Opinion: Nintendo’s Switch Might be its Last Console

Nintendo apologists are a funny breed. No matter what seemingly counter-intuitive or irrational idea the big N churns up, the company can always count on the evangelists of the church that is Nintendo, to come out of the woodwork and make excuses for the company, giving them their undying support and a Miyamoto approved thumbs up. I know all to well because I am one. To know the full extent of this sickness known fanboyism, I own all but one of the Wii U’s (yes, that Wii U) first party library (Paper Mario: Color Splash for those wondering) along with enough DS games to fill a library shelf with and I’m sure I am one many who share this same affliction.

A funny thing happened this past generation though, when Nintendo unveiled the Wii U. It seemed as if the Nintendo faithful finally had enough; they saw cracks in Hull were too much for them and jumped the proverbial ship. Whether it due to lack of clarity with its patented gamepad and its proposed asynchronous gameplay experience, to its shortage of games at launch, to its ill-defined future with Third Party developers, the Wii U was almost doomed from the start. For all of it’s faults though – here comes the fanboyism again – the library of games we got from first party were excellent across the board and it was genuinely exciting to be able to continue playing them on the gamepad, freeing up the TV for our family and significant others. Then came the announcement of the Switch, a console destined to fulfill the promises that the Wii U failed to keep, to put Nintendo back on its clear path to domination – or at least respectability. Well after the Switch presentation I’m not sure Nintendo has learned a damn thing and we might be heading down those uncertain roads again.

Lack of Humility

To fully understand where Nintendo itself up for failure is to look at Nintendo’s biggest problem: it lack of humility, This is not something that is exclusive to the Disney of game makers. It something that it’s competition, Sony and Microsoft, know all to well.

Once upon a time they themselves, at the top of their respective games (Sony coming off the PS2, Microsoft with the 360) let their hubris’ get the better of them and they suffered for it. Sony with the arrogance of their PS3 pricing reveal, Microsoft with their original plan of having DRM and a non-games focus with the Xbox One.

Over time both these companies took this backlash in stride and course corrected themselves back into relevance with moves that benefited the gamer. Sony gave back to the fans by delivering a promise in focusing on delivering great first party content as well as securing exclusives, while Microsoft most recently, bridged the gap between all of their gaming platforms, creating a unified ecosystem with their “Play Anywhere” initiative as well as introducing backwards compatibility of 360 games to the Xbox One.

After Nintendo’s personal debacle with the soon to be extint Wii U, what have they done to fix the problem? Have they secured great third party exclusives? Have the created a unified gaming ecosystem? If the Switch Presentation was any indication, they have missed the boat on both of the counts. With a seeming lack of third party support incoming and not even the slightest mention of whether existing virtual console libraries will be carried over from previous generations, many gamers are left in the dark on what Nintendo will do to regain the trust of its fanbase.

Lack of Clear Direction with the Switch

Before I get accused of bashing Nintendo for the sake of it, I think there is potential with the illustrious toymaker’s new machine. The switch itself is a very promising concept: To be able to have a console that doubles, as a portable is something that is a very exciting proposition. It is exactly what the Wii U should have been in the first place.

The funny thing is that the element that seems to be the company’s biggest selling point, the portability, also seems to be the one thing that Nintendo is playing down the most. Nintendo has been consistently reiterating in press events that the Switch is first and foremost a Home Console that so happens to have the functionality of being a portable as well. I wonder if they are nervous about its prospects as a portable device with it’s conservative (and weirdly vague) 2-and-half to 6 hour battery life estimation. That or they’re just licking its chops on the prospect of selling more Joy-Cons and battery-charging peripherals. Or is the portability aspect taking a backseat due to recent comments from Reggie himself saying that the Nintendo 3DS is still going to be fully supported and viable economic pillar for the company in 2017 and beyond perhaps.

Lack of Games

This is one quote that I can actually buy from Nintendo as there are almost just as many first party games coming to the 3DS than the Switch in 2017.

