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The year ahead: What's next for the Nintendo Switch in 2021

We're pacing towards the end of the year, and this is usually a time many choose to not only take a look back at what happened in the past 12 months, but also what's ahead for the next 12. Earlier this week, I already went over some of the highlights of Nintendo's 2020 for me, and now, it's time to look ahead at 2021.

Nintendo often holds its cards close to its chest, especially around this time, with many things only being announced after the new year starts. But that doesn't mean we're completely in the dark, and it's also fun to speculate about what might happen that we don't know for sure yet.

New hardware

If you read my three-year recap article about the Switch back in March, you know I didn't rule out the possibility of a new revision happening in 2020, but obviously, that didn't happen. In hindsight, it may have been too early, but Nintendo also faced some problems with manufacturing new units because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which likely made it harder to kickstart production of a whole new model, especially with the existing one already in pretty high demand.

But in 2021, the timing is much more adequate, and it lines up with Nintendo's past strategies much better. The Nintendo DS, first released in 2004, got a revised model with the same tech specs in 2006. Then, after two more years, in 2008, the Nintendo DSi was released, being the same console at heart, but with major changes like the addition of cameras, an actual operating system, downloadable software, and more. The Nintendo 3DS, which debuted in 2011, also got two major revisions, but with the same general capabilities, by 2013. Then, two years later, we got the New Nintendo 3DS, with a faster CPU, more RAM, improved 3D functionality, new controls, and more.

The Nintendo Switch debuted in 2017, and the Switch Lite was released in 2019, along with a revision of the original model with improved battery life. So far it all lines up fairly well, so there's good reason to believe a bigger revision is coming at some point in 2021, which could help Nintendo maintain its relevance as the Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 start to gain momentum after their initial scarcity.

That's not all we have to go on, though, as a couple of reports have hinted at a possible revision. One report in August suggested that a new model with "improved interactivity" and a better display is planned for the first quarter of 2021, and a few weeks later, Bloomberg reported that Nintendo is asking developers to make their games "4K-ready". Now, the chipset in the Switch can technically output 4K resolution, though performance would likely be abysmal for gaming. However, Nvidia's most recent Shield TV, which packs a similar chipset, can upscale video content to 4K with some pretty solid results. An implementation similar to that, potentially paired with a better cooling system, could allow the Switch to output at 4K with decent performance.

We could even go as far as to speculate a potential date, though it may be a bit of a stretch. Monster Hunter Rise is launching on March 26, 2021, and the Monster Hunter franchise has a history (albeit a short one) of launching with some Nintendo hardware. Monster Hunter 3G launched in Japan in 2011 alongside the Circle Pad Pro accessory for the Nintendo 3DS, and in 2015, Monster Hunter 4G launched alongside the New Nintendo 3DS in that region. These titles were designed to make use of that new hardware, which we might very well see again. Plus, that's not all that's happening on the Switch on that day. Square Enix's Balan Wonderworld is launching on the same day, but perhaps most notably, new amiibo figures in the Super Smash Bros. series are launching on March 26. And a new hardware launch right before the end of the fiscal year could really help Nintendo boost that fourth quarter, when sales tend to fall off after the holidays.

Confirmed games

As I said at the start, Nintendo likes to keep its secrets that way until the right time, so we don't know too much about the company's plans. However, some games have been confirmed for a 2021 release, both from Nintendo and third-party partners. We'll mostly be focusing on titles exclusive to the Switch, or at least, launch exclusives.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury

Super Mario 3D World was hailed as one of the best Nintendo games on the Wii U, even though it's one of the more generic entries in the series, following the structure of Super Mario 3D Land on the 3DS. The game was announced to be coming to the Nintendo Switch during the Super Mario 35th Anniversary Direct back in September.

The biggest change with the Switch release is the addition of "Bowser's Fury", but Nintendo has refrained from sharing anything about that is. We've only got a short cinematic teaser that hints at a much darker tone than the rest of the game. The Switch version also brings another significant addition, which is support for online co-operative multiplayer, whereas the original could only be played with people on the same console. And, apparently, the game moves faster than the Wii U original, as can be seen in this comparison by GameXplain on YouTube.

The game is releasing on February 12, and is currently the earliest major exclusive to release on the Switch in 2021. At least, among the ones with confirmed release dates.

