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Nintendo 2018 Year-End Review

Looks like it’s that time of year again, when we take a look at how the three major giants of the console market have been doing. Peter and Sam will be taking you through PlayStation and Xbox, and I’ll be raving about Nintendo, as usual. Let’s get to it.

 

First-Party Support

This is the first full year of the Switch being launched, and Nintendo followed it up with a resounding smattering of first-party titles. Both Bayonetta games made an appearance in February then Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors got their ports in May. Pokemon Quest was the first new release, which I can’t in good faith complain about because it’s free, but I can’t say it kept me coming back.

While there were a few DLC packs for older games like Fire Emblem Warriors, there’s only a few pieces of DLC I want to bring up: The Octo Expansion for Splatoon 2 and Donkey Kong’s Adventure for Mario & Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. These were expansive additions to the game, widely regarded as well worth the price tag, as they added new stories to their respective games, as well as a host of new weapons.

However, in between those, Nintendo dropped Mario Tennis Aces, and it was… alright. We ourselves gave it a 7 and it’s sitting at a comfortable 7.5 on metacritic, so it’s certainly not a failure. Regardless, it’s a sports game, and just because it has Mario’s face on it doesn’t mean us platforming or RPG fans are going to be into it. Regardless, it was a decent success for Nintendo, and could lead to another Mario Tennis game for the Switch.

Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Pokemon Let's Go Eevee

One of Nintendo’s greatest this year was also the cutest.

The summer saw yet another port in the fantastic Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, and the big new release came much later, with Super Mario Party in early October. This is a return to the standard Mario Party formula after the departure in 9 and 10, and it’s really good. Boards are smaller and games are quicker, but all the new changes help support it. It’s nice to see Mario Party taking steps forward in the right direction.

It turns out they saved the best for last, as they ended the year with two heavy-hitters: Pokemon Let’s Go and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. We here at Sick Critic had a lot to say about these, so go ahead and read our reviews.

While Nintendo didn’t have a lot of first party games, they did have a lot of third party titles to keep the money flowing. January saw ports of Super Meat Boy, Darkest Dungeon, and Crypt of the Necrodancer, alongside my favorite game of the year CelesteLight Fall and Just Shapes and Beats released in the spring, alongside ports of other great games like Don’t Starve, Death Road to Canada, Hollow Knight, and De Blob. Also Fortnite. Fortnite is there too. There are plenty of other great games, but I think Octopath Traveler was one of the biggest selling points of the year, and it was a third-party title.

You’ll notice that a lot of these titles are older games, ones that came out during the Wii U’s lifespan or even the Wii. However, tons of games are getting ported over to the Switch. I attribute this to the Switch just being so fun to play on, it’s easily my favorite console. I already have Hollow Knight and Undertale and A Hat in Time on my computer, but I’m saving up to get them all again on Switch just because I love playing on it so much. This is why Nintendo could essentially take a gap year, letting 2018 be smaller than 2017 and 2019 (which we’ll get to soon), because the Switch itself is the moneymaker.

Score: 6/10. Mostly ports, with some bigger games that hit all the right buttons.

 

Market Presence

Nintendo Switch Release

Looking back to the Wii U, a major problem with its marketing was a lack of clarity on what the console could do. Most people had the impression that the gamepad was built to simply allow play on another screen if you wanted to use the TV for something else, completely overlooking the capability for DS-like dualscreen play. Still others were under the impression that the gamepad was merely an accessory for the Wii, not a new console. Nintendo refused to make the same mistake twice with their advertising, pushing the capabilities of the switch, all the things you can do with it, and more importantly taking care to explain exactly what it is.

Their ad campaign started in late 2016, and now that the console’s been out for over a year, most of their advertisements focus more on the new games available. The smiling families playing in docked mode in the living room and in handheld mode in the car turned to the adorable mascots of Eevee and Pikachu for Let’s Go, and the immense roster for Smash Bros after that.

A lot of their marketing actually came in the form of Directs throughout the year, but we’ll get to that next. To finish, remember how I mentioned that the immense flood of Switch ports helped sustain Nintendo through their slower year? Well, a lot of the games getting ported have fanbases, and some of them like Undertale and Stardew Valley have really big ones. Playing Stardew Valley in your house is fun enough, but being able to take it on the go? That’s a step forward.

stardew valley multiplayer

The multiplayer update hit the Switch very recently.

This is where Nintendo really hit the jackpot. When developers port popular games to a new console, a decent chunk of their fanbase will buy it on that console. With a console as special as the Switch, when you see a decent library of your favorite games being ported over, you start to think it might be a worthwhile investment, letting you replay them wherever you want. Going further, when a publisher is porting their games to a new console, it’s usually on them to advertise it. An endless wave of publishers directing their extant fans to the Switch is a gold mine for Nintendo, and they didn’t have to spend a single cent.

Score: 8.5/10. Developers get Switch users buying their games, Nintendo gets free advertising and a cut of the profit, and Switch users get games. Everyone wins.

 

Consumer Relations

Nintendo’s big new feature this year was Switch online. As of September, players would no longer be allowed to play online games for free, but instead have to pay $20/year. When I put it like that it sounds incredibly sarcastic, but $20/year isn’t all that much and comes with a decent collection of benefits. On top of multiplayer, users can back up their saves to the cloud, allowing them to bring their saves to other consoles should they need to. The subscription also gives access to the NES app, which includes a small but growing pool of NES games to play. Currently available are classics such as Mario Bros, Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3, Excitebike, Metroid, and Ninja Gaiden. A small handful have been added roughly one a month, so hopefully this library will continue to grow.

