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Investigating the Nintendo Switch Sales Bump

by Neal Ronaghan - February 8, 2022, 2:03 pm EST
Total comments: 2

The Switch shattered 100 million units, but what does that mean for the sales of Nintendo video games? We try to sort it out.

Nintendo Switch has the momentum of the runaway freight train. Why is it so popular? A big reason is the games, but Nintendo has generally always had the games. The Switch just managed to hit the perfect sweet spot between approachable and deep as well as casual and hardcore. It appeals to everyone and is limited only by its dated specs and janky online.

With Nintendo’s most recent earnings release, we had an increasingly inevitable confirmation: The Nintendo Switch has passed 100 million consoles sold, reaching the metric faster than the extremely successful Wii and also surpassing the total numbers of Wiis sold as well. We also found out that Metroid Dread is just shy of 3 million units sold, making it a lock to be the best-selling Metroid game of all time.

That got me thinking: how do we term success and failure in an age where seemingly every Nintendo game on Switch has an expected sales bump just by virtue of being on a thriving platform with a hungry audience? So I crunched numbers and compared the sales of Switch games to their predecessors to find out what exactly the consistent sales increase was. It’s sometimes hard to find exact comparisons, but I paired different games on Switch to past releases on Wii U, 3DS, or Wii to get an idea of how big the sales increase on Switch really was.

ConsolePre-Switch GameSales (mill)Switch GameSales (mill)% Increase
GCMetroid Prime 21.1Metroid Dread2.74149.09%
WiiMetroid Prime 31.31Metroid Dread2.74109.16%
SNESSuper Metroid1.42Metroid Dread2.7492.96%
GBAMetroid Fusion1.6Metroid Dread2.7471.25%
GBMetroid 21.72Metroid Dread2.7459.30%
NESMetroid2.73Metroid Dread2.740.37%
GCMetroid Prime2.84Metroid Dread2.74-3.52%

Let’s start by looking at some of the brand new numbers related to Metroid Dread. From its launch in October to the end of December, Metroid Dread sold 2.74 million units, which isn’t eye-popping at a glance. However, in three months, Dread has nearly outsold every other Metroid game ever made. The last Metroid game that even limped past one million sales was in 2007 in the early heyday of the Wii, and Dread even clowned on that game's (Metroid Prime 3) sales numbers by more than double. Ultimately, Dread might not have hit the gaudier early numbers that we all hoped for, but it’s still impressive for a beloved franchise that has lain fallow for a long time. Furthermore, Dread’s sales increase of 70-100% from past titles is relatively in line with a lot of other Switch success stories and outpaces a lot of other games that are demonstrable Switch successes.

If we use Metroid Samus Returns, Metroid Prime Federation Force, or Metroid Other M as a data point, the sales of Dread are an outsized success, but even contrasting it to the last entry in the series without a caveat, Metroid Prime 3, it still paces a lot of other Switch wins. The increase of 100%+ in sales from Prime 3 to Dread is in line with the increase of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (98% to the Wii U release), Mario Tennis Aces (110% to the 3DS release and near infinity from the Wii U release). It far outpaces the series sales jump that other niche Switch titles have received and could likely outsell the likes of Fire Emblem: Three Houses (~3 million), Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (~2.9 million), and Paper Mario: The Origami King (~3.1 million).

ConsolePre-Switch GameSales (mill)Switch GameSales (mill)% Increase
3DSPokemon OR/AS14.46Pokemon Let's Go14.3-1.11%
3DSPokemon Sun/Moon16.27Pokemon Sword/Shield23.946.90%

While Metroid is in its own corner of the video game world, Pokémon is truly dominant. In under two months, Pokémon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl are just shy of being even with both recent series remakes, sitting at 13.97 million units sold. It’s likely the Diamond and Pearl remakes have already outsold Pokémon Let’s Go’s 14.3 million by the time you see this. They’re also a lock to pass Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire in the near future as well. As for the mainline series, Pokémon Sword and Shield is at 23 million and counting, up nearly 50% in sales from Pokémon Sun and Moon’s extremely successful 16.27 million units. On the flip side, New Pokémon Snap has actually sold less than Metroid Dread, notching 2.36 million sales since its launch in April 2021. It might have a decently long tail, but it could struggle to match Pokémon Snap’s N64 sales of nearly 4 million.

