When Nintendo announced and showcased the Switch’s features for the first time, the immediate assumption was that they were finally embracing the concept many fans felt was inevitable: A hybrid. Their consoles have faltered in sales and software support in the last decade, though their handheld market remained mostly healthy. It was also clear from the Wii U and 3DS software lineups that Nintendo didn’t have enough staff or resources to develop an ample supply of first-party software for both. Following that logic, a fusion of both ecosystems was bound to happen, and the future seemed to arrive with Switch considering how it can, well, switch between console and handheld forms. I am not sorry.
But are we sure it’s also a 3DS replacement? You’d think its nature as a hybrid system would be a big selling point, especially since we’re just under four weeks away from its launch. That, however, isn’t how they’ve been advertising it. When the system was unveiled last October, it was identified as a console from the press relations departments in America and Japan. Even the promotional videos thus far have focused more on the console aspect of the system rather than its handheld capabilities.
Those Fire Emblem games aren’t the only titles coming to 3DS in the near future, especially from Nintendo. Mario Sports Superstars will release next month, while titles like Ever Oasis and a 2D Pikmin title will arrive later in the year. On the third-party front, the biggest title coming is Dragon Quest XI, but titles like The Alliance Alive and the yet-to-be-unveiled Shin Megami Tensei game are also on the way. Anyone who prefers handhelds and doesn’t plan on purchasing a Switch right away will still have plenty to play throughout 2017.
This all begs the question: In what form will this 3DS successor arrive in? It could come in one of two ways, though one is more likely than the other.
It’s likely Switch is intended to be their console and handheld going forward, but they’re not ready to phase out the 3DS yet. And why would they be? The system sold well over the holiday season, to the point that it’s still sold out in many stores — especially in America. Pokémon Sun & Moon quickly became one of 3DS’ best-selling titles, and Super Mario Maker for 3DS was no slouch. The above-mentioned 3DS lineup shows how Nintendo and certain third-party partners want to get as much out of the system as they can before it fades into the sunset. When it does, Switch will be there to take its place among those who prefer handhelds, at a time where it will already have potential must-play games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Splatoon 2.
That is, assuming they’re not crazy enough to actually release a 3DS successor that’s a separate system. It would be nice if Nintendo didn’t bid adieu to the dual-screened handheld format after all, especially if the new system was backwards-compatible with 3DS titles. But that would conflict with Switch as a handheld, particularly in western territories, where they aren’t as valued anymore. As mentioned before, Nintendo had trouble supporting both Wii U and 3DS simultaneously. Since both offerings here would be more powerful than previous iterations, this phenomenon would worsen.
That’s why I’m going with the former example being the likelier scenario, that Switch will take 3DS’ place when Nintendo is ready to put it to rest. We should start seeing efforts from Nintendo to prepare it as a successor at the end of the year, perhaps in a Nintendo Direct, where they’ll showcase new installments in some handheld-centric franchises. While a Fire Emblem game has already been confirmed for Switch for a 2018 release, the highlight of this should be a new Monster Hunter title, alongside at least a few other franchises that were popular on Nintendo handhelds. Don’t be surprised if some Vita-centric franchise also make the jump to the system, since it doesn’t appear Sony is making another handheld.
This might also arrive with a smaller, more compact version of the Switch for a cheaper price — perhaps around $200. This would primarily be aimed towards Japan, since handhelds are the more dominant platforms there, but will be released worldwide.
It’s possible that both of my predictions could be off, and Nintendo has something entirely different planned that many can’t foresee. But that’s unlikely, since Nintendo isn’t in a position to stretch their resources too thin. We’ll see their future plans beyond 3DS in late 2017, but in the meantime, both Fils-Aimé and Kimishima hinted at more 3DS titles beyond those we’re aware of, which should be revealed in the near future.