For the past few years, Nintendo has been in stasis. Sure, the Switch has seen no shortage of terrific games recently, but Nintendo’s annual slates have lacked the incandescent marquees that defined the hybrid console’s first year or two. The dry streak comes to a halting stop in 2022, which is shaping up to be a potentially banner year for Nintendo—one that’ll even see some noteworthy exclusives falling outside of the fiscally reliable sequels, remakes, and remasters tent. Let’s break it down.
What was Pokélife like before the invention of the Pokédex? That’s the question at the core of Pokémon Legends: Arceus, a spinoff of Nintendo’s signature creature collectathon series. Set eons before the modern Pokémon games, Legends: Arceus explores the Sinnoh region, the setting for Pokémon Diamond and Pearl versions (which just received the remake treatment on Switch). Following its initial reveal, folks compared Legends: Arceus to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but subsequent gameplay footage thus far has indicated a role-playing game with a bit more structure, something closer to Monster Hunter.
Release date: January 28, 2022
Triangle Strategy has already proven itself. Last February, Square Enix made a demo available for its new role-playing game, back when it was known as (brace yourself) Project Triangle Strategy. Ostensibly, Triangle Strategy, which is done up in the same visually magnificent “2D HD style” as throwback games like Octopath Traveler, is a medieval-inspired tactical game à la Fire Emblem. But if the demo is any indication, you’ll spend as much time in castles and war rooms as you do on the battlefield, underscored by an unexpectedly unique conversation system that has you trying to convince allies to steer narrative branches toward outcomes you’d prefer.
Release date: March 4, 2022
Despite its name, don’t call it a reboot. Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp is a compiled remake of two totemic tactical RPGs from the Game Boy Advance: 2001’s Advance Wars and 2003’s Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising. Most of the fundamental mechanics remain in place, but both games have received a graphical overhaul. Re-Boot Camp was initially planned to release on December 3, 2021, which would’ve marked the second year running in which Nintendo closed out its year with a re-release in some form of an old tactical RPG. But in October, Nintendo pushed its release.
Release date: Spring 2022 officially, though the eShop page lists April 8
If Kirby Air Ride 2 is a warp pipedream, an open-world-styled Kirby is the next best thing. Kirby and the Forgotten Land, first unveiled at a September 2021 Nintendo Direct (well, officially), gives everyone’s favorite sentient ball of cotton candy the BotW treatment: wide-open areas, a post-apocalyptic vibe, and an impressively deep toolkit. Among the vast array of shape-shifting abilities in Kirby’s arsenal, Forgotten Land appears to feature the power of…journalism, which means this game is worth checking out if only to see how exactly that manifests. What, is Kirby gonna “Do you mind if I record this call?” enemies to death? Or maybe leveling up unlocks the “We’re publishing in an hour, if you’d care to comment” ability? Yes, Kirby and the Forgotten Land looks intriguing, even though I’m still mad at Nintendo for not titling it The Last of Puffs.
Release date: Spring 2022
Nearly a year ago, Nintendo officially revealed Splatoon 3 not with the effervescent vibrancy so commonly associated with the series but with a striking landscape more reminiscent of, oh, a pop-art Fallout. But it’s true: the Splatoon series of shooters, this year’s Splatoon 3 included, is apparently set in the wake of a climate apocalypse. In addition to the competitive literal paintballing that’s largely defined the series, Splatoon 3 will launch with a single-player campaign.
Release date: TBD 2022
As if there weren’t already enough enticing tactical RPGs hitting Switch this year, gaming’s oddest mashup makes a comeback. It’s almost instinctual to write the entire Mario + Rabbids gambit off as a cash-grab mashup of two megawatt franchises, but those who played the first game, 2017’s Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, can attest to the quiet brilliance of its formula: XCOM-style battles mixed with Mario-patented traversal methods, like warp pipes and the secret art of “stomping on an enemy’s head.” Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope is poised to further shake things up, primarily by abdicating Kingdom Battle’s grid-based battle system in favor of one that’s more freeform in its movements.
