So Nintendo had their reveal event this past week and already the Internet is abuzz with skepticism and criticism. Not all of it is unjustified, of course, but I feel like there’s a lot of myopic vision going on in terms of what Nintendo is doing and what they “ought” to be doing.
Which is nothing new. Nintendo doesn’t “get” gamers, after all, or that’s what the plethora of forum and social media comments would have you believing. Instead, I think it is better to comprehend that gamers do not initially get Nintendo. Everyone is assuming that the real competition is Sony and Microsoft, and while that’s technically true, Apple is as much a competitor for Nintendo as anyone else. They’ve been the king of the mobile gaming market for so long, but we’re reaching the point where parents are just giving their kids hand-me-down phones and new tablets for gaming instead.
This is the primary reason for Nintendo’s current mobile strategy. They aren’t making the shift to phones in its entirety because they’d never to be able to make the variety of games they want to, but they can at least generate brand awareness. There are children today that have never played a Mario game before because he wasn’t available on a mobile device, but they have played games like Minecraft. Jerry Holkins, also known as Tycho from Penny Arcade, was approached by his son more curious about the character’s games. Now imagine children seeing commercials for a new Mario game, wanting more of that sort of play as provided by Super Mario Run. Given that we already know Pokémon GO has boosted 3DS and Pokémon game sales, I think it is safe to say that iOS games as commercials are a success.
What this means, however, is that Nintendo has yielded the same handheld portability that the GameBoy and DS families have once dominated over to phones. The Nintendo Switch is simply too big to fit in the pocket, and while Nintendo has not yet abandoned the 3DS, the fusion of handheld and console divisions is all you need to know that the 3DS has an expiration date.
In terms of games that fit in the pocket, Nintendo cannot compete with the phone forever… but they can compete with tablets, which is what the Switch effectively is. Yes, you can dock and cradle it to your television, but everyone complaining about the price point fail to consider the actual form-factor we’re dealing with. You’re paying prices cheaper than iPads for what will be a more effective premium gaming machine. Being able to hook it up to your television is a bonus.
What mucks things up are the gamers and pundits comparing the price to larger physical hardware like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Yes, you can buy one of those systems (that launched at $400) for $300 now, but they are old technology in larger cases. The Nintendo Switch is not that. Even disregarding the slimmer, more portable form factor of the Switch itself, the device also contains a multi-touch screen that’s going to add cost the competition does not have.
Then there’s the technology inside the JoyCon controllers themselves, each with a full set of buttons, IR motion detection, and a newly evolved rumble feature with more sophisticated haptic feedback. Word from those who demo’ed the technology on Reddit is that the demonstration by Nintendo is no joke, and that a marble-based simulation simulated the feel and motion of the objects seen on screen accurately.
The most common objection can be summarized as “who needs all that?”, largely in objection to the raised price of the accessories. Two JoyCon controllers, more sophisticated than the equivalent Wiimote and Nunchuck, are $80 total. It costs even more if you want an additional controller shell, which, honestly speaking, I’d prefer be bundled with the two. If normal controllers cost $60, however, then is it unreasonable to expect more complex controllers that can each stand alone to cost more?
Being understanding with the cost is different than being happy about it, and I think there is an additional mistake in Nintendo’s thinking when it comes to the accessories and their system. I’m still not entirely sure how the JoyCon controllers charge unless they are connected to the system itself, and if I have more than two pairs of JoyCons then I’d likely need to keep rotating them on and off of the Switch while docked. My guess is that Nintendo is more likely expecting households and friends to have multiple Switch units.
My only evidence is in Nintendo’s new Parental Controls video, where a notification arrives on the phone for a report from “Switch #1”. In addition, the video outright states that settings apply to the console itself rather than individual players. In other words, the assumption is that a single household will likely have multiple Switch systems for each system.
Even with multiple user accounts, sharing a portable game system among several children is a bit problematic. Especially when you might have one child wanting to take the system out of the house while others are going to want to play at home. Were this the 2DS or 3DS, or even going so far back as GameBoy, a parent may purchase multiple systems for their children. Adding in the home element of the Switch, such a prospect is a bit more difficult.
