It’s a strange year for video game consoles. With the next generation of hardware around the corner, Microsoft and Sony aren’t producing as many big games for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 right now, instead opting to beef up their release window war chest. Nintendo, meanwhile, has already released mainline entries for its biggest heavy hitters,ZeldaandMario, prior to this year. And yet, even without these big names, the Nintendo Switch has been dominating 2019.
To be sure, a big part of the Switch’s popularity here has to do with multiplatform titles. Titles likethe excellentSteamworld Questand the addictingDragon Quest Builders 2can technically be enjoyed in other places, but the ability to take these meaty role-playing games anywhere makes the Nintendo Switch versions the ports of choice. Second-party exclusives likeCadence of HyruleandTetris 99, meanwhile, have managed to inject old franchises with a rare sense of verve and originality.
For its part, Nintendo itself hasn’t been slouching, either. The Japanese developer has continued to supportSuper Smash Bros. Ultimatewith new characters, likePersona 5’s Joker — and more characters are in the works. These DLC fighters have allowed the party game to remain relevant well into 2019, both for the general fandom that wants to see their favorite franchise represented, as well as the more selective competitive community.Smash Bros. Ultimatewas the most popular game at Evo 2019, the world’s largest fighting game tournament. And while players continue to bicker about thesupposedly overpowered inclusion of characters like Hero, there’s never been a more interesting time to watch high-level Smash Bros. play. Just at Evo alone, the top 10 entrants pickeda diverse roster that included everyone from Pokémon Trainer to Wario, which is a far cry from the usual faces we typically see inMeleecompetitions.
Perhaps the biggest flex for Nintendo has unfolded this summer, after the release ofSuper Mario Maker 2andFire Emblem: Three Houses. Free of the constraints of the Wii U, the Super Mario-level-building gameovertook both YouTube and Twitch,with nearly every big gaming personality trying their hand at the game. Footage of the game continually goes viral, largely because Mario is such an easy game to understand — andthe multiplayer shenanigans arehilarious.Level creators continue to keep the game fresh, too, thanks to a bevy of new mechanics that aren’t available in any other Mario games. While I will never beat aKaizo level, it’s been fun to watch expert players use new things like the cat suit or the car to make hardcore stages.
Fire Emblem, meanwhile, is undergoing a total renaissance. While the franchise has steadily been moving away from hardcore tactics, it has doubled down on the character-building aspect, this time turning the role-playing game into something of a school simulator. I’ve spent more time getting to know my students than I have in battle, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The effect is thatwhileThree Housesis notoriously easy,nearly everyone I know loves it anyway. It helps thatthe memesfor the game have beenout of this world.
When I’m not playingThree Houses, I’m probably going down a rabbit hole of Fire Emblem jokes on the internet. One of my favorite things to do is to just search a random character on Twitter or Tumblr, becauseeveryonehas a devoted army of fanatics. Even charactersthat I initially dislikedhave become favorites thanks to the fandom. I haven’t seen anything like this sinceOverwatch, except Fire Emblem doesn’t just give players mere lore scraps. The story and the interplay between all the different characters is the entire point.Three Housesdoes everything in its power to make sure it will hurt when you have to kill former allies later in the game. It’s so effective that, even as the world informs me that there are a number of cool new games I should try, it’s been hard to detach myself fromFire Emblem.
Even older games with zero new content are alive and well in 2019. Following theannouncement ofBreath of the Wild 2, plenty of folks picked the first game back up. Many undoubtedly just never finished, and now had a good excuse to jump back in. Others, meanwhile, were curious toexplore already existing cluesthat may give us a sense ofwhere the franchise will go next. Mostly, though,Breath of the Wildcarries the distinction of being a “forever” game, much likeGrand Theft Auto 5andSkyrim. You can pick any of these titles up right now, having played them for endless hours in the past, and stillfind something exciting to explore.Indeed, there’s a class ofBreath of the Wildplayers who seem to turn on the game nearly every single day, somehowstillfinding things that nobody has seen before, likehow to ride Sidon anywhere.
The wildest thing about all of this is that Nintendo isn’t done.Astral Chain, PlatinumGames’ stylish new action title, isn’t out for a few more days — andwe already know that it’s excellent.Despite the controversy,PokémonSwordandShieldcontinue to delight with every new monster that Game Freak reveals. TheLink’s Awakeningremake looks like the cutest thing on earth, and I am curious to seeLuigi’s Mansion 3go back to the franchise’s roots. I am surprised to admit that even a Mario and Sonic game has got me excited thanks to theridiculous and silly footagethat’s been released thus far.
Without meaning to, 2019 has become the year of the Nintendo Switch — and I for one am enjoying seeing Nintendo at the top of its game once more.