When Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp was postponed earlier this year in response to current events in Ukraine, there was an interesting perspective that did the rounds. It meant a longer than normal gap between Nintendo retail titles, and we'd have to wait — gasp — for a few weeks to play Kirby and the Forgotten Land. Likewise with the delay of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 to 'Spring 2023'; as it stands we'll only have a new Pokémon generation to enjoy this Holiday season. Gosh, tough times, though of course Nintendo will have a Direct or two to come that'll likely fill even more gaps. We were disappointed to see Zelda pushed back to next year, but there's no shortage of other Switch games to occupy our twiddling thumbs.
We're in an extraordinary position in which Nintendo almost releases a retail game — often a major one — every month of the year. Of course we don't all buy or even want all of these titles, but the point is that the Switch has a consistent flow of high profile games throughout the year. It's been like this for most years of its lifecycle, albeit we had a few quieter moments during the peak lockdowns and disruption from the COVID-19 pandemic. Naturally, this doesn't even account for major third-party games and the steady stream of fascinating Indie / eShop titles, either.
Nintendo, it must be said, has always been equipped for this. Up to 2017 the company's core business model was to support two major pieces of hardware at once — a dedicated home console and a (typically) more successful handheld. In an under-performing generation, though, this became a problem — Nintendo grappled with this in the 3DS and Wii U era, in essence having to put the console on the backburner to focus on saving the portable. Those struggles, and the financial challenges it brought, would have been one of multiple factors that led the company to adopt the hybrid approach of Switch.
Unifying its development divisions and teams started as far back as 2013, and Nintendo also has numerous trusted partners and a small number of acquired studios to call upon. Over the next couple of months Next Level Games will bring us Mario Strikers: Battle League, while MonolithSoft has Xenoblade Chronicles 3 not far behind. Oh, and long-term partner Koei Tecmo is delivering Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes, too. There'll be multiple notable arrivals through Fall and Winter, as well.
Games like these, all of them exclusive titles and IPs, help keep the Switch in rude health despite all the arguments about its ageing tech. People say it's past its peak in sales, but that's stating the obvious — it's over five years old! Yet, as a fun fact, Switch is projected to sell more hardware units this year than PlayStation 5; the chip shortage is a major factor, but let's remember that the Switch is now in its sixth year as a 2015 tablet posing as a console. As always, Nintendo hardware is more than the sum of its parts.
as Nintendo fans we often go through the line-up for the year and get a bit sweaty if there's an empty month... yet elsewhere in the gaming hardware market the picture is a little different
It's interesting, though, that as Nintendo fans we often go through the line-up for the year and get a bit sweaty if there's an empty month, or wonder if an undated game like Bayonetta 3 will fill out October, for example. Yet elsewhere in the gaming hardware market the picture is a little different. PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S are having relatively quiet years, and with a number of low-key months to come. On PS5 (and PS4) it's a lesser problem — the company has had a number of cross-gen titles arrive in a timely manner since the new system launched. There's been Gran Turismo 7 and Horizon Forbidden West already this year, both massive games, and God of War Ragnarok is still apparently due in 2022. Sony can also point to third-party exclusives (often timed) like Ghostwire: Tokyo this year, though not all of the upcoming titles in that category are likely to hit on a mainstream level.
At Xbox meanwhile, Microsoft is in a pickle. Despite all of that Windows wealth and all of the company's acquisitions, at present there are zero first-party exclusives confirmed for 2022, and there haven't been any in the year so far. This was exacerbated by the recent delays of Starfield and Redfall into next year, the only Xbox Game Studios titles that were actually pinned down for 2022. As already mentioned, the first half of this year has brought no major first-party games on Xbox, and even last year there was the delayed Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5 to lead the way, but notable gaps in the schedule. That's after Series X|S launched without any new first-party games, unless you count the console port of Gears Tactics.
For a more direct comparison, let's take a look at the first-party published games from each of the big three in the last year.
First-Party Exclusives FY2021/22 (April 1st 2021 to 31st March 2022)
Note. This list excludes Switch exclusives that Nintendo either published or distributed in some regions (primarily outside of Japan), such as DC Super Hero Girls: Teen Power and Triangle Strategy. It also includes titles that had a PC release but were exclusive to a single console.
Microsoft is certainly lagging behind in the first-party game department, and it seems like a messy picture for Xbox for the next year or so, as well. The industry is rife with rumours of major Xbox projects being rebooted, studios being overhauled, and plenty of games with no release windows at all. No doubt Microsoft will bring something for 2022 in its major showcase next month, but ultimately it is under a lot of pressure to do so. From an Xbox perspective, its get-out-of-jail card is Game Pass, the low cost subscription that keeps new (and some older) third-party gamers coming on a monthly basis and a value proposition that most players find too good to pass up.
Of course, we should recognise that the dynamics and businesses here are rather different. Sony and Microsoft are competing at the high end of the gaming market in terms of hardware, and one dilemma they face is the demand for increasingly impressive gaming experiences. High profile projects now have enormous development budgets, team sizes in the hundreds (or even thousands) and sky-high expectations; delays and budget overruns are almost the norm. Sony and Microsoft also get pretty much all major third-party triple-A titles, so even in the absence of exclusives there are often big-name multi-platform titles for PlayStation and Xbox players to enjoy.
Nintendo, on the flipside, is supporting weaker bespoke hardware, and typically misses most of those big-budget third-party games. The Switch isn't all about 4K, raytracing and bleeding edge graphical technology, and gamers / consumers of all levels intuitively understand that. It's the less expensive option with games that are often more focused on being colourful, creative and fun. While there are plenty of gamers that will deconstruct the technology, the fact is that most don't — Nintendo's identity since the DS / Wii era has been on experiences over graphical prowess, uniqueness over virtuoso technical showcases. Nintendo games can still be beautiful on the eyes today, albeit at 1080p and without HDR. And, of course, with the lovely hook that we can play on the go or at home on the TV.
Nintendo's history, the way it's continued to grow internal development teams while fostering strong third-party partnerships, and the fact it's developing for a tablet-like device, lends it various advantages; a near-monthly turnaround of first-party published games that millions want to play is just one of those advantages, while Sony and Microsoft grapple with triple-A development budgets and projects. From life-consuming JRPGs like Xenoblade Chronicles 3 to lighthearted and more affordable family fare like Nintendo Switch Sports, there's nearly always something to look forward to in the near future on Switch.
How long this inherent advantage lasts will depend on how the industry and Nintendo's hardware evolves in the next five years. Ultimately, though, we wouldn't bet against Nintendo continuing to forge its own path while doing its utmost to maintain that extraordinarily steady stream of quality games that has worked out well for everybody this console cycle.
- Further reading: 30 Upcoming Nintendo Switch Games To Look Forward To In 2022