It's a cliché that the latest thing is often branded the greatest thing, but when it comes to video games it's a difficult notion to escape. Every piece of software and hardware builds on the foundation of what came before and, more so than in any other medium, a sequel or successor stands a very good chance of improving on what came before. Your current console is the one delivering new surprises and delights; the exciting, living platform you're in a relationship with right now.
With the whirlwind of hype and media - social and otherwise - surrounding new releases, it's easy for gamers to get swept up by the zeitgeist and label the latest flavour of the month 'The Best Thing Ever™'. It's something reviewers have to be conscious of in a way the average fan needn't worry about too much. The real joy when it comes Switch and its catalogue, though, is that it really is worthy of the superlatives thrown its way. It's now exactly three years since Nintendo launched Switch following the commercial bum note struck by Wii U, and thankfully for the company as well as its fans it clicked almost immediately with a broad audience. In three years it as amassed such a bulging, top-quality library that it's hard to argue Nintendo isn't at the absolute top of its game right now. That's one hell of a feat given the tremendous heights it has hit in the past with beloved, formative consoles like the NES and Super NES.
it's hard to argue Nintendo isn't at the absolute top of its game right now
In Switch's three short years we've seen landmark entries in the Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros. and Fire Emblem franchises, fabulous sequels in the Mario Maker, Splatoon, Xenoblade and Luigi's Mansion series, new IP in the form of ARMS and the Nintendo-published Astral Chain, ingenious and left-field projects like Labo and Ring Fit Adventure, an adorable remake with Link's Awakening, plus a plethora of wonderful Wii U ports including Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Bayonetta 2 and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.
Then there are the third-party surprises. Games like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and Octopath Traveler were huge success stories which came out of nowhere. Then, of course, there is the embarrassment of games previously released on other platforms like Divinity: Original Sin 2, Witcher 3, Cuphead, Dragon Quest XI S and DOOM which injected Switch's portable DNA into a host of modern classics, reinvigorating them in the process. A stream of brilliant third-party ports have showcased the system's appeal to both die-hard fans of those games and total newbies alike, expanding the broad canvas of the platform and supplying a steady cadence of software from the beginning.
And then there are the countless indie games that have filled the gaps. To call them palette cleansers between the big releases would do a disservice to the dozens of titles from smaller studios which have soaked up at least as much playtime on our consoles as the heavy-hitters. There are simply too many to mention, from nostalgic neo-classics to hidden gems that got lost in the flood, the eShop is crawling with too many incredible games for the average gamer to play through.
Were it a person, Switch would be an overachiever... [the] kind of irritating individual you'd avoid like the plague at a school reunion or a Christmas party, but as a little slab of video game hardware it makes the most delightful, engaging company.
And all this in just 36 months! It's a turnaround not even the most devout of fanboys-and-girls dared dream of. Cynics were worried we would see nothing but reheated Wii U leftovers, but the ports we have seen have provided support behind the bespoke, marquee Switch titles. With Switch, Nintendo struck upon a system that's totally in sync with how most people fit video games into their lives these days and that's as true after three years as it was on 3rd March 2017.
The Jack-of-all-trades label is routinely followed by the stinger Master-of-none, but in the right hands Switch has proved adept at whatever it turns its hand to. Were it a person, Switch would be an overachiever: Lacrosse captain; President of the Horticultural Society; marathon runner; cooking enthusiast; naturalist; philosopher; poet; looks great in an off-the-peg suit; builds impressively elaborate costumes for their beautiful children - a true Renaissance console. Switch would be kind of irritating individual you'd avoid like the plague at a school reunion or a Christmas party, but as a little slab of video game hardware it makes the most delightful, engaging company.
Switch is all things to all people. It never leaves the dock in some households, while others have never had it connected to the TV. The console's success is down to the fact that neither user feels shortchanged in those scenarios. For the vast majority of people the console performs both functions utterly without compromise.
