Going into the latest Nintendo Direct, the schedule of releases for Nintendo Switch had never looked more barren. There was no new Nintendo exclusive planned after next month’s Pikmin 4, and third-party publishers had almost all left the aging platform behind. Expansions for Mario Kart and Pokémon would keep two of the Switch’s biggest franchises alive through the end of the year, but beyond that was one big question mark over the future of a console that Nintendo has said it won’t replace until April 2024 at the earliest.
In fact, Nintendo had a few surprises up its sleeve, which pad out the Switch’s 2023 slate quite nicely: A new 2D Mario, a new WarioWare, Detective Pikachu Returns, and a remake of Super Mario RPG are all due before the end of the year. But, aside from a new Peach game and a remaster of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, the Switch’s 2024 remains something of a mystery. Nintendo has done its best, but there is still no disguising the fact that this is a console in its final years — its final year, perhaps.
What does the Nintendo Switch release schedule look like now?
You can’t accuse Nintendo’s internal studios of slacking. Between now and the end of 2023 — and in the wake of smash hit The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom — Nintendo will release Everybody 1-2-Switch!, Pikmin 4, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, WarioWare: Move It!, and Super Mario RPG, plus Detective Pikachu Returns in collaboration with The Pokémon Company and developer Creatures Inc.
It’s a solid enough lineup, looking to capitalize on the runaway success of The Super Mario Bros. Movie and please both core and casual Nintendo fans. Wonder shouldn’t be underestimated: 2D Mario games still have a huge appeal, and if you discount the Switch’s Deluxe edition of New Super Mario Bros. U, this is the first one of them in over a decade. Nintendo could have a sizable hit on its hands this holiday season.
Add to these titles two new waves of content for the Switch’s best-selling game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and the Hidden Treasure of Area Zero expansion for Pokémon Scarlet and Violet, and the Switch calendar looks lively enough. You could almost call it busy.
The trouble arises when you look beyond Nintendo’s own efforts. Warner Bros. is the last big publisher trying to launch its franchises on Switch: It will bring Mortal Kombat 1 to the platform in September and Hogwarts Legacy, finally, in November. Both versions will be watched closely to see how well contemporary AAA games can perform on Switch. Sega is also offering its support in the form of Persona 5 Tactica (November) and Sonic Superstars (fall), although Persona 3 Reloaded appears to be leaving Switch behind. Ubisoft is good for another Just Dance and some Mario + Rabbids Sparks of Hope DLC.
Beyond these, though, the schedule is propped up with indie ports like Vampire Survivors, second-string service games like MythForce and Palia, and a procession of remasters and reissues like the Batman: Arkham games, Metal Gear Solid, Star Ocean, and Nintendo’s own Pikmin. It’s clear Nintendo is doing a lot of work on its own to make new Switch releases feel fresh.
Looking into 2024, things get a great deal murkier. Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown arrives in January, but nothing else has a firm release date. Nintendo continues its Mario movie push with the Peach and Luigi games, and Professor Layton and the New World of Steam is due to show up at some point; so, presumably, is the almost mythical Hollow Knight: Silksong.
At this point, we start to run out of announced games altogether. There’s one big one left on the board: Metroid Prime 4, although it’s reasonable to wonder if Nintendo is considering holding back this title — long, long in development — for the Switch’s successor, or perhaps for a dual-platform bridge release, in the style of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As for rumors, the firmest one is that Switch remasters of two other Zelda games — The Wind Waker and Twilight Princess — exist, and might even be finished, but Nintendo has yet to find a suitable spot in the release calendar for them.
Why doesn’t Nintendo just make more Switch games — or move on to a Switch 2?
Nintendo is in something of a bind with the Switch. The Switch is getting old, but it’s too successful to replace just yet — and its games sell so well in the long term that releasing sequels doesn’t always make sense. “Sustaining the Switch’s sales momentum will be difficult in its seventh year,” Nintendo president Shuntaro Furukawa acknowledged on a recent investor call.
The console, which was based on older tech even when it was released in 2017, is simply too far behind the curve technically to keep up with current developments in gaming, and the bigger, multiplatform publishers have lost interest. In fact, it’s possible that even Nintendo’s internal studios are now banking titles for the Switch’s successor.
Ubisoft boss Yves Guillemot has said that Nintendo advised against last year’s sequel to Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, with the platform holder saying it’s better to do one iteration of a game per console generation. “We should have waited,” Guillemot admitted in a recent interview with GamesIndustry.biz, explaining that the sales curve of a Mario game on Switch is much, much longer than is typical on other platforms: “On Nintendo, games like this never die.”
If Nintendo is following its own advice, then there was never a likelihood that it would release a Mario Kart 9 or a follow-up to Super Mario Odyssey on the Switch, because such sequels would only cannibalize the long-tail sales of their predecessors. It seems that one reason we’re not getting more Switch games during its final years is, paradoxically, because Switch games sell too well. It’s a good problem to have. So is the issue Nintendo faces over timing the console’s replacement.
From a software perspective, it would seem that now is the perfect time to replace the Switch — the tech is too old, and the games are drying up. But from a hardware perspective, while it might be true that the successor is simply not ready, it’s also true that Nintendo will be anxious not to move too soon. Switch sales are declining, but still have decent momentum at a projected 15 million units this year, while the platform’s total audience is gargantuan: It’s the third-best-selling console of all time. Nintendo won’t be too eager to leave all those customers behind in favor of a leap into the great unknown, even if all it can feed them is indie games and DLC.
After this Nintendo Direct, will Nintendo announce any more exclusives for the Switch before we hear about its successor? It seems unlikely, but the truth is that we don’t know — and it’s quite possible that Nintendo doesn’t, either. With 125 million consoles sold, the company can afford to ride out a quiet year or two, take its time, and pick its moment.