3DS                                                    
Ever Oasis
Lady Layton
Pikmin 3DS
Fire Emblem Echoes
Mario Sports: Superstars
Fire Emblem Warriors (N3DS)

Switch                                                    
Zelda: BOTW
Super Mario Odyssey
Arms
1-2 Switch
Xenoblade Chronicles 2
Fire Emblem Warriors
Splatoon 2

 

No, you did not read that wrong; there are almost just as many first party 3DS games coming out year than the Switch, and no, these are not just throwaway titles. Old Franchises reborn (Lady Layton), reimagined (Fire Emblem Echoes), re-tooled (Pikmin 3DS) and even new IPs (Ever Oasis) will be released in a year that will have 3DS fans jumping for joy while prospective Switch buyers confused on why developer focus is still heavily on last-gen handheld hardware.

In fact, Let’s look at the roadmap for all games to be released on the switch in 2017:

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If it seems a little barren it’s because it is. Other than the aforementioned first party releases, the rest of the year is filled with a couple of indies and few ports of games that range from last year affairs to games that debuted as far back as the mid point of last generation.

“But what about those indies?!” I know a contingent of you will be asking, which to that I say: while I haven’t forgotten about games such as Snipperclips, (which from what I hear is one of the more exciting games coming to the Switch) Rime, or Has Been Heroes, the sad truth is that quality indie titles aren’t system sellers, just ask the Ouya or even the PSVita.

Sure most people buying the system right off the bat will and should be content with Breath of the Wild. Those excited for some competitive online action will no doubt be interested in the sequel to Splatoon – one of my favourite games of 2015. For those who haven’t taken the plunge by then, Super Mario Odyssey will probably reel in those still on the fence when it releases this Winter, but aside from fun distractions in games like ARMs, Super Bomberman R and the obligatory remaster of Mario Kart 8, what separates this opening year‘s slate of releases from that of the Wii U? Am I to also believe that only a couple years removed from Xenoblade Chronicles X (which itself was delayed), we will be receiving Xenoblade Chronicles 2? It’s about as likely as Square Enix releasing Kingdom Hearts 3 – Not Happening.

As for what the future holds beyond 2017 is anyone’s guess, and if Nintendo’s recent Fire Emblem themed Direct is any indication, they seem to know as much as us. During the 20 minute video it was revealed that a new mainline game is being developed for the Switch. But with nary a screenshot or defined date other than sometime in 2018, are we to believe Nintendo really has a game plan in place? We don’t even have a defined date for the Fire Emblem Warriors spin-off game other than sometime in 2017 as well. What stops Nintendo from delaying any of these and previously talked about games?

Zelda and Mario will no doubt be great, brilliant in fact, but those are known quantities. Should fans be content with two games that were probably planned originally as Wii U games (Zelda for sure) as the main sales pitch for a brand new console? What about franchises such as Metroid, Earthbound/Mother, and F-Zero, long dormant staples that Nintendo fans have been clamoring for? I do realize these games are special in the hearts of the hardcore Nintendophile, more than they are held in the belief that they can be real system sellers for the company, but who is this system dedicated to if not diehard Nintendo fans? Does Nintendo think releasing a steady stream of last gen or lower quality ports is going to subvert the hardcore gamer from their PS4 or PC? Do they think 1-2 Switch, a $50 (all prices are USD) game that should frankly looks like a pack-in title, will bring in the casual gamer; the same way Wii Sports did all those years back?

After the company absolutely dropped the ball on the Wii U in terms of delivering the goods, this is the perfect time for Nintendo to realize its mistakes it made with the Wii U and make good on its original promise, but it just seems like the company is going down the same rabbit hole as its forebear. Heck, the Wii U launched with over 30 games, which is 5 times the amount we will see on the Switch on day one! One has to wonder what Nintendo’s internal game studios have been doing all this after it seemingly abandoned the Wii U years ago. Whatever it is, it’s either a ways away or Nintendo made the poor decision on not playing their whole hand when they had the world’s stage dedicated to them…Also da fuck’s ma Donkey Kong?
Lack of Price Parity

What’s most disconcerting about these ports and smaller games is that many of them are either full price or close to it, which is absolutely laughable. Ultra Street Fighter 2: The Final Challengers, which is an enhanced port of a $15 downloadable title and now will carry the premium price tag of $40 without any premium features to make up for the disparity (Not to mention this is an update to a 25 year old game)

