10 Games That Ensured Nintendo Switch’s Massive Success

It’s official and it isn’t news, the Nintendo Switch is successful. I’m a firm believer that software is the largest driving factor of selling a console, and while that isn’t the only piece of the puzzle that dictates huge numbers, it’s at least a driving factor. A glance at the top-selling consoles of all time brings a rush of titles to any long term gamer. When I see the PS2 I think of Jak and Daxter, Tony Hawk Pro Skater 3, Grand Theft Auto III, Sly Cooper, Metal Gear Solid 2, and God of War. When I think of Gameboy I think of Tetris, Mario Land 2, Link’s Awakening DX, and Pokemon Red and Blue. Wii had the killer app of all killer apps in Wii Sports and followed that up with some incredible iterations of premiere Nintendo franchises and one of the best Mario games ever in Galaxy 1 and 2.

The second thing I think of when I see those consoles, and the second piece I believe dictates huge numbers is a good gimmick. PS2 launched with a more than capable DVD player at a time when its competitors were pricing DVD players in the same range as the console. The Gameboy took video games on the go competently and better than anything before it. The Wii brought video games down to the common consumer by introducing motion control (read waggle) to the medium. The Switch’s gimmick is, of course, it’s hybrid ability to switch between handheld and TV play seamlessly. It’s incredibly convenient and a selling point that resonates with people. While other factors influence the success of a system such as affordability, power output, and form factor, I maintain the core of what makes a system successful is software. Below is a list of the ten games that I believe are the most important games to the Nintendo Switch’s success.

10. Tetris 99

If I were making a top 10 list of the best Nintendo Switch games, Tetris 99 wouldn’t be in consideration. It’s a fine game and I’ve heard a few people talk about how they poured hundreds of hours into it, but what makes Tetris 99 unique is its battle royale format. 99 players clear lines on their Tetris board at the same time, but every line a player clears can be sent as an attack line to another player. Each match takes a few minutes and getting in matches is quick and snappy.

The reason Tetris 99 is one of the most important games to the Switch’s success is that it is the first original offering from the Nintendo Switch Online service. Switch owners are given the option to pay $19.99 a year for access to online play in games and access to a large collection of NES and SNES games.

When Nintendo surprise dropped Tetris 99 in February of 2019 they sweetened their online deal considerably. Tetris 99 probably isn’t the reason many people went out and bought a Switch, but it, along with the newer Super Mario Bros. 35, is the flagship service of Nintendo’s cheaper the competition online subscription service. It’s a pro-consumer move from a company that is often maligned for its anti-consumer practices (see Super Mario 3D All-Stars). It’s also a sign that more games like this will come.

9. Splatoon 2

Splatoon 2 solidified a budding IP as a bonafide heavy hitter. Splatoon was a great game with huge sales potential, but its fate was tied to a total flop of a console in the Wii U. All of that potential has been realized with Splatoon 2. It’s a fun online competitive 3rd person shooter with family-friendly mechanics and graphics. It’s very Nintendo, and it’s very fun. For people who played the first Splatoon, Splatoon 2 probably feels a bit more iterative than a new 3D Mario or Zelda might, but there is a heaping helping of quality of life upgrades that improve the online experience exponentially.

Splatoon 2 proved Nintendo can successfully pull off a game on the Switch that depends on its online competitive component. While they haven’t lived up to that promise at the launch of many games, Super Mario Maker 2 and Super Smash Brothers Ultimate’s shaky and choppy online launches come to mind, both of those games have stabilized considerably over the past year-plus.

Some people reading this may be thinking, this guy is crazy. The online infrastructure for Nintendo Switch is a generation behind what the Xbox One and PS4 offer and those consoles are more than three years older than the Switch. That is true, but Nintendo has been so bad at online in the past that games like Splatoon 2 have proven Nintendo is on the right track after two decades of falling behind.

Another strength of Splatoon 2, is how coherent the art style and attitude of the game are. It has an anime-skate culture attitude that is truly one of a kind, and one that I imagine appeals to kids in the age range of 8–13. Fashion and customization play a large part in both appearance and playstyle, and the game has as much Nintendo charm in it as Animal Crossing or Mario Kart.

Splatoon 2 currently sits as the ninth best selling game on Nintendo Switch at 10.71 million copies. Not bad for the second offering in a franchise (Nintendo Life)

8. Doom

When Doom launched on Switch in November of 2017 it was a revelation to developers and consumers everywhere. Doom is a high powered game that runs on the PS4 and Xbox One. It features top of the line graphics, glorifies in your face violence, and has a heavy metal over the top attitude. Basically, Doom is everything Nintendon’t. Bethesda and Id Software showed people two things. One, current-gen PS4 and Xbox One games can run on Switch if the developers are willing to make visual fidelity sacrifices. Two, a Nintendo platform can sell M rated software aimed at older gaming demographics.

