The year is drawing to a close, and 2021 was another interesting period in the broader gaming industry and in the world of Nintendo. There were big online events, fantastic games, controversies and of course some enjoyable and humorous times. It was also, by most metrics and with consideration for the various challenges it faced, a strong year for Nintendo.
Before we all fell into festive routines of eating too much cheese and sleeping a lot, a few of our team got together for a virtual chat — along with copious notes — to talk about the year. It was rather busy, as it turned out...
So, here we have editor Gavin Lane, deputy editor Tom Whitehead and staff writer / crab news Thursdays founder Kate Gray talking over 2021 in the Nintendo Life. Let's get to it...
Kate Gray: I barely remember January at this point, but there was apparently a mass DMCA shut down – a field day for Nintendo, no doubt, with 379(?!) fan games removed!
Gavin Lane: I definitely have a crystal clear memory of this... *frantically checks notes
Thomas Whitehead: Were they awful flash games, or proper good fan games?
KG: I’m not sure we listed them, although Ryan’s article specifically names one called ‘Five Nights at Yoshi’s”...
TW: That answers that then… Nintendo acquired Next Level Games though, that was very significant.
GL: Definitely. Nintendo takes its sweet time testing out partner studios, that's for sure. Next Level has definitely earned its place in the ‘family’.
KG: And we know that Nintendo is enlarging their Tokyo offices, so I bet they aren’t done with acquisitions yet…
GL: It was a relatively quiet start to the year. I remember a lot of whispers worrying about Nintendo’s relatively blank slate for the year ahead, although looking back now I hope 2021 was the last year where everyone’s worrying that there’s nothing in the pipeline. It’s just the strategy Nintendo goes with for revealing games! Seems to work.
Nintendo takes its sweet time testing out partner studios, that's for sure. Next Level has definitely earned its place in the ‘family’.
TW: We should also remember that you-know-what slowed projects down a lot in 2020, so 2021 started relatively quietly. It says a lot that the biggest release of the month was the Monster Hunter Rise demo, which was hugely popular.
KG: That’s what I was thinking, too – 2021 marked the first full year after the start of you-know-what, and I think, combined with the post-Christmas news sleepiness, a lot of companies were probably trying to figure out their new strategies.
GL: I assume you both made a few million with GameStop stock, right?
TW: Of course, I just do this for fun while lounging around in my mansion like Bruce Wayne. It’s a good life.
KG: I just got my Reddit “year in review” and it told me I was one of the GameStop people. Which is just, frankly, untrue. Shall we move on to February, then?
GL: A 'GameStop person', eh!? Okay, let's move on.
GL: I played the Bowser bit pretty much exclusively. Good game.
TW: I replayed 3D World all-the-way but weirdly didn’t finish Bowser’s Fury. I’m aware that makes me a Mario failure. Really good though, even if Bowser’s Fury was the first Mario game in recent memory with iffy performance.
KG: Oh, and we got that February Nintendo Direct, too. Feels like we had a billion Directs this year. I’m not complaining. Or maybe I am, actually. So many news stories, jammed into so little time…
TW: I think it was the first ‘real’ one in ages? It was pretty epic, to be fair, a lot of massive reveals.
GL: Definitely plenty to chew on after January. We also got Bravely Default II, a huge RPG and therefore a game I never got around to despite the desire. That’s the story of my 2021 to be honest, and probably why I enjoyed Bowser’s Fury so much — a game I had a hope in hell of actually finishing! Either of you catch Bravely Default?
TW: Not really, the demo didn’t grab me so I skipped it. Demos are not always a good idea.
KG: I tried to get into the first one, but I read a ton of reviews about some annoying part in the middle, so I gave up… I’m also not super hot on JRPGs. I mean, I enjoy some, but the battle system always bores me. SORRY.
GL: Ha, I just can’t be doing with grind right now, or those ‘annoying parts in the middle’, you know? Don’t have the time for ‘em. Anyhoo, moving into March, Switch turned 4, Super Nintendo World opened and we got Monster Hunter Rise AND Balan Wonderland. No, Wonderworld. Damn, always do that.
