because he loves that vibrant, fun gameplay. The elder boys are more looking towards Xenoblade Chronicles 3, as they are older, and it’s more aspirational for them. And then, together, they are all playing Fall Guys.”

Nintendo’s online offering also plays its part, says Collins, particularly the evolving lineup of retro titles.

“I’m very much enjoying the Nintendo 64 games included with Nintendo Switch Online. It’s reawakening one of my favourite systems,” he says. “Wave Race 64 just came out, and I love it. That first time you are on the water, it still feels as great as it did 24 years ago. I think it’s great as a dad that I’m able to reintroduce these games to the kids, and I can say this is a game I love, this is why I enjoyed it, and then we can play together.”

“And in between, we have Nintendo Switch Sports. It’s that everyman game that kids can play for themselves or play with their parents. We’ve had a lot of fun doing that one.”

Triangle Strategy - Nintendo Switch

“We have games for all people and all ages. It’s what makes it fun to work for Nintendo,” Collins says. “One month you might be working on one type of game, and the next couple of months, it’s a different type of game. They are different challenges, but you’ve got that key theme of helping people enjoy Nintendo Switch and essentially working to put smiles on people’s faces.”

I would tend to agree. My current game of the year is Square Enix’s marvellous tactics RPG Triangle Strategy, a Switch console exclusive. My wife, meanwhile, has poured hours into Nintendo eShop exclusive Kirby’s Dream Buffet. And Nintendo Switch Sports will likely remain a weekend staple for the wider family this winter.

A console transition is risky for any company, something Nintendo knows through bitter experience. And although the clamour for new hardware is understandable, the software-first approach is sensible while the Switch is still selling and semiconductor supply chains remain in flux.

The Nintendo Switch may be showing its age, and the long-rumoured Switch Pro is still just a myth, but the console’s continued success is the latest reminder that specs aren’t all that matters. It is, and always should be, about the games.

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