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Year in Review: Nintendo Awakens From its Slumber

Nintendo has had a dramatic year with the launch of the Nintendo Switch, but has it been the triumphant return it needed?



As the tale from Xenoblade Chronicles 2 would tell us, Titans have been falling from the cloud sea and perishing, creating a war for resources. Not that it’s always the end, as a special Titan is able to resurrect itself, revert back to its youth like a jellyfish and start its life again. We had been witnessing the slow death of a beloved Titan called Nintendo for almost a decade. The Wii U had failed, its market share had shrunk, and it was relying on an aging – albeit successful – handheld console called the 3DS.

Just when the walls of Constantinople had begun to crumble, the Byzantine flame set fire to the waters around it, preserving itself for another generation. While the invention of gunpowder would eventually leave the Byzantine story with an ending full of tragedy, the Nintendo story seems to have begun its resurrection; a Titan that has reverted back to its youth and looking revitalized.

The Breath of the Switch

It’s easy to forget that at the start of the year, we didn’t even have a Nintendo Switch in our lives. It wasn’t until the middle of January that we really came to realize the Switch’s potential with the ability to…switch. A gimmick in appearance, but one which would actually take the unique differences of people’s lives and allow them to define their own gaming experience. Clever. A stroke of genius that adapted to the diverse modern world that forever changes.

The child that played Ocarina of Time was the adult that wanted to play Breath of the Wild.

The clever marketing campaign was a self-reflection of Nintendo itself. The old man looking at his reflection in the water and seeing a young boy was no more, instead, the old man saw what he truly was and embraced it. No more did Nintendo target the children of today, instead, targeting the children of yesterday. The child that played Ocarina of Time was the adult that wanted to play Breath of the Wild.  The adult lives in an era of irregular shift patterns and a life of constant travel, the concept to switch from a home console to a handheld console allows for flexibility in the busy, modern-day life.

Strangely, the old man that finally realized he, and everybody else, had grown older, had actually found his youth once more; a resurrection. Nintendo, now understanding where the market for their console was, could reinvent the experience and deliver what they needed. Suddenly the boldest Legend of Zelda title was to be released on launch day, and a new Super Mario was in the works for later in the year. It was honest ambition, a recognition of the old-age concept that software sells hardware; it does help when the hardware is available though.

A Soft Approach Prevents a Hard Fall

Before the Nintendo Switch’s release in March, there were already concerns about its hardware. The battery isn’t particularly powerful, playing Breath of the Wild in handheld mode would probably drain the battery completely after two hours. The Joy-Cons were known to lose connection and the screen could be scratched when removed from its dock. Every console has early problems with its hardware but such issues are usually avoided by Nintendo. The Nintendo Switch is perhaps the biggest hardware problem Nintendo has ever found itself in.

The frustrations were understandable, the gimmick that Nintendo had marketed was facing huge scrutiny and could be jeopardized by some really troubling faults. After its release, some consumers even had numerous issues that resulted with it breaking down completely, and with the Nintendo Switch designed in a way that makes taking it apart more difficult than its predecessors, some even lost all their save files.There is no easy fix to a Switch breaking down with sending it off to Nintendo’s workshop and hoping for the best the only chance of fixing your investment.

What’s remarkable is, after all the negative implications surrounding the Nintendo Switch’s hardware, the console remains sold out. All expectations for sales were surpassed and Nintendo can’t supply the demanding fast enough. Intriguingly, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sold more copies than the Switch itself, boosting the concept that software sells hardware.

Breath of the Wild was the best reason to buy the console on launch day, with Super Bomberman R and 1,2, Switch rather weak titles to its initial roster. However, by the end of the year, the choice of games on the Switch has grown to a decent level, with a good variety of indie games to match the strong exclusive titles. After the first year, it’s becoming obvious that the strongest aspect of the Switch isn’t its flexibility but the games it offers. The experience of playing the most expansive Zelda title on the go is the equivalent of releasing the master sword from the Great Deku Tree’s grasp, suddenly the world feels much more open.

