Last week we finally got a clear look at Nintendo’s new console: the Switch. It has been an interesting week since then. I’ve had many friends that I wouldn’t expect to be excited expressing significant anticipation while others have stated mixed opinions. Perhaps one of the most interesting things to come out of the event is the fact that even people who don’t follow Nintendo, or games much for that matter, seem to be aware that something is happening. And perhaps that state of uncertainty is something we should all be in. Despite all the excitement over Zelda and ice cubes, and the discontent over price points, one of the main things missing from Nintendo’s event was a clear signal of just what the Switch is going to be.
Third Party Support
It seems that Nintendo’s generation-spanning struggle of wooing third-party support for their console will continue in this new era. Nintendo claims over 80 developers have said they plan to support the Switch. That figure, the surety within the statement, and the accompanying graphic may seem heartening, but I recall similar promises being made prior to the Wii U’s launch. Those claims either fizzled into games that were hardly worth any mention or amounted to nothing. Aside from Skyrim, no footage was shown from these supposed games. Skyrim is five years old now and this will be its third release. It’s nice for Nintendo to have the game on their console and even better to have the apparent full support suggested by executive producer Todd Howard’s appearance, but there are still important games passing over the console. Gearbox Software recently announced that Borderlands 3 will not come to the Switch while a Respawn Entertainment developer laughed off the idea of Titanfall making it to the new console. Those games alone may not seem like a big deal for Nintendo fans, but what the responses signals is.
Technically speaking the Switch is as similar to the PS3 and Xbox 360 in terms of output as the PS4 and Xbox One. Almost all developers of major multiplatform games have moved on to developing solely for the more powerful current generation hardware. What we saw at Nintendo’s event wasn’t confirmation that games like Assassin’s Creed, Mass Effect, or Red Dead Redemption 2 would come to the Switch. The new FIFA announced for Switch does NOT carry the FIFA 18 designation which implies that the game could be fundamentally different than the sport juggernaut’s coming annual entry. This one in particular could be a positive or negative depending on how well the Switch-specific version turns out, but we won’t have a clear idea of that until we see gameplay. One thing that we can guess, however, is that even third-party games that make it to the Switch will be different than their cousins on other platforms. The important question at this time is whether this is, in fact, a bad thing.
Probably the clearest message from Nintendo’s event was that they do not intend to compete with Sony’s Playstation 4 or Microsoft’s Xbox One. Nintendo’s gotta Nintendo. Very rarely has gaming’s oldest purveyor of joy fallen into step with standard gaming trends. This unique identity has granted them quite a bit of public good will and autonomy in terms of creation, but it has also cost them in terms of providing services that gamers want like user-friendly online infrastructure and the aforementioned difficulty third-party developers have in creating for their console. If Nintendo isn’t going to compete directly however, they need to capitalize on what they can provide aside from their excellent, if infrequently released, exclusive first-party titles.
On our most recent Trust Sircle podcast, Devin Valdivia commented that he did not know who the Nintendo Switch was for, stating that it wasn’t priced for casual gamers and didn’t have the lineup for hardcore gamers (aside from Zelda), ultimately expressing worry that the console might become another “HD remake” machine. The thing is that I feel like we saw the identity Nintendo needs to manifest in the Switch’s original unveiling trailer. That trailer did not engender excitement in me because of games, or the console’s tech. I was excited because of the apparent attitude Nintendo was taking towards creating a social experience. They aren’t competing with Microsoft or Sony for your TV, they’re competing for your living room space.
Local multiplayer is something I’ve been talking about since first writing for TSG and developers’ lessening interest in it is one of the most tragic things I see in the game industry. In its unveiling the Switch seemed to promise the marrying of the room-filling experience of the Wii with the more traditional gaming style of the Wii U. It would be a home for classic Nintendo franchises as well as a sleek, easy to carry, device perfect for social gatherings. This is the Switch I want. To be honest it’s everything I want in a video game console. Unfortunately I didn’t see that at the most recent event.
The Switch still needs its Wii Sports or Nintendo Land. 1,2 Switch is interesting but the micro-games don’t interest me that much and it really should’ve been a bundled part of the console. Arms is intriguing and possibly excellent but it doesn’t seem to have the same kind of instantaneous appeal that made Wii Sports, and by extension the Wii itself, so successful. Wii sports was fantastic because it was so easy to pick up and play, outlined the console’s capabilities in an excellent way, and gave you time to play the games. One micro-game in 1,2 Switch isn’t the same as playing 3 holes of golf or a full round of bowling, and a round of Arms is likely to be more akin to the intensity, and somewhat intimidating quality, of Smash Bros. than the pick-up and play Nintendo Land games where it was very difficult to be “better” than someone who had never played before.
Consoles need time to grow into themselves, that is certain. But the fact that the Switch is launching with its feet seemingly in two camps, one for hardcore Nintendo fans and the other for non-gamers, only mixes up its messaging rather than finding the common ground it could so easily occupy. Excitement for the Switch feels so much similar to the anticipation for the Wii in 2006. The console’s design and features are just so interesting and cool that they are almost undeniably appealing. The Wii failed core gamers by having mostly bargain-bin software while the Wii U failed consumers by just not providing a compelling reason to purchase it. Like the Wii, the Switch by the very nature of its design is that compelling reason, but it seems like Nintendo is still hedging their bets on there being two different types of gamers they need to appeal to rather than trying to populate a new middle ground that they have already laid the foundation for.
The Nintendo Switch has the potential to be more than just a video game console. It could be a living room centerpiece, a showcase of fun design, but Nintendo still has to show us why we should want that centerpiece. Hopefully it will be something magical.