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Tech - Game

Nintendo is having an amazing year

From the Switch and Zelda to Metroid and Mario, the company is firing on all cylinders
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch. Photo by James Bareham / The Verge

In March, Nintendo released quite possibly the best entry yet in its revered Legend of Zelda series. This week, the iconic Metroid returns with an excellent new title on the 3DS, while an inventive new Super Mario is coming in October. That’s three of the company’s biggest franchises, all in the same year. (Oh, and Nintendo also released a brilliant new piece of hardware with the Switch console / tablet as well.) In virtually every area it operates in — hardware, software, even expanding to new platforms like mobile — Nintendo has seen success this year. With the Wii U cast aside, Nintendo seems revitalized.

Of course, the most notable release from Nintendo this year is the Switch. After the abject failure that was the Wii U — a console that sold about a tenth of what its predecessor did — the Switch has breathed new life into the company. It became Nintendo’s fastest-selling console ever, has moved close to 5 million units since its debut in March, and still remains difficult to find around the world. More than just numbers, though, the Switch also gave Nintendo its identity back.

Whereas the Wii U was a confusing machine that few fans latched on to, the Switch makes immediate sense. Its flexible nature, letting users play games both on the go and in their living rooms, has helped Nintendo re-carve out its place in the gaming landscape. Like the original Wii, the Switch doesn’t directly compete with offerings from Microsoft and Sony. Instead, it goes in a completely different direction, one where Nintendo is unlikely to be followed.

The New Nintendo 2DS XL. Photo by Sam Byford / The Verge

Outside of the Switch, Nintendo also quietly released arguably the best — and quite possibly last — iteration of its dedicated handheld with the New Nintendo 2DS XL. It’s a device that strikes a nice balance between price and functionality, and shows that Nintendo isn’t ready to abandon its portable gaming line just yet. Meanwhile, the company is set to release a follow-up to last year’s hottest — and hardest to buy — stocking stuffer with the miniature SNES Classic Edition. Like the NES original, the tiny machine features a collection of built-in classic games, and works seamlessly with modern televisions.

Of course, since this is Nintendo, there’s always the issue of supply. Some people are still having a hard time finding a Switch, even months after launch, and the fiasco over SNES Classic preorders hasn’t done much to instill confidence that supply will meet demand. That said, it seems that the company has at least learned something from last year’s disastrous release of the NES Classic. This week, Nintendo issued a press release stating that “more units of Super NES Classic Edition will ship on its September 29th launch day in the US than were shipped of NES Classic Edition all last year, with subsequent shipments arriving in stores regularly.” Shipments will also extend beyond this year and continue in 2018, and the company is bringing back the previously discontinued NES Classic.

Hardware aside, Nintendo is also having one of its best years ever for new software. Breath of the Wild was perhaps the most successful launch game of all time, with sales of the game actually surpassing sales of the Switch for a while. The vast, open-world not only helped revitalize the Zelda formula, it also served as an ideal showcase for the Switch itself. Here was a massive console-style game you could take with you and play anywhere. Since then, Nintendo has followed Breath of the Wild with a steady stream of solid first party-developed titles. There’s an enhanced version of the excellent Mario Kart 8, a sequel to surprise hit paint shooter Splatoon, a colorful new fighting franchise called Arms, and a strange collaboration with Ubisoft that resulted in the strategy game Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

Arms.

Those releases have been supplemented by a solid lineup of indie games, classic titles, and ports like the upcoming Switch versions of LA Noire and Skyrim. The Wii U similarly had a handful of third-party ports in its early days, but that quickly dried up as the console failed to take off. The Switch, meanwhile, has significantly more momentum behind it at this stage. The future looks bright: Super Mario Odyssey comes out next month, while new Yoshi, Kirby, Pokémon, and Metroid Prime releases are in the works for the Switch as well.

On the portable front, the 3DS is still being supported, including this week’s Metroid: Samus Returns and enhanced versions of Pokémon Sun and Moon in November. And while last year’s mobile game Super Mario Run may have disappointed some players — it broke download records, but Nintendo struggled to get users to pay for the full version — the smartphone version of Fire Emblem has quietly proved to be a big success.

All of this amounts to a busy year for Nintendo. After the ongoing struggles of the Wii U, many wondered whether Nintendo would even stick around as a hardware company. Now, the company seems rejuvenated. Its hardware remains distinct, its games polished and creative. There’s an energy around Nintendo that’s been missing for some time — and hopefully it sticks around beyond 2017.

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