Nintendo Switch Online

Nintendo also provided their own spin on voice chat. The Switch doesn’t have native voice chat functionality, so instead they released a smartphone app to allow in-game communication. Reception on this has been lukewarm, but as far as their options went, it’s better than nothing. Voice chat can’t simply be patched in like software, so Nintendo found a solution, and I think it’s pretty good.

Most of Nintendo’s information on new games has been delivered through shows like E3, as well as livestreamed directs to show off new games. They’ve had a decent amount this year: a smaller direct in January, a longer one in March (where Smash was announced), E3 in June, one in September, and one in November focusing on Smash. Their directs are a really nice way of getting information out to fans: they’re fast-paced, exciting, and spread apart just enough to keep us well-informed without being so commonplace they become boring.

Ultimately, I can comfortably say that I came out of this year happy with how Nintendo’s been interacting with its fans. I’m looking forward to more directs as well as expansions to its online system in 2019.

Score: 8/10. Putting online play behind a paywall is a bit annoying, but the price isn’t too steep, and worth the other features. Getting regular updates on games is always a plus as well.

 

Future

Nintendo’s going to receive continued support from indies, but it’ll die down after developers are done porting their older games, leaving only the new titles to debut. However, we’ve got bigger fish to fry: what’s Nintendo got up their sleeves? Let’s start with what we know. New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is gonna drop soon, coming January 11th. Pokemon Generation 8 will come in the fall, at at some point through the year we’ll get Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Metroid Prime 4, Bayonetta 3, Luigi’s Mansion 3, as well as the new Yoshi and Animal Crossing games. Nintendo Life also has an entry for a game called “Fitness Boxing” releasing on the 4th being developed by Nintendo, so… I guess we’re getting a rhythm-aerobics game as their first game of 2019.

This already gives us a really solid lineup for the year, certainly better than this last year. But what could still be announced? Pikmin 4 was teased years ago, could it finally be coming out in 2019? How about that Kid Icarus: Uprising port I’ve been begging for? That’s not coming, but I’d feel wrong not putting it on my predictions list. Kirby or Donkey Kong could get a new game announced, but they may or may not get released until 2020 or early 2021.

They’ll have to have something big for E3, and what better than the next Zelda or Mario game! It’s been a bit since Breath of the Wild came out, and it wouldn’t surprise me if the next Zelda game is in early development right now. Ending this year’s E3 presentation with a teaser for the next game in the series would be a fantastic closer for them, and would probably help them “win” the conference in the eyes of many.

Speaking of E3, what’ll they have there? Well, it depends on when their new games are releasing. Animal Crossing is rumored to come out soon, and Metroid Prime 4 might be releasing earlyish as well because it was first teased in 2017. Fire Emblem, Bayonetta, and Pokemon, though, will all be shown off at E3, as well as anything new Nintendo might be working on at the moment. They’ll be sure to show off upcoming ports of bigger games as well, like Wolfenstein and the like, as well as a collection of upcoming or recent indies. Whatever upcoming DLC they have for Smash will make an appearance too.

While I’m here, I might as well wildly speculate about what DLC characters might appear. We’ve already gotten confirmation of Joker from Persona, so it could be almost anyone. Despite how many fans of the series want Waluigi in the game, I don’t find it especially likely. There’s also a surprising amount of people that have been asking for Shadow the Hedgehog, but considering that both Waluigi and Shadow are assist trophies, I don’t see them being added. While it would be hilarious to see Silver be added ahead of Shadow, if someone else from the Sonic franchise is to be added, it would probably be Tails.

But let’s think bigger. Octopath Traveler was released as a Switch exclusive and did amazingly well, so maybe one of the characters could make an appearance? My vote would go to Primrose, but several of them would make good contenders. Nintendo and Ubisoft are still good friends, maybe a Ubisoft IP could make it in. Maybe we could see Ezio, or Rayman. Regardless, they’ll have to end with something big. Something that was a big part of their history, but still recent enough that newer players will remember it from their childhood. I’m thinking… Cookin’ Mama.

What about Switch Online? What changes will come to that? More NES games will make an appearance, like Kirby’s Adventure, Punch Out, Zelda II, Mother, and maybe bigger third-party games like Final Fantasy. I’d love to see SNES games eventually be included as well, maybe even for an optional extra $5 a year if you want access, which would let us get A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, and best of all EarthBound. Voice chat may get some improved functionality, although I’m not quite sure what. Nintendo may even have something completely out of left field to show us, and I’m looking forward to see what.

What will change on a corporate level? Not much, I think. Nintendo’s been doing great, and I don’t think they need to change much (or even anything) to keep it up.

Score: 9/10. Nintendo’s picking up the pace after 2018, and it’s going to be glorious.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review

Conclusion

Looking purely in terms of original games, 2018 was certainly a slow year. The first half was almost completely barren, and things didn’t pick up until the last quarter with Let’s Go and Smash. However, their endless slew of ports helped fuel console and game sales, allowing them to work on Switch Online, and prepare for a series of heavy-hitters in 2019. It’s gonna be a good year to be a Nintendo fanboy.

Final score: 7.5/10.

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