Doom did two things for the Switch: first, it solidified The Switch as a serious third party platform, something Nintendo hasn’t had for its home console space in a long time. Second, it showed developers and publishers that people would buy competent ports of games they already played or owned if they could take it on the go. A lot of the third-party offerings on Switch are titles that were released five to ten years ago but never on a Nintendo console and never portably. Titles like Skyrim, The Witcher 3, Borderlands Collection, L.A. Noire, Bioshock Collection, Dragon Quest XI, and Overwatch all popped up in the first three and half years of the Switch’s lifespan, and many of them have seen new life because of their re-releases.

Doom’s sales data is hard to speculate on because Bethesda historically keeps their numbers close to their chest, but a few months after Doom was released on the Switch, Panic Button, the team behind the Switch port of Doom, used the hashtag DOOMillion on Twitter. Add that to some of the raw data the public can see on sites like VGChartz and it seems very likely Doom cleared the million mark on Switch. (VGChartz)

7. Super Mario Odyssey

Mario and Peach are looking very fashion forward.

Nintendo sometimes seems like they don’t understand what people want. It would have been so easy to simply make a Super Mario 64 2 for the Gamecube, call it Super Mario 128, and call it a day as they watched the cash flow. But not Nintendo. Super Mario Sunshine’s weird F.L.U.D.D. mechanics gave way to the spherical gravity-defying gameplay of Super Mario Galaxy which jumped to a more multiplayer-focused entry in Super Mario 3D World. All told, Nintendo fans would have to wait 21 years for a follow-up to the kind of explorative and untethered athletic gameplay Super Mario 64 offered. It was worth the wait.

Nintendo’s mascot goes back to his 3D roots, but Mario learned a little something from each of the 3D adventures he was in along the way. Universal praise is nothing new for 3D Mario platformers, but a 97 on Metacritic gets everyone in the gaming medium’s attention. Super Mario Odyssey launched during the launch year of the Switch to help flesh out its early lineup of bangers that included Splatoon 2, Arms, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Doom, Skyrim, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Stardew Valley, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Every Nintendo system needs a Mario game that gets things right. Odyssey gets everything right.

Super Mario Odyssey is the sixth best selling Nintendo Switch game with 18.06 copies sold (Nintendo Life).

6. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

The gang is all here.

Super Smash Brothers is a brilliant fighting game. If you’ve ever played a Smash game you know that they are easy to pick up and play, especially, if you play with the right people. Some people love to show off their chops with no items, others enjoy the zany and fun chaos that permeates matches when the items are on. Items are definitely more friendly to the casual crowd, but whether you play with items on or items off Smash Brothers is plain fun. Now that the Smash series has officially exited the Nintendo bubble to select fighters from a plethora of classic gaming franchises, the series has become a must-play for any serious gamer. I believe the inclusion of characters like Hero, Cloud, Joker, Banjo Kazooie, and Steve tipped the scale for certain people to finally take the plunge and purchase a Switch.

Sakurai, the creator of the Smash series and Ultimate’s director, isn’t the type of director to let a character into the game without equipping them with unique moves that honor the history of their franchise, and that is what this series is to me. A history exhibit of the medium's

finest moments with a special focus on Nintendo’s own beloved history.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has sold 19.99 million copies as of June 30, 2020. It is the 3rd best selling title on the Nintendo Switch (Nintendo Life).

5. Stardew Valley

Even if you didn’t come up in the 16 bit era, this game oozes charm.

Stardew Valley released for Switch on October 5, 2017, and became the most downloaded game on Switch that year in only three months. Stardew Valley is an example of another game that was released in 2016 but found its full sales potential as a portable title on Switch. Hard sales data for the Switch version of the game is another toughy, but we do know at the end of 2017 Stardew Valley had sold roughly 3.5 million units across all platforms according to SuperData. By April 2018, Stardew Valley crossed 1 million units on Switch alone (comicbook.com). As of 2020, Stardew Valley has sold 10 million units across all platforms (Nintendo Life). Now I’m not concluding that the Switch port is responsible for the majority of the sales. Ports to iOS and Android in 2019 probably had a large amount to do with the huge boost in sales between 2017 and 2020. What I am saying is that Stardew Valley was one of the huge Indie titles in 2017 and early 2018 that garnered Switch a reputation as being the “Indie Machine”.

Games like Golf Story (2017), Steamworld Dig 2 (2017), Stardew Valley (2017), Celeste (2018), Hollow Knight (2018), Dead Cells (2018), The Messenger (2018), and Undertale (2018) are all indies, and they helped flesh out Switch’s incredible software lineup in the first two years of its life. In 2018, Switch 1st party releases were on life support until late summer, their offerings consisted of niche ports like Bayonetta 1 + 2, a port of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the novel but underwhelming Nintendo Labo, and the ho-hum Kirby Star Allies. But the game of the year contenders Celeste, Dead Cells and Hollow Knight (even though its initial PC release was in 2017) were talking points in the industry that carried through the year.

