Being a Nintendo fan is a complicated thing. On one hand, we have memories of the most incredible gaming we could have asked for in our childhood. From amazing single player games like Ocarina of Time and Super Metroid, to frenetic friend-destroying multiplayer games like Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye 64, we have plenty of heart-warming memories with Nintendo systems.
On the other hand, we’ve been on the defensive when talking about our favorite videogame company since the Wii era, if not earlier. Beyond all the discussions about third party games, the quality of exclusive games, the value of HD versus motion controls, and other similar things, there was always at least a smidgen of worry over Nintendo’s success. It’s not that we cared about whether Satoru Iwata and Shigeru Miyamoto were making enough money to buy themselves a new yacht (or a launch-price PS3, which went for about the same); but if the company was suddenly not profitable, could we expect our favorite games to continue being made? Many similar worries would float in our heads, and we’d spend hours learning and arguing about the topic.
Today, there is no need for any worrying. The Switch is killing it, and the games are among the best ever made. So let’s recognize where we came from, and take some time off from gathering Power Moons in Odyssey or figuring out how to rocket boost through the air in Rocket League to be thankful for what we’ve got.
1. The Switch
Speaking for myself, I don’t think I’ve been so happy to own a game system for a very long time like I am with the Switch. Perhaps since the Game Boy Color (that color, and with that battery life). Maybe the Nintendo DS (I got in late, with the launch of Mario Kart DS). With the Switch, not only is the system almost everything I could ask for (portable, powerful enough for AAA console games, affordable, simple, and sleek), but it also came swinging right out of the game with freaking Zelda. But more on that later.
Then, the next month, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Then Ultra Street Fighter 2. Then ARMS. Then Splatoon 2. Then Monster Hunter XX (for those willing to import from Japan). And more. And more. And Mario. And DOOM, Skyrim, and Rocket League. Coming up, Xenoblade 2.
This makes no sense. No Nintendo system in decades, or perhaps ever, had such a strong first year lineup. If the Switch got discontinued at the end of the year and no more games came out for it anymore, I’d say it had a good run. But it’s only beginning, and I can’t even imagine what’s to come.
2. Breath of the Wild – The Best Zelda Game Ever Made
Look, I’m going to be blunt here. I think anyone that disrespects Breath of the Wild is straight up ignorant. And I think anyone that attempts to criticize the game (negatively or positively) in terms of the things we’ve known about game design in the past is myopic.
I can open my Rules of Play game design textbook and attempt to criticize Breath of the Wild in terms of whether the challenge is high enough to keep us engaged but low enough to not frustrate us; or whether the in-game currency and the armor upgrade system gives us the motivation to keep playing the game. But that kind of stuff misses the forest for the trees. Actually, it misses the light of the sun piercing through the forest canopy and dancing on the waves of a river before turning into a rainbow across the mist of a waterfall – focusing instead on whether Nintendo could have chosen a lighter or darker shade of green for the trees.
I urge anyone with the game to start it up, head to a stable in Akkala with a horse, and just let the game idle for a few minutes with the sound turned up. If you can’t appreciate what’s going on in that scene, then man, you might as well go back to Pong.
3. Super Mario Odyssey – A Celebration of Nintendo’s Post-Donkey Kong History
For those of us born in the 90s, 3D platformers in the style of “collectathons” were an integral part of our childhood. And though games like Spyro 2, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Donkey Kong 64 all drew heavy influence from Super Mario 64, later Mario games moved away from the style. But after several generations of flagpole-style 3D Mario (including the amazing Galaxy games), Nintendo finally went back to the collectathon style.
Or at least that’s how they branded the game from the Switch’s reveal til the game’s release. In reality, Odyssey turned out to be a collectathon Mario, and a flagpole Mario, and everything in between, and then some more. This is a game where we can go from freely exploring a Bob-Omb Battlefield-like level to jumping across a challenging floating platform level (with a hidden Power Moon for the observant); from climbing atop a set-piece level to chasing a dog that digs Power Moons out of the ground; from fishing with Lakitu to fighting an epic boss; and on, and on, and on – all without an interruption in the exploration.