TW: Poor old Balan.
KG: Tom, you’re the one that wrote “the nightmare began” in these notes, correct?
TW: Indeed! It became trendy to beat it up, bringing to mind the classic Simpsons scene. “STOP, HE'S ALREADY DEAD”!
KG: I didn’t engage with it too much beyond watching a video or two to see what all the fuss was about. I do get the feeling that the internet really loves to pick on a single target, and you just have to hope and pray that it’s never you.
GL: I think the video chaps put the most time into Balan – I didn’t touch it either. In fact, my expectations would be so spectacularly low, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that I might scrape some enjoyment from it.
TW: Monster Hunter Rise was brilliant, at least, and I think the Switch release benefited from the good work of Monster Hunter World making the IP more ‘mainstream’. It was nice to see it so well received.
I can’t believe I secured an interview with THE Luigi. He’s a lot shorter in real life, you know.
GL: That was another game that I really wished I could devote a few dozen hours to.
KG: I just hope we’re not going to gloss over the fact that Mario died in March. Remember that? Remember all the articles about Mario dying??
TW: Silly that Nintendo did that though, the false scarcity thing is never an admirable tactic.
GL: We would have never got your Back Page interview with Luigi if ol’ red cap hadn’t passed on, Kate!
KG: I can’t believe I secured an interview with the Luigi. He’s a lot shorter in real life, you know.
TW: Crikey, and he’s the tall brother.
KG: Anyway, March was a lot of anniversaries (the Switch and Breath of the Wild turned 4) and Mario finally popped his clogs. April, on the other hand…
TW: We had Switch Firmware 12.0, which sounded exciting because of the round number but did nothing for us gamers. Nintendo can be cheeky sometimes.
GL: I think Pokémon fans may be irritated that you’re burying the lede with a Switch Firmware update when there was a new Pokémon Snap, Tom. Snappily titled New Pokémon Snap.
TW: Don’t forget that Indie World had those plucky underdogs, Konami, as well.
KG: I think The Great Ace Attorney announcement was one of my 2021 highlights. Reviewing two games was less of a highlight… especially because I had to play the two Famicom Detective Club games at the same time. That was a hectic couple of murder-mystery months. But I’m getting ahead of myself!
TW: May had all sorts of fun. People going mad over a Waluigi render, Elon Musk being a plonker as Wario on SNL, and Epic v Apple in the courts. It was a weird time.
KG: I still have nightmares about trying to decipher the Epic vs Apple trial. Between that, and having to do an Economics 101 class to understand the GameStop stocks debacle, I think I never want to look at complicated paperwork again.
GL: Getting to see some of the figures devs were earning on Epic Game Store was fascinating.
KG: I was just thinking about that the other day! There were some surprises on there – games that really ought to have charged Epic way, way more. I hope they know their value now!
And on the “Nintendo loves doing takedowns” side of things, they won a $2 million lawsuit against a ROM website, too. Which will come back to bite them when we get to the Nintendo 64 Emulation Fiasco…
GL: Yeah, I’d imagine it was a big wake up call for lots of smaller devs and a handy way to gauge what they should be charging. It’d be nice if more people got their hands on some of those Fortnite bucks.
TW: May also brought Nintendo’s financials and massive profits from 2020, which was no surprise. Pre-E3 hype was also building, along with all that Switch Pro malarkey. June was pretty frantic though, with more virtual showcases than I’ve had hot dinners.
KG: Another Direct. Nintendo, you’re spoiling us. And Game Builder Garage! I’d totally forgotten about that – I was so excited about it at the time.
TW: I always had to double check its name though, weirdly.
GL: It’s one of those games that likely went under a lot of people’s radars, which is a bit of a shame. I’ll be interested to see sales numbers on it next year.