ConsolePre-Switch GameSales (mill)Switch GameSales (mill)% Increase
Wii UMario Party 102.26Super Mario Party17.39669.47%
Wii UWii U Hardware13.56Switch Hardware103.54663.57%
Wii UWii U Software103.45Switch Software766.41640.85%
Wii UXenoblade X0.4Xenoblade 22.05412.50%
Wii UMario Kart 88.46Mario Kart 8 Deluxe43.35412.41%
Wii USplatoon4.95Splatoon 212.68156.16%
Wii UMario Party 102.26Mario Party Superstars5.43140.27%
Wii UNew Super Mario Bros. U5.81New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe11.4897.59%
Wii U/3DSSuper Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS15.01Super Smash Bros. Ultimate27.482.54%
Wii USuper Mario Maker4.02Super Mario Maker 27.1577.86%
Wii UPikmin 31.27Pikmin 3 Deluxe2.0460.63%
Wii USuper Mario 3D World5.88Super Mario 3D World8.8550.51%
Wii UDonkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze2.01Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze2.9345.77%
Wii UCaptain Toad Wii U1.36Captain Toad Switch1.5816.18%

Now, let’s start to look at how lineups for individual systems that had ports or follow-ups on Switch compare. We’ll start by tackling the Wii U - everyone’s favorite punching bag. As of now, the Switch has outsold the Wii U by more than 600%. For every one Wii U console sold, more than seven Switch systems have been sold. It’s a huge disparity that’s also found in the software sales, as the Switch has sold more than 750 million units of software and the Wii U is barely past 100 million. As a matter of fact, more Switch hardware has been sold than Wii U software. That’s bonkers.

Surprisingly the biggest Switch sales bump from Wii U to Switch is actually Mario Party, with Mario Party 10 on Wii U selling approximately 2.26 million units and Super Mario Party, the 2018 Switch release, at 17 million and counting. That percentage increase is north of 650%. Even Mario Party Superstars is running laps around the Wii U release, surpassing 5 million from October to December 2021. The Nintendo Switch is the most successful Mario Party platform ever, with two releases totaling more than 22 million sales. Super Mario Party by itself has essentially outsold every other home console’s total Mario Party sales, even when you factor in the two successful Wii entries and the four releases on GameCube.

A few other Wii U releases with Switch follow-ups or ports saw triple-digit percentage increases, most notably Xenoblade Chronicles 2 outselling Xenoblade Chronicles X by about 400% and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe outselling its Wii U originator by more than 400%. Splatoon 2 also saw a huge bump, going from just shy of 5 million on Wii U to more than 12 million on Switch.

With the exception of Tokyo Mirage Sessions, which we couldn’t find accurate enough sales data to compare, basically every Wii U game that had a Switch port or follow-up outperformed, most of the time at a significant rate. That’s promising for the likes of Donkey Kong Country (45% sales increase) and Pikmin (60% sales increase). Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury likely has a shot at the triple digits over time as it’s sold nearly 9 million in less than a year. It would have to reach about 12 million units to be a 100% sales increase from the Wii U release.

Not every Mario title wildly overperformed though. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker barely cracked 1.5 million units on Switch, only inching ahead of the 1.36 million lifetime on Wii U. You might be able to chalk up that underperformance from the fact Mario’s not in the title though because Super Mario Maker 2, which came out around the same time as Captain Toad, crossed 7 million sales and essentially sold as much as the successful Wii U and 3DS Mario Maker games combined.

If we combine similar Wii U and 3DS, we can also see how incredibly well Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is doing. Passing 27 million in sales, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has outsold the Wii U and 3DS release combined by more than 80%. Whether Sakurai sticks around or not, I don’t think there’s any doubt that Nintendo will work on another one of those games.

ConsolePre-Switch GameSales (mill)Switch GameSales (mill)% Increase
3DSAnimal Crossing: New Leaf12.97Animal Crossing: New Horizons37.62190.05%
3DSMario Tennis Open1.57Mario Tennis Aces3.29109.55%
3DS3DS Software387.99Switch Software766.4197.53%
Wii U/3DSSuper Smash Bros. Wii U/3DS15.01Super Smash Bros. Ultimate27.482.54%
3DSLuigi's Mansion: Dark Moon6.33Luigi's Mansion 311.0474.41%
3DSPokemon Sun/Moon16.27Pokemon Sword/Shield23.946.90%
3DSMiitopia1.18Miitopia1.6338.14%
3DS3DS Hardware75.94Switch Hardware103.5436.34%
3DSZelda: Link Between Worlds4.16Zelda: Link's Awakening5.4931.97%
3DSFire Emblem Awakening2.31Fire Emblem Three Houses3.0230.74%
3DSPaper Mario Sticker Star2.47Paper Mario: The Origami King3.1226.32%
3DSKirby Triple Deluxe2.61Kirby Star Allies3.1520.69%
3DSPokemon OR/AS14.46Pokemon Let's Go14.3-1.11%

Moving more to 3DS comparisons, there’s one major standout: Animal Crossing. On 3DS, Animal Crossing: New Leaf sold more than 12 million copies, easily being the biggest launch in the series history. At least until 2020 when Animal Crossing: New Horizons hit Switch. New Horizons has outsold New Leaf by almost 200% and counting. New Horizons has sold more than the entire franchise combined.

