It’s a strange time in gaming, especially if your main platforms of choice are PlayStation or Xbox. Both systems do — despite often hysterical takes found on social media — have plenty of games to play. What PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X|S don’t have is an overabundance of new ‘next gen’ exclusives.
Microsoft’s system has practically none, at least from a first-party perspective, but can keep its players pretty happy with multi-platform titles and the ever-growing Game Pass. On PS5 there are a small number of critically-acclaimed exclusives, albeit saddled with debates around pricing, Returnal being a good example.
In any case, here we are near the middle of 2021 and the first-party release slates for both of Nintendo’s platform rivals are relatively thin. Sony has ‘delayed’ God of War Ragnarok and Gran Turismo 7 to 2022, though the previous suggestion that either would actually arrive this year always seemed rather fanciful; it will aim to fill its blockbuster quota this year with Horizon Forbidden West. On top of that, these games will also come to PS4, surprisingly in the case of the first two; that’s been a topic with some feisty debate. This is also in the context that Sony isn’t taking part in E3, so pushed out those announcements ahead of the industry event.
Potentially the most important point, though, is that stock is extremely hard to find for the new consoles, and may remain that way for much of this year.
Xbox will have an E3 showcase – alongside the recently acquired Bethesda – and is likely to have Microsoft Flight Simulator, Halo Infinite, Psychonauts 2 and, well, anything else it can squeeze out in 2021. This is off the back of relatively quiet first halves of the year, remember, and while we have little doubt that both powerhouses will have a small number of surprises up their sleeves, it’ll go down as rather slow first year — in terms of new software — for those systems; current global circumstances have of course played a big part in that. Potentially the most important point, though, is that stock is extremely hard to find for the new consoles, and may remain that way for much of this year.
Anyway, this is Nintendo Life, but we’re just scene-setting; not in a lame ‘console wars’ manner — we think both PS5 and Xbox Series X|S are awesome systems that offer something different from Switch. Yet in the broader picture of the mainstream games industry this stuff matters; Nintendo is still, like it was in 2020, well placed to capitalise.
Though Nintendo’s sales projections for this year are a drop on the Animal Crossing-fueled boom of 2020, they’re still very high. And why not? Even if we sideline the rolling rumours (two years+ of them!) about a hardware revision / upgrade, Nintendo’s momentum for Switch continues to be impressive. The company has faced and will still have to address potential manufacturing challenges, like all technology companies, but with its established processes and userbase it’s been able to maintain progress.
This is also a time when the relative lack of grunt in the Switch has been a benefit, too. It’s a hybrid portable device, so games top out at 1080p and expectations around visual fidelity and performance are suitably modest. You won’t see Digital Foundry breaking down the Miitopia port or counting pixels in New Pokémon Snap or the Famicom Detective games, but these are titles that look nice on the system and are typical Nintendo fun. Add to that the eShop’s gems and some very solid third-party releases — an obvious standout being Monster Hunter Rise — and there’s been good stuff to play in the first half of the year.
As it did in the console’s first year, Nintendo is pretty much delivering on a ‘big’ game a month, with Mario Golf: Super Rush and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD on the way soon, and the intriguing Game Builder Garage arriving before both of those. That gets us to August and September, which is where the upcoming E3 Direct will really have a chance to set the scene.
We already have Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl arriving in the lucrative Holiday season, but there’s little doubt that the E3 Direct will fill in some other gaps; Nintendo often allows only a few months from announcement to release for various titles. For example, will there be other games to celebrate The Legend of Zelda’s big anniversary? Breath of the Wild 2 feels unlikely for this year, we would suggest, but a smaller release or another ‘HD’ remake seems sensible. There are whispers about a new Metroid game, as always, though to say Metroid Prime 4 is probably still ‘a way off’ is likely an understatement. But this is Nintendo, there’ll be releases no-one’s really thought of yet, and though plenty of people seem to fancy themselves to be prolific leakers of industry secrets, Nintendo has managed to surprise us quite a bit in recent times.
Nintendo, as has been the way since Satoru Iwata shifted the focus with DS and Wii, can deliver experiences more focused on smart design and fun gameplay.
And again, this is ignoring third-party releases, of which there are a number to be excited about. No More Heroes III is on plenty of wishlists, that’s for sure, and there are more RPGs on the way than we dare to count. And though Nintendo’s internal development teams will have endured the same difficult challenges and changes to processes as every other major studio over the last 15 months, most of them are not producing massive open-world games in 4K with a pressure to deliver extravagant visuals. Nintendo, as has been the way since Satoru Iwata shifted the focus with DS and Wii, can deliver experiences more focused on smart design and fun gameplay, without the expectation of pushing technological boundaries.
With PS5 and Xbox Series X|S seemingly caught in a holding pattern as the platform holders await the completion of their exclusive titles and struggle to even match demand for the hardware, Nintendo has a unique opportunity to seize the day with its software. With a strong E3 showing, and with the ongoing logistical challenges faced by its console rivals, 2021 could be another dynamic and dominant year for the Switch.
We’re excited to see how the schedule for the rest of the year looks after that E3 Nintendo Direct has wrapped. As always let us know whether you share our optimism in the comments!
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