KG: And on the “Nintendo loves doing takedowns” side of things, they won a $2 million lawsuit against a ROM website, too. Which will come back to bite them when we get to the Nintendo 64 Emulation Fiasco…
TW: I remember it prompted some features on game conservation, ROMs etc, which always leads to civilised debate. Always. In terms of E3, we should say that 2021’s show will always be remembered for Metroid Dread. That was a wonderful moment.
GL: Nintendo’s entire year would have a very different complexion without Dread. It’s been a constant source of excitement from the moment it was revealed. No offence to smaller games – the Miitopias, the Mario Parties, etc – but when you’ve got A NEW METROID on the cards, it draws all the attention.
KG: Remember, as well, that the Switch Pro rumours were hotter-than-hot just before E3, and then… nothing. My hunch is that Nintendo was going to announce the OLED at E3, and pulled back knowing how much it would disappoint. We eventually got the announcement in July, free of E3 hype.
TW: Definitely. The white Joy-Con are basically E.M.M.I. colour, it seems likely that at some point they were supposed to be announced together, but the internet spoiled it. Are you happy internet?
GL: Speaking of a happy internet: Bidoof Day. That was a thing.
TW: Erm, yes, it was a thing.
TW: Skyward Sword HD came out! I really enjoyed playing through that again, waving my arm around with increased Joy-Con accuracy. A lot of people complained about the ‘upgrade’ and price, but I was fine with it and had a jolly time.
GL: Yeah, I’ve got an awful lot of time for Skyward Sword. It brings back good memories, despite its flaws.
KG: This is starting to become my motto, but I haven’t got around to Skyward Sword HD yet… I’m planning to force my partner to play it, but first he has to finish the Ace Attorney series, which I’m also forcing him to play. I am a fun person!!!
TW: I’m sure you’re not forcing them to play… Steam Deck was also announced
KG: Remember when the Kinect killed the Wii? [smiles]
GL: And then Switch OLED got announced and killed everyone’s Switch Pro expectations amirite?
KG: It mollified us enough that I don’t think we’ve written another Switch Pro article since, let me see… Ah. We apparently reported multiple Switch Pro things in December alone. Never mind then.
TW: And thus the rumours will go on until the Switch successor arrives, and the 'insiders' will say Aha, I was right you fools, even if I went on about it for 3 years!
I foresee a Mario 128-style ongoing affair where Switch ‘2’ will appear, but everyone will still be wondering where the real Switch Pro is.
GL: I foresee a Mario 128-style ongoing affair where Switch ‘2’ will appear, but everyone will still be wondering where the real Switch Pro is.
KG: Speaking of Mario, 2021 has so far been a very Mario-light year, other than Super Mario 3D World’s re-release, and Mario’s death.
GL: I mean, he died. He’s had himself a Mario Party recently. He’s doing pretty well, all things considered.
TW: And if I’ve read the trends correctly on social media, the world’s most liked actor will portray him in film, so not a bad year really.
KG: Tom, that’s September! We haven’t done August yet! And August was good – we got the announcement of Idris Elba as Knuckles in the Sonic sequel movie, plus the promise that he definitely, 100% would not be sexy. Which later turned out to be a lie. And now we’re all coming to terms with our feelings for Knuckles.
TW: (Darn I’m getting my months mixed up) August also had a fantastic Indie World. Genuinely one of the best they’ve done.
GL: It was a belter. August also satisfied my feelgood Brendan Fraser content quota, and I got to converse with a whole bunch of VGM legends, too. And the weather was pleasant. Great month, August. Big fan.
KG: Although I was massively disappointed to see that Reggie Fils-Aimé wrote a book, and didn’t call it “My Booky Is Ready”.
TW: Maybe we should move on… to September’s Direct, which had Kirby x Nier in it!
KG: Nier: Kirbtomata of the Wild.
GL: It was nice to see that Bayonetta 3 is progressing well, too.
TW: Yeah, it’s been progressing well for over 4 years, to be fair.
KG: And Splatoon 3 earlier in the year. Big year for 3s, innit?
TW: Also, Nintendo really won over the fans with the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pa(c)k.