Yet purchasing multiple systems also means less of a need to purchase more controllers. If each family member in the house – or perhaps every person in a small group of friends – has a Switch, then everyone automatically has a controller and even a system that can connect locally.
This is where I think the Switch as a hybrid will have some issues and friction. Again, let’s consider that parental controls video and the notion that the reports are per system. My sister limits each of her child’s screen time individually, and their differing ages also means what one may be banned from playing, another will be permitted to play. If the controls are per system and not per account, then the reports are no good to my sister aside from what her kids as a whole are playing.
Of course, the real issue here is that we’re still speculating, and there’s a lot of speculation to be had as Nintendo is not one to drop a bomb of information and then remain silent for six months. Nintendo first revealed the Switch in Autumn, and now we have the first major details for the platform. However, Nintendo is not going to remain silent until March 3rd, and during Friday’s Treehouse streams they announced a Nintendo Direct stream dedicated to the Fire Emblem franchise on Wednesday, the 18th, less than a week later. They will already be detailing the teased Fire Emblem Warriors title, and presumably will also be demonstrating their Fire Emblem mobile title. The odds that Nintendo will not have further announcements in February is, quite honestly, “batty”, and they will no doubt have another Nintendo Direct to detail more systems such as the online functionality and Virtual Console.
Many are looking at Nintendo’s current release list and finding it paltry, but this disregards that everyone’s release list is comparatively empty. Aside from obvious reasons such as third-party favoritism, Sony and Microsoft only have more comparative titles slated for 2017 or 2018 because they were announced last year. As the year progresses, more and more third parties and indies will begin releasing more information about what they’ll release for the Switch. Right now, though, all platforms look comparatively scarce or vague. There are few known release dates beyond March. By time we reach E3, we’ll know what’s releasing this holiday season across all platforms.
Even then, Nintendo will continue to have Directs and announcements, because they like to parcel out information and release it steadily throughout the year. What this first announcement did was communicate the gaming experience to the audience and set a clear – and intelligent – schedule for 2017.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the perfect launch game for a system like the Switch, and March is the perfect time to launch it. The game is going to appeal most to Nintendo enthusiasts, who are also the most likely to get their pre-orders in immediately and sell the platform out on launch day. By time more shipments are prepared, Splatoon 2 releases for more core and competitive players to gobble up stock. Finally, by holiday, Super Mario Odyssey releases to interest more casual fans or parents into picking the system up for Christmas. In other words, by the holidays, most of the enthusiast market has had time to claim a system, minimizing product shortages for Christmas.
I believe the real reason we’re seeing the Switch in March is to get it out before the end of the fiscal year. However, there’s no doubt that Nintendo is playing the system’s release intelligently. Ultimately, 2017 feels like the Year of the Switch, and I am completely fine with that.
In any event, hope my thoughts gave you plenty to chew on in regards to the Switch, both positive and negative. It is not going to be a perfect system, and Nintendo will never release a perfect system. If I have any gripe, it is that I’ve heard the online functionality is going to purely be handled via the phone rather than through the system itself, and that decision is enough to spark a rage within me. Is it a bad decision, however? I find it irritating, and I’m sure many other dedicated players will as well. However, if this is truly a portable, mobile platform, then relying on a device you’ll almost always have on you has a logic to it.
Perhaps what is most worth considering as well is what a game such as ARMS means. From what we’ve seen and heard, it is a game that requires motion control. If it requires motion control, then it is a game best played in a home setting, which means it is a game unfit for most portable gaming scenarios.
That means Nintendo is willing to make games that fit their own vision and purpose. The Switch is a system with many options available to it, but not all developers need adhere to all features. If Nintendo is willing to put out a game only using a portion of those features, then it is possible Star Fox Zero is the last time we see Nintendo stubbornly design a game to features that are unfit for its vision.
That is definitely a Nintendo worth getting excited about.