The Legend Continues

Ever since the first trailer was released, Breath of the Wild was going to be one of the greatest games of the year. There was no doubting its courage and ambition to take the Zelda formula and manipulate everything that the fans had become to love to produce one of the most breathtaking games of all time. From a technical standpoint, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is Nintendo’s greatest achievement.

Breath of the Wild isn’t a book as told by the author, but a story found by the adventure of the player.

Now the year is closing and other games have been released, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say it’s the greatest game released this year. An open world with secrets that don’t want to be found, a blithesome landscape with an agitated environment scratching at its surface, the opportunity to save Hyrule in your own unique way.

There’s this curious assumption that Breath of the Wild had no storyline, a tired argument based on the reasoning projected by its predecessors. Breath of the Wild isn’t a book as told by the author, but a story found by the adventure of the player. You capture the heart of Hyrule through the memories of Link and Zelda, from these the story is pieced together and experienced. It is some of the best storytelling Nintendo has ever achieved which is just one reason why its the best game of 2017.

The problem for Nintendo is it has now set such a high bar for itself, every big title it releases will now have to try and jump higher than Breath of the Wild; an ambitious 2018 should be pursued. Did Super Mario Odyssey come close to overtaking Breath of the Wild as the game of the year? Not even close, but it certainly had its own creative merits that have helped cement 2017 as Nintendo’s year of resurrection.

Came Back Cap in Hand

Super Mario Odyssey was easily the most anticipated title Nintendo had revealed after the release of Breath of the Wild. Caught between the success of the franchise and the excitement the Nintendo Switch was generating, it had a huge cap to fill.

Super Mario Odyssey is a tasteless soufflé, eager to be looked at but much harder to swallow.

Odyssey is a visual masterpiece, with some truly breathtaking worlds to tour on your voyage across the globe. From the delightful beach of the Seaside Kingdom to the mysterious palette of the Lost Kingdom, there is a beautiful world for everybody’s imagination. Each world has some unique creatures that Mario can throw a cap at, with the power of possession to gain unique abilities to help Mario find power moons across the landscape.

It sounds rather seductive, and the look and feel of Odyssey does remarkably well at drawing the player in, but what it has in style it lacks in substance. Super Mario Odyssey is a tasteless soufflé, eager to be looked at but much harder to swallow. Once you’ve completed the game you’re probably done with it, you’ve enjoyed the moment but there’s not much to keep you in that moment. It’s a crying shame that Odyssey couldn’t follow in the footsteps of Breath of the Wild and improve on its franchise’s formula, but there’s enough there to consider it a successful addition to the Switch’s growing catalogue of games. It is perhaps a victim of its own hype more than a hopeless plumber on the toilet seat. Nintendo has set its standards at an all-time high and it’ll now have to satisfy the expectations that come with it.

Along Came One, Then Another

Before the release of the Switch, Nintendo was really trying to push the indie movement onto the public. It was having a hard time convincing the world that indie developers had embraced the Switch and was embarking on a new relationship. It was easy to see why, the initial trailers showed old games like Skyrim and remakes of Wii U games being ported across to the new system; difficult to argue the case of a revolutionary system without fresh content.

When the Switch launched and the Switch sold out – and remains sold out in many countries – indie developers soon turned their heads and realized that this was a system with a great opportunity for their product. Along came a Nintendo Direct focusing on indie games and the rest is history, indie games have found a very comfortable home on the Nintendo Switch.

The flexibility of the Switch gives a lot of creative liberalism for the indie developer. The opportunity to create unique games that the player can enjoy wherever in the world they happen to be is exciting, and the diversity of indie games that are either already there or in development to be there is very encouraging. The beautiful world of Rime, the artistic parchment of Earth Atlantis, and the Golden Axe inspired Wulverblade have all found a place in the Switch’s new indie home. With games like Mulaka coming shortly next year, the Nintendo Switch has opened up a different market for indie games, where before they relied on the stationary existence of Steam; the Switch has opened the market for a more casual gamer.