Release date: TBD 2022
No, the sequel to the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild still doesn’t have a name, currently being labeled by Nintendo, in all pre-release assets, as The Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Supposedly, the real title is under wraps so as not to preemptively reveal spoilers, but imagine how freakin’ funny it’d be if Nintendo actually just ran with “The Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” as the title for the game that’ll be the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Think of all the folks who write about games every day, the people who will immediately tire of The Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild by sheer frequency with which they have to type out “The Sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” (See? One week into January and I’ve exhausted my annual quota in a single paragraph.) Anyway, yeah, no title yet, nor much concrete info either, but if it’s anything like the first game—widely regarded as one of the best of all time—people will be talking about it for years.
Release date: TBD 2022
It’s hard to believe, given how long the tease was drawn out, but Bayonetta 3 is real, and it’s coming out on Switch later this year—five years after its development was first announced. The first trailer showed off more hack-and-slash action and giant monsters. Plus, early peeks suggest the story will be suitably bonkers, in line with the Wikipedia-mandatory complexity for which the series is known. Fans are convinced, for instance, that the player character is Cereza, rather than Bayonetta, the protagonist of the first two games; others seem to think Bayonetta 3 will feature a Devil May Cry cameo of some sort.
Release date: TBD 2022
Of course, some of the most promising Switch games of 2022 aren’t developed by Nintendo—and aren’t always Switch exclusives. Here are some standouts:
As stacked as Nintendo’s 2022 lineup is, there are a couple of notable absentees. The Metroid series, which reentered the spotlight with last year’s Metroid Dread, isn’t currently anywhere. Prior to Dread’s smash success, Metroid fans kept the flame alive with hopes of Metroid Prime 4, which Nintendo announced back in 2017. In 2019, Nintendo handed the project back to the original developers at Retro Studios, who reportedly rebooted development internally. What’s more, the rumor mill suggests a bundle-edition Metroid Prime trilogy could come to Switch at some point. I’m not saying it’s likely, but either one could come out of nowhere and cause gaming-centric websites to instantly clock record traffic goals.
One of Nintendo’s big 2021 hits wasn’t a new Mario game but rather an old one packaged alongside a proof of concept. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury put the competitively cooperative Super Mario 3D World, a WiiU game, on the Switch for the first time. It was nice enough, but Bowser’s Fury—basically Mario by way of BotW—was the real selling point. Though Bowser’s Fury featured an open world with multiple distinct biomes, the overall play time was all too brief, resulting in a bite-sized game that felt more like a blueprint for what could be an absolute stunner of a mansion. Again, not saying a Mario game is likely for 2022, but Nintendo hasn’t released a mainline entry since Super Mario Odyssey. (While terrific, Super Mario Maker 2 doesn’t count.)
Nintendo’s games-on-demand service, Nintendo Switch Online, was expanded in 2021. In September, Nintendo said it’d add N64 games to the service’s library, which had previously only contained NES and SNES games. The initial lineup was featherlight, just nine N64 games plus a handful of Sega Genesis gems. Nintendo added the original Paper Mario in December and will add Banjo-Kazooie later this month. These were introduced on a piecemeal basis, by the way, so there’s the chance Nintendo continues to…add one game at a time. Plus, back in September, a series of credible reports suggested Game Boy and Game Boy Color games could make their way to Nintendo Switch Online. Door’s still open for that to happen in 2022.
But all of Nintendo’s forecast is shadowed by a looming cloud: the long-rumored 4K Switch. Conversation around its impending release hit a fever pitch in the spring and through the summer, spurred in no small part by multiple Bloomberg reports.
The eventual new Switch instead turned out to be the Nintendo Switch - OLED Model, fundamentally identical as the standard model save for a slightly bigger, significantly brighter screen. I’m taking bets now: Given Nintendo’s track record of rumor-fueling, tight-lipped secrecy, plus a tendency to release incremental hardware improvements rather than significantly upgraded models, the company’s barnbuster this year will be [drum roll…] a Nintendo Switch Lite - OLED Model, available in [longer drum roll…] one color option.
Or it could be nothing! On the strength of the Switch’s 2022 lineup, Nintendo doesn’t need a shiny new piece of hardware to have a bonkers year.