Oh Nintendo, what a weird and wonderful company you are.
Having followed the all-conquering Wii with the Wii U, Nintendo’s worst-performing console of all time, many thought the Japanese giant’s time as hardware maker was coming to an end. But only a fool would write off Nintendo, whose answer to critics was something completely new; a console/handheld hybrid that, of course, many immediately dismissed as underpowered and outdated.
Fast forward six years and the Switch is now the third-best-selling console of all time, capturing the attention of gamers and non-gamers worldwide since its launch in 2017. And although it seems like a simple idea now — a console you can detach from the TV and play on the go, or a handheld you can plug into the TV — it had never really been done before in such a user-friendly way.
Its main selling point may be obvious — the best of Nintendo’s console and handheld knowledge, combined — but the approach has brought more benefits than simply dual-play options for players.
Nintendo had long split development resources between its traditional console and handheld lines. The company would produce a handful of classics for each, sure, but since unifying the two divisions into one, its world-class developers have been able to focus on just one piece of hardware instead of two. In turn, they’ve blessed us with one of the most impressive and varied first-party libraries ever seen on a single platform.
After just six years, the Switch is now home to arguably the best Zelda, the best Mario, the best Mario Kart and the best Smash Bros games ever made. No mean feat. As well as best-in-class remasters of the Wii U’s greatest hits, and — most recently — Metroid Prime, arguably the best Metroid game ever made. All of this alongside what is quite probably the biggest and best selection of indie games out there, and a steadily improving retro offering courtesy of the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pak service.
Of course, there’s no overlooking the fact that the Switch also found itself in the right place at the right time. For many people, the console was an invaluable source of comfort and entertainment during the pandemic. With Animal Crossing in particular becoming the unofficial game of lockdown — its mix of routine and light-busywork providing a sense of calm and structure for millions during a time that was worryingly devoid of either.
Those who have grown up with Nintendo’s console/hybrid handheld will take those memories with them into adulthood. And those days spent in lockdown with Zelda and Animal Crossing for company ensure the console is likely to be as fondly remembered in years to come as the SNES and Game Boy are today.
From single to multiplayer, first-party to third-party, triple-A to indie, TV to portable, casual to hardcore and modern to retro, no console has offered this level of variety and quality in such a breezily comprehensive package.
If there’s any argument as to whether Switch is the best console of all time, its successor — if Nintendo plays it smart — should well and truly put that argument to bed. Assuming Nintendo’s next console is backwards compatible with the current Switch library, and the Nintendo Switch Online membership carries over, it’ll launch with no less than the greatest library of modern, retro and indie games ever seen on console.
It’s a tantalising prospect, and seems like the obvious next step, but if history has taught us anything — from N64 to GameCube to Wii to Wii U to Switch — it’s that the only thing predictable about Nintendo is its unpredictability.
There’s no telling what the Japanese giant’s mad scientists will come up with next. But man, gaming would be a hell of a lot duller without them.