What the Best-Selling Switch Games tell us about the Future of Nintendo
Almost four and a half years on from its release, the Nintendo Switch is still soaring in the sky of seminal sales figures, positioning it as the Big N’s second-best selling home console behind the Wii, and their fourth-best selling console overall behind the podium-hogging portable princes of the Nintendo DS and Game Boy, respectively.
At 89 million units, the Switch storms its way ahead of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 into the fifth spot of most popular home consoles of all time, and that’s before the OLED edition slaps onto shelves this October. Alongside these figures, Nintendo also revealed their updated software sales, mapping out their top ten best-selling video games on everyone’s favourite hybrid machine.
Blue-shelling the competition into its rear-view mirror is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, which continues to hold pole position with a staggering 37 million sales since its release at the end of April 2017. And while Mario’s place at the top of the ladder isn’t necessarily a shock, the 34 million copies of Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ second-place sprint really is. Not only does Tom Nook’s island escape sim eclipse its third-place rival – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate – by almost 6 million sales, but it’s only been on the market for a third of the time.
The rest of the list is comprised mostly of long-time Nintendo IPs like The Legend of Zelda, plenty of Pokémon and more of that portly plumber and his undeniable empire of everything-you-can-slap-his-‘stache-on. Then, bringing up the rear in the ninth and tenth spots, are Splatoon 2 and Ring Fit Adventure, respectively.
With so few surprises clambering onto the list, you’d be forgiven for finding these figures somewhat unremarkable – but there’s so much more revealed here than first meets the eye. The mainstream appeal of video gaming hasn’t experienced highs such as the ones we’re facing right now since the mid-2000s and the original video gaming boom of the early 1980s which is, in part, due to the global pandemic. But in a console war that Sony and Microsoft thought they had all wrapped up in the previous generation, Nintendo continues to offer something their big boy rivals still rarely do…
The first and arguably most poignant element to notice is the number of games on the best-seller list that offer local multiplayer not only as a feature, but as a key facet of the gameplay. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Super Mario Party and even Let’s Go Pikachu! / Eevee! are designed with party- or co-op play in mind, a feature that the Switch’s portability, Joy-Con dexterity and tabletop mode really enhance. On top of these, Pokémon Sword and Shield, Super Mario Odyssey and Ring Fit Adventure also offer a measure of two-player gaming whilst sat in the same room.
If there’s been one thing missing from Sony and Microsoft’s more recent console creations, it’s a decent array of local multiplayer madness. And yes, the pandemic has pushed even more multiplayer-hungry gamers online, but Nintendo are finally covering that base too – Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a charming way to ‘visit’ your friends during global lockdowns, and Splatoon 2 has a die-hard following of deadly decorators drowning one another in primary-coloured paint online too. Nintendo have always been invested in bringing people together and offering enjoyable bursts of gaming brilliance – this latest list shows the strength of this move as times and trends move forward.
A second noteworthy notion suggested by this best-seller list ties in to the sheer volume of Ninty’s exclusive characters and IPs that rank. We’ve mentioned Mario’s multiple appearances, but Pokémon and Animal Crossing’s popularity are undeniable at this point. Then, when we factor in the love letter to gaming that is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and the packed-to-the-rafters roster in Super Mario Party, it’s clear that offering a slew of familiar faces, characters and titles is, over the years, extremely beneficial.
There are, after all, a hundred Mario Kart, Zelda and Animal Crossing imitators out there, but stamp the seal of approval that is the face of Link or Isabelle on the box art, and a consumer’s confidence in the product and playability goes through the roof. Just look at the ruckus Breath of the Wild’s sequel caused when it dropped at E3 earlier this year, and the proof is in the egg pudding. Nintendo continue to reward loyalty to their console with exclusive and unique gameplay options and titles – and long may it remain that way!
Lastly, one thing Nintendo have never forgotten is that video gaming appeals to all ages: kids love the colours and craziness, teens love escapism and to connect with (read: no-scope) their mates, and adults enjoy a bit of banter after a beer or fifteen. And where the Switch excels, much like the Wii before it, is in offering family-friendly party games that offer a wealth of replayability. It’s no coincidence that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Super Mario Party feature on the same list as Mario’s solo outing in Odyssey: they are fun no matter your age or aptitude for gaming. Power up the PlayStation, and dad can’t readily master the overbearing button combos of, say, The Last of Us: Part II or God of War. But Ring Fit Adventure makes sense immediately, and the simplicity of the Joy-Cons (and their motion controls) lowers the learning curve.
So what does this all mean for Nintendo’s future?
With the Game Boy and DS families selling in excess of 270 million units collectively, the Switch’s portability was a no-brainer – how no-one else had thought of making a hybrid home console before now is baffling given the data. But whilst the Game Boy and DS were, for the most part, solitary affairs that suited the train- or bus journey, the Switch covers those occasions but opens itself to everyone – a party that fits right in your pocket.
The future for Nintendo, then, seems obvious: remind everyone just how much fun local multiplayer still is, and make it easy for people to not only set-up the console, but pick up and play the games, too. Nintendo will continue to expand its online multiplayer options, further embracing DLC for its principal IPs and capturing the more mainstream gamer in the process. They’ll continue to appeal to female gamers far more heavily as well – something that only Sony seemed to be able to boast until recently.
Nintendo are opening doors for non-gamers again, much like they did with the DS and Wii, but in a way that encourages play no matter your number or location. And, in a post-pandemic world where people are longing to feel connected and come together more than ever, I know which video game giant I’m bringing along to each and every get-together.
Not got yourself a Switch yet? Grab yourself one here, or a Lite if you’re all about on-the-go gaming.
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