The State Of The Nintendo Switch In 2018

Illustration: Sam Woolley

As second year slumps go, the Nintendo Switch’s wasn’t so bad.

When the Switch burst onto the scene in 2017, it could seemingly do no wrong. It was the new kid on the block: young and cool, with an air of mystery and excitement. So it goes with most new game consoles.

In 2018, Switch hit the ol’ sophomore slump, with lesser games and ports filling its lineup as we continue to wait for the next batch of all-new megahits. This, too, is typical of consoles. But while the Switch didn’t have many home runs in 2018, it did have some doubles and triples.

How do you follow up a year in which new Zelda and Mario games were not only met with critical acclaim, but were widely considered to have radically reinvented their series for the better? If you’re Nintendo, you follow it up with, well, a lot of Wii U ports and less-ambitious sequels.

Until the one-two punch of Pokémon and Smash at the very end of the year, that is.

Super Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai hosts the Super Smash Bros. Invitational at E3 2018. (Photo: Jordan Strauss/Invision, Nintendo/AP Images)

Fortunately, indie developers have been excited to bring new and old games to Switch, which has caused its library to expand greatly with all kinds of different experiences.

Triple-A publishers have been less willing to jump in with both feet. Nintendo’s Switch Online service also launched, and it’s about as full-featured as you’d expect from Nintendo, which is to say “not especially.”

Even if the Switch hasn’t truly gotten into a groove, the usual second-year doldrums have had their bright spots—and things are set up for a great 2019.

The Games

There are now over 1,400 games on the Switch, from indie darlings to the biggest triple-A productions. Which is good, because Nintendo’s output for the year hasn’t been especially consistent.

This year’s most anticipated Nintendo games - Super Mario Party, Pokemon Let’s Go: Eevee and Pikachu, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate - all came out in the last three months of 2018.

Up to that point, big Nintendo titles had been middling. After an explosive 2017 in which Nintendo fired off Zelda, Mario Kart, Splatoon 2, and Mario Odyssey in rapid succession, the bulk of 2018 was less AAA and more single-A, if not B, games.

Bayonetta 2. (Gif: Nintendo/Kotaku)

Nintendo kicked off the year with something that has become commonplace on Switch: Wii U ports. First in February was a two-pack of Bayonetta, bringing the first two games in the series to Switch. As Kirk Hamilton put it, Bayonetta 2 was too good to be stuck on the Wii U forever. (Lady Gaga apparently agrees.)

More transplants from the Little Console That Couldn’t followed: Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze (“delightfully difficult”) and Hyrule Warriors (“a toyful joybox”) in May, then Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (“perfect for Switch”) in June.

But of course, Switch also had plenty of originals from Nintendo, although they didn’t all stick their landings. In March, Nintendo released Kirby Star Allies, the Switch’s debut for the Kirby franchise. Even Kotaku’s resident Kirby nut Stephen Totilo described it as mediocre. Mario Tennis Aces launched a couple months later, and although its gameplay is commendably complex, a lot of people considered it frustrating to play and, at times, just too difficult.

And while he enjoyed the quirky gameplay of Sushi Striker, Stephen thought it played better on the 3DS.

In this age of post-release updates and games as a service, it’s become commonplace for big studios to fix up games that players weren’t initially having the best time with. Nintendo has been a little slow to follow that trend. After releasing those less-than-widely-beloved games, however, Nintendo went back to the drawing board, adding patches to them that made them considerably more player-friendly.

Mario Tennis Aces received a slew of changes including new characters and co-op multiplayer modes. Kirby even got a second, free campaign that, according to Stephen, vastly improves on the original game. Big updates came to Splatoon 2 with its “Octo Expansion,” but other big 2017 games like Zelda and Super Mario Odyssey didn’t get a lot of 2018 DLC.

In October, Nintendo partnered with the Institute Of Play to put Nintendo Labo kits into elementary school classrooms, like this one in Chappaqua, New York. (Photo: Nintendo)

Midway through the year, Nintendo pulled the most Nintendo move possible. Rather than release something along the lines of the usual Mario or Zelda fare, it released a box of cardboard cutouts called Labo, packaged it with a bit of software, and marketed it as an imagination machine.

Nintendo’s Labo let players make a cardboard robot backpack, a cardboard fishing rod, a cardboard piano, and all sorts of other cardboard toys that worked in conjunction with the Switch to make what Kotaku contributor Keza Macdonald refers to as “understated marvels.” Despite its good sales pitch, however, Labo hasn’t exactly turned into a commercial success.

Nintendo also supplemented its first-party lineup by publishing, outside of Japan, numerous third-party games. Chief among them was Square Enix’s RPG Octopath Traveller, but the list also included Go Vacation, Dragon Quest Builders, and The World Ends With You.

