Talk of the Nintendo Switch Pro is flaring up again with several rumors and leaks suggesting that a new model of the popular home console/handheld hybrid is due for release this year.
This has of course got plenty of gamers almost twitching with anticipation, and the same is very much true at Tom’s Guide towers. We've even put together a rundown of all the features we want in an upgraded Nintendo Switch.
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- 30 best Nintendo Switch games in 2021
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However, while I was considering if I should start my Switch Pro saving pool now or wait till the summer, I realized something: I really don’t play my regular Switch very often.
It’s not because I don’t think the Nintendo Switch is a great piece of hardware. It most certainly is, and during 2019 when I was regularly traveling for extended periods of time it was a lifesaver on lengthy train journeys. However, the Switch has one fatal flaw: there’s very little compelling software to actually play on it.
False first impression
Perhaps the reason that Nintendo’s release schedule seems so lackluster year after year is because the console came out of the gate swinging.
The console launched in March 2017 alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which for my money is still the best Switch game currently available. In the following nine months we got heavy hitting titles like Mario Kart 8: Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and Mario Odyssey.
The Nintendo Switch also has great second-party exclusives like Mario + Rabbits: Kingdom Battle and Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Plus we also got ARMS, which is maybe better left unmentioned.
In the three subsequent years, Nintendo hasn’t put out a yearly lineup even close to that level of quality. Sure, there have been big-hitting titles like Super Smash Bros: Ultimate in 2018 and Animal Crossing: New Horizons in 2020 but since 2017 the trend has become one big title a year at best.
The Switch’s exclusive line-up has been supplemented with smaller secondary titles in established franchises such as Mario Tennis, Kirby, Luigi’s Mansion, and Mario Party. These have ranged from fun time-wasters to half-cooked disappointments, but at best are mid-tier titles not the heavy hitters Switch player crave.
While Nintendo has always offered a new exclusive for the Switch every three or so months, the flagship titles that truly dominated the gaming conversation and become system sellers in their own right can be counted on one hand.
The problem was most apparent last month when Nintendo held its first Direct online event for 18 months. The biggest titles showcased were another Mario sports title (this time Mario Golf) and a port of a ten-year-old Zelda game that received mixed reviews the first time around. Hardly an unmissable line-up for 2021.
Such a barren release schedule has become the norm rather than the exception for the Nintendo Switch, and 2021 looks very much set to follow the trend.
The problem with Switch ports
Nintendo has attempted to plug the gaps in its exclusive schedule with ports of games that originally released on the much-maligned Wii U.
While this strategy obviously doesn’t cater to the people who actually bought that console, considering the Wii U sold 13.5 million consoles compared to the Nintendo Switch’s 74 million units to date, to the majority of Switch owners these ports are for all intents and purposes brand new games.
However, the problem is these ports are of titles that range from 5 to 9 years old. A few have aged gracefully, such as Mario Kart 8, but several have been surpassed by their predecessors which are native to the Switch.
Take Super Mario 3D World, which released on the Wii U back in 2013 and was ported to the Switch earlier this year. All the improvements that 2017’s Mario Odyssey made to the Mario formula, such as the long-overdue removal of the life system, have been rollback as you’re actually playing a game that released before Odyssey.
The same will be true of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, which is a Switch port of a game that released on the original Wii. Players coming from Breath of the Wild might technically have a new Zelda game to play this July, but with none of the improvements offered in Link’s latest adventure. It’s a backward step.
A supplemental console
Of course, it’s not all about the exclusives. The Switch has after all seen significantly stronger third-party support than its blotched predecessor.
But, again, there are problems here. Due to tech limitations the Switch only gets a very small selection of current AAA releases, and even when the console does get new releases like in the case of Doom Eternal or Immortals: Feynix Rising the Switch port is always vastly inferior to the PlayStation/Xbox/PC version.
This has lead to much of the Switch’s third-party support being made up of ports of older games from the PS3/360 era or indie titles, many of which are excellent in fairness — games like Hades, Cuphead, and Dead Cells feel tailor-made for the Switch. But would a Switch Pro enhance these games? Doubtful.
This has to lead to the Switch becoming something of a supplemental console for me. Perfect to pick up for a few weeks on the odd occasion a flagship exclusive releases and then back into its case it goes for months at a time.
Considering this, justifying investing in a Nintendo Switch Pro which will likely cost well north of $300 isn’t the most appealing proposition. As much as I want the Switch Pro to have a longer battery, a better display, and better designed Joy-Cons, before I can consider a purchase Nintendo needs to bring the big guns in terms of games first.
Of course, if Nintendo released the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild exclusively on the Switch Pro, I’ll throw down whatever money Nintendo is asking without hesitation.
I suppose that’s ultimately why Nintendo knows it can rest on its laurels. When your flagship exclusives are so good, you only need to release a couple a generation to hook in suckers like me.
Your assessment that after the first year the Switch hasn't lived up to its initial promise is something that virtually no one else in the world, professionally, has stated. It's largely agreed upon in the gaming community that the Switch library has exploded. Literal numbers prove that and a quick look at sales and reviews will show how popular and successful many of those games are. The first year was a good year, with Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, Xenoblade 2, Splatoon 2, etc. No doubt. But to marginalize entire years falsely claiming they only had one big title? Insane.
Just a quick overview of Nintendo published titles by year:
2018 - Bayonetta/Bayonetta 2, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Dragon Quest Builders, Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition, Mario Tennis Aces, Kirby Star Allies, Nintendo Labo (and all associated products), Octopath Traveler, Super Mario Party, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Sushi Striker, Xenoblade: Torna The Golden Country, Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu/Eevee.
Astral Chain, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Boxboy + Boxgirl!, Daemon X Machina, Fitness Boxing, Luigi's Mansion 3, The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Yoshi's Crafted World, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, Dragon Quest Builders 2, Dragon Quest XI S, New Super Mario Bros. I Deluxe, Mario Maker 2, Tetris 99, The Stretchers, Pokemon Sword and Shield, Ring Fit Adventure.
As a quick aside.. I don't know in what reality you couldn't call 2019 an insane year. Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Luigi's Mansion 3, Astral Chain, both Dragon Quest games, Super Mario Maker 2, Link's Awakening.. these are some of the best games of the last decade on any console. Then you top that off with the insanely popular Pokemon and you have one of the biggest years in gaming console history and that's not even looking at DLC, expansions, third party published titles, indie games, etc.
2020 - Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Animal Crossing New Horizons, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Clubhouse Games, Xenoblade Chronicles remake, Paper Mario: The Origami King, inclusion of SNES games on NSO, Pikmin 3 Deluxe, Super Mario 3D All*Stars, Good Job!, Part Time UFO, Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, both massive Pokemon expansions, Super Mario 35, Fire Emblem NES, Fitness Boxing 2.
As another aside, this isn't all the titles.. I've certainly forgotten at least a half a dozen or more.. and the 2020 entries were in the midst of a massive global pandemic that ravaged the development cycles of Nintendo's products and yet they still put out a ton of great games and kept a solid release schedule.
By all means, don't buy a Nintendo Switch Pro (a system, by the way, that is no more than a rumor anyway). But there's no way anyone can legitimately argue that the Switch doesn't have games to play. Many of which are big, huge titles. And with a 2021 looking to be one of the biggest years yet for the system, if not the biggest, there are more games to play that anyone person could have time to play them. Not liking a particular game (Luigi's Mansion 3, Xenoblade, Paper Mario) doesn't make it smaller or less of a big hit. One look at the top 20 best selling games will tell you as much.