And Nintendo did this at the same time as it introduced a brilliant “capture” mechanic that multiplies the gameplay fifty-fold with a plethora of unique movesets. In a turn of events contrary to past Mario games, the prototypical enemies and their characteristic behaviors and attacks were no longer just an obstacle to overcome, but a tool that we can use to overcome other obstacles or reach secret areas.
Like Breath of the Wild will do for open world games, Odyssey will become the stick by which future platforming games (not just Mario games) are measured. But for now, it’s enough to play the game with a smile from ear to ear.
4. The Convergence of Portable and Home Game Design
Those of us that were fortunate enough to have both a Game Boy and a SNES have known from the start that the games just weren’t made the same. The Game Boy was weak and had little power, but any trip without its accessible, quick games was a trip doomed to boredom. The SNES was powerful and displayed beautiful worlds on our TVs, so it gave us games with great attention to detail, refined controls, and lengthy adventures.
Up until this past generation, the gap between home console and portable systems had gradually become smaller and less significant, but the way the games were made remained mostly the same. It’s only as of the Switch’s launch that a modern, ambitious AAA game has been playable both on the go and at home on the same system: with Breath of the Wild, we had a beautiful, detailed open-world filled with short puzzles and shrines that could be completed during a commute or half a lunch break, as well as large areas to explore and meandering side-quests to complete from the comfort of our living rooms, on our oversized TVs, with our expensive soundbars or standing speakers.
This is the best of both worlds, as far as I’m concerned. I shudder to think of what a game like Metroid could be when it can have the labyrinthine, beautiful worlds of the Prime games coupled with the quick action of the 2D sidescrollers. I am downright terrified of a new Animal Crossing that masters the addictiveness of its portable iterations with the soothing, “comfy” atmosphere and charm of the home console games.
5. Promising Third Party Support
No matter what you think of third parties, surely you can agree that some third parties sometimes make good games that we’d all like to play, right? As a PC player, I would even argue that games like Dark Souls are actually a better fit for Nintendo’s fans than Sony’s. I made the same argument for Rocket League, and now that it finally released on Switch, I’ve heard some of my friends tell me the same thing: “this game is perfect for the Switch.”
So I think we can all be a little grateful that these early “tests” for third party games on Switch have been successful so far. DOOM was trending on the Nintendo eShop for some time, Rocket League is slowly but surely being recognized as a great game for the Switch, Skyrim appears to be doing very well, Take-Two is very pleased with sales of NBA 2k18 on Switch, and multiple Japanese third parties have expressed their enthusiasm and commitment for the system (not Capcom, of course).
This should all bode very well for future games to come to the Switch, as well as for a few more ports of past great games (like the rumored Dark Souls Trilogy). And, equally importantly, it’s a sign of great third party exclusives to come.
6. A Cold-Steel Businessman CEO
When Satoru Iwata passed away in 2015, it was a blow for the entire gaming industry. But for Nintendo fans, it also brought concerns about the company’s future. Iwata had many great things planned for the company, many of which had already been set in motion. With him gone, would those changes stick? Or would the company languish and eventually crumble under the pressure?
Now, it’s hard to say how much of Nintendo’s current direction is owed to Iwata. Over his last years at the helm of Nintendo, Iwata consolidated the home console and portable gaming divisions into a single team, and oversaw the restructuring of previously-separated hardware and software personnel into a new development building in Kyoto. He repeatedly informed investors about the company’s plans to create a single piece of hardware that would bridge the gap between home and portable game development, so that Nintendo could serve a larger share of their audience at the same time, without having to split their resources between both platforms. It’s plain to see that the Switch was born of these organizational and ideological strokes.
In addition, Iwata began the process of putting Nintendo software on smartphones, and of licensing their I.P. more liberally. Think of Pokemon Go.
But with Iwata gone, it fell to Kimishima to execute these plans and keep them on track. Thankfully, Kimishima has been crushing it. It may even be thanks to him that Nintendo’s marketing department has stepped up their game considerably, pushing a crystal-clear image of what the Switch is: a powerful gaming system that you can play in your living room or on the go.