Come October, the Switch store’s first-party offerings started slowly heating up. October’s Super Mario Party had all the chaos and mirth you’d expect out of a Mario Party game.

Its mini-games smartly took advantage of the Switch’s versatility - you might find yourself tossing cubed steak in a pan or pumping a water pump - and its joyful side-modes were absolutely bonkers.

That said, the title “Super Mario Party” standing alone, with no additional descriptors, implied that we’d get the biggest and richest Mario Party yet, which turned out to be untrue. It launched with just four boards, most of which were, disappointingly, never more than “fine.”

Pokemon Let’s Go: Pikachu (Screenshot: Nintendo)

In November, Pokemon Let’s Go: Pikachu and Eevee refurbished a series that, for many, hadn’t been fun to play for a decade. Cecilia couldn’t put down Pokemon Let’s Go: Eevee– that is, until Super Smash Bros. Ultimate released on December 7.

Ultimate is the best Smash game of all time, and with 76 characters and a slew of quality-of-life updates, it’s been pleasing for both diehard fans and the competitive community alike.

All in all, 2018 wasn’t a huge year for first-party Switch games, except for the last few months.

Trickling through the spaces between those bigger games was a steady flow of ports. There were so many it was almost comical, saturating the Switch store with incredible indie and AAA games from years past. Big-budget games from Diablo III to Dragon Ball FighterZ to Fortnite to Warframe to Dark Souls all landed on the Switch, most of the time with technically solid ports.

Yet while the Switch store is expanding into all sorts of genres, it’s giving a new audience access to competitive titles without giving them the same competitive edge as peers on, say, PC. It’s always going to be harder to master a fighting game like Dragon Ball FighterZ or a shooter like Fortnite on a handheld console, and especially when that handheld console doesn’t have a LAN adaptor built in.

The wealth of indie games that landed on the Switch this year finally gave players a chance to give more fun, whimsical games a spin on the most fun, whimsical console out now. The challenging, lovely platformer Celeste was a delight to play in the Switch’s handheld mode.

So was Into the Breach, a tough tactics game that has made some of us miss subway stops. Other fantastic indies like Dead Cells, Hollow Knight and Undertale became some of the best-selling games on the Switch store.

Finally, Cecilia’s very favourite indie RPG, Hyper Light Drifter, landed on the Switch this year with its gorgeous (and challenging) definitive edition. If you didn’t buy an SD card for your Switch last year, you probably did in 2018.

The Hardware

On balance, Switch is an excellent game machine, but many agreed that it had a few issues when it launched. Fortunately, 2018 brought us some hardware solutions.

The first-party Adjustable Charging Stand lets you charge the Switch while you’re playing it in Tabletop mode—perfect for those long flights. Hori’s officially licensed Joy-Con that swaps in a D-pad for the buttons finally lets you enjoy classic 2D games the way they were intended, although it only works in Handheld mode.

And if you were wishing that you could play vertically-oriented games like Ikaruga and Punch-Out!! in handheld mode, the crowdfunded Flip Grip made that happen. (One of the Flip Grip’s designers is Retronauts host Jeremy Parish, a longtime friend of Chris’.)

This week, Nintendo is releasing a first-party LAN adaptor, which Smash director Masahiro Sakurai suggested for Smash Ultimate fans—many of whom are frustrated by lag in their online matches. It’s a steep $49.95 (at RRP, although it's selling for $36 right now), on top of Smash’s $89.95 price tag and Switch Online’s $29.95 yearly price tag, and, all in all, shouldn’t be necessary to have a basically acceptable online gaming experience.

Also for Smash, Nintendo made a new GameCube controller that felt springy and delightful and solid on day one but, just a couple week post-release, isn’t consistently working for Cecilia, who plays a lot of Smash.

The System Software

On the whole, the Switch only got one major software update this year, which belatedly introduced the console’s online component. Earlier in the year, Nintendo gave Switch users the option to receive friend suggestions from Facebook and Twitter, provided they were logged in to their accounts.

That was part of a March 5.0 update, alongside some good additions to the Switch’s parental controls app. After that, the Switch received several of what Nintendo refers to as “stability improvements.”

In November, the Switch received its second app, YouTube, after a year and a half on the market. The first one was Hulu. Netflix is still not on the Switch, nor are other video apps, social media apps or, well, anything. Just games, mostly. The Switch is such an aeroplane-friendly console, and we’d love to be able to watch downloaded videos on it.

Switch Online

After some delay, Nintendo rolled out its paid online service for Switch in September. For the relatively low price of $US20 ($28) a year, you get online play, cloud saves (phew), and access to a growing library of Nintendo Entertainment System classic games, which themselves have online play. But on the whole, it doesn’t do a great job accomplishing its basic premise: Helping people play games together online.

Nintendo isn’t exactly lauded for its innovations in online gaming. In fact, prior to the launch of Switch Online, fans of online first-party games like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 complained that they, had myriad difficulties with online play.

