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In the Switch's eighth year, Nintendo can still surprise | Opinion

The summer showcase season closed with a remarkably strong line-up for Nintendo's ageing console – and hints that the Switch successor will be all about continuity

It's almost a truism at this point, but there is arguably no company in the games industry that protects its secrecy quite as closely or as well as Nintendo.

Its tight control over information about its upcoming products rarely slips, and any third-party studio that has ever worked on a Nintendo property can vouch for how seriously the company takes information control and leak prevention.

The results are hard to disagree with; it's striking that the Nintendo Direct showcase which just wrapped up the nebulous (but very enjoyable) not-E3 season was filled with major reveals about which we had had no prior inkling.

Other companies do sometimes manage to pull off genuine surprises, but it's nonetheless common for showcase events to descend into exercises in ticking off rumoured and leaked products.

Nintendo's preference for tight control of information does, however, sometimes cross over into feeling like a parody of itself. The company's statements thus far about the successor console to the Switch have been a masterclass in saying nothing at all.

Pretty much the only things we know about the console (from the horse's mouth, at least) are that it will use Nintendo Accounts, as expected, and that it will be officially announced sometime before March 31, 2025.

From any other company, such exaggerated secrecy would seem a little ridiculous; we're so used to it from Nintendo that it actually feels like a major concession that the company has acknowledged the existence of a Switch successor at all.

One side-effect of all this secrecy is that rumours and leaks about Nintendo products tend to be especially widely reported. That can cause problems when those reports are inaccurate or, as seems to have happened repeatedly with the Switch successor, when Nintendo's internal plans change without any acknowledgement from the company itself.

Beyond the rumours and leaks, though, a little cottage industry has also sprung up in what effectively amounts to Nintendo Kremlinology, interpreting the signs and symbols in the firm's statements and decisions to try to understand what it is planning.

I'm going to engage here in a bit of unapologetic Nintendology, because while the Nintendo Direct showcase we just saw was a masterclass in saying precisely nothing about the thing people most want to hear about, it was also a deeply impressive line-up of software, and that in itself tells us something about how Nintendo sees its strategy developing in the next couple of years.

I don't know that anyone expected Nintendo to bring their A-game to the summer showcase to this extent. Most people have viewed 2024 as the quiet year when we count down to the Switch successor, with Nintendo's major teams presumably beavering away on games for that device. Unveiling new Mario, Zelda, and Metroid titles at this event was not on most people's bingo card.

The conventional logic was wrong, then, but it wasn't unreasonable! Ordinarily, you'd expect a platform holder in this position – with its flagship console now in its eighth year on the market, and successor hardware waiting in the wings – to be keeping most of its powder dry for the unveiling of that new hardware. It's important, after all, to have a strong software line-up in the launch window.

I'm not sure anyone expected that the long-term support for the Switch would extend to having new Mario and Zelda in production

You want to wow people with all the games you're making available early in the lifespan of the new device, convincing them that it's worth the investment at the launch price. A new platform trades on a heady mix of optimism for the future, and FOMO. After all, the marketing tells you, look at all the great games you'd be missing out on if you didn't buy the new hardware!

At least, that's the conventional, traditional logic for how the console industry works.

In recent years it has been changed somewhat by the lengthening of "long tail" sales of older consoles, the focus on backwards compatibility, and the introduction of cross-generation flagship titles.

None of those things are all that new to Nintendo, though. It has always been willing to bend and flex the logic of console launches, far before its rivals started to do so. Cross-generation launches may be a relatively new thing for the other platform holders, but Nintendo has made them into a central pillar of its launch strategy since the GameCube transitioned into the Wii.

There's almost always a major title at the launch of a new Nintendo platform that's also available on the prior platform. It plays just fine on the old hardware, but the marketing can still tap into that potent FOMO – after all, wouldn't you like to experience it on the shiny new console?

You don't have to look far online to see people speculating that we've already seen one such game – doesn't Metroid Prime 4 look rather ambitious for a Switch game? Wouldn't it really shine on some upgraded hardware? It's not an unreasonable assumption.

