Zelda's Fall
Image: Nintendo

Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've been chewing over. Today, Lowell ruminates on the perfect end to a glorious Nintendo generation...

When looking back at a console’s lifespan, there’s always a game that heralded The End before the successor arrived. A swan song game; one final impactful release before unplugging the AV/HDMI cables, wrapping up the controllers, and packing up the console itself to make room for the next.

Since the GameCube, Zelda games have fulfilled this role for Nintendo generations. The colourful cubical console had a clear finale when Twilight Princess released for both it and the Wii around the same time. For the Wii itself, Skyward Sword was its farewell title, even though it came out a year before the Wii U — no game in that timespan surpassed Link's Wiimote wagging adventure. The Wii U barely had a pulse in a commercial sense, but it concluded on one of the highest notes imaginable: a 'lesser' but completely playable version of Breath of the Wild.

Now, as we’ve passed the Nintendo Switch’s sixth birthday, if The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom isn’t exactly the handheld hybrid’s swan song, it really should be – and for more reasons than to keep this Triforce-themed cycle going.

When I look back on the Switch years from now, I want all those fond memories bookended by two of the best Zelda games ever made, not a string of increasingly technically flawed titles and a trickle of mediocre releases as we wait for the next generation. Of course, I realise that the Switch isn’t dead. It is, after all, Nintendo’s best-selling console after the mighty DS and one I consider to be the best ever made, despite how far it lags behind its contemporaries in terms of raw power. With such a massive install base, I have a hunch that other developers will continue to squeeze Lon Lon Milk out of it for a few more years. I mean, Ubisoft released a Just Dance game as recently as 2020 for the Wii. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got Just Dance 2027 on Switch.

I hope Nintendo, however, calls it a day for publishing and development sooner rather than later, ending once again on a Zelda-themed high note. Switch sales are in decline. Despite the massive hype around Tears of the Kingdom, which will surely do wonders for the company's FY2024 financials, Nintendo has had to revise its sales forecasts again after a disappointing 2022 holiday season, leading to a hardware sales decrease of 22.1% over the previous fiscal year. Gone are the days of the Switch’s dominance; as production capacity begins to meet demand for its home console competitors, the gap between Switch and the competition inevitably shrinks.

Arceus Landscape
Image: Nintendo

Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long, yet it’s not difficult to see why it’s happening now. I upgraded to a 4K monitor last year, and other than first-party games with superb art direction like Super Mario Odyssey, it’s increasingly difficult to jump from other platforms back to the Switch. Experiencing Horizon: Forbidden West’s dense, vivid take on a post-apocalyptic American West at the same time as Pokémon Legends: Arceus made the latter’s muddy aesthetic much more difficult to accept.

It isn’t just the big titles. Games made independently or from smaller studios suffer from increasing performance issues. I’ve reviewed some of them for Nintendo Life: the Switch’s hardware let down both Bramble The Mountain King and Afterimage, leading me to recommend playing otherwise great games elsewhere if possible.

Even Breath of the Wild – a launch title – dropped frames in Great Hyrule Forest like Mario dropping a baby penguin off a cliff. The Switch has, from the very beginning, been pushed to its limit by Nintendo, and Link’s new Ultrahand ability in Tears of the Kingdom seems to be another test for the system. Tears of the Kingdom is one of the Switch’s best-looking games as well as a technological marvel given the circumstances of its platform. It’s a bar that I don’t think any other upcoming title — certainly third-party games — can reach, and I can’t help but dream about how much better new, innovative ideas like the Ultrahand would run on more powerful hardware. I mean, certain areas of Breath of the Wild were left out because of the Wii U’s inability to cope. Have we missed out on incredible Nintendo treats this time thanks to the hardware?

That said, the sparser amount of must-own titles in recent months and perhaps for the rest of the year probably played a larger role in the Switch sales slump than the lagging technical performance. Many interested in Tears of the Kingdom likely already bought a Switch to play its predecessor, and I can’t see the upcoming first-party lineup moving the needle for prospective new Switch owners — not without some serious discounts.

July’s Pikmin 4, despite how excited I am for it, won't push hardware sales, nor does it have the same gravitas that would define the end of a console’s life. Metroid Prime 4 is prime (sorry) swan song material, yet all we have to show since its initial reveal is a logo, an apology, and years of ominous silence. And Pokémon Scarlet and Violet – The Hidden Treasure of Area Zero? With how disappointing the base game's performance was, the DLC threatens to leave behind a taste as bitter as a Sinistea.

Pikmin 4
Pikmin 4 is looking great, but it's not a console-closer — Image: Nintendo

Even if the next Nintendo Direct rolls around – likely not until September, though there’s a chance to see some reveals at Summer Games Fest – and Nintendo shows a full-blown Bowser’s Fury successor or actually gives us a firm look at Metroid Prime 4 to extend the Switch’s impressive run, that would be great, but it would also feel a little like Ubisoft wringing every last drop of Lon Lon Milk. I can only imagine that the scope of those games would benefit from the extra grunt of a heavily rumoured successor.

There’s a good chance – more than likely, I’d wager – that a few games will straddle both the Switch and the Super Switch HD Pro, much like past Zelda games have done, and that’s fine. Perhaps Samus can take on the cross-gen mantle from Link. The thought of playing the next lineup of Nintendo games on hardware that could output higher-res visuals and run at a standardised 60 FPS would make upgrading to play these hypothetical Nintendo games well worth it.

Regardless, it feels like it's time to move on from the Switch on the highest note possible. Tears of the Kingdom is a perfect swan song. I’m confident saying no later game will look better, be more imaginative, or run as well. As Alana said in her Tears of the Kingdom review:

Much like its predecessor, this is your playground for the next however many years to come, with a little sprinkling of that older Zelda fairy dust mixed into Breath of the Wild’s formula. It’s a glorious, triumphant sequel to one of the best video games of all time; absolute unfiltered bliss to lose yourself in for hundreds of hours. We can’t wait to see what the world will do with the game.

When we look back on Nintendo Switch one, two, ten years from now, I hope our memories of its last year will be of that awe of exploring above and below Hyrule. An honourable end for an incredible console, not a slow, drawn-out decline.

Switch & Lite
Image: Damien McFerran / Nintendo Life