I’m as excited for Nintendo’s upcoming new console as anyone, but I’m not without apprehension. This is a company that tends to make about as many great ideas as dumb ones, and the lack of details (until January 12th) means that we’re left to speculate in what ways they’ll screw up.
To summarize what we know, Nintendo Switch is a home console/handheld hybrid with two detachable “Joy-Con” (ugh, that name) controller segments and pledged support of almost every major third-party, from Activision to Ubisoft. More importantly, that support is comprised from both Japanese and Western companies, something that Nintendo lacked for a long time. Almost everything else is a mystery, from battery to whether it includes a touch screen, leaving us with the long wait until January 12 when they reveal everything. Not a bad way to start the new year, I think.
I like the look of the hardware itself. I remarked elsewhere that the gray-and-black console reminds me more of a second model they’d create to replace the chunky hardware they initially release. In other words, I’m reminded of the sleeker DSi than the hideous original DS. Nailing the external physical appearance is a great start, but let’s focus on what we can’t see.
What’s going on when we boot up the hardware? What kind of operating system will greet us? Nintendo 3DS struggled with a relatively simple operating system for years before the improved New 3DS, so has Nintendo learned from that? Both 3DS and Wii U lack a “Friend List” that allows communication and joining multiplayer sessions, something that Sony and Microsoft nailed on previous consoles. Perhaps Nintendo’s partnership with mobile company DeNA will push Nintendo to improve on these previous missteps.
The point is Nintendo has a tendency to create system software that’s merely “good enough,” leaving players with frustrations that the company rarely fixes in later updates. (It took years for Nintendo to improve StreetPass Mii Plaza, while Microsoft, for instance, drastically changes Xbox’s entire OS every handful of years, for better or worse.) My fear is that Nintendo never got the message and will deliver attractive hardware with mediocre software.
The Nintendo Switch video did show the hardware jumping from the television to the smaller screen almost immediately, which gives me hope that everything will be just as snappy. Or maybe the software will take a hit to ensure going from TV to handheld is quick.
Naturally, the built-in system software pales compared to the games, and Nintendo has the benefit of no longer splitting their efforts between home console and handheld. The outcome, as many already noted, should be a larger quantity of games by Nintendo and its developers for Switch. No longer will console players be forced to make do with lame Pokémon spin-offs, and the rest will enjoy the first HD Pokémon game. Playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild means that we won’t be locked to our televisions. After four handheld titles, Fire Emblem will finally return to the big screen.
Previously, Nintendo spent years creating two games for two consoles, like Mario Kart 7 on 3DS and Mario Kart 8 on Wii U. With only a single console, Nintendo won’t need to develop more than one Mario Kart, freeing them up to create, oh, F-Zero or something original.
Original projects might be hugely important because I’m not convinced that Nintendo’s usual big-hitters sell systems anymore. Mario Kart and Smash Bros. are huge sellers, but the last installments failed to jumpstart the struggling Wii U, so what impact will they have on Switch? Was Wii U doomed from the start, regardless of how many of Nintendo’s biggest franchises populated the thing? And if so, what’s stopping the same thing from happening with the Switch.
Yes, that’s for Nintendo to figure out. Hopefully they have, but I won’t be convinced of anything involving this company until it happens. Regardless, I still believe that Nintendo needs to expand. Sony manages to grab attention because it regularly reveals new games mostly unlike anything we’ve seen before, not because it continually pushes the usual faces at us ad nauseam.
Maybe I’m being overly cynical. Nintendo has an amazing ability to surprise, so I can’t count them out regardless of my own worries.
Forget about Nintendo for a moment — what about the third-parties?
Nintendo fans and third-party companies don’t have the greatest relationship, especially on home consoles. Fans tend to stick with Nintendo games, leaving companies like Electronic Arts and Ubisoft without enough sales to justify supporting Nintendo’s hardware. DS fared better, but 3DS saw most Western publishers quickly abandoning the handheld to focus on mobile games. Only Capcom, Square Enix, and Atlus provided long-term support with Nintendo bringing over Level-5 and Square’s titles.
So what does that mean for Switch? I doubt anyone can say, partly because the situation between third-parties and Nintendo fans is so damn complicated.
Until Nintendo fans buy enough third-party games, support from those companies will falter, which is a huge problem. Each generation of Nintendo console received weaker and weaker third-party support, and fans have adapted to only purchasing Nintendo games. The situation was hindered by questionable ports (releasing Mass Effect 3 on Wii U in the same month that Xbox 360 and PC players got the entire ME trilogy was a slap in the face), which only sped up companies abandoning the hardware.
Allow me to don my “cynical asshole” cap and question whether Switch is capable of reversing this trend, especially if hardware sales fall below expectations. Companies need a convincing reason to spend thousands of dollars (at least) to support a new platform when there’s already two consoles with sizable audiences. That doesn’t touch upon the existence of computers, mobile, and now VR, each requiring considerable resources that won’t be used on Switch games.
Put bluntly, if third-parties aren’t given a reason to support Switch, they won’t.
Pushing aside my cynicism, Switch might convince me to purchase games that I already own. Where I have zero desire to purchase Skyrim Remastered on Xbox One or PlayStation 4, I might go for Skyrim Remastered on a console that I’m able to take anywhere. Announce Persona 5 on Switch and I will adjust my pre-order. BioWare shot down my hopes of Mass Effect: Andromeda on Switch, but I’d double-dip if Dragon Age: Inquisition is ported, just for the luxury of killing Darkspawn while watching television. Portability is that important to me.
I might be a minority in that regard, however. People who play 3DS (and Vita) almost entirely at home might not see the value in purchasing games just to play in the other room. They might also prefer the benefits of PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation 4 over portability. When it comes to playing games away from the television, people might stick with their iPads.
Come January 12, maybe we’ll have a better idea of Nintendo’s chances.
* Yes, I can’t edit images for shit.