Nintendo Will Own 2017 If They Can Pull Off The Zelda-Switch Launch Combo – Forbes

Photo: Nintendo

Photo: Nintendo

In just a couple weeks, Nintendo will break their renewed vow of silence and start talking about the Switch again in a January event that will hopefully answer a lot of questions about the system. While the Switch has technically “debuted” in the form of a three-minute trailer last year, Nintendo, being Nintendo, decided that was all anyone needed to know, despite the fact that the system launches in March.

Perhaps the biggest question about the Switch’s release is which games will be in its initial roster. And chief among those potential games, there’s one everyone wants to nail down. Will The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild be launching with the Switch?

Nintendo has gotten themselves into a bit of a bizarre situation where they’re producing a game for a last-gen system, the Wii U, which has already ceased production and may not even be on store shelves when one of its biggest games is released. That leaves the Switch version as the “definitive” one, and Nintendo has yet to commit to the idea that it will launch with the console, or to pin a firm date on it period.

Reliable Nintendo leaker Laura Kate Dale took to Twitter to say that she’s reversing a previous statement she made, and that she now is “100%” sure that the Switch will launch with Breath of the Wild, given that she’s seen finished materials that indicate a March release. Since she’s both predicted that it will and will not launch with the Switch previously, she’s bound to be right one way or another, but it seems she’s now committed to the idea that Nintendo really will manage to make this happen.

It’s hard to understate just how huge it would be for the Switch to have Zelda on day one. The last time this happened with the Wii, there were something like 5 million Wiis sold in the first few weeks with 3 million copies of Twilight Princess bought alongside it. That’s an enormous attach rate for a game that isn’t bundled with a system, and while obviously it probably wasn’t Zelda that turned the Wii into a monster global hit, it allowed the system to hit the ground running.

Photo: Nintendo

Photo: Nintendo

No one, even Nintendo skeptics, anticipate that Breath of the Wild be anything other than good, based not only on Nintendo’s track record, but what’s been shown of the game so far. The Switch’s capabilities will allow for a more expansive Zelda title than ever before, and even if it’s a last-gen based title, its gorgeous art style will likely mask any potential graphical shortcomings.

A Switch launch paired with Breath of the Wild would be something that Nintendo’s competition really can’t match. Sony and Microsoft aren’t launching entirely new consoles, but Sony didn’t exactly roll out a huge exclusive with PS4 Pro, and it doesn’t seem likely Microsoft is going to bust out Halo 6 or something crazy like that when the Scorpio arrives this fall, not that Halo is even the IP it used to be. But what Nintendo has the potential to do here is the perfect marriage of a software and hardware launch, something they have failed to get right with both the Wii U and 3DS previously. If they can manage to do this without delaying Zelda yet again, it will show they’re learning from their mistakes, and it gives me more confidence in the Switch as a whole going forward.

It’s not all good news for the Switch, however, as releasing a Zelda title now almost certainly means the system will not see another major one in its lifecycle. And with rumors that Mario and Mario Kart games are coming to the Switch early, the system might front-load a lot of its major hits early, and leave little to launch in the later years of the system, which raises the specter of the last couple years of the Wii U, where the system has largely been a software ghost town.

Add to that early signs that once again Nintendo might be lacking significant third party support, and they may fall into old, unfortunate patterns. While Nintendo has been touting Skyrim: Special Edition as evidence of their commitment to third party titles, that’s a remaster of a 5-year-old game. Meanwhile, Bioware has recently come out to say that they have “no plans” to release one of 2017’s most anticipated games, Mass Effect: Andromeda on the Switch, and imply they will only do so if the Switch is some sort of huge hit that demands an adaptation. Perhaps some of this is developers wary of supporting Nintendo after the Wii U, but it also seems likely that developing games for the base unit/handheld transforming variants of the system is once again, extra work. Also, the Switch may struggle with horsepower like previous Nintendo systems when games are now being developed with the PS4 Pro and Scorpio in mind.

Regardless, it’s hugely important for the Switch to get off to a strong start, no matter what may happen down the line. The Wii U was a body blow for Nintendo, where even though the company has found success elsewhere lately (mobile, mini NES) it has a lot riding on this merger of its console and handheld divisions, and repeating the Wii U’s failures would be a disaster. There really is no better way to ensure a strong launch than with Breath of the Wild on day one, so this is one rumor I really hope reflects reality.

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