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Nintendo Year in Review: Nostalgia, remakes, and Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Nintendo Switch OLED
(Image credit: Nintendo)

Nintendo came into 2021 riding high of a year of unprecedented success. While everyone waited for Sony and Microsoft to release their new consoles, the Switch had quietly taken over the world with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, in a way that few other games have ever done. Of course, the game being an accidentally perfect antidote to a global pandemic certainly helped, but it meant that Nintendo had a lot to prove this year. 

The hybrid console has been dwarfed somewhat this year by the chatter of PS5 and Xbox Series X stock and of huge AAA exclusives. Because, while Sony players got access to titles like Deathloop, Returnal, and Ratchet and Clank: A Rift Apart, and Xbox Series X had Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5, Switch gamers have been treated mainly to a heavy helping of nostalgia. 

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that of course; it's a strategy that has always done well for Nintendo, after all. But in a year that's felt focused on the future of gaming, Nintendo has felt a little stuck in the past - despite a range of new releases.

Memory lane

Metroid Dread screenshots

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Almost five years into its lifecycle, you'd expect the Switch to have a few more major exclusives launching each year to really push the machine forward. 2022 is looking great for that, with Pokemon Legends: Arceus offering a new, more open-world take on the classic Pokemon formula, and sequels like Splatoon 3, Bayonetta 3, and the highly-anticipated Breath of the Wild 2 expected to deliver excellent new adventures. 

In terms of new releases, this year for Nintendo has been headlined by Metroid Dread - a side-scrolling adventure that completes the story arc from the 2D Metroid games first started in 1986. While it was critically acclaimed, and a fantastic Metroid title, it is somewhat overshone by excellent examples from the Metroidvania genre these games birthed, including Hollow Knight and Dead Cells. It also absolutely epitomizes the idea of Nintendo's 2021 being a year defined by a reliance on nostalgia. 

New Pokemon Snap

(Image credit: Nintendo)

This is aided by other new Switch games released in 2021 too. We got New Pokemon Snap, an excellent reimagining of an N64 classic, and Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, a remastering of one of the series' most misunderstood entries lovingly brought to switch with new control schemes. These were joined by the Switch port for the Wii U's brilliant Super Mario 3D World, which came with a brand new DLC bundled in - Bowser's Fury. It was a great, and unexpected addition, with so many Cat Mario nods that you couldn't move for cute. We also got WarioWare: Get It Together and Mario Golf: Super Rush, alongside some big third-party exclusives like Monster Hunter Rise and Famicom Detective Club.

Of course, we eventually got a mammoth drop of Animal Crossing: New Horizon content too, with the free Update 2.0 delivering plenty of huge new features and quality of life updates. That was accompanied by the game's first paid-for DLC, Happy Home Paradise, which, while a fantastic offering, was also revealed to be the game's last paid-for DLC… An odd decision for a game that has such a huge player base hungry for more content.

The hard sell

Nintendo Switch OLED joy-cons

(Image credit: Nintendo)

It's not all been about the games this year for Nintendo though, with the Japanese company debuting a new iteration of its handheld hybrid - the Switch OLED. Although it's not quite the Switch Pro many of us were expecting, it's been an incredibly popular machine, which only aided the Switch stock shortages that have occurred alongside the elusiveness of Sony and Microsoft's latest machines. 

It arrived in October alongside Metroid Dread, with a new white colorway, more internal storage, a better kickstand, and headlining with that bigger 7-inch OLED display, which really does make a huge difference in handheld mode. The dock got a redesign and an ethernet port too, but the disappointment was palpable at the lack of resolution upgrade. It's still 720p in handheld mode, and 1080p docked, meaning the Switch is still lagging far behind the industry standards. 

Hitman 3 Nintendo Switch Cloud version

(Image credit: IO Interactive)

Interestingly though, the other element that has proved forward-facing for Nintendo is the sudden increase in Cloud Versions available for the console. The technology has allowed gamers to enjoy major AAA releases like Hitman 3, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy, and, soon, Dying Light 2: Stay Human, over a stable internet connection with great success. 

Nintendo's 2021 has been defined by titles that really speak to its history, along with hardware that hints at its future. It's not been the company's best year, but 2022 looks bright for Nintendo's game releases already. 

Make sure to check out our picks of the best Switch games for more

Sam Loveridge

Sam Loveridge is the Global Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar, and joined the team in August 2017. Sam came to GamesRadar after working at TrustedReviews, Digital Spy, and Fandom, following the completion of an MA in Journalism. In her time, she's also had appearances on The Guardian, BBC, and more. Her experience has seen her cover console and PC games, along with gaming hardware, for over seven years, and for GamesRadar, she is in charge of reviews, best lists, and the overall running of the site and its staff. Her gaming passions lie with weird simulation games, big open-world RPGs, and beautifully crafted indies. Basically, she loves all games that aren't sports or fighting titles!