To paraphrase an LCD Soundsystem song: Nintendo, I love you, but you’re bringing me down. There’s a problem plaguing the Switch. Following on from the Switch’s first year – which included the GamesRadar Game of the Year – comes a poor way to enter the New Year: waves and waves of remasters and ports. If 2017 was a feast fit for a king, 2018 is reheated leftovers that have been in the fridge for a week, your only option being to scoff them up because the cupboard is completely bare.
Nintendo, so often a company that prides itself on new and unique experiences is slowly turning into Microsoft or Sony-lite. The Nintendo Labo may yet herald the dawn of a new day, placing its focus on creativity ahead of cash-grabs. But that day is not here yet. Here are some sobering stats. 34 games have confirmed release dates (via Metacritic) for the Switch in 2018. Out of those 34, 14 are ports or remasters. That amounts to 41% of available games out for the Switch in the West. Sure, some are synonymous with Nintendo and are actually worth revisiting, such as Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze and Dragon Quest Builders but do we really need a remastered Dark Souls or a second look at Payday 2?
Nearly half of the games on offer will be titles you’ve likely already played to death before or, worse, ones you’ve decided aren’t worth your time. That’s without accounting for The World Ends With You, which would ramp the total up to 43%. That is unacceptable. Meaning no disrespect to the original games coming out on that list, but Nintendo has already been made to look amateur in the first month of the year. Monster Hunter World, previously a Nintendo-heavy third-party franchise, is making its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 only – and it’s bound to be a better, fresher adventure than playing through an 8-year-old Bayonetta on its second re-release.
It’s a toothless response, and feeds into the criticism that the company is out of touch in a rapidly evolving market. It’s made to look even more disconnected when placed in tandem with quotes from Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima who states, “the second year is crucial. Our task is to add more users, including people who barely touch game consoles.” Then again, the potential console-blindness of a new customer base does explain the insistence on remastering so many titles.
So, where did this Nintendo fascination with remasters all begin? Worryingly, it’s a completely new trend for the Japanese giant, and it all stems from last year. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, one of the console’s biggest sellers, is a fine game. It’s also symptomatic of the rut that the Switch finds itself entrenched in for year two.
Again, it’s a re-bundled game, designed to plug the gap between the flagship releases of Zelda and Mario and, in doing so, sold a whopping 4 million copies on Switch. That may be dwarfed by the Wii U version’s 7.6 million, but it’s not an inconsiderable amount when you take into account the fact that the Switch sold just shy of 10 million units in 2017. Nearly one-in-two of all current Switch owners own Mario Kart 8 v2.0. The answer for Nintendo has always been obvious: mining the past is the best way forward. Except, on this occasion, the ores of the past aren’t little winks and nods in new releases, but the same old lumps of coal dredged up time and time again.
That may have kicked off 2017 but, by December, that train of thought showed no signs of slowing down. Skyrim for Switch is the company’s most egregious error. It was, at the time, a six-year-old game being sold for £40/$60. Who here hasn’t played Skyrim? If you have and thought fus-ro-dahing whilst on the khazi was worth full price then, sure, whatever floats your boat. But you’re in the minority.
The sales figures make for troubling reading, no matter how you feel about it: the PS4 version of Skyrim’s remastered Special Edition (and, let’s be blunt, neither Sony or Microsoft are blameless in this epidemic) unofficially sold 2.7 million. The Switch? 150,000. Nintendo’s early success with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has lulled the company into a false sense of security; it has greenlit remasters and ports with the best of the current crop selling 5% of what its competitors achieved. Sure, remasters and rereleases are cheap to produce, especially given how easy Switch is to develop for, and they can help finance more creative projects. But balance is everything, especially when it comes to the reputation of your console. Remember when the Xbox One was announced with a raft of TV features and barely any games? It has struggled to recover since.
Nintendo’s past damns it even more when it comes to the future. There’s a serious possibility that it will be breaking trends that have served it well since the days of the Nintendo 64. Each of the N64, GameCube, Wii, and Wii U’s second years has seen the following games released for their respective consoles: Ocarina of Time, The Wind Waker, Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros for Wii U. What do Switch owners have to look forward to? Lost Sphear. Also available on PS4.
Nintendo always seemed content to be third-best in a competitive market, as long as it was offering something different. Now Nintendo is turning into a shell of its former self, comfortable with offering up what everyone’s already played through long ago. There’s no Blu-ray functionality, there’s no Netflix update in sight; the Switch is about the games, but where are they? This isn’t you, Nintendo – you’re on the verge of turning a dream into a nightmare.
Look at what worked last year. Imaginative, pulsating gameplay, no overbearing use of motion controls and, crucially, original titles. Stack that up with the bevvy of indie titles, such as Stardew Valley and Golf Story, that accompanied it and everything looks healthy. Obviously, a rinse and repeat mantra will do no one any good but 2017 was a triumph. There are lessons to be learned as well as fantastic successes to draw inspiration from. 2018 can’t simply be a case of resting on your laurels, no matter how much spit and polish is offered up to gloss over the slavish need to re-package nostalgia.
However, all is not lost. We’re only in January after all, and the expectation of a Smash Bros or Mario Kart releasing before the year’s end is fairly reasonable. Either of those games need to make an appearance by E3, though, lest the core owner base gets restless and consigns another Nintendo console to a dusty, underused fate. Nice idea, shame about the lack of support.
But let me be clear on this: the Switch is most definitely not a bust. The handful of first-party games currently available range from ‘good’ to ‘some of the finest to hit the medium’, and the recent reveal of the Nintendo Labo is a critical first step in regaining its childlike innocence and an emphasis on imaginative play, though the concept’s wider appeal may be limited. Nintendo, when it wants to, can innovate like no other, which is why it’s so head-smackingly frustrating that there’s every chance the Switch could lose a decent chunk of its momentum.
So, come on, Nintendo, you’re better than this. You’re not reams and reams of remasters; you’re not a peddler of flickering, faded memories. You were never about ‘Oh, I remember this’ and ‘Look what they’ve done to the graphics’. You were – and always should be – about substance over style. You’re smiles, you’re eyes widening in wonderment, you’re originality. 2018 is still young, but, after an outstanding opening year, you’re in danger of slipping. Be better. Be Nintendo again.