Bravely Default II

Image credit: Nintendo (YouTube)

The Bravely Default series, developed by Square Enix, had its start on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012 (in Japan), and it already has a sequel, Bravely Second: End Layer, released in 2015 on the same platform. The third game in the series was announced at The Game Awards 2019, and it was originally slated for a release in 2020, but that ended up not happening.

Bravely Default II is being developed by the same team that made Octopath Traveler, another RPG that was exclusive to the Nintendo Switch, though it came to PC one year later. The game has the player take the role of Seth, one of four Heroes of Light that will band together throughout the game. Like previous games in the series, each of the characters can have a "job", which is done by obtaining the associated Asterisk, an item held by powerful enemies in the game. Jobs change the way characters develop their battling abilities, allowing the player to strategize with each of the playable characters.

Bravely Default II is planned for release on February 26, and a new demo was released on the eShop earlier this week after the developers took feedback from those who played the first demo earlier this year. The team actually shared some of the improvements made to the game following feedback in this video.

Monster Hunter Rise

Nintendo and Capcom unveiled the return of Monster Hunter to Nintendo platforms with Monster Hunter Rise back in October. The title is closer to the traditional monster-hunting formula of the series, rather than a follow-up to Monster Hunter World. The main monster in the game is called Magnamalo, though there are a few new ones, as you'd expect.

There are some new mechanics, such as the Wirebug, which lets players spring up into the air and move around more freely; or Palamutes, new canine partners that players can ride to move more quickly. There are new locations that take advantage of these traversal methods, too.

Monster Hunter Rise launches on Nintendo Switch on March 26, 2021, though it's also said to be coming to PC later in the year according to leaked information from Capcom.

Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne HD Remaster

Atlus announced the HD Remaster of Shin Megami Tensei III Nocturne back in July, and it's already out in Japan. However, for those of us in Western markets, the game is slated for a release in the spring of 2021. The RPG originally released in 2003 on the PlayStation 2, so this will be its debut on a Nintendo platform, though the remaster is also releasing on the PlayStation 4. The HD remaster naturally features improved graphics and gameplay, as well as new voiced events.

Shin Megami Tensei V

Image credit: Atlus (YouTube)

Yes, there are two games in the Shin Megami Tensei series coming to the Switch in 2021, but unlike the remaster above, Shin Megami Tensei V is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. The game was actually teased all the way back at the Nintendo Switch Presentation in January of 2017, but not much was heard of it until July of this year in a Nintendo Direct.

Not much is known about the game, but it's slated for a simultaneous worldwide release in 2021, with some reports suggesting it may be released in the first quarter of the year.

Monster Hunter Stories 2

Monster Hunter Rise isn't the only game in the series Capcom is bringing to the Nintendo Switch. During the same event, the company also announced Monster Hunter Stories 2: Wings of Ruin, a sequel to the Nintendo 3DS exclusive Monster Hunter Stories. This spin-off game uses a more cartoon-ish cel-shaded style compared to the realistic visuals of the main series, and it has more RPG elements than just action.

The game is slated to release on the Nintendo Switch in the summer of 2021, and just like Monster Hunter Rise, it's also said to be coming to PC.

No More Heroes III

The third entry in the No More Heroes franchise - which had been on hiatus since 2010 - was first announced at E3 2019, with the first proper trailer shown off at The Game Awards later that year. The title was initially slated for a 2020 release, but the launch has been pushed back to a vague 2021 time frame.

The No More Heroes series is focused on hack-and-slash gameplay and it stars Travis Touchdown, a member of an association of highly-trained assassins. The story in the third game revolves around an alien invasion, with Travis taking on the job of saving the world from the impending threat.

Since it was originally planned for this year, it seems likely that it will arrive in the earlier months of 2021, but that has yet to be confirmed.

There are also some indie games making their way to the platform in 2021, like Sports Story, a sequel to the critically-acclaimed Golf Story, or Cyber Shadow, coming from the same publisher as Shovel Knight. And Hitman 3 - Cloud version is said to be coming to the Switch "soon", and since the version on other platforms is coming January 20, it shouldn't be much longer until it arrives.