Nintendo on the Go

Anybody remember Pokémon Go? It wasn’t strictly a Nintendo game but it sure gave Nintendo enough inspiration to enter the mobile market last year. Swiftly followed Super Mario Run with some genuine success, and then at the beginning of this year, along came Fire Emblem Heroes, introducing new fans to a less known franchise – it was a success.

It was fertile ground ready to be tilled.

Fire Emblem Heroes had a much more subtle but enduring success than its mobile predecessor Super Mario Run. Fire Emblem Heroes has actually been a much more lucrative investment for Nintendo than Super Mario Run, a testament to its success and its influence to push Fire Emblem closer to the front of priorities. Suddenly, Fire Emblem Warriors was on the agenda, not so much a true Fire Emblem title, but one that utilizes that popular characters in a setting that those new to the franchise could appreciate. There is now a working title for true Fire Emblem game for the Switch, an acknowledgment that the franchise has gained a much greater following because Fire Emblem Heroes became a fantastic introduction for so many people.

This is one of the many beauties of Nintendo’s stray into the mobile market. It’s an opportunity comprising of close to seven billion cell phone subscriptions; the world at your fingertips. When you can cast your net into the world, you’ll be sure to pick up something new and that’s the prize of the mobile market. One day they find Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on the App Market, the next they’re buying a Nintendo Switch because they want to experience the next Animal Crossing game.

The foray into the mobile market is Nintendo’s most understated marketing achievement and it shouldn’t be dismissed. Sony and Microsoft fans had largely forgotten about Nintendo until Pokémon Go gave them a surprise market share rise. It was fertile ground ready to be tilled. A gentle approach to plant the appropriate seed in the correct season to produce another Harvest Moon. The careful approach into this new market has left Nintendo with unnoticeable success. They’re there before their competition has even created a game plan, a success that is as equally accomplished as the release of the Switch.

In the future, don’t be surprised to see a Metroid mobile game make its way to your App store. With Metroid Prime 4 known to be in development, it would be in line with Nintendo’s new approach to the mobile market, using the cell phone as a tool to market something bigger. It would be a clever attempt to introduce new fans to the Metroid franchise, which isn’t as well known among the younger generations as those that grew up with Metroid might believe.

End of an Era

2017 will probably mark the end of an old favorite, the Nintendo 3DS. While Nintendo seems hesitant to let it go – which is understandable when the Wii U failed – the longer it sticks around the less likely consumers will make the switch.

Whether Nintendo will produce a true replacement for the 3DS is unclear, but for this year, it is the end of an era.

There were some high profile games released on the 3DS this year. Metroid: Samus Returns is a fantastic game and deserved its critical acclaim, Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon was, on the contrary, a cash grab. And that was perhaps the final punch for the 3DS, one final heist before it retires and goes down as one of the most successful consoles of all time.

Handhelds have been a staple for Nintendo ever since they launched the Game Boy in the 80s. It’s not surprising that the Switch would have a handheld capability as it’s the most consistently successful aspect of any Nintendo console. The Switch was the replacement for the Wii U, but with the Pokémon games heading to the Switch either next year or 2019, then it could also be seen as the replacement for the 3DS. Whether Nintendo will produce a true replacement for the 3DS is unclear, but for this year, it is the end of an era.

The Attack of the Titan

The Wii U had left Nintendo sleeping too long and now its awoken with new hope and vigor in its step. A change of fortunes that had arisen through the success of the Nintendo Switch and entry into the mobile market, but the battle certainly isn’t over. There are so many metaphorical comparisons between Nintendo and Byzantium that it’s still possible for Nintendo to become overwhelmed by the much bigger competition.

2017 has been an important year for Nintendo, and 2018 might just become even more important yet. 2017 stands as the year Nintendo resurrected itself as a Titan of gaming and it’s exciting to see what they can come up with next to keep the momentum going. Nintendo’s ambition must be to somehow surpass the quality of Breath of the Wild, that’s the benchmark, but if it can do it then it’ll be a stronger announcement than ever of its triumphant return.


Lost his ticket on the 'Number 9' Luxury Express Train to the Ninth Underworld. Has been left to write articles and reviews about games to write off his debt until the 'powers that be' feel it is sufficiently paid.