Mario Tennis Open, a 2012 3DS release, also had a noted bump from 3DS to Switch. Now I know there was a Wii U Mario Tennis game, but it sold unfathomably bad because it was both a poor game and released in late 2015 on Wii U. The 3DS release appears to be a better reference point, but just know if we compared Mario Tennis Aces on Switch to Mario Tennis Ultra Smash on Wii U, it’d be something like a 400% disparity. The 3DS and the Switch games both came out at a similar point in their console’s lives, however, which makes them a great comparison. Aces has sold more than 3 million to date, driving an increase of more than 100% from Open’s total of 1.57 million.

The other 3DS games that saw Switch follow-ups were within spitting range of the install base increase from 3DS to Switch. As of now, the Switch has outsold the 3DS by more than 30% and counting. A few games sit almost perfectly within this 30% range, with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening’s 5.5 million units sitting about 32% higher than The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds’ 4.16 million as well as Fire Emblem: Three Houses at 3 million sitting at 30% higher the first Fire Emblem on 3DS, the series-rejuvenating Fire Emblem Awakening.

Outpacing the install base increase are games like Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Pokémon Sword and Shield. Luigi’s Mansion 3 crossed 11 million units sold, closing in on doubling the sales of Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, which tapped out at 6.3 million sales. With the 3DS not being a tire fire of a system like the Wii U, some of the increases are less gaudy, but even for ones with smaller increases, the jump is still notable. Paper Mario Sticker Star was a holiday title for 3DS in 2012, landing at 2.47 million units. Paper Mario: The Origami King, which came out over the summer of 2020, still outpaced Sticker Star by 26% and is past 3 million sales. We did not include Paper Mario Color Splash in this because we don’t need to show you all a dead body from 2016 (but it’s a very good game and you should play it if you can).

Kirby Triple Deluxe launched on 3DS to 2.61 million sales, which Kirby Star Allies trumped by 20% with more than 3 million sales. We’re on the cusp of a new Kirby game with Kirby and the Forgotten Land and while the second entry in a series usually doesn’t perform as strong, Forgotten Land has a decent chance at landing around the same sales performance as Star Allies and maybe more. Even just getting close to Triple Deluxe’s numbers would be a win and an increase from the million and a half Kirby: Planet Robobot sold as the second mainline Kirby on the platform.

The casual market might be one that isn’t as vibrant on Switch, but even still, that class of game has seen some wins over the years. Ring Fit Adventure isn’t sniffing Wii Fit’s boffo success, but 13.5 million sales is incredible for the fitness RPG. Miitopia is closing in on 2 million sales, far surpassing the 1.18 million sales on 3DS. Clubhouse Games is at over 3 million units sold, up past the 2.5 million from the original DS release. What isn’t as promising is Big Brain Academy: Brain vs. Brain and WarioWare: Get It Together. Both games haven’t been out for that long, but they’re only around 1.25 million sales each. That’s a far cry from both of their recent home console releases, where Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree notched 3.3 million sales and WarioWare Smooth Moves cracked 2 million.

Even more analysis can be drawn from all of this data, like how The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has outsold the previous 3D Zelda, Skyward Sword on Wii, by 600%. It even outsold the previous best-selling 3D Zelda game, Twilight Princess, by double. Even the returns on Skyward Sword HD are promising after it's July 2021 launch. In about half a year, Skyward Sword HD has passed the sales of the original Wii release and is likely to hit 4 million total sales in the near future.

It will be fascinating to see how the sales of Switch games continues, most notably in how a lot of these second entries perform. Will Splatoon 3 outsell Splatoon 2? Can the sequel to Breath of the Wild also sell a metric ton? Will Super Mario Odyssey's follow-up crack 20 million? Will the next Mario Kart still sell at a wild, unprecedent pace like its predecessor? Can Fire Emblem, Xenoblade, and Metroid keep on improving? The future should be as exciting and interesting as the present, and seeing how Nintendo handles their successful system after crossing 100 million units is going to go a long way to defining the future of the company.

Talkback

PapasmurffFebruary 08, 2022

Cool article, thanks for writing! The Switch really is racking up some crazy software numbers.

Bungle4February 08, 2022

This obviously took a lot of work to compile, so thanks Neal for these stats. My favorite is the comparison of Switch hardware to Wii U software. To think, for every Wii U game that was sold, a whole Switch console has been sold!

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