In the history of video game consoles, very few launched with the best games or even games that would come to define the console within the first year of release. There are a number of notable exceptions to the latter though such as Super Mario World on Super Nintendo, Super Mario 64 on Nintendo 64, Sonic Adventure on the Sega Dreamcast and Halo on the original Xbox. These particular games certainly came to define their respective consoles but few would argue that the launch year was also the best year for game releases overall.
In the case of the Nintendo Switch which is now nearing the sixth year since its release, this could well be argued as it had both an impressive launch library and a an amazing first year of releases. This will be a brief discussion of how and why this happened but it should be clear that I am not saying that there were no good games in the years that followed. I am simply pointing out that not one year following saw a similar combination of quality and quantity though I am sure there are plenty who would argue to the contrary.
Firstly consider the new major first-party releases for 2017:
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Mario Kart 8: Deluxe
Super Mario Odyssey
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle
This is not an exhaustive list and one was an enhanced re-release of a Wii U game but this was an impressive selection of titles in a wide variety of genres to roll out with. I would also add titles like Golf Story and Sonic Mania which were both very well received although the latter was a multi-platform release. I could add more to the list but I think this has more than established my point. Every year that followed has seen great games but not in the same volume and many of these titles are high in best selling lists (including the number one best-seller).
The reason for why the first year was such a good one lies with the poor sales and limited success of the Wii U. By 2015, it was clear that it was not going to gain a wide audience despite the success of games like Super Mario Maker and Splatoon which released that year. This was also the first year when the first public information about the next console began to be whispered. 2016 had only the poorly received Star Fox Zero (which I did like) and a few re-releases. It also became clear that as with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess releasing on both GameCube and Wii, the same would be repeated for the next Zelda which at the time, there was still limited information about. This is exactly what happened.
So from 2015, Nintendo was putting most of their focus into developing for the next console including their major flagship titles. They reasoned accurately that they would need to release the next console with great games and they certainly did with a number of titles that became the must-own titles. The years following release saw almost every well-received game on Wii U be ported to the Switch with very few exceptions remaining.
If you were only allowed to choose games from one year in the Switch’s retail life, I am betting that most would go with the first. As an example, you’d have few good games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System if you chose the release year (certainly in Japan) for that console. I’d probably go with 1994 for both the Sega Mega Drive and the Super Nintendo which is very late in that console generation. I would be looking at 1997 or 1998 for the Nintendo 64 and Sony PlayStation and 2004 or 2005 for the GameCube, PlayStation 2 and original Xbox. I won’t go on but you get the point as all of these are years after the original launch.
There have been rumours of the next Switch for a few years now which will likely be a more powerful and somewhat redesigned version of the first one and I would expect backwards compatibility. It also seems probable that there will be an announcement or even a launch around the same time as the long-awaited The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom releases in May next year. All of this could be completely wrong of course but this wouldn’t surprise anyone if this is what happened. I would be surprised if the next console launch has the same combination of quality and quantity as the Switch did in 2017 though.