Nintendo couldn’t have asked for a better 2021, really. The company saw phenomenal sales of its Nintendo Switch console, which helped it fend off new competition from Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X/S consoles.
The Switch has currently sold 92.87 million units, which means it’s now less than 10 million sales from matching the Wii’s impressive total of 101.64 million. With the software Nintendo has lined up for next year, along with the introduction of the Nintendo Switch OLED, the hybrid console will likely exceed that number by the end of 2022.
According to Famitsu, the Nintendo Switch has now topped 20 million sales in Japan alone, making it only the fifth system to do so. The other four platforms include the Nintendo DS, Nintendo Game Boy/Color, Nintendo 3DS, and PS2, all of which went on to become the best-selling consoles of all time.
Superb software drives Switch’s success
Of course, it’s Nintendo’s exclusive games that continue to drive Switch sales, primarily. Nintendo’s evergreen software, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Animal Crossing: New Horizons, sold extremely well throughout 2021, topping 35 million units each. New titles like Monster Hunter Rise, WarioWare: Get It Together, Metroid Dread, Mario Party Superstars, and Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl also ensured Nintendo gamers had plenty to sink their time into this year.
Nintendo did a great job of reinvigorating its older titles, too, as 2021 saw the release of the final Super Smash Bros. Ultimate character DLC in the form of Kingdom Hearts’ Sora. Nintendo’s all-star brawler has sold a staggering 25.71 million units overall, and the game’s crossover-heavy DLC announcements have continued to provide fans with new content to enjoy.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons also received a significant new piece of DLC. Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Happy Home Paradise was released in October and ensured that the 35 million people who picked up Nintendo’s quirky title had hours of new content to play. Sadly, Nintendo still hasn’t released any Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC, despite it being a golden opportunity to do so. We can only hope that Nintendo has Mario Kart 9 waiting in the pit stop for a release in the next couple of years.
A new subscription tier and Switch hardware
Happy Home Paradise’s launch coincided with Nintendo’s new premium online subscription tier, Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, and the DLC was included for free to sweeten the deal. Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack added N64 and Sega Genesis / Mega Drive games to Nintendo’s online offering. However, it got off to a rocky start due to its high price tag and emulation issues that ranged from input lag to distorted audio.
The most significant release in October for Nintendo, though, was the Nintendo Switch OLED, a significantly refined and improved version of its existing hardware. The console’s biggest selling point is its gorgeous, 7-inch OLED display, capable of perfect blacks and far more vibrant colors than the older LCD panel. It also includes an improved kickstand, enhanced speakers, and more internal storage.
The Nintendo Switch OLED model is now the fourth iteration of the Switch so far. The original Switch hardware was upgraded in 2019 to a version with significantly better battery life, and the Nintendo Switch Lite, a portable-only version, was released in May 2018. It means consumers now have a wider choice when it comes to purchasing Switch hardware, though a Nintendo Switch Pro-like device that’s capable of 4K still hasn’t manifested itself yet.
Stiff competition arrives in 2022
But can Nintendo continue its hot streak in 2022? Well, it’s fair to say that the Nintendo Switch hasn’t faced any direct competition in the handheld space during its time on sale, mobile gaming aside. The PS5 and Xbox Series X may be considerably more powerful and offer games that simply aren’t possible on Switch, but neither benefits from the hybrid nature of Nintendo’s console, which has seen increased popularity during the pandemic.
However, in February 2022, Valve’s Steam Deck is set to release and offer Nintendo its stiffest competition yet. The portable PC is far more powerful than Nintendo’s hardware and is bolstered by the Steam store, which offers games for considerably lower prices than the Nintendo Switch eShop. It will also let PC gamers dive into their existing library of games, which could be why many decided to pick one up.
That doesn’t necessarily mean the Steam Deck will easily eclipse the Switch, though. Nintendo has historically overcome more powerful portables thanks to its excellent first-party software. The PlayStation Portable and PS Vita were vastly superior to Nintendo’s hardware but couldn’t replicate the success Nintendo had with the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo’s domination eventually led to Sony pulling out of the handheld market completely.
Unfortunately for Valve, a similar situation could occur. Nintendo still has the release of Breath of the Wild 2 to come, which is likely to be another phenomenal sales success for the Kyoto-based company. Nintendo’s software lineup will also be bolstered by major exclusives such as Splatoon 3, Pokémon Legends Arceus, Advance Wars 1 + 2 Re-Boot Camp, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and Bayonetta 3, which means 2022 could be an even better year for Switch games than 2021 was.
It’s unlikely that Nintendo will be phased by the Steam Deck, then, even though Valve’s portable will instantly appeal to consumers who have been hoping Nintendo would deliver a more powerful piece of hardware. Ultimately, it’s games that sell consoles, and 2022 is shaping up to be one of the strongest years for software releases since the Switch’s fantastic launch lineup in 2017.