Ahead of the holiday season and a new OLED model for its Switch console that launches Friday, September’s Nintendo Direct stream was jam-packed with new game announcements — not to mention an A-list cast reveal for an upcoming “Mario” film.
With the PlayStation 5 (PS5) and Xbox Series (XSX) consoles from Sony and Microsoft, respectively, approaching a full year since release, the Switch is in its fifth year on the market and has settled into its role as a cheaper companion to the other consoles’ more high-end hardware.
Still, there are clear signs Nintendo is seeking more significant presence in the market.
As the pandemic’s sales strength starts to fade, Nintendo is looking to upgrade the Switch.
After a big uptick in hardware and software unit sales in early 2020 remained up year-over-year each subsequent quarter, sales in both categories are now faltering as of Q2 2021.
It’s nothing to hit the panic button over, though. While PS5 led in overall dollar sales, the Switch was still the bestselling console in August, per The NPD Group.
Likewise, Q2 2020 was an exceptionally strong quarter boosted by the popularity of “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” which released the prior March and less than two years later is just a few million units shy of surpassing “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe” as the top-selling Switch title since the console’s launch.
Nevertheless, Friday’s release of the new OLED model is timely given the downturn in hardware sales. Furthermore, there may be a more significant hardware upgrade in store for as early as 2022.
Bloomberg has reported that employees at 11 game companies say they are in possession of 4K development kits for the Switch. While Nintendo characterized the report as inaccurate, it chose not to elaborate further.
There have been high sales for PS5 and XSX, but both consoles require semiconductor chips to support their high-end 4K graphics amid a shortage of such chips. It’s possible the same shortage has made it difficult for Nintendo to nail down a steady 4K Switch timeline from development to launch, hence the apprehension to confirm such an upgrade.
Regardless, new AAA games are developed with the graphical expectations of the newer consoles in mind, making a 4K upgrade to the Switch a big priority for one obvious reason.
Nintendo makes strong titles in house but continues to release more outside games.
A big source for the Switch’s strong sales has been its console exclusives across franchises like “Mario,” “Legend of Zelda” and “Super Smash Bros.”
While the latest Direct stream highlighted more games to come from IP like “Bayonetta,” “Kirby” and a big update to “Animal Crossing,” the stream also announced a Switch port for popular multiplatform open-world actioner “Dying Light,” a violent and gory zombie game.
Nintendo’s release slate has expanded each year to include more games from outside manufacturers, with titles from violent franchises like “Doom” and “The Witcher” entering the mix.
Oriented more toward adult gamers, such games also typically have high graphical demands, so continuing to release them on the Switch without the right upgrades to hardware will only get tougher.
This can already be seen with “Dying Light,” as its multiplatform “Stay Human” sequel set for 2022 will only be available for Nintendo Switch Online. Utilizing the service’s cloud saves, the game is simply too big for players to fully store on the Switch.
Nintendo is making its biggest push yet into screen adaptations of its IP.
First reported in 2017, an animated feature adaptation of “Mario,” Nintendo’s first since a widely panned 1993 live-action film, has been in the works from Universal’s Illumination and is set for a December 2022 release.
Known for the “Despicable Me” franchise, its spinoff “Minions” as well as the “Sing” movies, Illumination brings a fair amount of heft to the production by just being involved. But the Direct stream’s casting announcement took things further, confirming Chris Pratt (“Jurassic World,” “The Tomorrow War”) as the voice of Mario alongside a supporting voice cast that includes Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Day, Jack Black, Seth Rogen and others.
The casting may seem overzealous but was no doubt influenced by the success of Warner Bros.’ live-action “Detective Pikachu” film from the “Pokémon” franchise, which Nintendo partially owns.
While the 2019 film’s cast primarily consisted of newcomers and less-known actors, the computer-animated titular Pikachu was voiced by Ryan Reynolds (“Deadpool,” “Free Guy”), and the film ended up becoming the second-highest-grossing video game adaptation of all time.
Should the “Mario” film be a success, don’t be shocked if Nintendo embarks on further adaptations spanning film and TV as Sony has with its PlayStation Studios prodco.