The Switch got a smartphone voice chat app this year that doesn’t come close to rivaling dedicated apps like Discord, nor the built-in chat functionality of Microsoft and Sony’s competing consoles.

Not pictured: Discord. (Photo: Nintendo)

Switch Online is Nintendo’s first paid online service, and optimistic Switch owners hoped that that if Nintendo was going to charge for an online service, they might do a better job with it than they had in the past. No such luck.

The Switch’s online service still failed to let people easily connect and play each other. It doesn’t let you send messages to your friends through the Switch. You can’t hook up a mic. If you want to link up with your friends for a round of Smash, you’re going to have to organise yourselves on Discord or another outside app. In other words, Switch Online kinda sucks, and the fact that it’s only $29.95 doesn’t fully mitigate that.

There are good points. While Switch isn’t going to get Virtual Console, Switch Online delivered something that we’d argue is better: an all-you-can-play library of NES classic games, included in the subscription.

By the end of this year, there will be 29 NES games on the service, and if you’d rather play the Famicom versions of them, you can log in to the Japanese eShop and do just that. There are even special save files for some of the games that give you added bonus content, like a Legend of Zelda save that starts you with lots of items and cash.

In case a sideways Joy-Con isn’t how you want to play NES games (and it should not be), Nintendo’s selling wireless NES pads exclusively to Switch Online members. But 2018 didn’t bring us the games we really want on this service, which is why we’re looking forward to...

The Future

2019 is poised to be an eventful, hopefully great year for Switch.

Perhaps the largest change will be a new model of the hardware. The Wall Street Journal reported in October that Nintendo plans to release an updated Switch in 2019, but said that Nintendo was still weighing what new features and improvements such a device would have.

Will it be something of a Switch Pro, with a better screen? Or will it be a more handheld-first device to replace the 3DS? Not even the Journal knew, but its reporting on Nintendo’s projects has been solid over the years, so it’s very likely that some kind of refresh will hit in 2019.

SWEET BABY JESUS THIS IS SO CUTE (Screenshot: Nintendo)

Currently, Nintendo has attached 2019 release dates to New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, Animal Crossing, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Yoshi’s Crafted World, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Daemon X Machina, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, and of course the next core Pokémon game.

Bayonetta 3 and Metroid Prime 4 don’t have release dates yet, but either or both could make it into 2019. And with Nintendo of America’s top exec all but confirming that we’ll see games from more of Nintendo’s classic consoles arrive on Switch Online’s library, hopefully that’ll also happen sooner rather than later.

We’d love to start playing Super NES, Nintendo 64, and (dare we dream?) Game Boy games on our Switches.

Even though Switch is succeeding with core gamers, Nintendo has yet to land a Switch version of the casual-friendly, money-making megahits it had with Wii Fit or Wii Music. There’s a lot of money in those casual gamers, so look for Nintendo to throw a few more lines into that deep blue ocean in 2019.

However that fishing expedition turns out, Nintendo’s 2019 lineup doesn’t seem like it’ll leave anyone with much to complain about.


Comments

    What the heck is Retro working on????

      Also Pikmin 4 is sure to show up at some point since it's been 'almost done' for years.

        That's what they said about pikmin 3.

          I don't recall ever hearing that. Pikmin 4 has been 'almost done' since the Wii U.

            It came out 9 years after pikmin 2 and skipped an entire console generation (which happened to be the best RTS platform). It was confirmed to be in development in 2008, you better believe people were asking questions about it!

            Pikmin 4 is just par-for-course. :p

    So far its just a Mario Odyssey machine for me. Already had Zelda on Wii U and indie games are so much cheaper on pc.

    You mention that the second year has been a bit lacklustre with some Wii U ports, but that it was tough to beat a year that gave us Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart.

    I just be missing something. As they were Wii U ports.

    My Switch is getting more use, but I still have issues with how compromised many games feel, especially if they have a PC\Other console port.

    What, no virtual console at all now? Thank god I didn't sell my wii u. I have so many great snes titles on it.

    And whilst you might argue that an all you can eat buffet of NES titles is better, you'd be wrong. NES games are pretty hard to love, even for those of us who grew up in the era.

    Haven't bought a Switch yet. Probably won't until a cheaper hardware revision becomes available. The thing that pisses me off the most is Nintendo's arrogant price maintenance. And people complained about the Vita memory card prices. Fucking Nintendo and its $70 games that never go down in price*

    * and I don't mean the odd sale where you can get $20 off an $80 copy of Skyrim (a port of a 7 year old game)

    When the Switch burst onto the scene in 2017, it could seemingly do no wrong.

    orly?

    Flimsy stand; literally not working joy cons; terrible joy con tactile-ness; insane costs; lack of storage; a stand that scratched the screen; cheap build quality; zero games ...?

