2019 is looking to be the year the Switch starts hitting its true stride With the 3DS on death's door, and third parties having enough time to get more games ready, 2019 and 2020 look to be the peak years for the system. But it's easy to forget that there were some growing pains for the Switch. Even with its success in 2017 and 2018, it took a while for developers to really understand what the Switch is as a platform, especially those coming from the 3DS and smartphone space. I think a large part of that is due to the nature of the Switch itself.
The Switch isn't really a handheld like the 3DS, PS Vita, or a Smartphone, and it's not really a main console like the PS4 or Xbox One. It's both, a bridge between the two worlds that audiences from both the mobile and console space can enjoy equally. This may have caused a lot of headaches among developers, even within Nintendo themselves as they tried to figure out what the Switch can actually do for gaming. Nintendo's unorthodox hardware has always subverted developers expectations, and the Switch is no different.
The main problem lies in the fact that it's not as simple as just up-porting 3DS gameplay and assets in HD. Because the Switch also needs to be enjoyed as a console, that means production values and gameplay need to work in a console environment as well. Take Fire Emblem: Three Houses for example. It's the first console Fire Emblem game in over 10 years. The 3DS games were pretty straight forward. They had simple 3D graphics, with some cutscenes and voice acting, and are meant to be enjoyed in short bursts on a commute. They had the production values of a mid-level PS2 or GameCube title, and for the 3DS that was acceptable, it was AAA for the system. But then you get to the Switch, and now the more powerful hybrid system needs to take into account players who will be playing both at home AND on the go. So not only does Intelligent Systems need to craft a new engine tailored for the Switch that allows for more modern production values and graphics, but also need to make sure the game is engrossing enough for players to binge for hours on end in front of a TV as well, in addition to optimizing the game for mobile play, as well as re-inventing the series core elements to make it fresh. It's a balancing act that requires more development time, money, and resources to accomplish, which is why the game had to be delayed twice, and bring in Koei Tecmo to help with development. And this is just one example. Pokemon Let's Go! had a surprisingly large team size and development cycle for the kind of game it is. A large part of that can be attributed to Game Freak needing a larger budget and more resources to craft a more unique experience for the Switch.
Then you have third parties. The mobile nature of the Switch, means you can't just port everything from the PS4 and Xbox One. Not just because of hardware limitations, but also because there are games on those systems that just work better in a living room setting. As such, you see a lot of third parties porting over less demanding games that can be enjoyed in short bursts, because those games are a natural fit for the Switch's portability. Back in the DS days, making a DS version of a multiplatform title required making a whole new game from scratch, which was easy to do on that system. But with today's hardware and development, it's easier to just downscale the PS4 assets for the Switch than build all new assets from scratch. And exclusive titles follow the same format as First party games. You can't just make mobile games for a TV, making a notable Switch exclusive requires balancing for both home and on-the-go settings. And all of this is to say nothing of all the multiplayer, motion control, and tabletop features the system offers as well.
I think as we go further into the life of the Switch, more and more developers will get the hang of how games should be developed for the system, and thus, develop more titles with a quicker turnaround, as we're seeing that starting to come into fruition with 2019. But If you want a reason as to why all these mid-level handheld style games and third party titles took so long to start coming in the mass, and why 2018 was pretty low-key for first party Nintendo games. I think this is a good reason why. The unique nature of the Switch needs a very different approach from traditional mobile and home console style of game development