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Nintendo 2019 Year in Review: With new hardware and awesome exclusives, Nintendo reaffirmed its position of power

(Image credit: Nintendo)

It's been two years since the Switch launched, and as 2019 has proved, Nintendo's hybrid console continues to keep the company firmly riding high on the road of success. Simply saying Nintendo had another successful year just doesn't cut it. In fact, you could even go as far as to say 2019 was the year of the Switch. Nintendo put out some the best-selling releases on the Switch to date, and with no signs of slowing down as the year went on, Nintendo shifted up a gear with the release of another console. The Switch Lite - a smaller, lighter, cheaper version of the Switch - sold just under 2 millions units a month after launch, adding another mile to its ever stretching success story. 

In a lot of ways, though, this year reaffirmed the power of Nintendo's franchises. 2019 brought back the likes of Pokemon, Fire Emblem, And Luigi's Mansion, and even let players old and new experience the magic of a classic Zelda game with Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. But there were no end of surprises throughout the year that continued to keep Nintendo's momentum running. 

Tetris enters the battle royale arena 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

The first big surprise came early on in the year with the first Nintendo Direct of 2019. In recent years, battle royale has truly taken over, and the likes of Fortnite and more recently Apex Legends (opens in new tab) continue to keep it firmly planted in the gaming landscape. But Apex wasn't the only battle royale game to make its mark this year. In February, Nintendo also entered the equation with the surprise release of the free-to-play Tetris 99. The classic 80's puzzle game dipped its blocks in the battle royale formula and delivered a perfectly blended cocktail of old and new. Developed by Arika and published by Nintendo exclusively for Switch, the game pits 99 players against each other in a tile-stacking online frenzy, which inventively shook up the battle royale arena with a true classic no one saw coming.

But the Battle Royale genre wasn't the only place Nintendo was making waves. With a frankly massive swarm of releases throughout the year, from stellar first-party games to excellent indies, the Switch was stuffed full of fantastic releases that kept us firmly glued to our joycons. In the very same Nintendo Direct, Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening (opens in new tab) made an appearance for the first time, with a September release date that delighted fans everywhere. Remade from the ground up in an adorably appealing art style, Awakening was yet another reminder of Nintendo's rich history of classic gems. 

As the Switch library continued to expand, Nintendo proved that the Switch offered a very comfy home for indie games. Xbox One exclusives were exclusive no more with the arrival of the likes of Cuphead and Ori and the Blind Forest on Nintendo's console. Then Brace Yourself Games announced one of the most interesting indie releases of the year. After successfully collaborating with Nintendo, the indie developer took to its rhythmic adventure, Crypt of the NecroDancer, to the world of the Legend of Zelda series with Cadence of Hyrule. 

Bowser takes over 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

Fast forward to E3 2019 (opens in new tab), and yet more releases trickled through in one of Nintendo's most memorable showcases of the year. Back in February, Reggie Fils-Amie announced his retirement as president of Nintendo America to spend more time with his family. During his heartfelt goodbye to players, Reggie revealed the next president would be Bowser… No, not that Bowser, Doug Boswer. With a name like Doug Bowser, he was practically destined to work with Nintendo. During the E3 showcase, Nintendo played up the joke when Bowser met Bowser, and it was a great way to make everyone warm up to the new Nintendo president. 

Aside from Bowser wearing a tie, the E3 showcase was a pertinent reminder of the impressive number of games headed to the Switch library in the months after. Not only that, but it was veritable hype machine with its introduction to some surprising new additions to its powerhouse Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and it even harkened back to one of its biggest successes when the Switch launched in 2017 with the suprise announcement that a Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel (opens in new tab) is currently in development. With its distinctly dark vibes and an ominous feel, the sequel go very well go in the direction of Majora's Mask. 

Gotta play em' all

(Image credit: Nintendo)

In a lot of ways, though, all of the first party games we got our hands on are what truly defined Nintendo's 2019. In the summer, Intelligent Systems released the first Fire Emblem game on a home console in over a decade with Fire Emblem: Three Houses (opens in new tab). With a huge cast of memorable characters, Three Houses switched up the feel of the franchise by putting you in the role of a teacher and mentor. As a great gateway into the series for new players, Three Houses sold in swathes, and ensured that Nintendo had a strong summer. The success story continued with the return of everyone's favourite cowardly green plumber in the biggest Luigi's Mansion game to date. Set in a hotel instead of a mansion, Luigi's Mansion 3 (opens in new tab) elevated the series like never before, with gorgeous animations and level designs bursting with creativity.

But perhaps the biggest and most anticipated release of the year came with the latest Pokemon entry, Pokemon Sword and Shield (opens in new tab).  Despite the online outcry from select fans about the lack of a national dex, Sword and Shield quickly became the fastest-selling Switch game in the console's history, proving that the Pokemon franchise was still as much of a success as it was on older handhelds for Nintendo. 

Lite it up 

(Image credit: Nintendo)

As amazing as the year has been for software, Nintendo also got creative with its hardware. A year after the release of its creative cardboard Nintendo Lab toys creation, Nintendo ventured into the world of VR with the Labo VR Kit. Not unlike Google Cardboard, the Labo VR headset transformed the Switch into a VR portal. Sure, it might not be the most advanced piece of kit when it comes to VR headsets, but it was an inventive way of utilising the cardboard set up Labo introduced to test the virtual reality waters. 

In yet another surprise move, Nintendo popped up with one of its biggest announcements of the year – the Switch Lite. Yes, the Lite model was a true handheld in every sense, with no dockability, and a lighter, smaller size. In a range of three colours, the Lite filled a gap in the market for players who wanted the Switch in a more manageable on-the-go form, and with better battery life, it ticked all the right boxes. Selling units left and right and centre worldwide since its launch in September, the Lite upped Nintendo's hardware game for the year, and proved that the company continues to innovate and cater to more audiences. 

The success of 2019 proves that Nintendo is still one of the biggest players in the industry, and as the many directs and showcases can attest, next year already looks promising with the upcoming release of other big mainline first-party games like Animal Crossing: New Horizons (opens in new tab), as well as more indie games than you can count. With so many fantastic releases this year in the world of software and hardware, Nintendo continues to pave the way with its hybrid console. One things for sure: 2020 has a tough act to follow. 

GamesRadar is celebrating the end of the decade! Why not come and see how many of your favourite Nintendo Switch games made the cut, as we run down the best of the decade (opens in new tab)

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.