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Nintendo has laid bare its next-generation plans with the grand reveal of the Switch, a portable/home console hybrid. Thanks to a disappointing last-gen effort with the failure of the Wii U, it’s make or break time for the Japanese company.
The dust surrounding the latest announcement is beginning to settle in anticipation for the worldwide launch on March 3. Despite a promising concept and strong early pre-order sales, there are still many concerns surrounding the new handheld and home console hybrid.
So how can Nintendo avoid repeating the disappointing performance of the Wii U?
1. A Stream of Solid First-Party Titles
So we’ve got Zelda, Mario, Splatoon, and Fire Emblem on the cards already, which is a solid start even if the latter three aren’t out for a while yet. I don’t think any of these games are worthy of undue criticism at this stage, despite the far-reaching release dates.
Breath of the Wild in particular is exciting in that it’s a proper game rather than the usual cobbled-together launch titles. It’s been in development for years, and Nintendo committing to cross-generation Wii U and Switch launches brings back memories of Twilight Pricess on the Wii and GameCube.
It’s now up to Nintendo to maintain the early first-party momentum and commit to delivering more of the polished franchises that their fans love. This is something that certainly felt missing on the Wii U. Despite a handful of solid titles, there were numerous missteps too: Yoshi’s Woolly World, Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival, and Pokémon Rumble U.
A proper Animal Crossing game, a new Metroid entry, the revival of F-Zero, a return to form for Kirby, more Pikmin, a Star Fox game that doesn’t suck, the return of Warioware, a brand new Mario Kart, and a fully-fledged Pokémon game that you can both play at home and on the go would be good for starters.
I’m not saying we need all of those games announced within the first year, but many prospective Switch buyers would be reassured to hear at least a few titles confirmed in the next few months. There’s also plenty of room for Nintendo to expand their first-party arsenal with a few new franchises. Splatoon did wonders for the Wii U, and ARMS seems to be getting positive feedback from many who have played it.
2. Third Party Support (Especially in the West)
So far, the Japanese market seems to be propping up the Switch launch. That’s to be expected from a Japanese console, and the removal of Nintendo’s region lock is a positive step towards a more global entertainment economy. But if there’s one thing that accelerated the Wii U’s race to the bottom, it was a dearth of third party support.
The Wii U was a confusing console, with unclear marketing, a dizzying array of control schemes, and no clear intended audience. Nowhere was the lack of third party support more relevant than in the west, where home console owners turned to Sony and Microsoft for their fix of US and European titles. With this in mind, there were still only five Japanese-only retail releases on the Wii U — a departure from the usual support Nintendo receives in its home territory.
It was nice to see Todd Howard from Bethesda pop up on the Switch stream to confirm Skyrim is indeed coming to the console. But Skyrim will be six years old when it arrives in “Fall 2017” — so who cares? What about upcoming titles like Prey?
Why didn’t Ubisoft announce the new Ghost Recon? EA seemed pretty hyped about FIFA, but there was no mention of titles like Mass Effect. Nintendo has assured us 80 games are in development, but how many are remasters or ports?
Most concerning about this is the prospect of third parties basing the system’s viability on the performance of these titles, rather than truly new games. It would also have been nice for Nintendo to secure a few more cheap and cheerful “downloadables” like the promising-looking Snipperclips.
3. An Online Service Worth Paying For
Nintendo is the last of the big three to roll out a pay-to-play service for online multiplayer. The Switch will have free online support until “fall 2017” after which users will need to pay a monthly fee in order to access multiplayer, just like Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
Unfortunately that paid service looks underwhelming in its current form. Nintendo has promised subscribers access to one NES or SNES game for a month, which is essentially like renting a ROM file. Compare this with Sony and Microsoft who let you keep full games either forever, or for as long as you’re still a subscriber.
