During its first three years on the market, the Nintendo Switch was the gaming device fans never knew they needed. The ingenuous console-handheld hybrid combined the best of both worlds and set Nintendo up for its greatest success since the Nintendo Wii.
Despite those wins, 2020 posed some existential threats to Nintendo’s console. The transition to stay-at-home life suddenly cut the Switch’s usefulness in half. It also didn’t help that the console had its weakest year of first-party support to date last year. As the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 arrived, it seemed like the Switch would get lost at sea amid all the excitement.
Now in 2021, the Switch is finding a new unexpected niche that’s once again setting it apart from the rest — it’s now the premier platform for RPG fans.
A quick look at the Nintendo Switch’s 2021 lineup doesn’t look promising. The biggest games in the immediate pipeline are New Pokemon Snap, Mario Golf: Super Rush, and an HD remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. While all of those should be fun additions for any Switch owner, we’re not quite looking at a killer game on par with Animal Crossing: New Horizons or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild from past years. With the holiday season a mystery, Switch owners might not get a true system seller until 2022.
The weak 2021 calendar is a lot more exciting for RPG fans. The console just got Bravely Default 2, a big release for turn-based die-hards, and Persona 5 Strikers, a Dynasty Warriors-style action game with heavy RPG elements. By the end of the year, Switch owners will get Monster Hunter Rise, Neo: The World Ends With You, a Legend of Mana remaster, Rune Factory 5, a pair of Pokemon remakes … and that’s just a small sample. Even the new Mario Golf is returning the franchise to its RPG roots.
That uneven balance continually leads to tensions among Nintendo fans. Sift through the reactions to the company’s latest Direct presentation and you’ll find two different worlds. Some walked away from the big presentation disappointed by Nintendo’s slim schedule, while others were in paradise.
Regardless of one’s genre preferences, it’s hard to write off how impressive the Switch’s upcoming RPG line up is. For those who prefer games like Final Fantasy over action-packed shooters, the console currently fills a niche that the PS5 and Xbox Series X have yet to cover in their short life spans. The new systems may have big blockbusters on their side, but the Switch is a home base for the hardcore crowd — an inversion of Nintendo’s usual role.
The stream of RPGs is important considering how much Nintendo is losing hold of its utility. In its first three years, the Switch thrived as a console that was able to do what no other platform could. It allowed players to take console-quality games on the go without a Wi-Fi connection, even besting cloud services like Google Stadia.
With the majority of games being played at home during the pandemic, that feature has felt more like a gimmick over the past year. Using a Switch at home feels a little less appealing when players have a powerful PC or new console sitting right next to them. Considering that the Switch has had few must-play exclusives in the past year, save for Animal Crossing, the shiny new consoles just feel more appealing.
The oncoming wave of RPGs has the potential to totally shift that dynamic. If the Xbox Series X and PS5 are where players are going to blaze through their big-budget action games, the Switch is where they can leisurely pluck away at a 60-plus hour adventure from the comfort of their bed. Portability may have been the console’s initial selling point, but its flexibility is its real staying power. The on-the-go platform is suddenly turning into the best at-home console out there.
Long games are especially appealing in 2021 because of how slim this year’s game calendar is looking. With high-profile delays happening every week, there’s going to be some serious gaps in the new release lineup through the holiday season. That means it’s the perfect time to curl up with a huge game that would otherwise eat up too much time. Nintendo has that market cornered, giving fans many good reasons to boot their device up this year, even if for more niche experiences.
While it won’t be an exciting year for most Switch owners, this year serves as a great excuse for players to spread their wings and try something new. Rather than bemoaning the next Nintendo Direct because it has too many RPGs, consider checking one of these games out. You might just find the next obsession you need to wait out the next few months of the pandemic.
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