Nintendo really could not have asked for a better 2021. The company experienced a phenomenal sale of its Nintendo Switch console, which helped it avert new competition from Sony’s PS5 and Microsoft Xbox Series X / S consoles.
The switch has currently sold 92.87 million units, meaning it is now less than 10 million sales from matching the Wii’s impressive total of 101.64 million. With the software Nintendo has set up for next year, along with the introduction of the Nintendo Switch OLED, the hybrid console is likely to exceed this 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 continued to be the best-selling consoles ever.
Excellent software drives Switch’s success
Of course, it’s Nintendo’s exclusive game that primarily continues to drive Switch sales. Nintendo’s evergreen software, such as 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 that Nintendo gamers had plenty to sink their time into this year.
Nintendo also did a fantastic job of reviving its older titles when 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 in total, and the game’s crossover-heavy DLC announcements continue to give fans 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, ensuring that the 35 million people who picked up Nintendo’s quirky title had hours of new content to play. Unfortunately, Nintendo has still not released any Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC, though it is a golden opportunity to do so. We can only hope that Nintendo has Mario Kart 9 waiting in the pit stop for a release within the next few years.
A new subscription level and Switch hardware
Happy Home Paradise’s launch coincided with Nintendo’s new premium online subscription level, the Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack, and 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 offerings. However, it got off to a bad start due to its high price and emulation issues ranging from input delay to distorted sound.
However, the most significant release in October for Nintendo was the Nintendo Switch OLED, a significantly refined and improved version of its existing hardware. The console’s biggest selling point is its beautiful 7-inch OLED screen, which is capable of perfect black and far more vibrant colors than the older LCD panel. It also includes an improved outrigger, improved 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 version only, was released in May 2018. This means consumers now have a wider choice when it comes to buy Switch hardware, even though a Nintendo Switch Pro-like device capable of 4K has still not manifested itself yet.
Tough competition is coming in 2022
But can Nintendo continue its hot streak in 2022? Well, it is fair to say that the Nintendo Switch has not faced any direct competition in the handheld space during its time on sale, mobile gaming aside. The PS5 and Xbox Series X are possibly significantly more powerful, offering games that are simply not possible on the Switch, but none of them take advantage of the hybrid character of the Nintendo console, which has experienced increasing popularity during the pandemic.
But in February 2022, Valve’s Steam Deck will be released, offering Nintendo its toughest competition to date. The laptop is far more powerful than Nintendo’s hardware and is supported by the Steam store, which offers games at significantly lower prices than the Nintendo Switch eShop. It will also let PC gamers dive into their existing library of games, which could be the reason why many decided to opt for one.
However, this does not necessarily mean that Steam Deck will easily darken the switch. Nintendo has historically overcome more powerful laptops thanks to its excellent first-party software. PlayStation Portable and PS Vita were far superior to Nintendo’s hardware, but could not replicate the success Nintendo had with the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS. Nintendo’s dominance eventually led Sony to withdraw completely from the handheld market.
Unfortunately for Valve, a similar situation could occur. Nintendo still has the release of Breath of the Wild 2 on the way, which is likely to be another phenomenal sales success for the Kyoto-based company. Nintendo’s software program will also be enhanced by major exclusive products such as Splatoon 3, Pokémon Legends Arceus, Advance Wars 1 + 2 Re-Boot Camp, Kirby and the Forgotten Land and Bayonetta 3, meaning 2022 could be an even better year for Switch games than 2021 were.
It’s unlikely that Nintendo will be phased out by Steam Deck, though Valve’s laptops will instantly appeal to consumers who have hoped Nintendo would deliver a more powerful piece of hardware. Ultimately, it’s games selling consoles, and 2022 is set to be one of the strongest years for software releases since Switchen’s stunning launch in 2017.