The timeline fits; Metroid is a 2025 title, and all signs from Nintendo thus far suggest that it's serious about pushing the "We'll talk about the Switch successor within this financial year" line as close to that March 31 deadline as it can, meaning that it will not launch new hardware until the Switch has seen out its eighth birthday next March.

For a relatively graphically intensive game like Metroid Prime 4, a cross-generation launch in that timeframe would make perfect sense, although it will be very interesting to see whether that takes the form of multiple SKUs (one for the Switch, one for the successor), or a single SKU optimised for both platforms, along the lines of the Smart Delivery system for the Xbox.

Much of what we saw in the Nintendo Direct showcase, however, is due sooner, and very clearly targeting the current console, with no cross-generation shenanigans in evidence. That makes for a strong line-up for a console in its latter years, and a pretty solid riposte to people (myself included) who assumed Tears of the Kingdom to be the swansong title for the Switch.

Nintendo was never going to abandon the Switch suddenly – not with that enormous installed base still hungry for new software – but I'm not sure anyone expected that the long-term support for the device would extend to having new Mario and Zelda titles in production for the console.

All of this is additional grist to the Nintendology question of the past couple of years: how is the successor to the Switch going to be branded, and how is its launch going to be presented to the public?

Cross-generational launches for major titles are a given, but keeping up such a strong pipeline of software for the original Switch even while ramping up to launch the new device suggests that Nintendo's aim is likely to be continuity rather than revolution.

Whatever it is launching is meant to take on the mantle of the Switch rather than replacing it entirely, and the strong Switch software pipeline will just amount to more good games on the shelf that play nicely on its successor device as well.

That fits with what little we know thus far, which suggests that the console is quite a direct successor in terms of hardware and form factor, which, if true, is a little unusual for Nintendo.

"Switch 2" is the obvious branding for such a device – highlighting compatibility while eliminating confusion about whether it's a genuine successor, as opposed to an add-on or a "Pro" model – but Nintendo often seems allergic to such obvious branding, and there remains a strong possibility of a left-field name.

One major question which could have an effect on the branding of the new device is whether Nintendo intends to continue selling the original Switch (perhaps at a lower price point or in a more kid-friendly form factor along the lines of the Switch Lite) alongside the new generation for a significant period. That decision may not entirely be in Nintendo's hands, of course; the ability to do so could be limited by chip supply if production lines for the decade-old Tegra X1 SOCs that power the Switch are shut down.

What Nintendo is likely to attempt with this launch is a combination of things it's done before – backwards compatibility, significant software overlap for the initial launch period, encouraging long tail sales of the existing console – with a high degree of platform continuity both in hardware and in branding. This is new ground for Nintendo to some extent, but it's not without some historical parallels.

Keeping up such a strong pipeline of software for the original Switch even while ramping up to launch the new device suggests that Nintendo's aim is likely to be continuity rather than revolution

The DS to 3DS transition was similarly about trying to create a device with an identity of its own that could nonetheless assume the mantle of its successful predecessor, and despite a rocky start (and the core 3D feature ultimately being ignored as a gimmick), it did work pretty well in the end.

The Wii to Wii U transition had the same objectives, and paired a rocky start with a rocky middle and an abrupt end, so that's exactly the example Nintendo wants to avoid – and is also why so many people are wondering what the "Switch 2" will actually be called, since the consensus in the years since the Wii U launch has been that the branding of the console massively confused many consumers and contributed heavily to its commercial failure.

Nintendo is coming off one of the most successful eras it has ever had – you can see why they're so loath to let go of the Switch and move on to its successor, but this hardware transition has to happen, and getting it right is crucial for the company's success in the coming years.

It's a tricky balancing act, maintaining an existing platform with a huge installed base while launching a successor that you want to position as an extension of the brand, and there's a great deal at stake in getting it right.

On the plus side, the one thing unequivocally confirmed by the summer Nintendo Direct is arguably one of the most important aspects – Nintendo's software pipeline is still in robust shape, still more than capable of serving up delightful surprises and getting the company's consumers excited for what's next.

That hasn't always been enough to deliver commercial success for the company – but as Nintendo gears up to the challenge of the coming year, it's an excellent starting point, at least.

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Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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