It was a weird year for Nintendo. It had a Mario, Zelda and Pokémon release this year (three of their biggest, best-selling franchises), but none of those games are likely to get much attention from people compiling their year-end top 10 lists.
That’s because they’re all remakes/re-releases. That isn’t to say they’re not good games, and that developers didn’t put in some strong work on them for the Switch release, but they certainly don’t carry the excitement that a genuinely new game in these franchises would have.
Nintendo also launched a new Mario Golf and a new Mario Party game, both of which will likely do well sales-wise for Nintendo, but also don’t bring the same level of hype as a new Mario Kart or Smash Bros. game would have.
Similarly, Nintendo launched an OLED model of its Switch console. It’s not the Switch Pro, or Switch 2.0 that everyone wanted, but it is an upgrade over the original model. However, it doesn’t carry the same excitement a new, more powerful Switch would have. And between the chip shortage and the shipping crisis, the OLED model has been in pretty short supply since it launched.
Nintendo also botched what could have been a major win, when it launched the Nintendo Online Expansion Pack, including a slew of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games. The games feature online multiplayer, and you can even buy a wireless version of the classic Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis controllers to really get that authentic feeling when playing the games. Although those controllers have also been sold out pretty much the second a new batch goes up for sale.
The expansion to Nintendo’s online offering also came with a big price hike for a fairly shallow list of games. Worse yet, many found the emulation to be subpar.
The subscription did bring access to an expansion to Nintendo’s incredibly popular Animal Crossing New Horizons. However, even that was a bittersweet announcement because it’s also the first and last DLC Nintendo plans to release for the game. And if you don’t play Animal Crossing New Horizons, the new higher pricing tier for the online subscription made you feel like you were paying a premium for something you’d never get use out of, even if you end up playing a lot of the N64 or Genesis games.
And Nintendo does not release new retro games to its online subscription offerings on a regular cadence the way Sony and Microsoft offer up additional titles for free for PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live subscribers on a monthly basis. So there’s no roadmap for what you’re likely to get over the next year for Nintendo’s new asking price.
However, Nintendo’s 2021 wasn’t all bad. An actually new, new game in one of Nintendo’s big franchises saved Nintendo’s year.
Metroid Dread is a new 2D Metroid game, and it’s great! It’s all anyone was talking about for several weeks after it released in October, and it looks to be the best-selling game in the franchise. Undoubtedly, it’s a game of the year contender for many.
It’s easily the best thing that happened for Nintendo all year. But it’s also not quite on the level of having a new 3D Mario or Zelda game, or even a new Metroid Prime game, but it might just be the best thing Nintendo released in 2021.
Nintendo did also have a well-liked new release in the Monster Hunter franchise in Monster Hunter Rise, but the game didn’t seem to capture the internet by storm the way Monster Hunter World did when it released in 2018. Perhaps that’s due to it being a console exclusive for Nintendo. However, it is getting a PC release in early 2022. Regardless, Monster Hunter Rise seemed like a solid entry into the franchise, even if it didn’t quite have the longevity that kept Monster Hunter World in the zeitgeist for so long after it came out a few years ago.
Nintendo also released the last of its Smash Bros. Ultimate character additions (Sora, from Kingdom Hearts, joined the fight). That means Sakurai can finally rest. But fans now wonder whether it’s the end of the road for the wildly popular crossover fighting game franchise.
Looking forward into next year, if Nintendo’s 2021 was light on true system selling games from its biggest franchises, it may bounce back in a big way in 2022.
Nintendo seems to be planning on leaning on its beloved franchises, first with a new take on the Pokémon franchise in Pokémon Legends: Arceus, which looks to be the evolution the franchise desperately needs.
And I remain hopeful the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will get released in 2022 as well, although a release date has not been announced yet.
Nintendo also recently unveiled a new Kirby game in Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The upcoming game moves from 2D to 3D to reinvent the franchise for modern audiences. The trailer reminded me a lot of Super Mario Odyssey.
One of my early video game memories from my childhood was playing and beating Kirby’s Adventure on the NES back in the early 90s. However, I haven’t played a single Kirby game since then. So watching the trailer for this game and getting genuinely excited for a Kirby game of all things, actually made me feel very nostalgic. I hope it’s great and makes a big splash for Nintendo in 2022.
There have also been rumors that a new 3D Donkey Kong game is in development by the developers of Super Mario Odyssey. None of that is confirmed at this point, but the possibility is certainly exciting. Even if it does turn out to be true, the game may not be ready for release in 2022. Either way, I certainly hope to see an official announcement about the game at some point next year.
And finally, I can’t help but wonder if the Switch OLED edition is little more than a holdover – a slightly upgraded model to release ahead of the holiday season to hold gamers over until the chip shortage becomes less of an issue. I remain hopeful that Nintendo still has plans for a Switch Pro or a Switch 2 that comes with a bit more horsepower under the hood and an upgraded dock capable of 4K, but maintains the current Switch library of games moving forward.
My hope is a Switch Pro is still on the table for next year, even if just as an official announcement. Until then, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
How would you rate Nintendo’s year? Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments!