Soapbox features allow our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random things they ponder. TodayLowell ponders the perfect end to Nintendo’s great generation…
Looking back over the lifespan of a console, there’s always a game that heralded the End before a successor arrived. Swan song game; one final release that made an impact, before unplugging the AV/HDMI cables, packing up the controllers, and packing up the console itself to make room for the next one.
Since the GameCube, Zelda games have filled that role for generations of Nintendo. The colorful cubic console had a clear finale when Twilight Princess was released for both it and the Wii around the same time. For the Wii itself, Skyward Sword was its farewell title, despite being released a year before Wii U – no game at the time surpassed Link’s Wiimote adventure. The Wii U barely pulsed in a commercial sense, but ended up with one of the highest scores imaginable: a “smaller” but fully playable version of Breath of the Wild.
Now that we’re past the Nintendo Switch’s sixth birthday, if The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom isn’t exactly the handheld hybrid’s swan song, it really should be – and for more reasons than keeping this Triforce-themed series going.
As I look back at the Switch years later, I want all those fond memories to be reserved for two of the best Zelda games ever made, not a string of increasingly technically flawed titles and a trickle of mediocre releases as we wait for the next gen. Of course, I realize that the Switch is not dead. It is, after all, Nintendo’s best-selling console after the mighty DS, and one I consider the best ever made, despite how far behind its contemporaries it is in terms of raw power. With such a huge install base, I have a feeling other developers will be squeezing Lon Lon Milk out of it for a few more years. I mean Ubisoft released a Just dance is only playing in 2020 on the Wii. I wouldn’t be surprised if we got it Only dance 2027 on Switch.
However, I’m hoping Nintendo will call it a publication and development day sooner rather than later, ending on a Zelda-esque high note again. Switch sales are declining. Despite the huge hype around Tears of the Kingdom, which is sure to do wonders for the company’s finances for 2024, Nintendo had to revise its sales forecasts again after a disappointing 2022 holiday season, which led to a 22.1% decline in hardware sales compared to the previous year fiscal year. Gone are the days of Switch dominance; as production capacity begins to meet the demand for home consoles, the gap between the Switch and the competition inevitably narrows.
Honestly, I’m surprised it took this long, but it’s not hard to see why it’s happening now. I switched to a 4K monitor last year, and aside from home games with great art direction like Super Mario Odyssey, it’s getting harder and harder to jump from other platforms back to Switch. Experiencing Horizon: The Forbidden West’s dense, vibrant take on the post-apocalyptic American West at the same time as Pokémon Legends: Arceus made the latter’s muddy aesthetic much harder to accept.
It’s not just big titles. Games developed independently or by smaller studios have increasing performance problems. I reviewed some of these for Nintendo Life: The Switch hardware failed both Bramble The Mountain King and Afterimage, prompting me to recommend playing other great games elsewhere if possible.
Even Breath of the Wild – the launch title – dropped frames in Great Hyrule Forest, like Mario dropping a baby penguin off a cliff. The Switch has been pushed to the limit by Nintendo from the start, and Link’s new Ultrahand ability in Tears of the Kingdom feels like another test for the system. Tears of the Kingdom is one of the best-looking Switch games out there, and it’s also a technological marvel given the circumstances of its platform. It’s a bar that no other upcoming title – certainly third-party games – can reach, and I can’t help but dream about how much better new, innovative ideas like Ultrahand would run on more powerful hardware. I mean, some areas of Breath of the Wild have been left out due to the Wii U’s inability to cope. Did we miss some amazing Nintendo treats this time thanks to the hardware?
That said, the lower number of must-have titles in recent months, and possibly the rest of the year, has likely played a bigger role in the Switch’s declining sales than poor technical performance. Many interested in Tears of the Kingdom have probably already bought a Switch to play its predecessor, and I don’t see the first company’s upcoming line-up touching the needle for potential new Switch owners – not without some serious discounts.
July’s Pikmin 4, as excited as I am, won’t boost hardware sales, nor does it have the same gravity that defines console end-of-life. Metroid Prime 4 is the best (sorry) swan song material, but all we’ve got to show since its first reveal is a logo, an apology, and years of ominous silence. And Pokémon Scarlet and Violet – Ground Zero’s Hidden Treasure? Given how disappointing the base game’s performance was, the DLC threatens to leave a bitter taste like Sinistea.
Even if the next Nintendo Direct comes out – probably not until September, although there’s a chance to see some reveals at Summer Games Fest – and Nintendo shows a full-fledged successor to Bowser’s Fury, or actually gives us a strong look at Metroid Prime 4 to extend the Switch’s impressive run, then it would be great, but it would also feel a bit like Ubisoft wringing out every last drop of Lon Lon milk. I can only imagine the range of these games would benefit from the extra grunt of a rumored successor.
There’s a good chance – more than likely, I’d bet – that a few games will cover both the Switch and Super Switch HD Pro like previous Zelda games, and that’s fine. Perhaps Samus can take up the cross-gen mantle from Link. The thought of playing Nintendo’s next series of games on hardware that could produce higher resolution visuals and run at the standard 60fps would make the upgrade to play these hypothetical Nintendo games worth it.
Regardless, it seems like it’s time to move from the Switch to the highest possible note. Tears of the Kingdom is a perfect swan song. I am convinced that no later game will look better, be more inventive, or work as well. As Alana said in her Tears of the Kingdom review:
Like its predecessor, this is your playground for years to come, with a bit of that older Zelda fairy dust mixed in with the Breath of the Wild formula. It’s a great, triumphant sequel to one of the greatest video games of all time; absolute unfiltered bliss that you can lose yourself in for hundreds of hours. We can’t wait to see what the world does with the game.
When we look back at the Nintendo Switch in a year, two, ten years, hopefully our memories of the last year will be full of awe-inspiring exploration above and below Hyrule. An honorable end to an amazing console, not a slow, drawn-out demise.