The stars may be aligning for something bigger than a new Monster Hunter.
When you have to keep track of release dates, certain dates stand out more than others. Sometimes it turns out to be a nothingburger, like July 13, 2018 which only had two Nintendo releases and a few Amiibo (Octopath Traveler and Captain
Todd Toad on Switch). Small sample size is always an issue, but two of the announcements in last week’s Partner Showcase share a very conspicuous date. It could be as simple as video games moving to more of a Friday release schedule and the date in question being the last Friday of most fiscal years, but there’s something worth keeping an eye on for March 26.
Rumours are once again flying of a Switch Pro coming before the end of March, though those rumours honestly started on the day of the Switch’s launch presentation and haven’t stopped. Recent reports in major business press (notably Bloomberg Japan) have clarified things a bit more: they reported a Nintendo internal estimate of 30 million Switches in the fiscal year, and developers have been asked to make Switch games “4K ready” in terms of graphics. Nintendo’s September 16 management briefing denied the former estimate in its Q&A session, and at the Switch’s current pace of outselling chocolate-covered cocaine, it’s entirely possible that they’d ship that many this fiscal year without a new rev. There hasn’t been an outright denial of the latter, though, and with the Xbox Series S launching at the console Switch’s price point, the ability to say “we have a $300 system that can do 4K AND has physical games” would be a good counter to the low-cost Xbox Series SKU.
Of the two existing March 26 announcements, Monster Hunter Rise is definitely the more likely to need a more powerful system to launch with. When Monster Hunter launches on Nintendo consoles, it tends to bring new hardware with it: the Wii’s Monster Hunter Tri debuted the Classic Controller Pro, and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate debuted (especially in the West) alongside the New 3DS. Capcom have confirmed Rise also uses the RE Engine, designed for Resident Evil 7 initially and which previously only ran on Switch by way of streaming apps that only ran in Japan. Rise also appears to take the open structure that debuted in Monster Hunter World (PS4/XB1) and adds far more verticality to the gameplay. My memories of playing World on a PS4 Slim—which, admittedly, was limited to the demo—was that it ran about as well as Generations on New 3DS. So either Capcom has literal wizards working for them, or the rumours that they asked for a more powerful Switch to get RE Engine running on it will finally pay off.
The other March 26 launching game announced in the Showcase was Balan Wonderworld, which isn’t as big a deal for Switch owners since it’s effectively a six-platform game (Switch, PS4, Xbox 1, PS5, Xbox Series, PC). But I’m sure Yuji Naka and the team behind the game wouldn’t turn down a more powerful option for the Switch that would theoretically run at the power level of the PS4/XB1 versions and run on a platform that is more amenable to 3D platformers. If we’re comparing games to the New 3DS launch, Balan Wonderworld is the Ace Combat game: a niche product that makes use of the features but would be roundly overshadowed by Monster Hunter and a Nintendo game.
But that’s the kicker: we don’t know what game Nintendo would have for a launch lineup for a Switch Pro and could theoretically come out at the end of March. Any one of the “TBA” games would work, but let’s face it, Breath of the Wild 2 isn’t walking through the door in March especially after Aonuma’s comments in the announcement video for Age of Calamity. That’s not to say Zelda wouldn’t be represented; a recent retail listing showed a Switch version of Skyward Sword. As we’ve seen with Super Mario Galaxy, the motion controls of Skyward Sword could be mapped in both TV and handheld modes by way of the touch screen. The New 3DS launched with Majora’s Mask 3D, but a better example might be Twilight Princess HD: it launched in March of the year that would be a milestone anniversary for The Legend of Zelda. Zelda 35 is probably going to follow the Super Mario 35 party, so why not kick it off a few days early with a March 26 Skyward Sword HD? In terms of games Nintendo could market even if they’re not publishing it directly, Doom Eternal’s Switch version has basically been radio silent since it was announced. What if they’re waiting for a more powerful version of Switch, given that Doom 2016 was a Panic Button miracle and Eternal is only more complex? The longest of long shots is a Switch (Pro) version of Cyberpunk 2077, but the PS5 / Xbox Series versions are already delayed. So that’s not likely.
The Partner Showcase videos appear to be a monthly feature right now, but Nintendo loves destroying fan-detected patterns. Still, if we get any more Witcher 3-class “how the hell is that running on Switch?” announcements in future showcases, and they get a specific date of March 26, the small smoke we’re seeing now could become a major fire. And if you’re sitting out the hardware race this year, you might want to start socking away the cash.