A little over seven years ago, Nintendo made a big, but understated move that would go on to have an enormous impact on its future: it unified its handheld and console divisions. At the time, this just seemed like a move that would allow the two kinds of development teams to better share ideas and development resources, but there were also rumours floating about that suggested the company was doing this to gear up for a new unified hardware concept. Some expected this would mean a hybrid kind of hardware, while others predicted that games would be made which could play on both a hypothetical future Nintendo console or handheld. As it would happen, both groups ended up being right, in a way. Nintendo officially unveiled the Switch itself a little over three years after the merging of its divisions, while it unveiled the Switch Lite about a year ago.
The move to a single platform was largely lauded as the right one, given both the company’s then-recent struggles with home console game development, and the fact that Nintendo handhelds had always been the strongest pillar of its business. One of the (many) reasons that the Wii U failed was due to the lengthy ‘droughts’ between notable releases; significant third parties releases were all but non-existent on the platform and the Big N was still figuring out how to pump games out consistently in HD.
Thus, it was surmised that having all Nintendo development staff working on one platform would surely mean that the volume and development workflow of new games would be greatly increased and improved. During the latest Nintendo shareholder briefing, President Shuntaro Furukawa even echoed this sentiment in one of his responses. When describing why he believes the Switch has been building such great momentum he said:
…The second factor is that Nintendo’s development resources are concentrated on developing content for a single platform, Nintendo Switch.
The key thing here, however, is that it seems plenty of fans once believed the concentrated development resources would result in a denser and more consistent stream of new, distinct games. For example, looking back at this article posted shortly after the Switch’s reveal, many comments reference an expectation that the Switch would be receiving effectively double the amount of games of a typical Nintendo home console. The thinking behind this was that all of those games that would exist on a hypothetical handheld device would now be produced on the Switch instead, thus padding out the release calendar.
Now that we’re comfortably a few years into the Switch’s lifespan, the question then is this: Has Nintendo actually met those lofty expectations, or were they misguided?
For the purposes of this investigation, we decided to tally up every game Nintendo was part of from the Wii U/3DS era and compare those numbers with what we have now in the Switch era. To keep the list focused, we went with games that Nintendo both published and had some significant level of involvement in development. A good example of this would be the Mario & Luigi series, which has always been developed by Alphadream, an external studio not owned by Nintendo. Another one would be Bayonetta 2, which was developed by Platinum Games, but financed and partially overseen by Nintendo.
Even so, we haven't included every game that Nintendo published, as many titles were third-party games that were merely promoted by the company in specific regions. Good examples of this would be the Yo-Kai Watch series or the Bravely Default games, both of which were published by Nintendo in the West, but wouldn’t be considered a part of Nintendo’s own slate.
Furthermore, release dates were determined by the first time a game was made available for sale for the first time. Most of the time, games came out in Japan first, but there were a few stragglers that saw a Western release first, in which case, we recorded that release date.
We pulled our numbers from these curated lists on Wikipedia which note seemingly every game released for each Nintendo system. And while, yes, a publicly changeable site like Wikipedia certainly does have its pitfalls, we dare you to find a more thorough and properly-sourced list of every game ever made for a Nintendo platform.
That all being said, the numbers are as follows:
|Year||Number of 3DS games released by Nintendo|
Wii U Games
|Year||Number of Wii U games released by Nintendo|
Wii U/3DS Games Combined
|Year||Number of Wii U and 3DS games released by Nintendo|
|Year||Number of Switch games released by Nintendo|
|2020 (so far)||9|
So, to analyze this a bit, we’ll start with the Wii U. For the first four years of its existence and following the criteria we set, Nintendo was credited with thirty-nine Wii U releases. The Switch has had fifty-seven in that same window, although we’ll concede that the Wii U only launched at the very end of 2012 and thus didn’t get the full year. To account for this, we knocked off every Switch game that launched before October of 2017 and the result still comes out to forty-nine games for Switch.
On the handheld side of things, forty-six games were released for 3DS' first four years on the market. We could drop that to forty-five if we only include games that released up till July 2014, but the concession we gave to the Wii U doesn’t apply here as the 3DS and Switch both launched in the first quarter of their respective years. Either way, the Switch again comes out ahead as it's seen fifty-seven Nintendo games to date, and that number is likely to go up a bit as we still have half of this year to go.
Thus, from a raw numbers perspective, the Switch has beaten the 3DS and Wii U when comparing Nintendo releases in similar time frames, but that doesn’t give the full picture. We’d argue that the 3DS and Wii U should be considered together, as the two collectively represented the full ‘Nintendo experience’ for any fan during that time and we now get that same experience through only one outlet, rather than two.
Now, details about specific development timelines aren’t public knowledge, so it’s impossible to know exactly when Nintendo began development of the first Wii U games, and we’ll never know how that affected ongoing 3DS development, monetarily or in raw manpower. Even so, to make the comparison a little fairer, we decided to draw lines at November 2012—when the Wii U launched and Nintendo thus became a two-console company for that generation—and at July 2015 (the end of our corresponding 34-month period here in 2020). Bearing this in mind, the Switch soundly loses, as its count of fifty-seven games doesn’t hold up to the collective eighty-one games that the 3DS and Wii U delivered in the 2012-2015 period that we’ve defined.
So, in a nutshell, Nintendo has not developed/published as many games on the Switch as it had done when the 3DS and the Wii U were the only supported hardware.
What do we do with this information? Well, it puts to bed the idea that Nintendo has been outputting the same volume of games, as it most certainly hasn’t. That twenty-four game deficit between Switch releases and Wii U/3DS releases is greater than what Nintendo averaged per year when it was supporting both those older platforms. In other words, we’ve missed out on roughly a year or two of hypothetical games that would have potentially released if Nintendo were currently supporting two platforms and stuck to its previous release pace delivering games of the same technological level.
Of course, it’s not all about raw numbers. At the end of the day, all that really matters is how satisfied we are with the Switch library as it stands. And while, yes, Nintendo may not be putting out games as much as it used to, we also have a substantially higher volume of major third-party releases and indies on the Switch to compensate.
Still, we’re curious what you think about this. Do you wish Nintendo still had separate home and handheld console lines? Have you been satisfied with its output for the Switch? What do you think of the Switch’s library so far? Share your thoughts in the comments below.