KG: And by “won over” you mean “Nintendo cracks down on emulation for years only to completely bork it when they get a turn”, right?
TW: Yep, pretty much! That said, if you play a lot of Animal Crossing it’s a good deal. Oh God I shouldn’t have said that, the comments…
I got a brand new N64 controller and Banjo-Kazooie confirmed for Switch. The Expansion Pack is therefore Nintendo’s greatest triumph of 2021.
GL: Hey. Look. I got a brand new N64 controller and Banjo-Kazooie confirmed for Switch. The Expansion Pack is therefore Nintendo’s greatest triumph of 2021.
KG: I still think it’s brilliant. I mean, it would have been nice to have the upscaling or whatever they used work better, but I suppose it’s more aimed at casual players. If I wanted to play N64 games The Right Way, I could boot up my actual N64 which is plugged into an actual CRT…
TW: Also it was the month that gave us Bluetooth headphone support, so it was a good time.
GL: October was a big’un. Switch OLED, Metroid Dread, Froggy chair.
KG: AAA Clock…
TW: It was also the month of a million Chris Pratt memes, which stopped being funny to be honest, not much originality on social media.
KG: And, more seriously, it was when the Activision Blizzard stuff was really being hashed out on social media. The allegations of harassment and discrimination, the lawsuit filed by the state of California, Overwatch’s McCree being renamed… a lot of things were going on, and they’re still nowhere near sorted as we write this.
TW: Personally, I think the most important thing with Activision Blizzard is that it is in the courts. Social media can be important for awareness, but the vital thing is tangible action, consequences and so on. That’s the key change in my view.
GL: It’s depressing that, after all the allegations and revelations that have come out, it takes the stock price being affected for any real change to get discussed at the highest levels. The whole thing has cast such a shadow on the industry this year.
KG: And there was a lot of talk about “proper crediting”, too, as MercurySteam – the Metroid Dread studio – was accused of not properly attributing work to its former staff members, plus allegations of poor management within the studio.
TW: Yeah, I think 2021 was a year when the industry has had to face the fact a lot of its ways are at times juvenile and amateurish, and at worst obviously very damaging. With the credits thing, I just think studios need to get serious and take ego out of it. Giving people a line in credits is not much to ask for, really, it’s craziness.
KG: I hope this is the beginning of The Reckoning! Treat your employees well!!!
TW: That Smash Sora reveal was an incredible moment really, the buzz was a bit crazy, in a good way. It was a lot of fun, and a credit to what Sakurai-san and his team built over the course of 3 years with Smash Ultimate.
KG: And since I’m the resident Minecraft fan here at NL, I shall highlight the 1.18 update release date, and the announcement of the 1.19 “The Wild” update during the Minecraft Live. Mojang have been really, really hard at work, and I could tell how disappointed they were to have to push things back… again. But 1.18 is fantastic, truly.
TW: Into November, it was pretty amazing for Animal Crossing fans. If you were just getting the free update or the paid expansion as well, it was a fantastic update. I think it gave the game new life.
I’ve been playing Pikmin Bloom semi-regularly ever since reviewing it and it’s just beautifully non-taxing and chill. Rare in a ‘game’ these days.
KG: I played 182 hours of Animal Crossing: New Horizons this year, and that was almost entirely during November. I wrote a lot of guides. I vaguely remember other things happening, like the GTA Trilogy, the Diamond and Pearl remakes, and Pikmin Bloom… but I was in a little Animal Crossing cage of my own design. My own Happy Home design.
GL: The best thing I can saw about the Animal Crossing update was that it brought me back to a game that I thought was over, and I haven’t even touched the DLC yet. On another topic, I know it’s hardly the biggest release of the year, but I would like to give a shout out to Pikmin Bloom. I’ve been playing it semi-regularly ever since reviewing it and it’s just beautifully non-taxing and chill. Rare in a ‘game’ these days, when everything is trying to tempt you back with meters and FOMO and other rubbish.
