The Nintendo Switch came out swinging in 2017 with consistently great games dropping nearly every month. It was stellar year overall for gaming, so how could 2018 compare? I’d like to take some time to look at some of the most important Switch games that made up this year, including Nintendo and non-Nintendo releases, and share my opinions on it.
I had low hopes for Nintendo in 2018. Early on, it seemed like we only knew about a Mario Tennis game, Kirby, and Yoshi -- all less significant releases compared to the 3D Mario, Zelda, Mario Kart, and Splatoon that we saw the year before. Yet, in March we saw the reveal of a new Smash Bros. alongside an expansion to Splatoon, and it started looking up for new titles (beyond the plethora of Wii U ports). To me, 2018 was defined by Indies--yes, smaller titles--with so many memorable experiences being newly released or finally making their way onto the console.
Celeste - January 25th
Right off the bat, one of the most significant games this year was Celeste, a charming platformer with promise of challenge and heart, and this “hidden gem” definitely left an impression on fans. Even though it was an early release this year, it takes many personal votes for game of the year. We praised the game in our review, and the experience that it offers continued to affect people as the year passed by. Madeline’s adventure is incredibly special, and its platforming gameplay should be enjoyed by everyone.
Night in the Woods - February 1st | Fe - February 16th | ABZÛ - November 29th
These three games are a little different because they are all ‘emotionally charged’ where gameplay comes second to story and atmosphere. Fe came early and engrossed me with its simple Metroidvania gameplay and gorgeous soundtrack that tells a story without any dialogue, and almost forces you to sympathize for the protagonist in a world where you aren’t really sure what to feel.
Night in the Woods released in the same month, but I didn’t get to it until late in the year. I’m one to put fun gameplay above all else, but this depressing story-centric game showed me that there’s room in my heart for the genre. Well-written dialogue pushed me through a world of animals who all develop into meaningful characters with unexpectedly dark and interesting stories to see. Lastly, ABZÛ is a short, beautiful world that gives the player a moment to think, swimming through a gorgeous ocean of lively sounds. All of these experiences opened my mind to a genre of games where the gameplay isn’t the focus, and while they aren’t made for everyone I encourage more people to give them a chance.
Kirby Star Allies - March 16th
I’ve never been big on Kirby games. I enjoy the spin-offs that play with the artstyle, but mainline Kirby games have always felt like lesser Mario to me. Nintendo’s first release this year certainly did not impress. There’s not much to say about it that isn’t already face value, but Star Allies offers little more beyond a quick, easy platformer that should be played with friends to get enjoyment out of it. Yet, free content releases have come out with new characters and modes which has improved it considerably since launch.
Nintendo Labo - April 20th
Labo is an interesting thing. When Nintendo teased something completely new that would utilize the Switch, I’m not sure what I expected. Yet, we got the Labo initiative that strives to use the Switch hardware in fun ways to spark creativity for kids. I was excited to make the kits, the piano, fishing rod, and robot suit all seemed neat, like the Switch could magically make cardboard be something more. When I got my hands on it, the “Make” aspect of folding cardboard reminded me of the fun of Legos as a kid. It was genuinely cool to see cardboard sheets turn into usable pieces of hardware, and it was wrapped in a nice package of charm that makes me wish Nintendo produced real DIY hardware. I think the Labo kits turned out to be great packages that any kid with a Switch should get to enjoy, even if the minigames that come with don’t have much longevity.
Hyrule Warriors: Definitive Edition - May 18th
We got several Wii U games ported to the Switch this year, including Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, but the one that I picked up was Hyrule Warriors, because I passed on it during the Wii U era. That wait to experience it paid off for this one, having all of the content of the Wii U and 3DS releases packed into a shinier package. I was surprised with how much I enjoyed the simple gameplay, but the massive amount of content includes a lot of filler outside of the main story--which was very enjoyable for what it was.
E3 Releases ( Fortnite | Hollow Knight ) - June 12th-13th
Nintendo’s E3 this year was hyperfocused on Smash Bros, but we got some games dropped to enjoy after the show. The astoundingly popular shooter, Fortnite, hit the Switch and gave Nintendo enthusiasts a chance to try it out. It is what it is, everyone knows about Fortnite and the Switch port turned out to be sub-decent and continues to evolve as Epic Games adds to it. It’s definitely a significant release for the system, as it gives fans the chance to play it portably with standard controls. Hollow Knight, a widely praised Metroidvania, also released during E3. The game really shines in an oversaturated genre with a very unique style and a huge, interesting world. Personally, I wasn’t as impressed by it as some, but it stands as a fantastic indie title on the Switch. Having the E3 drop was a nice treat for a long awaited game.
Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion - June 13th
Splatoon 2 is awesome, and Nintendo DLC is usually awesome. Inevitably, the first paid expansion to Splatoon was beyond awesome. It offered a large standalone campaign with 80+ levels that brought a good challenge that was lacking in the base single player levels. Overall the package it provided with the extension of the Inkling and Octoling world made the Octo Expansion into one of Nintendo’s best DLC offerings yet, and helped continue to breathe life into the thriving multiplayer game -- being one of the first significant Nintendo releases of the year.
