There’s a very good chance that this will be the last year where the Switch is Nintendo’s main piece of hardware. While rumors of a Switch successor have persisted for years, recent reports suggest that an upgraded device is not only coming but will be here relatively soon, with a potential 2024 launch. If that is indeed the case, it seems that Nintendo isn’t content to let the device go out with a whimper — in fact, 2023 has been one of the Switch’s strongest years to date.
Just look at the company’s biggest properties. This year, we have both a new mainline Zelda in Tears of the Kingdom and a classic Mario title with Super Mario Bros. Wonder. The last time the company released a major Zelda and Super Mario in the same year was 2017, which just so happened to be when the Switch debuted. (Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey have since gone on to sell more than 50 million combined copies.) Tears of the Kingdom, in particular, really feels like it’s pushing the upper limits of what the Switch is capable of — just look at some of the physics-defying creations players have come up with inside of its giant open world.
“We decided to take our time and dedicate ample budget for development”
Super Mario Bros. Wonder, meanwhile, is a surprisingly large production considering it’s a 2D side-scroller. Nintendo built an all-new engine for the game and didn’t give the development team a specific deadline so that they could focus on quality. “We wanted to create a game with much more to offer than ever before, so this time, we didn’t set a fixed time period for development, which is usually decided before we kick off,” longtime Mario developer Takashi Tezuka explained in an interview. “To create something truly enjoyable, we decided to take our time and dedicate ample budget for development without having to worry about the production schedule.”
Over the years, the Switch has gone through a few relatively quiet periods in terms of big new releases, but this year, Nintendo has really nailed the schedule. While Mario and Zelda are clearly the headliners, the lineup has been fleshed out with the likes of Pikmin 4, modern updates to Advance Wars and Metroid Prime, new Bayonetta and Fire Emblem games, multiple Pokémon releases, experiments like F-Zero 99, and upcoming titles like WarioWare: Move It! and Super Mario RPG. Six years into the console’s life, and its release calendar has been as healthy as ever. And this all comes during a year in which Nintendo has broadened its horizons outside of games as well, becoming a more traditional entertainment company.
Of course, even if a Switch successor launches next year, it won’t be the end right away. Much like the 3DS, the tablet will likely continue to chug along, albeit more quietly, while the new console finds its footing. And there are at least a few first-party games on the horizon for 2024, including Princess Peach: Showtime! and remakes of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door and Another Code. Successful Nintendo consoles tend to die a slow, dignified death, and the Switch was definitely a success. It’s the second bestselling piece of Nintendo hardware ever, after the original DS, moving close to 130 million units.
In a lot of ways, this could be the most pivotal console transition in Nintendo’s history. After the dark days of the Wii U, Nintendo used the Switch to prove that it could offer a unified version of its console and portable businesses, one that — despite underpowered hardware — could find its niche among bigger, flashier competitors. Following that up obviously won’t be easy, especially because consumer expectations have changed dramatically. The hard shift from one console to the next is a thing of the past. Users now expect games and other content to carry forward when they upgrade.
Historically, that kind of continuity has not been a strong point for Nintendo. I can’t count the number of times I’ve repurchased Super Mario Bros. 3 for new hardware. But it will be crucial for keeping the hard-won momentum of the Switch going.
Nintendo is in a great spot when it comes to games right now, a process that was a decade in the making after the company merged its development divisions into one cohesive whole focused entirely on the Switch. That was part of the secret sauce behind the Switch and its steady stream of games. And it could well help whatever comes next. But the cyclical nature of video game generations has also proven that success is never guaranteed. Even a runaway hit like the Wii isn’t necessarily a path to continued success.
So, the Switch might be going out on a high note in 2023 — but if Nintendo plays things right, this year should just be the start of something much bigger.