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Zelda: Breath of the Wild Could Be the Reason the Switch Beats the Wii U

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The Nintendo Switch packs a lot of possibilities in a relatively small package, but even after the system’s seemingly successful launch, we still don’t have a strong indication of whether or not it will be the success Nintendo is looking for. There is, however, one thing we can look at for an idea of whether it will at least surpass the Wii U: launch software lineup.

Depending on who you ask, the Switch either has a ton of compelling software coming in the near future or a lacking launch lineup—there are even arguments to be had over whether the launch software is comparable to other console launches. It’s also difficult to judge how much a console’s launch software affects its eventual success, when so many factors come into play over the lifespan of a piece of hardware.

For better or worse, Nintendo occupies a bit of a different space in the gaming world than Microsoft or Sony, so the best place to look for perspective is past Nintendo consoles. The Wii U was an oddity in more ways than just its unusually poor sales—it had no particularly compelling launch title to speak of. That’s subjective by nature, but Nintendo makes its name on the quality exclusive software they produce to go along with their hardware. For a company with that as its main selling point, it was strange that the Wii U’s big Nintendo-franchise launch title was a side-scrolling Mario sequel, New Super Mario Bros. U. The New Super Mario Bros. games have certainly been successful, but I wouldn’t think of them as system-sellers on their own.

Looking back at the Nintendo 64, GameCube, and Wii, those systems had Mario 64Super Smash Bros. Melee (which launched two weeks after the GameCube), and Wii Sports/Zelda: Twilight Princess at launch. Mario 64 was a genre-defining jump from 2D to 3D gaming for MarioMelee was a classic—played in a vibrant tournament scene to this day—and pretty much the reason to own a GameCube, Wii Sports was the motion-controlled party game that showed everyone why the Wii was worth owning, and Twilight Princess was the much-awaited “realistic”-looking entry into the franchise that fans wanted ever since a pre-GameCube tech demo. (While not from Nintendo, the GameCube launch also sported a then-graphically impressive followup to the beloved Rogue Squadron, as well.)

Mario 64Melee, and Wii Sports all went on to become their console’s best-selling game, although Wii Sports got a huge boost due to being packaged with the Wii. The Nintendo 64 also followed up early the next year with Mario Kart 64 and Goldeneye 007 later on in the summer, two more wildly popular, trend-setting games, even as the Nintendo 64 was eclipsed by the original PlayStation. The GameCube also had a great year to follow its holiday launch, with Metroid Prime, Zelda: The Wind Waker, and Super Mario Sunshine all arriving in 2002.

Meanwhile, the Wii U’s best-selling game, Mario Kart 8, didn’t arrive until 2014 (along with Smash Bros.), nearly two years after the console’s launch. 2013’s main offerings, on the other hand, were more Mario games, with Super Mario 3D World and New Super Luigi U. It’s fair to note that the original Wii was incredibly successful despite a sparse second year, but it was also propelled by massive positive response to the motion control gimmick that Nintendo has been unable to replicate since. Correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, but this slow software trickle was likely what doomed the Wii U to be the worst seller out of Nintendo’s home console offerings. It had other problems—confusing branding, for one—but great games that players couldn’t live without would’ve easily superseded such issues.

Now, we have the Switch. Nintendo is—as is usual with their new consoles—promising robust third party support this time around, and the upcoming games list is long, but Breath of the Wild looks like the most compelling Switch exclusive confirmed so far. It’s also available on the Wii U, but the Wii U sold so few consoles that the game might as well be Switch-only. Mario Odyssey may still surprise us later in the year (if it doesn’t get delayed to 2018), but Breath of the Wild is such a radical change for the Zelda franchise—with fantastic review scores—that it’s easily the Switch’s big early system-seller.

Better software usually comes along later in a console’s lifespan, but as we saw with the Wii U, a slow software start that causes hardware sales to lag in the beginning might mean we never get to “later.” I’m still playing wait-and-see with the Switch myself, but Breath of the Wild is already providing me at least one reason to buy the console, which is something I didn’t get from the Wii U game library until it was already too late. If Breath of the Wild makes the Switch’s launch a success, that’ll buy them the time and goodwill to deliver more, which they never had with the Wii U. That doesn’t guarantee that the Switch will become a hit, but if it does, it’ll have Breath of the Wild to thank.

(image via Nintendo)

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Dan is a video game modding hobbyist and secret ninja who lives in North Carolina with his wife, Lisa Brown, and his dog, Liz Lemon, both of whom are the best.