Indies are a large part of Nintendo’s business strategy now. Every so often we get a Nintendo Indie World Event that highlights some of the best indies coming to the system, and even in 2020, it looks like Hades, an indie from Supergiant games, will be a Game of the Year contender.

Stardew Valley was in early on Switch, and it paid off huge. It has become a darling indie title and a must-play for fans of the farm sim genre, but really anyone can fall in love with it. I had never played a farm sim in my life until Stardew Valley. I sunk 60 hours into it, and I can easily see myself going back to it at some point to see how my farm is fairing in its third year.

4. Pokemon Sword and Sheild

Never underestimate the power of the Pokemon franchise. You may fall away from it’s iterative and borderline redundant entries over a spell of time, but plenty of fans don’t, and more kids turn 10 every day. Pokemon Sword and Shield had a controversial launch, but I think that is more of a product of the times than anything. Pokemon games have made tiny transitions into each new generation for two decades and people can act as they care, but the numbers say they don’t. And honestly, it kinda makes sense, because Pokemon is a handheld franchise, and handheld systems graphical power has moved at a snail’s pace compared to the home console space. Despite all the hullabaloo pre-launch and during launch about how Nintendo, The Pokemon Company, and Game Freak are lazy and only worried about cashing in on Pokemon, Pokemon Sword and Shield turned out to be the best entries in the franchise in a lot of people’s eyes. Mine included. If you’re one of the people who care about the entire Pokedex being available at launch… I don’t have much for you. It’s a new game. Allow nostalgia to take hold of your past.

If you add together the sales of Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu, and Pokemon Sword and Shield it is the best-selling franchise on Switch and it isn’t even close. Pokemon Sword and Shield sold 18.22 million as of June 30, 2020, and Pokemon Let’s Go Eevee and Pikachu sold 12.20 million as of the same date. That is 30.42 million copies sold! What a beast.

3. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe

Mario Kart 8 came out in 2014. This game has no business looking this good.

Mario Kart is a common language among Americans under the age of 40. If you are not a gamer and Mario Kart is running on a television in a room you walk into, and you are under 40, remember, you will feel compelled to take hold of the controller and prove your racing acumen. I’ve seen this happen to my wife, who does not typically play video games, and my two sisters, who never play video games. Small sample size, I know, but you can’t shake me off my truth.

What Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is, is the best Mario Kart game ever made by a country mile. It’s been selling like hotcakes since it came out in 2014 (on the Wii U). It sold 8 million copies there, and on Switch, it has sold an astounding 24.74 million units. Now, around Christmas for two years in a row, Nintendo has sold Switch units with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe bundled in. So, who knows how much that has inflated the numbers for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, but the reality is, this is one of the must-have games for every Switch owner.

2. Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Just doing some soul searching.

Animal Crossing New Horizons landed like a bomb of positive vibes and offered a pleasant form of escapism for millions in March of 2020 just a week or so after many of us received quarantine and social distance mandates around the country. It is the most fortuitous launch date of any video game in history. It was and is the perfect game for 2020. It’s not an antidote to the chaos and uncertainty of these times, but it’s kind of like taking a Tylenol. It curbs the pain a bit.

The sales for this game are through the roof. Since March of this year, the game has sold over 26 million copies. That is absurd. One of the things this IP has going for it, like Stardew Valley and Mario Kart, is that it appeals to such a wide demographic of gamers. Casual and hardcore gamers can dump hundreds of hours equally into their fictitious dream islands and homes. I mentioned my wife doesn’t play video games earlier, but Animal Crossinghooked her. We started our own Island in March and now Animal Crossing is the second most played game on my Switch, beating out the 120 hours I’ve dumped into Super Mario Odyssey by a fair margin.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons has sold over 26 million copies in its first six months without Christmas or a console bundle to back it up. The end sales numbers for this game could be otherworldly.

1. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is a masterpiece.

The hype for Breath of the Wild, like every Zelda game before it, was through the roof upon its arrival. When Switch’s killer app launched alongside it in March of 2017, Journalists knew it was a console defining launch title. Breath of the Wild hits like only a few games in history has, with a kind of jaw-dropping bravado that has only been rivaled, in my opinion, by Super Mario 64. Both games took existing ideas and took them to new levels while stripping their existing franchises to their core. They rebuild them in refreshing ways that pay homage to the storied games that precede them while embarking in new directions. Both took huge risks, and both paid off in dividends.

What is striking about the Breath of the Wild is the way it still finds itself in the games media conversation regularly. IGN posted an article about advanced technical Breath of the Wild gameplay just a few weekends ago. BotW managed to take the open-world concept, which became stale over a generation that implemented open-world into just about every genre and offered something fresh and expansive.

Breath of the Wild has sold 18.60 million units as of June 30, 2020, and is the fourth best-selling Switch game to date

I'm a dad, a husband, an ELA teacher, and I like to write about video games... especially Nintendo