Which of Nintendo’s promised unannounced Switch exclusives can we expect for next year?
That Nintendo is working on new exclusives for the Switch should come as no surprise to anyone. Nintendo hardware almost always sells on the promise of its own software, and Nintendo software is only ever available on its own hardware- put the two together, and Nintendo putting out its games exclusively on its current system, which also happens to be one of the fastest selling systems of all time, shouldn’t exactly be a shock.
But after a bit of a middling E3 performance- Nintendo did exactly what they had promised at E3, focusing on the immediate short term lineup for the end of the year, with special emphasis on the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate– perhaps Nintendo understood that some fans’ confidence was shaken, which was why Reggie Fils-Aime, President of Nintendo, took to announcing that Nintendo had several more unannounced Switch games in the works, which it would announce in the coming weeks and months.
Several more Switch games in the works- like I said, not a shock to anyone. Nevertheless, official acknowledgement made it tangible and “real” (just like how, in 2015, I am sure everyone had known that Nintendo was working on a successor console to Wii U, but Nintendo’s official acknowledgement of the system then codenamed NX made it “real” and worth speculating on for everyone around the world). So, all of a sudden, we find Nintendo’s lineup the subject of possible speculation- we know Nintendo has more games in the work, but what can we expect, exactly?
"All of a sudden, we find Nintendo’s lineup the subject of possible speculation- we know Nintendo has more games in the work, but what can we expect, exactly?"
We ran a similar article for Sony and PlayStation last week, but the Nintendo piece will have to be different by definition. You see, Nintendo’s first party model is significantly different than Sony’s- rather than multiple discrete studios around the world, most of Nintendo’s first party talent is housed in one location in Japan, with team divisions there made as and when necessary. There are some exceptions, of course- Monolith Soft is in Kyoto, Retro Studios is in Austin, NERD is in Europe, and, of course, Nintendo has several partners such as Next Level Games- but there are no studios to keep track of, to try and trace their output and guess at what they might be doing next.
Which also fits with the fact that Nintendo’s model is franchise based- while the company experiments with new IP a fair bit, with games like ARMS, Splatoon, Xenoblade Chronicles, The Wonderful 101, and so on, being the results of that experimentation, its greatest hits are all from proven IP that the company relies on every generation. You can expect a new Zelda, Mario, Smash Bros., Kirby, Mario Kart, Pokemon, and Donkey Kong game from Nintendo on all of their hardware- you don’t know what form those new games might take, of course, because Nintendo so substantially reinvents its franchises routinely, but you have a framework of what to start out with.
So let’s take that framework and dive deep into Nintendo’s lineup. First, let’s look at the major franchises that have shown up on the Switch already- we have received a Zelda, Mario, Mario Kart, Kirby, Xenoblade, Splatoon, and Donkey Kong game. Of these, Mario Kart was technically a port of the Wii U game, which would imply a new one might be incoming soon- but the Mario Kart team also delivered ARMS last year, which they continued to support until early this year. If they have already started work on a new title, which, presumably, is a new Mario Kart game, then we’re probably a few years away from seeing it. At which point, it might also be reasonable to expect that it may just be withheld for the Switch’s successor- Nintendo usually likes only one Mario Kart game per system to begin with, and having Mario Kart available near the Switch 2’s launch would help that system greatly.
"First, let’s look at the major franchises that have shown up on the Switch already- we have received a Zelda, Mario, Mario Kart, Kirby, Xenoblade, Splatoon, and Donkey Kong game."
Donkey Kong is also a Wii U port, but Retro Studios, the studio that has handled Donkey Kong for the better part of a decade now, is currently working, according to sourced reports, on a Star Fox racing game- so a new Donkey Kong game by them is presumably unlikely, and with the sales of Tropical Freeze on Switch, Nintendo may deem it unnecessary to have a new one out for the system just yet anyway.
Monolith delivered Xenoblade 2 last year with a skeleton crew, and are delivering a full fledged standalone expansion for it in a few months- while they’re talented, and they have expanded greatly, I think even they can’t deliver a brand new game in these circumstances any time soon. The next Monolith game, whether it turns out to be a new IP or a new Xenoblade, is probably at least two, and more likely three, years away from now.
Let’s also look at the stuff we do know is coming- Nintendo has Mario Tennis releasing this week, with a new Mario Party, Super Smash Bros., Fire Emblem, Yoshi, and no fewer than two new Pokemon games announced for the Switch- all of these are due out by the second half of next year. So we don’t need to concern ourselves with these ones either.
Now we start getting to the interesting parts. What’s left? What can we expect? When can we expect it? Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first- Animal Crossing is coming. Of course it is coming. It has become a tentpole Nintendo franchise in the last few years, and New Leaf was one of the highest selling 3DS games. New Leaf also came out in 2012– while there have been several spin offs for the series since then, we are six years out from the launch of the last Animal Crossing game, the longest we have ever gone between two entries in the franchise. And yet, it’s safe to assume it’s not out this year (if it was, it would have been at E3)- which means we would be reasonable to assume the next quickest possible release period for the game, which is 2019.