And where core gamers may feel a slight twinge at Switch's performance deficit in direct comparison with PS4 and Xbox One, the benefits still outweigh the reduced frame rate and visual fidelity. Purists might turn their nose up at the necessary downgrades seen in Switch ports, but there's a equally appreciative number of people astonished by the work being done on the console's mobile chipset. Ports like GRID Autosport and Alien: Isolation from Feral Interactive, Panic Button's numerous incredible contributions, Ninja Theory's excellent Hellblade and the aforementioned Witcher 3 from CD Projekt Red via Saber Interactive continue a game of porting one-up-manship to the benefit of all. We're continually amazed at what the little machine is capable of.
None of this would be possible if that central Switch-ing gimmick wasn't a winner. The lifetime-to-date system sales speak for themselves - 52.48 million in January with a cool 310.65 millions in software sales. As PS4 and Xbox One wind down in preparation for the next generation, Nintendo's console sales are on the up and up.
That's not to say there haven't been some downs along with the long list of ups. Joy-Con drift has been a recurring problem for many of us. The Switch eShop is groaning under the weight of so many games which makes discoverability an issue for many developers these days. The Nintendo Switch Online offering has been growing slowly, although there is plenty of scope for additions and improvements.
The base experience is still a strong one, though, and Switch remains a tempting proposition three years into its life cycle. It's easy to focus on the negatives and take for granted how many aspects Nintendo had to get right to make Switch a success. We've seen great systems sink before despite remarkable base hardware - look at Dreamcast, look at PS Vita. A compelling console offering is just one piece of the puzzle and despite the missteps noted above, Nintendo has done well to get so much right with Switch. It seems the concept is so solid that Nintendo can eject the console's central gimmick with Switch Lite and it is still enormously popular. Who knew?
So, what next for the little hybrid console that could? There are challenges ahead, that's for sure, with some commentators suggesting the console risks becoming outdated without a hardware refresh. Some people might be happy enough to live off first-party software and 'Definitive Edition' ports of games from the last 20 years, and there's a plethora of vintage games we'd love to see return in handheld form. Nintendo could potter along quite happily for a while yet by supplementing its bespoke offerings with quality ports and indies. There's certainly life in the machine yet, even without any sort of Switch 'Pro' upgrade.
we can't recall a console that offered this much variety and quality by its third birthday.
Still, the next generation is on the horizon and the arrival of both PS5 and Xbox Series X this holiday season will only bring the limitations of Switch's ageing mobile tech into sharper (or should that be blurrier?) focus for the core gamers who have embraced Nintendo again after the Wii years left them out in the cold. Software-wise, at the time of writing we have the all-conquering and adorable Animal Crossing: New Horizons scheduled for release in a couple of weeks, but despite Pokémon and Animal Crossing Direct broadcasts, we're still waiting for our first proper Nintendo Direct of 2020.
Nintendo will be looking to stay relevant with its entire audience as Sony and Microsoft offer new distractions at the end of the year, and with games like Metroid Prime 4 and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2 deep in development, Switch's future is bright, if a little undefined at present. We sure all will be revealed soon.
Still, if Nintendo magically clicked its fingers Switch-style and froze the console and its present library for posterity, for our money it would already rank alongside the NES and the Super NES in terms of the company's greatest consoles. Superlative alert! Could Switch be Nintendo's best ever system? It's tough to be certain, although we can't recall a console that offered this much variety and quality by its third birthday. Gamers have really never had it so good.
All that, and Banjo came to Smash. What a time to be alive, eh? If you'd like a reminder of just how stellar the lineup of Switch games has been since launch, check out our reader-voted 50 best Switch games from 2017, 2018 and 2019. In addition, we also have the current top 50 best Switch games regardless of year. You know, if 150 seems a bit excessive for your scrolling digit.
You can join us in wishing everyone who has worked to make the console a success congratulations on Switch's third birthday and let us know your highlights from the console's first 36 months below. Here's to the next 36!