TW: I also enjoyed the dunking on GTA Trilogy, I’ll admit, because good grief it actually deserved it. I know that’s a bit contradictory to my Balan comments earlier, but I can’t help it. We should shout out Shin Megami Tensei V, too, which was well received and broke a franchise record for its US launch.
GL: Did either of you get the Zelda Game & Watch?
TW: Santa is giving me one apparently.
KG: Nah. Too much stuff on my backlog…
GL: Shh, we don’t mention that word here! Heading into December, The Game Awards happened and brought practically nothing for Nintendo fans.
KG: Luckily, we had another Indie World! Does that make it three this year? It was pretty fantastic, with a surprise shadow-drop for Chicory: A Colorful Tale (one of my GOTYs, as well as a lot of other people’s GOTY, too) and a date for OMORI, which a lot of people have been waiting for.
TW: I didn’t think it was as strong as the other Indie Worlds this year, personally, but the last 5 minutes definitely helped to lift it up. A few too many games not due until Summer or later, which surprised me slightly. Overall though, really nice to see Nintendo continue support for those shows.
GL: Masayuki Uemura’s passing had me re-reading a bunch of interviews he had given in the last years of his life. He really has left a huge mark on the industry through his NES and SNES console designs and it was heartening to remember how enthusiastic he was about his work. A true legend in the world of Nintendo and a sad day.
TW: I think articles like yours and others were good in helping more people understand his impact, as he wasn’t necessarily as well known as other key figures in Nintendo history.
KG: We also got the chance to see our Year In Review stats – I guess this is a thing now, since Spotify, Twitch, and now the Switch are all summing up our year in graphs and stats. I like it, but I wish Nintendo’s stats were a bit more in-depth – I want to know which games it thinks I should play (that I already own), or how my stats changed from last year, for example.
TW: Surprisingly I think the EU page was a bit better to be honest, had a few more comparisons etc. I was amazed to see The Great Ace Attorney 2nd in my list, that’s a lot of reading and OBJECTIONS!
Masayuki Uemura left a huge mark on the industry through his NES and SNES console designs and it was heartening to remember how enthusiastic he was about his work.
KG: Ace Attorney wasn’t even in my top three, shockingly. Mine were Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Story of Seasons: Friends of Mineral Town, and Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town. I didn’t even play the first Story of Seasons game for a review! That was all free time!!
GL: And that about brings us up to date. I’m sure there’ll be some megaton announced between the time of writing and the time of publication. Is it time to announce the Nintendo Life NFT Program yet?
TW: We need to get Peter Molyneux to check it over first.
GL: Nintendo Life: The new kids on the blockchain!... I need to make it explicit that this is a gag, don’t I?
TW: Indeed. But you got your ‘90s joke in there, so we can all be happy!
GL: I only have ‘90s jokes, my friend. Any final thoughts?
KG: If Nintendo can pull off multiple Directs and Indie World showcases during a pandemic year, I’m a little frightened.
TW: True! I think considering the circumstances it was a fantastic year in gaming, and it’s been a wonderful hobby to have once again. So I tip my hat to all the devs that somehow finished and brought us a lot of marvellous games.
GL: I agree. I was bracing myself for a quiet year, but it’s been a strong one for Nintendo. Room for improvement, of course, but my personal plan is to head into 2022 with similarly tempered expectations and maybe, just maybe we’ll see something similar. The real question is… will BOTW2 actually make it out next year?
TW: Oof, it’d be amazing if it did, but… I dunno, I smell a delay!
KG: “Holiday” always sounds very slippy to me. Like it’s clinging on to the last vestiges of the year and hoping not to lose grip. It sure looked nice, but it’s so hard to tell what’s going on behind-the-scenes…
GL: March 2023 seems like a safe bet to me, but we’ll see. That about wraps things up! Thank you both, and a Happy New Year to all that read this (and even those that don't, we're nice like that).
That was our pre-Holidays chat about the last year. Be sure to share your thoughts and memories of 2021 in the world of Nintendo and gaming down in the comments, and check out the 2022 Switch games we're most looking forward to.