By all accounts, Retro is working on a new Star Fox game- this one, we can also assume, would be out next year. Retro’s last major release was Tropical Freeze on Wii U in 2014, which means we are four years out from it now, five by next year. Even accounting for longer development cycles, that’s a ridiculous wait. Whatever they are working on has to be reaching the end of its development by now- which means, yes, we can expect Star Fox Racing (presuming that is what they are working on) to be out some time next year as well.
Metroid Prime 4 was announced by Nintendo last year, but so far we have not seen a single screenshot of the game. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume it’s early in development- and yet, Nintendo is known to not show anything from its games, even when they are far along in development, until they are close to release (see how we were basically totally in the dark regarding Zelda until the huge E3 blowout for Breath of the Wild, following which the game launched less than a year later). We also know that Nintendo definitely does not intend on launching it this year. Rumors have pegged it as being developed by Bandai Namco Singapore, and indications are it was not in development in 2015– meaning the earliest it started development was in 2016. Going by Producer Kensuke Tanabe’s own estimated development cycle of at least three years (estimated for the Wii U, which was in the same ballpark in terms of development resource requirements as the Switch), the earliest we can expect a Metroid Prime 4 would be in 2019- which means we could see the game next year, but it’s not something you should necessarily be banking on. If development on the game started in 2017- which is unlikely, but there is a chance Nintendo waited to see how the Switch would be received before greenlighting the next entry in a niche but expensive series- then the game could be out as late as 2020.
"Animal Crossing is coming. Of course it is coming. It has become a tentpole Nintendo franchise in the last few years, and New Leaf was one of the highest selling 3DS games."
Then there is Bayonetta 3– this was also announced in a similar fashion last year, and has no date attached to it. Now, Platinum has an abnormally quick turnaround time, usually 2 years or less, so there’s every chance that Bayonetta 3 does hit next year. Honestly, I would expect it to hit next year, it’s more likely than not that it does, even if it only got greenlit in mid 2017.
For those who are keeping track, then, as of right now, the 2019 Switch lineup already seems pretty stacked- we are talking, definitively, of Animal Crossing, Pokemon, Fire Emblem, Yoshi, Star Fox Racing, and probably Bayonetta 3, with significant chances of Metroid Prime 4 hitting next year as well. At that point, Nintendo wouldn’t need more major exclusives for the year- they’re already hitting the same pace of major new releases as 2017 for the Switch. That said, there are two more possibilities we could consider.
Let’s talk about those. Nintendo’s two biggest flagship properties are Mario and Zelda. Not counting the spin offs for both series, both series are cleanly split into 2D and 3D branches. The 3D ones are the big, tentpole ambitious entries that usually attract critical acclaim and hysteria- the 2D ones tend to skew more casual in Mario‘s case, and more experimental in Zelda‘s case. Specifically speaking of Mario, a proper new 2D Mario game may not come, since Nintendo views Super Mario Run for smartphones as part of the New Super Mario Bros. series- but let’s assume that that is true. In that case, Super Mario Run came out in 2016, with a smaller development team behind it, meaning we’ll be hitting three years since its launch next year. The time would ideally be ripe for a new Mario game in the 2D branch to hit next year- I don’t know if that would happen, but every Nintendo system since 2004 has received a 2D Mario game, and it seems unlikely Nintendo will stop now. That could be one to add to the books, too.
"It is entirely possible that Nintendo holds some of these games back for 2020, if only because having Pokemon, Animal Crossing, 2D Zelda, 2D Mario, Metroid Prime, Bayonetta, Fire Emblem, Yoshi, and Star Fox all in one year is absurd."
More certain is the possibility of us getting a new 2D Zelda game next year. These games have shorter dev cycles, smaller scope, and usually come out between major 3D Zelda games to bridge the gap. Since 2013, Nintendo has also tried to have at least one Zelda release a year- A Link Between Worlds in 2013, Hyrule Warriors in 2014, Majora’s Mask 3D in 2015, Twilight Princess HD in 2016, Breath of the Wild in 2017, Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition in 2018. We can assume they don’t want to break that pattern next year. Either this means a new remaster is coming out next year (which is possible, sure), or a new 2D Zelda game (likelier, since even before Breath of the Wild was out, Nintendo was teasing a 2D Zelda game for the Switch).
I think this would honestly be overloading the 2019 Switch lineup. It is entirely possible that Nintendo holds some of these games back for 2020, if only because having Pokemon, Animal Crossing, 2D Zelda, 2D Mario, Metroid Prime, Bayonetta, Fire Emblem, Yoshi, and Star Fox all in one year is absurd- especially given that Nintendo has to support the Switch mostly by itself, as far as big releases go. Nonetheless, I think that list gives us some idea of what we can expect from the Switch lineup in 2019. 2018’s schedule may not have been the best- it’s fine, but it’s a definite step down from 2017- but 2019 looks set to be another major onslaught of quality releases from Nintendo. Let’s see what they have planned for us.
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