    This week, Nintendo is releasing a first-party LAN adaptor, which Smash director Masahiro Sakurai suggested for Smash Ultimate fans—many of whom are frustrated by lag in their online matches. It’s a steep $49.95

    $50 for a USB (probably 2.0) LAN adaptor? Pretty sure even Apple doesn't charge that much. And why is LAN adaptor required? Is the wifi performance faulty? Every other console and laptop can play via wifi no problems?

    And their online sucks, surprise?

    2018

    We have Mario open-world refresh, Smash refresh, some cool niche stuff like Labo and Snipperclips etc.

    The pricing is:
    RRP$499 Switch - deals $315-380
    RRP$299 Xbone S - deals $200
    RRP$400 PS4 - deals $250

    The competition has bluray/UHD players, 4K output for media, and 960-1080p renders for most games.

    Switch, if used as a traditional console, requires $50+ of SD card, $100 of Pro controller. So we're talking best-case $470 for a Switch, vs $200 for Xbone.

    ***

    The state of the Switch in 2018 is - it's good if you want portable console, and you are willing to pay any premium for anything Nintendo churns out.

    If you just want to play some Nintendo games on your second platform, you're paying out the butt, and having a very mediocre experience.

      Comparing costs is unfair taking into account that the other two consoles have a few years (and hardware revisions) on them. Also, seriously, what are you going to play in the Xbone? Every game that is worth playing either plays better in PC or PS4, or is exclusive to PS4/Switch.

        Plays better on PS4? Wut? The X1X is definitely the superior experience when it comes to multiplatform titles. A full 30% performance uplift can't exactly be negated, and is the difference between doing 4k\30 in RDR2 99% of the time, and doing 4k dropping down in res and fps most of the time.

        And no, its fair to compare costs. The hardware powering the Switch has existed since 2014. The Switch costs what it does as Nintendo has always ensured it makes money on every console sale, rather than the much smaller profit margins Sony & Microsoft are content with.

    When I saw the pic halfway down I just got this sudden urge to cry out in a Homer voice :
    Hey! Get a load of the ginger!
    I'm sorry im sure he's lovely but the people they get for their promos are always so rosey looking and he's literally got like rosy cheeks too

    Double Post. Please delete.

    Last edited 15/12/18 7:31 am

    Also, Atmosphere NX was released. A big year for homebrew!

    So it goes with most new game consoles.

    Exactly. Everyone got caught in the hype train. Of course the 2nd year mostly sucked, because this is what happens every time Ninty release a console. Everything aside from the obligatory rehashes of Mario/Zelda/Smash/Mario Kart/Mario Party/Pokemon/etc is a waste of time. AAA ports are better played on actual consoles like the PS4, Xbox or PC, and indie games either release multiplatform as well, or are gimmicky shit.

    The problem Nintendo ALWAYS has with it's consoles is it tries to break the boundaries by making consoles with stupid as shit controller designs. Sony has had the same controller for nigh on 25 years. It works. Xbox has had the same controller design for 15 years. It also works. PC gamers use Xbox controllers because they are so good. The Xbox elite controller is lauded has one of the best ever controllers. Why do you think that is? Because they fit most hands, they are easy to use, they are very similar so you can transition between consoles, and they have enough buttons to do pretty much anything except hardcore MMO/RTS. Hell, if you're even half serious playing Smash, you plug a gamecube controller in or use a pro controller. WTF are you doing Nintendo. Nintendo are then really really good at making games that fit their hardware. Other companies are not, because they dont want to invest the time. They make what fits the lowest common denominator, and that's whatever control scheme fits with the other consoles. So all the "innovation" that Ninty are putting in goes to waste because it literally is a waste of time.

    As for the Ninty games. What do we have? Breath of the Wild that was supposed to come out on the Wii U but eventually got pushed to the Switch. Good game. Mario Odyssey is the same core Mario game, just in New York for some reason. Pass. Mario Party. Standard bullshit board game game. Hard pass. Mario Tennis. Massive online issues when it first came out, overly bullshit cheese gameplay which is standard for that series. Pass. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Port of Wii U game with some minor extras. Lazy. Pass. Pokemon Lets Go. Pokemon easy mode with that garbage Pokemon Go catching mechanic. Seriously you can play this game blindfolded. Hard Pass. Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Amalgamation of all Smash games in one. Excellent.

    So that's 1-2 games worth it for a $500 console? Not to mention their PAID online service sucks just as much as always, but now it's not free. Labo is just as I predicted, an absolute money grab. Wow, yay lets spend 1 minute putting these pre-cut shapes together, then lets play this mind numbing game for 1 extra minute before it gets boring. How much did you say? $120? Wow what a bargain.

    And yet, because Smash is looking so good, and the next core Pokemon game is coming, I'm still thinking about getting one...sigh...

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now