It’s a strange year for video game consoles. With the next generation of hardware around the corner, Microsoft and Sony aren’t producing as many big games for the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 right now, instead opting to beef up their release window war chest. Nintendo, meanwhile, has already released mainline entries for its biggest heavy hitters, Zelda and Mario, prior to this year. And yet, even without these big names, the Nintendo Switch has been dominating 2019.
To be sure, a big part of the Switch’s popularity here has to do with multiplatform titles. Titles like the excellent Steamworld Quest and the addicting Dragon Quest Builders 2 can technically be enjoyed in other places, but the ability to take these meaty role-playing games anywhere makes the Nintendo Switch versions the ports of choice. Second-party exclusives like Cadence of Hyrule and Tetris 99, meanwhile, have managed to inject old franchises with a rare sense of verve and originality.
For its part, Nintendo itself hasn’t been slouching, either. The Japanese developer has continued to support Super Smash Bros. Ultimate with new characters, like Persona 5’s Joker — and more characters are in the works. These DLC fighters have allowed the party game to remain relevant well into 2019, both for the general fandom that wants to see their favorite franchise represented, as well as the more selective competitive community. Smash Bros. Ultimate was the most popular game at Evo 2019, the world’s largest fighting game tournament. And while players continue to bicker about the supposedly overpowered inclusion of characters like Hero, there’s never been a more interesting time to watch high-level Smash Bros. play. Just at Evo alone, the top 10 entrants picked a diverse roster that included everyone from Pokémon Trainer to Wario, which is a far cry from the usual faces we typically see in Melee competitions.
Perhaps the biggest flex for Nintendo has unfolded this summer, after the release of Super Mario Maker 2 and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Free of the constraints of the Wii U, the Super Mario-level-building game overtook both YouTube and Twitch, with nearly every big gaming personality trying their hand at the game. Footage of the game continually goes viral, largely because Mario is such an easy game to understand — and the multiplayer shenanigans are hilarious. Level creators continue to keep the game fresh, too, thanks to a bevy of new mechanics that aren’t available in any other Mario games. While I will never beat a Kaizo level, it’s been fun to watch expert players use new things like the cat suit or the car to make hardcore stages.
Fire Emblem, meanwhile, is undergoing a total renaissance. While the franchise has steadily been moving away from hardcore tactics, it has doubled down on the character-building aspect, this time turning the role-playing game into something of a school simulator. I’ve spent more time getting to know my students than I have in battle, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The effect is that while Three Houses is notoriously easy, nearly everyone I know loves it anyway. It helps that the memes for the game have been out of this world.
When I’m not playing Three Houses, I’m probably going down a rabbit hole of Fire Emblem jokes on the internet. One of my favorite things to do is to just search a random character on Twitter or Tumblr, because everyone has a devoted army of fanatics. Even characters that I initially disliked have become favorites thanks to the fandom. I haven’t seen anything like this since Overwatch, except Fire Emblem doesn’t just give players mere lore scraps. The story and the interplay between all the different characters is the entire point. Three Houses does everything in its power to make sure it will hurt when you have to kill former allies later in the game. It’s so effective that, even as the world informs me that there are a number of cool new games I should try, it’s been hard to detach myself from Fire Emblem.
Even older games with zero new content are alive and well in 2019. Following the announcement of Breath of the Wild 2, plenty of folks picked the first game back up. Many undoubtedly just never finished, and now had a good excuse to jump back in. Others, meanwhile, were curious to explore already existing clues that may give us a sense of where the franchise will go next. Mostly, though, Breath of the Wild carries the distinction of being a “forever” game, much like Grand Theft Auto 5 and Skyrim. You can pick any of these titles up right now, having played them for endless hours in the past, and still find something exciting to explore. Indeed, there’s a class of Breath of the Wild players who seem to turn on the game nearly every single day, somehow still finding things that nobody has seen before, like how to ride Sidon anywhere.
The wildest thing about all of this is that Nintendo isn’t done. Astral Chain, PlatinumGames’ stylish new action title, isn’t out for a few more days — and we already know that it’s excellent. Despite the controversy, Pokémon Sword and Shield continue to delight with every new monster that Game Freak reveals. The Link’s Awakening remake looks like the cutest thing on earth, and I am curious to see Luigi’s Mansion 3 go back to the franchise’s roots. I am surprised to admit that even a Mario and Sonic game has got me excited thanks to the ridiculous and silly footage that’s been released thus far.
Without meaning to, 2019 has become the year of the Nintendo Switch — and I for one am enjoying seeing Nintendo at the top of its game once more.