If you thought Nintendo was just overcharging on their games, the prices on their periperhals are even more ludicrous. With individual Joy Cons priced at $50, $80 for a pair, and $70 for a pro controller, Nintendo is pricing themselves out of the market on a console some believe is already too much at $299. Now I believe that the technology that goes into the console and even Joy Cons – which have HD rumble and Haptic Feedback – somewhat justify the cost, but when the best and frankly only display of this new controller technology comes from a casual party game in 1-2 Switch, it’s a hard sell to gamer like me, until we see further practical uses. In future games This coupled with the fact that the console is significantly underpowered compared to the competition and will be coming in at a higher price range than the PS4 and Xbox One, without a steady supply of games that take advantage of the Switch’s Unique features, what chance does it have at that price point.

Lack of Third Party Support

I’ll be the first to defend that Nintendo doesn’t need to compete on pure power. They themselves know how to get the most out of their hardware, just look at Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii as a sterling example of Nintendo ingenuity. But when you have industry folk such as Gearbox’s Randy Pitchford straight up turning down any sort of idea that they will be bringing future titles such as Borderlands 3 to the Switch, it becomes clear to see that not everyone thinks the same way about Nintendo’s underpowered machine.

Sure we hear that the Switch’s architecture makes for a much easier point of entry for developers, but when studio’s are now contending with making games that display 4K textures and take advantage of high dynamic range, it’s hard to take games that implement these new advances and just scale them back to meet the Switch’s capabilities. If that’s not enough to convince even the most diehard fan, how about a recent comment from Respawn Interactive’s Senior Designer Mohammed Alavi, on whether we would see a port of the studio’s Titanfall 2 on the Switch in the near future, to which his response was a brazen: “Fuck No!” Not a particularly ringing endorsement of the console is it?

This lack of third party confidence was even felt over at the Switch presentation earlier this month. Third party studio heads either showed up with promise of ports (EA with FIFA), early or pre-development trailers (SEGA with Shin Megami Tensei), or nothing but ideas (Suda51 with what he hopes to be another No More Heroes game). It is this lack of confidence from third parties that was the same catalyst in the ultimate downfall of the Wii U.

Stuck in the Past

To say that Nintendo’s philosophies at times are in the past would be an understatement. When it comes to elements commonplace in the console space such as Internet communication, they are borderline draconian.

Once again Nintendo has proved a lot of the skeptics right when it comes to Internet functionality. Let’s take voice chat for example, a staple in home console gaming since the original Xbox. Not only does it seem like Nintendo still hasn’t found its footing in the online gaming space, they seem inept, requiring those who wish to use this function to download a phone app and use said phone app as your main method of communication. It’s as if Nintendo lives in their own bubble, isolated from the rest of the industry. There’s the cute “Aw, Nintendo being Nintendo” viewpoint and then there’s just being plain tone-deaf.

What’s crazy to think is that Nintendo is planning on attaching a paid monthly subscription to their online service. Much like PSN or Xbox Live, on top of delivering online services through games, Nintendo will also supply free games or should I say game on a monthly basis. Yes, you will be treated to one classic NES or SNES (with added online functionality) title for free, but unlike the competition, once the month is over you will no longer have access to it – unless you want to fork over the cash of course.

I can’t imagine what Nintendo is thinking with their layout of this service and if they are planning to charge at price point comparative to PSN and Live, they will be rudely awaken but an outcry of unhappy customers when it eventually launches. I should say eventually because full functionality will not be up and running until the fall – Is it just me or does it seem like all signs pointing to the Switch being a half-baked work in progress instead of the next full-fledged console?

I hate to be so hard on Nintendo. I, like many of you, love Nintendo. For many of us, it was our first introduction to gaming and has given us some of the greatest moments that this young medium has seen and yet to experience. I do believe a company’s past success cannot be the driving force of its future and in many ways Nintendo is taking some interesting risks with the Switch, but it also suffers from the same lack of direction and clarity that led to the demise of the Wii U. If history has taught us one thing, its that it repeats itself and if Nintendo doesn’t start getting its story straight with the Switch, it might be the company’s final chapter as a developer of hardware.

For more information on the Nintendo Switch including my hands-on impressions from the Switch event in Toronto next week, keep tuned to TSS Gaming.

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