Mario Tennis Aces - June 22nd
Next up is a Mario Sports game. I liked Mario Tennis Aces a lot and reviewed it to that extent, being the best Mario Sports game in several years. Similar to ARMS in the previous year, I feel like Aces filled the slot of a less ambitious title that became irrelevant due to a release soon after. ARMS’s multiplayer fun was pushed aside when Mario Kart came, and the local fighting game competition of Mario Tennis was destined to be pushed to the side with Smash coming soon. Luckily the game has been improving slowly as it gets updates fixing the big issues and adding more requested content.
Octopath Traveler - July 13th
Indies are great, but half of the way through the year, the first big release to enthrall me finally came. I have never been a fan of RPGs, and JRPGs seemed to be the more intense, anime-styled version of that genre. Yet, the demo for Octopath Traveler hooked me with a truly unique artstyle and combat mechanics that never get old. To top it off, the quality of the writing, music, and characters was through the roof. While I stayed skeptical as release approached because of my little experience with the genre, I gave the game a chance and had no regrets. There’s a long, beautiful, and touching adventure to be found in Octopath, and being a Switch exclusive makes it one of the better points of the year.
Dead Cells - August 7th
Dead Cells is a neat metroidvania/roguelike that garnered lots of praise for it’s fluid mechanics and unique twists that made me nearly hate both of the genres more than before. Moving on.
The Messenger - August 30th
Ooh boy, it’s hard for me to not touch on every Indie that I played this year, but The Messenger is a modernized retro game to rival Shovel Knight. No other game has surprised me in as many ways as The Messenger, and every aspect of it left a lasting impression. This is another one that I gave a glowing review, but even though it didn’t get as much attention as Celeste, it was very much a high point in this year.
Undertale - September 18th
You know that one famous Indie game that is popular for having a bad fanbase and lots of memes? We already touched on Fornite earlier, so yes, I am talking about Undertale which finally came to a Nintendo console this year, even having a tiny amount of new content. The game is great, and I’m glad the technical hurdles that held it back from the Wii U have been passed.
Super Mario Party - October 5th
This year is starting to feel long, isn’t it? Next up is Super Mario Party, the first decent take on the series in many years. Gone are the days of forced cooperation, uninspired minigames, and giant gimmicks. Minigames have always been my favorite part of Mario Parties, and the batch brought here is one of the best yet. Making use of the improved motion features of the Joy-con, the party experience is just completely fresh fun. I’ve had tons of local fun with the game, and even though it currently feels lacking in overall content, this is the best Mario Party package in years and will give the Switch years of casual fun.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas - October 16th
Oh boy, here we go. So far on the Switch, Ubisoft has been swinging with a strong presence, with backing from Nintendo to even utilize their IPs for games like Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. Thus brought Starlink, a toys-to-life take on a space adventure similar to the premise of No Man’s Sky. The kicker? The delightful Star Fox team makes an appearance on the Switch version of the game, with Fox being fully playable in the Arwing, and taking part in the story. This all excited me because it looked to have the potential of being the best Star Fox game, a perfect direction for the series. Unfortunately, the game is terrible. While it constantly tries to impress and offers some very solid starship gameplay, the structure is clearly intended to be a mindless grind to inspire kids into buying more toys in order to remove monotony. Starlink: Battle for Atlas is easily my worst gaming experience this year, leaving a near offensively mediocre impression.
Pokémon: Let’s Go! - November 16th
Pokémon: Let’s Go Pikachu and Let’s Go Eevee are a pair of Pokémon games attempting to give the Pokémon GO fanbase a chance to taste the gameplay of main releases, and happens to be the first home console release of the series. For some reason, the series is very difficult to discuss without major bias (Due to the big nostalgia hook). I haven’t had positive experiences with mainline Pokémon games, but Let’s Go enticed me with some of its controversial changes. I decided to give it a chance, and ended up having some of the most fun I’ve had with the series, just short of Pixelmon (a Pokémon mod for Minecraft). I really enjoy some of the changes it introduced and definitely believe it succeeded in its goal to attract GO fans--even if it couldn’t make me fall in love with the gameplay.
Warframe - November 20th
We’re nearing the end of the list now! The massive shooter, Warframe, hit the Switch last month and presented Panic Button’s amazing work of making it perform well on the console, even in handheld. It marks a significant release for showing the full extent of how big multiplatform games can have a place on the platform, even with minimal compromise.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate - December 7th
Now for the big one. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate deserves it’s own full review, but I can truly say it is not a title that disappoints. Gaming history is lovingly crafted into the massive package that Ultimate provides, and marks the single largest Switch release of 2018. It’s phenomenal, and will undoubtedly be the game to leave the longest lasting impression for the year as a whole.
2018 and Onward
My verdict on the Nintendo Switch in 2018? It was good, but can’t hold it’s own compared to 2017. Big releases from Nintendo were few, and far in between, with Smash, Mario Party, Pokemon, and Octopath being the headlines. Yet even though it was slower than the year before, I think it stands as a great year for the system for furthering 3rd party support and bringing loads of fantastic indies. Celeste will remain as one of my favorite games for a long time, and that alone made 2018 bring the beauty that Zelda and Mario contained. While the delay of Yoshi was disappointing, 2019 appears to be a big year with Yoshi, Luigi’s Mansion, Pokémon, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, and potentially Metroid Prime, and I look forward to watch Nintendo continue to advance the system from this point.