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Nintendo Switch, one year on

The hardcore's been won over, but can they be kept happy over the next 12 months?

How best to chart 12 months in which Nintendo returned to the frontlines, and stirred up a frenzy not seen since the phenomenon that was the Wii? For a console that's uniquely personal - one that will follow by your side wherever you go, allowing video games to slot in all those gaps in our everyday lives - it's 12 months that have been defined by some truly magical moments.

  • Playing through Shock Troopers with my brother-in-law over a couple of beers into the early hours of the morning on his kitchen table.
  • The two week holiday at my partner's parents' flat in Malaysia which, it transpired, turned into a two week vacation in Hyrule, every spare moment being spent hunched over a dressing room table in the spare bedroom or lazily sprawled on the bed playing through Breath of the Wild.
  • Arms. Just Arms. The lovely, amazing Arms. Everything about Arms.
  • Seeing old classics through a new lens, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe's new battle mode breathing fresh life into a game that was once a weekly staple with friends.
  • The thrill of discovery, whether by dipping into the Japanese eShop to pick up some curio or falling in love with something, like Voez, which I'd have never considered before. And, with Voez' Blanket by Mai Aoyagi, a song which I returned to more than any other in 2017.
  • That moment when playing Skyrim, scaling a mountain and seeing all that heady scale unfurl before you on a handheld. Followed by the moment, shortly afterwards, when you realise you don't really like Bethesda games all that much and you just spunked away £49.99 to play a game you didn't particularly enjoy five years ago. But still! Skyrim on a handheld!.
  • A lazy afternoon in the local, reclining in the soft-cushioned seat that's survived two refurbs there and warmed by ale while challenging friends to bouts of Garou: Mark of the Wolves - a brilliantly modern take on when we used to huddle around the Neo Geo cabinet in the pub down the road, both of which are no more.

I don't think anyone anticipated it going quite as well as this. Least of all myself, one of the naysayers who ended up watching the Nintendo Switch's reveal event last January with a fog of despondency creeping in the air, Amiibo tossed across the floor in disgust as I watched on with sad horror as the pricing of the console, its games and accessories were revealed alongside a paltry-looking launch line-up. Maybe it was something to do with dragging myself out of bed just before 4am to see the show unfurl, but it was a miserable feeling.

I wasn't the only one consumed by gloom - later that morning, as we all got our chance to play the Switch in the bowels of Hammersmith's Apollo, the atmosphere can only be described as funereal. The mood was only really lightened by an hour spent discovering the newly-revealed Arms with a friend; the only light in an otherwise dreary afternoon. Nintendo had surely priced itself out of serious contention. Could another Wii U-esque disaster be on the cards?

One other magical Switch moment - seeing Nintendo cynic Wes won over by Puyo Puyo Tetris on the Switch, mostly because he could lay the smackdown on anyone, anywhere. I think he almost bought one as well, before he just went back to playing FIFA and CoD.

"Nintendo's plan for Switch seems like the slightly desperate design of a company that's stuck between a rock and a hard place," Oli, who won't thank me for reminding him, wrote later that day. "[The Switch] deserves a better fate than the last-ditch mission Nintendo appears to be sending it on."

You know what happened next. The Switch launched and proved you don't need a vast line-up at launch; just one perfectly good game will do the trick, especially when it's as eagerly anticipated and expertly delivered as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Even more than that, it proved that Nintendo's decision to launch in the middle of a hardware generation could actually work when it was providing something genuinely different. The Switch wasn't built around a gimmick like the Wii U - though in its eccentric design, you'll find plenty of delightful quirks - but was instead offering a tangible promise that was instantly fulfilled; full-fat gaming on the go.

We've heard that promise before, you might remember, but while Sony's Vita was a wonderful machine, it never reached anywhere near its full potential. The answer to why that is is simple enough; the first party support just wasn't there, the third-rate first-party knock-offs such as Uncharted: Golden Abyss only proving to show how vast the chasm was between Sony's home and portable efforts. As Nintendo's primary piece of hardware, that chasm simply doesn't exist on the Switch, and that's its real magic.

On top of that, in 2017 Nintendo enjoyed one of the strongest years I can recall any platform holder having. A big release once a month, every month, a cadence that didn't waver throughout those first 12 months, and while there was some filler there was also an embarrassment of first-party blockbusters - Mario! Zelda! Splatoon! ARMS!!! - while the spaces in between were filled by what's amounted to something of a goldrush. There's even decent third-party support, that short lull in which publishers waited on the sidelines now well and truly over with Bethesda throwing its full weight behind the console and others looking to cash in on the Switch's success in due course.

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Consider the hardcore well and truly won over, then, and the Switch has doubled down on that foundation in a way that the poor Wii U never really could. Now, though, the real fun begins; the next 12 months are going to be fascinating as Nintendo embarks on a potentially precarious balancing act. With the Labo cardboard toy line, Nintendo's courting the same kind of audience it conjured a phenomenon out of with the early days of the Wii, and the Switch's strategy seems to be to turn that formula on its head; get the hardcore on board first before pushing out to the broader market.

If the excited faces that have met previews of Labo are anything to go by, then it's set to be a success (and I certainly can't wait to sample what looks like the kind of marvel that gets straight to the heart of what can make Nintendo so cherished), but the real trick is going to be charting new waters for the Switch while keeping those existing players happy. There's a sense, with all the big guns having fired their shots, that Nintendo's coasting a little through the early months of 2018, and that Wii U ports and second-tier mascot outings such as Yoshi and Kirby can only go so far to satiate the appetites of an audience left hungry after last year's exquisite feast.

Keeping up the cadence of new releases is one thing; overcoming the not inconsiderable hurdle that is the imminent launch of the online service later this year is going to prove quite another. Nintendo fluffed its lines at last year's January reveal when it tried to explain how the service might work, and its efforts in the intervening months have been nothing short of disastrous. One year on, to call it functional would be something of an overstatement, and while Nintendo tinkers with its new cardboard toys I hope some of other fundamentals - such as the Switch's front-end and its eShop, which is in danger of becoming a sewer of shovelware - are given due attention.

Answers to those problems will hopefully come in due course, but before we worry too much about how they'll be resolved, perhaps now's the time to look back and congratulate Nintendo on everything it's done right the past 12 months. It's been a year unlike any other, for a machine that remains thrillingly unique.

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