In its current format, the Nintendo service cannot compete. There’s also concern over how many of Nintendo’s titles will have compelling enough multiplayer elements to make online play seem worth it. I’m not a huge Splatoon fan, I prefer playing Mario Kart with the people sat next to me, and not many of the games announced for the Switch so far sound like they’ll have fleshed-out multiplayer components.
There’s been a lot of speculation about Nintendo’s capacity to offer a Netflix-like subscription service for classic games via the Virtual Console service. If it were possible, it could open a large library of games for users from the second they unbox their console. Had Nintendo announced this last week, I’m sure many of the system’s detractors would be looking at the Switch in a different light.
In theory the subscription service wouldn’t need to compete with Virtual Console. Games would still be for sale to be purchased outright. Whether the company is veering in this direction or not, one 20-year-old game per month doesn’t cut it.
4. A Handheld Emphasis
Whether you’ve been lucky enough to get your hands on the console already, or have just watched videos on YouTube, the Switch doesn’t look very impressive in “TV mode.” While better than the Wii U, the console barely competes with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, let alone the PS4 Pro and Microsoft’s upcoming Project Scorpio.
Graphically, the system is fairly run-of-the-mill. Though visuals and raw system power mean nothing if the games are bad, there’s still a requirement to be comparable to remain competitive. But the one thing that’s not run-of-the-mill is handheld performance. The 720p IPS panel has been described as “crisp” and showered with praise from industry critics.
As the 3DS nears the end of its life-cycle, the Switch is poised to take its position as Nintendo’s next-generation handheld console. The kicker is that it’s also able (and powerful enough) to plug into your TV at home for longer sessions. Unfortunately Nintendo’s presentation didn’t emphasize this, with more time devoted to motion controls and haptic feedback tech demos.
Even the battery life isn’t really that bad, comparatively speaking. The original 3DS got 3.5-to-5.5 hours of play time, and the XL model was the same. The “new 3DS” tops out at 7 hours. Sony’s PlayStation Vita got 3 to 5 hours by comparison, and had terrible load times thanks to optical media. None of these other handhelds even included universal USB charging.
With the added ability to draw power from USB devices, graphical fidelity we’ve never seen in a handheld, and cartridge-based media; the Switch is beginning to look like the best handheld ever made. But Nintendo still seem hung up on gyroscopes and NFC readers, rather than pushing the portable angle that could so easily win over their existing fanbase and newbies alike.
5. Most Important: A Strong Start
Many next-generation consoles launch with a whimper, not a bang. Sony and Microsoft play the long game, releasing virtually identical machines, with increasingly fewer exclusives. The PS4 in particular had a dearth of strong titles in its first year, especially when discarding cross-generation releases like Battlefield 4 and GTA V.
Nintendo really needs to catch up this time round, and a strong start is vital to the success of their new system. Scorned by the failure of the Wii U, third-party developers in particular need something to latch onto in the first year or two. And then there are the fans: many of whom feel let down by a poor lineup of games, Nintendo’s inability to drop prices to boost sales when it mattered, and first-party faux pas like StarFox and the ever-delayed Breath of the Wild.
The original Wii is a great example of how a strong start can help launch a system to greatness. Even people who didn’t play games were interested in the Wii when it first arrived, thanks to the innovative motion controls and bundled Wii Sports. The Switch doesn’t quite have a game like Wii Sports to sell the system, but it does have the hybrid hook: console-quality visuals and depth on the go.
If Nintendo can capture the attention of those who don’t normally play portable consoles, they stand a chance of replicating the “Wii effect.” This will require a good collection of games that people actually want to play. The current launch window is concerning, but that could all change as third parties announce more titles. Hopefully for Nintendo, a few remasters like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will tempt those who gave the Wii U a miss.
Will You Be Buying a Nintendo Switch?
Now’s your chance to tell me how wrong I am. Maybe you’re one of those people who think the Wii U is underrated. Whether you think the Switch is bound for greatness or has already failed miserably, let loose your torrent of opinion in the comments below.
Have you pre-ordered? What do you think of the launch window? And what about the price of those Pro controllers?