Let’s not take for granted the Nintendo that we have right now: one with the heart of Iwata, and the hand of Kimishima.
7. Rising Young Talent
Back when Splatoon was first announced for the Wii U, we were pretty surprised at Nintendo for making that kind of game. You have to remember, this was when Breath of the Wild was just announced, and we knew nothing about it. The fact that Nintendo was making a new competitive shooter I.P. that was so fresh was hard to believe on its own; the fact that it actually looked as good as, if not better than any other shooter, was even harder to believe.
Of course, we soon learned that the reason that game exists is because Nintendo finally decided to give a chance to some very young developers: In what they call “Garage,” Nintendo set up a development program in which young developers group up to come up with ideas that producers like Shigeru Miyamoto then decide whether to fund or reject. Splatoon was the first successful experiment, which now continues as the even better, more complete and more successful Splatoon 2.
In addition to this, other young creators that have been with Nintendo for a long time are finally getting their chance in the spotlight. One of them is Yoshiaki Koizumi, General Producer for the Nintendo Switch, whose history with Nintendo goes back all the way to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and who has performed key design and directorial roles for games like Ocarina of Time and Super Mario Galaxy. He recently participated in an elucidating AMA (Ask Me Anything) interview on Reddit.
I sincerely believe we are in for a great era of Nintendo games under him, just like we were under Miyamoto; and I can’t wait to see the influence of other less-known designers at Nintendo.
8. An Abundance of Competitive Games
I played my fair share of competitive games on the Wii and the Wii U. Whether it was GoldenEye 007 on the Wii, or Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 on the Wii U, I always had good, competitive games to play with my friends on these Nintendo systems. But these games came one at a time, so that there was usually only the one competitive game to play for several months, until the next one came out.
Not so this year. On the Switch alone, I can mention a bunch off the top of my head: Ultra Street Fighter 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, ARMS, Rocket League, DOOM, Pokken Tournament. Oh, right, there’s NBA 2k18 and FIFA ’18, as well. Super Bomberman R, Puyo Puyo Tetris, and a plethora of casual competitive indie games.
Since the Switch continues to be successful, I think it’s fair to expect many more competitive games to come to the Switch. It might be too much to hope for a game like Overwatch or Street Fighter V, but I think we’ll get lucky with Hearthstone, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and maybe even PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. And of course, there is still Super Smash Brothers, Pokemon, and whatever else Nintendo’s cooking up on their own.
9. Populated Game Lobbies
There was another problem that multiplayer games had on the Wii and Wii U era. Because many hardcore gamers on these systems would move from one competitive game to the next, older games would have far fewer active players at any time. Even when we found a match in a game like Black Ops 3 a year after its release, the playerbase was so small that the matchmaking couldn’t do its job properly and instead it would create unbalanced lobbies. In Splatoon 1 for the Wii U, it became so common to join a lobby full of skilled Japanese players that the group I play with started referring to them like this: “so the Empire’s out for blood tonight, huh?”
Since the Switch is incredibly successful so far, however, I think those days are in the past for us. Just now I was still able to go on Ultra Street Fighter 2 and ARMS and quickly find matches. Mario Kart 8 is always populated. We don’t even need to talk about Splatoon 2, of course. Rocket League, with its cross-platform support and eSport focus, will pretty much never die.
So while the Switch’s online infrastructure is not quite good yet, we should be grateful that we are already far ahead the Wii U in terms of being able to play games online consistently.
10. The 3DS Still Exists
This point is exactly was it says on the tin. The 3DS is a fantastic system, and is backwards-compatible with the DS library. A New 2DS XL goes for about $150 USD, and it can play what is possibly the best library of games that has ever existed. If any of us wanted to turn someone into another grateful Nintendo fan, all we’d have to do is gift them one of these with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Mario Kart 7 and they’d be done.
If you read this far, you must be quite the Nintendo Enthusiast! Why not come join us in our Discord channel and meet other Nintendo fans? We chat, take it easy, and play games online every week. Just be warned, the competition can get fierce.