It’s hard to believe, but we are just weeks away from the fifth anniversary of the launch of Nintendo Switch. In the years since that day, Switch has gone on to break sales records and become one of the most successful Nintendo consoles to date. Much of that is owed to its portability and stellar library, and each year of the console has given Nintendo fans something to brag about. Whether it’s the accomplishments of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or the perfectly timed release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Switch has always had something special to offer gamers. However, some years’ game lineups are more impressive than others, so let’s discuss how they compare and grade each year that Nintendo Switch has been on the market so far. We’re grading on a scale ranging from “F” to “S.”
2017 – Nintendo’s greatest comeback
Nintendo fans were unsure what to expect in the lead-up to the release of Switch. The failures of Wii U had made Nintendo fans anxious about the future of the company, but 2017 was the reassurance they needed. It started with Breath of the Wild, arguably one of the best system sellers any console has ever seen, and little more needs to be said about how it redefined the formula of Zelda and open-world games at large. Day one of the Switch also saw releases like 1-2 Switch, Arms, and Snipperclips. 1-2 Switch was a gimmicky showpiece for the Joy-Con, but Snipperclips provided a fun cooperative puzzle adventure and Arms found an audience in the fighting game community.
This was only the start of a year that saw consecutive monthly releases of impressive games. Fire Emblem Warriors put a Musou spin on the beloved series, while ports such as Pokkén Tournament DX and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe introduced those games to a whole new audience. Splatoon 2 comprehensively improved upon the first game, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was an appropriately ambitious JRPG epic, and Ubisoft’s unlikely crossover Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle surprised everyone with a fantastic strategy take on the Mario franchise.
If this weren’t enough, Nintendo capped off the year with the outstanding Super Mario Odyssey. To release a mainline Zelda and Mario title in the same year is ludicrous, but to have both entries be among the best in their respective series was something else entirely.
Nintendo Switch grade in the year 2017: S
2018 – Second chances and smashing successes
It was always going to be hard to follow 2017, and Switch’s second year was understandably lighter. Experiments like Nintendo Labo didn’t have the impact Nintendo expected, while games like Mario Tennis Aces and Super Mario Party let down fans of their respective franchises due to a lack of content and depth. Octopath Traveler provided a refreshing new take on classic JRPGs, and fans of the genre were also treated to the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 expansion, Torna – The Golden Country. Elsewhere, Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Eevee! gave Pokémon fans cute, albeit simplified, remakes of Pokémon Red and Blue, and Kirby Star Allies was met with a lukewarm reception from critics.
Nintendo was seemingly focused on the number of releases, in order to make up for not having the same caliber of critical darlings as in 2017. Nintendo Switch Online gave players a small library of NES and SNES games, and Wii U ports filled out the numbers even more. This included Bayonetta 1 and 2, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition, and it also received The World Ends with You: Final Remix, a game that had originally been developed for Nintendo DS.
What makes 2018 still stand out was the release of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Its widespread critical acclaim and sales success speaks for itself, and it’s impossible not to appreciate the journey that it has taken fans on in the years since that release. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is undeniably one of the shining stars of the Switch lineup, but it couldn’t make up for an average year all by itself.
Nintendo Switch grade in the year 2018: C
2019 – A jack of all trades
Put simply, 2019 was a jack of all trades but master of none for the Switch lineup. Luigi’s Mansion 3 adorns the cover image of this article for this year, but it could have just as easily been Fire Emblem: Three Houses or Super Mario Maker 2 and there is no wrong answer there. While there were no standouts in the vein of Breath of the Wild or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, 2019 was a consistent year of high-quality new releases.
Astral Chain was the surprise exclusive action game to hold Bayonetta fans over, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is arguably the best in its series, and the same could be said for Luigi’s Mansion 3 with its phenomenal presentation. Daemon X Machina and Yoshi’s Crafted World didn’t quite live up to their respective expectations, but it hardly mattered in such a packed year.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order resurrected the long-dormant franchise for an exclusive Switch sequel, and Pokémon Sword and Shield marked the debut for the mainline Pokémon series on console, even if fans still argue about its quality. Super Mario Maker 2 was a perfectly expanded sequel, and Tetris 99 gave Nintendo Switch Online players an unexpectedly brilliant take on the battle royale genre. Ring Fit Adventure was yet another surprise that recaptured some of the Wii motion control magic, and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was a beautiful remake of a beloved Game Boy classic. It was a year that represented a wide variety of surprising and excellently crafted games.
Nintendo Switch grade in the year 2019: A
2020 – Timing is everything
The first year of the COVID-19 pandemic still saw some respectable releases from Nintendo, and none were more perfectly timed than the March release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons. Lockdowns around the world gave people a stronger desire for gaming escapism, and the relaxing vibes of New Horizons was just the ticket. 2020 was also the 35th anniversary of Mario, and Nintendo celebrated with games like Paper Mario: The Origami King, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, and Super Mario Bros. 35. That last one was another new spin on battle royales, but bizarrely, both Super Mario Bros. 35 and Super Mario 3D All-Stars were only available for a limited time, and it put a disappointing dampener on the excitement around these titles.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity was a Musou-based prequel to Breath of the Wild, but it didn’t meet the story or technical standards that some fans wanted, despite being a great game in its own right. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics brought the series to Switch, and Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition was a fantastic remake of the Wii classic. Finally, enhanced Wii U ports like Pikmin 3 Deluxe and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore rounded out the package. 2020 was an understandably light year from Nintendo, with Animal Crossing: New Horizons being one of the only true standouts.
Nintendo Switch grade in the year 2020: C
2021 – JRPGs and shocking returns
Much like 2019, 2021 had a little something for every Nintendo fan. Early releases like Bravely Default II and NEO: The World Ends with You set the stage for what would be a JRPG-centric year for Switch. Shin Megami Tensei V was released to great acclaim, while Monster Hunter Rise and Pokémon Shining Pearl and Brilliant Diamond bookended the year and gave JRPG fans a wide gamut of offerings. Relying on the past is to be expected from Nintendo, and so the year 2021 also saw the Expansion Pack for Nintendo Switch Online. A welcome but small selection of Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games was brought to NSO users. Meanwhile, the Actraiser Renaissance remake was a welcome surprise, and Pac-Man 99 continued the new annual tradition of releasing a battle royale with a classic twist.
Mario Golf: Super Rush didn’t meet expectations, but the jolly Mario Party Superstars more than made up for recent entries in the Mario Party series. The year of comebacks also saw the releases of WarioWare: Get It Together!, Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain, and New Pokémon Snap as a brilliant revival of the cult classic N64 spin-off. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD was the singular Zelda game released on the franchise’s 35th anniversary, and the Bowser’s Fury expansion for Super Mario 3D World was a meaningful glimpse at the future of 3D Mario.
Last but certainly not least, Metroid Dread ended the series’s 19-year wait for a conclusion with one of the best Metroid games to date. Nintendo excels with the variety of its offerings, and 2021 was the perfect example of that.
Nintendo Switch grade in the year 2021: A
What grade do you predict Nintendo will deserve in 2022?