Nintendo’s often gone its own way when it comes to doing its business, but as Microsoft and Sony rolled out their latest hardware at the tail-end of 2020 it felt at times as if the company had vanished entirely, a paper-thin release schedule in the all-important months leading up to Christmas making the Switch feel at times like the forgotten console.
In 2021, that’s surely about to change, and after a period of relative silence – understandable, of course, given the global circumstances and the pressures they’ve placed on developers – Nintendo is set for its most significant year since the launch of the Switch back in 2017. Looking at the release schedule as it stands, skeletal and incomplete, you might not ascertain as much – with the likes of Bravely Default 2 and Persona 5 Strikers, those first few months are double-A all the way – but then you get to the tail-end of March and the release of Monster Hunter Rise, perhaps the most significant new release on Switch in an age.
After the record-breaking success of Monster Hunter World, Rise feels like a homecoming of sorts, returning to Nintendo’s stable equipped with a new set of tricks learned on its blockbuster outing while it punches up the quirkiness that once made the series’ name. Running on Capcom’s RE Engine – a first for the series, as well as for the Switch – it promises to look absolutely sublime. And, of course, there’s that sneaking suspicion it could look even better with the help of some new hardware.
That a new Switch model will arrive this year feels, at this point, like a given. Indeed, the real surprise is how long it’s taken – while the Switch forges its own path with its hybrid nature, Nintendo’s handhelds have typically been refreshed some two to three years into their lifespan, a pattern the release of the Switch Lite held true to. What exactly, though, would a further revised Switch look like? 4K support seems a given, albeit by way of Nvidia’s DLSS AI upscaling, but beyond that there’s a whole world of intrigue and enigma.
How will it slot into the Switch’s current ecosystem? How will it handle older games, newer ports that might not have been previously possible and – perhaps most importantly – will it mean the floodgates will finally open when it comes to first-party games? The Switch’s first year was remarkable for the support it received when it came to software, with marquee entries in the Mario and Zelda entries, plus new IP from the Mario Kart team in the shape of the formidable Arms. Is it unreasonable to expect news on what’s next from all three – be it the release of Breath of the Wild 2, a new Mario or an all-new Mario Kart for Switch?
If even just one of those comes to pass it’ll be a bumper year for the Switch, with of course the safest bet being Breath of the Wild 2 arriving to help celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Zelda series. It’s not the only birthday Nintendo’s stars will be celebrating, with Donkey Kong turning 40 while Metroid turns 35. What chance a glimpse of Metroid Prime 4, or another Samus-themed morsel to sate our appetites while we wait for Retro Studio’s return?
For Nintendo’s core audience there’s plenty to get excited about, while beyond there’s the official opening of Super Nintendo World in Osaka, and towards the end of the year the prospect of our first look at Illumination Entertainment’s 2022 Mario movie – which, after the disastrous 1993 effort, feels like one of the bigger risks Nintendo’s made in a while. If even half of that comes to pass, it’ll certainly be one of Nintendo’s biggest years in an age.
And for all Nintendo seemed to sidestep the tail-end of last year, it still ended 2020 on top, Animal Crossing: New Horizons taking the Christmas top spot as it thunders along on its way to some 30 million units sold while some 70 million Switch units have found their way out into the wild. A quiet year for Nintendo is still remarkable in its own way – the prospect of it hitting 2021 with all cylinders firing is something else altogether.