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The state of Switch heading into E3 2017

Coming off an impressive early lineup, can Nintendo keep up its pace?

Matt Leone has written about games for three decades, focusing on behind-the-scenes coverage of the industry, including books on Final Fantasy 7 and Street Fighter 2.

Prior to Switch’s launch in March, many were skeptical of its chances. Wii U had bombed, and Switch — to some — looked like an evolution of the same concept. They questioned the appeal of a portable/console hybrid and criticized the compromises inherent in making it work.

Now three months in, it’s clear Switch speaks to players.

Shortly after release, Nintendo announced it had sold 906,000 Switch units in March, and since then the system has continued to sell out wherever it appears.

Perhaps most notably, Switch has been a success despite its first two major games — Zelda and Mario Kart — also being available on Wii U, give or take. (In fact, every Switch game currently selling at $59.99 is also available on other hardware of some sort.) Fans want the games, but more than that they want to play them on Switch. And in many cases, they even want games that haven’t been announced, leading to nearly endless “but is it on Switch” questions.

This puts Nintendo into a good position going into E3. It’s the kind of buzz that convinces third parties to support a system, and while it may be too early to see the larger results of that next week, we’ll probably start to see more PS4, Xbox One and PC port announcements piggybacking on that success at the show.


That third-party support

To date, Switch’s third-party releases have been all over the place.

A handful of independent games like Shovel Knight and TumbleSeed have given the system a nice boost, some smaller ports like Wonder Boy and Snake Pass have added variety and Minecraft and Just Dance have made the system feel established. But we have yet to see anything especially ambitious from third parties.

Ultra Street Fighter 2 rubbed many the wrong way by repackaging old content and calling it new, and charging a high price for it. Puyo Puyo Tetris and Rime retail copies both ended up costing more on Switch than on other platforms, reportedly due to manufacturing costs. Skylanders ended up looking dated compared to other versions of the game, and fans are worried that FIFA and Skyrim will suffer the same fate.

Some would argue Switch doesn’t need big exclusive third-party games, and that Nintendo’s first-party titles can fill that role. But relative to pretty much every previous Nintendo console, this is a gap that hasn’t been filled yet. And E3 seems like the place we could see that change.

So what might fill the gap?

All signs point to Ubisoft formally unveiling Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, which looks to be one of the system’s first big original third-party efforts. Leaks have sucked the surprise out of that announcement, but it should still mark a significant step forward for support from Ubisoft.

In the more tentative realm, Nintendo announced awhile back that Grasshopper Manufacture, Sega’s Toshihiro Nagoshi, From Software and PlatinumGames — all critically acclaimed Japanese action game developers — were working on Switch games. We don’t know yet if any of those will be unique to Switch (or published by third-parties), but if the cards fall the right way they could help add more depth to the lineup.

And Nintendo has lined up a handful of franchises that are big in Japan, with Dragon Quest XI, a new Tales game and Monster Hunter XX on the way. These aren’t the sorts of games that companies generally go big with at E3, but it’s possible they may show up.

Also, it’s important not to discount the indie lineup. When Switch launched, many assumed it would be a “Zelda machine” for awhile, and games like Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment helped change some of that perception. We would be surprised to not see at least a few independent games announced for Switch at the show.

Ultimately, Nintendo’s launch buzz hasn’t worn off yet, so it won’t be a disaster if third-party studios don’t have a lot to say about new Switch games at E3. If a handful of unique games get announced, though, it could go a long way towards countering the impression that Switch third-party support just equals indies and ports of mid-range PlayStation and Xbox games.

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First-party games

OK, so the bread and butter of Switch.

Nintendo has announced plans to make Super Mario Odyssey the star of its E3 activities, which in some ways feels like code for “don’t expect too much else” but it should be a big deal regardless, given how impressive the game has looked so far and how long it’s been since Nintendo has made a big single-player 3D Mario game.

Presumably Nintendo will not only have Mario playable, but announce some news for the game as well, as well as updates for its other big games coming soon: Arms and Splatoon 2.

It seems like most of the company’s news will come through trailers as part of Nintendo’s “Spotlight” presentation on June 13. Nintendo has specified that it will focus on games planned for release in 2017, so while Mario will almost certainly be the anchor, there’s room there for a handful of smaller announcements.

From launch through July, Nintendo has scheduled a big game release roughly every month and a half, and then after July 21st the main thing it has listed is Mario Odyssey for the rest of the year. Mario will be a big deal, but we’d be surprised if Nintendo lets it carry five months of releases on its back after being so consistent.

So what might fill that gap?

For one, the second Zelda DLC pack, which promises a new dungeon and story. To many Switch owners, that’ll land as hard as a new game would and easily eat up a month and a half of playtime.

For another: Xenoblade Chronicles 2. If it really is shipping this year, then E3 seems like a natural place to show more of it.

Yet another: Pokken Tournament DX, which pushes the limits on what counts as a “first-party” game given the various companies involved, but gets another of Nintendo’s big brands on Switch, even if not in the form that some fans want.

For other announcements, we don’t expect many major reveals for games shipping in 2017. Maybe a new digital game overseen by Nintendo like Snipperclips? Another upgraded Wii U port ala Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Pokken? Or is it finally time for Mother 3 in the west?

Or maybe Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle will fill one of those slots, despite being a third-party title.

Nintendo already has a strong Switch lineup for 2017, so with just a couple significant smaller announcements at E3 to fill out the rest of the year, the company could tie things up with a nice bow and call it a very successful first 10 months.

The bigger questions for Switch at this point look to come with what will happen in 2018, once Nintendo settles into its comfort zone and we see how third-parties react to the system’s success. So if Nintendo sticks to its plan of focusing on 2017 titles at E3, we expect to see a whole lot of Mario next week.