Unconfirmed release dates

The games above all have release dates or, at the very least, release windows, in 2021. However, there are quite a few Nintendo Switch games announced that don't have set release time frames, so they could arrive in 2021, but we don't know for sure. Since there's no release date, the titles are presented in no particular order below.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel

Nintendo ended its E3 2019 show with a bang, showing off a teaser trailer for a sequel The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of the most critically-acclaimed titles in the past few years. The trailer didn't show a ton, but we got to see Link, Zelda, and what appears to be a skeletal Ganondorf. So far that's all we've seen of the game, though series producer Eiji Aonuma commented on the development back in September, saying the team was still working on making the adventure as great as possible.

Development cycles for Zelda games tend to be pretty long, so with two years since the announcement, it's understandable to be skeptical of a release date in 2021. However, it will be the 35th anniversary of the series next year, and this would be a great way to celebrate it. Plus, being a direct sequel should mean that some assets will be taken from the previous game, which should speed up development.

Metroid Prime 4

Image credit: Nintendo (YouTube)

Fans of the Metroid series were finally thrown a bone at E3 2017, when Nintendo announced a remake of Metroid II for the NIntendo 3DS, but even more importantly, the company announced the long-awaited return of the Metroid Prime series with Metroid Prime 4. Nothing was shown of the game aside from a temporary logo, and it was only said the game was in development.

In January 2019, Nintendo announced that it had restarted the development project, bringing in Retro Studios, developers of the first three games in the series, to see the project through. We have yet to hear more information about the game, but Retro Studios has consistenly been posting job offerings to help wih the development, and it may just be time for us to see more 2021.

Bayonetta 3

Image credit: Nintendo (YouTube)

2017 truly was the year of promised games for the Switch, and after Metroid Prime 4, Nintendo revealed Bayonetta 3 at The Game Awards that year. Bayonetta isn't exactly a dormant series, but the last new entry was Bayonetta 2 on the Wii U in 2014, and the franchise has an avid fanbase that was certainly happy to get a new entry.

It's been three years, and that initial reveal trailer is still all we've seen of the game. PlatinumGames has released more games in the meantime, like the Switch exclusive Astral Chain, and the remastered version of The Wonderful 101. The team has been asked about Bayonetta 3's development multiple times and we've consistently heard that things are going as planned, so there's reason to believe we may see more of it soon, but only time will tell.

Pokémon Unite

The Pokémon Company announced Pokémon Unite during a dedicated presentation earlier this summer. It's a MOBA (multiplayer online batle arena) game in the same vein as something like League of Legends, and it's being developed by Tencent's TiMi Studios, who recently developed Call of Duty: Mobile. Of course, it features a few characters from the Pokémon franchise, though only 10 are currently known to be in the game.

The game was shown relatively extensively, so it seems likely that a release isn't too far off. Pokémon Unite will also be on mobile devices, and it will be free to start, meaning in-app purchases will be part of its monetization strategy.

New Pokémon Snap

In yet another presentation from The Pokémon Company, fans got another long-awaited announcement this year. Pokémon Snap, one of the more well-known titles of the Nintendo 64, is getting a sequel in the form of New Pokémon Snap on the Nintendo Switch. The Pokémon Company is handing off development of the game to Bandai Namco, and the footage shown during the presentation was pretty impressive, especially if you compare it to the mainline Pokémon games on the Switch.

The goal in New Pokémon Snap is to take the best possible pictures of different Pokémon roaming the area around you. Players navigate through the region through a defined path, and they can use items to lure creatures to capture them. We haven't heard a ton more about the game, but it seemed to be further in development than some of the games on this list, so it's certainly possible we'll hear more in 2021.

Aside from these bigger titles, there are a handful of others that could be coming to Nintendo's hybrid soon. A sequel to Detective Pikachu, a Nintendo 3DS game that inspired the movie of the same name, was announced back in 2018 and hasn't been heard of since. Indie hit Hollow Knight is also set to get a sequel/expansion, Hollow Knight: Silksong, but the development team has also been quiet about it for some time.

And those are all the biggest things in store Nintendo Switch in 2021, as well as some that may or may not make the cut for next year. The hybrid is turning four years old next year, and it certainly has a library to reckon with already, but there may be even more surprises in the future. Of course, we'll be here to cover them.

Are you excited for any of these titles, or are there others you're looking forward to? Let us know in the comments!

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