Let me preface this entire piece by saying I pre-ordered a Switch already. Through every disappointment I had with that presentation, I knew that eventually I was going to get that console for some game or another, and that I’d rather have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in its premium form. I am completely sold on the Switch as a concept, and I think Nintendo’s innovation has finally reached a key make-or-break turning point that they’ve been approaching in recent years. This piece is meant as a quick analysis of what Nintendo did right and wrong overall, with an actual thesis and discussion of one possible fault.
With that out of the way, I think Nintendo completely screwed up their one big shot to show the world that they have completely changed for the better. The company, for sure, has made some amazing improvements that were evident during the presentation, but some very backward and anti-consumer ideas show that Nintendo has learned very few things from the failure of the Wii. While I am extremely baffled at the lineup of only 5 games on release day with sparse releases later, it shows clear understanding of why people dropped the Wii U so quickly. The launch lineup for that console wasn’t amazing either, but a lot of its notable games were released at launch, and then long periods of time went by without any releases. Here, Nintendo is instead trying to release a notable title every month or two to keep players interested, which is much smarter. They also included USB-C charging which leads to one less cord laying around, and it seems like the console as a whole is what the Wii U wanted to be.
However, Nintendo’s backwards thinking on many other minor aspects of the system add up to evidence of a company that simply doesn’t understand the modern gaming market. The accessories for the system are extremely overpriced in comparison to other consoles. If we taked the $90 of the dock and $80 of the Joy-Cons, that leaves about $130 for the console itself, in this hypothetical breakdown. That kind of tech is worth way more than that price, meaning these accessories are marked up on their own and it would be smart to lower their prices a bit. It doesn’t matter much to the general consumer that they have certain extra features like HD rumble (I’ll go into this more later); they just want to play games and not spend a lot just to get more controllers. Ports of games from other consoles are for extremely old games, and portability may not be good enough of a selling point for games like Skyrim to sell the system. A base 32 GB is not enough for a full system, so it’s great to have expandable space, but the system they’re using for it isn’t good enough. MicroSD is not a reliable or fast way to store games, as speeds are pretty slow unless you get extremely expensive cards and the console constantly reading and rewriting data onto the cards is more likely to wear them down quickly than a flash drive or hard drive. There’s no sign of any major online functionality like achievements and groups that other consoles have been doing for years. Not only has Nintendo never proven their online system as a competent or strong platform, but now they are going to charge for it. In addition, they are going to be doing a PS+ Free Games situation, but with NES and SNES games that you don’t even get to keep after the month is over. I’d honestly be fine with the service if it is cheaper than PSN or Xbox Live, so we’ll have to wait and see there. On a different note, this was the only mention of any Virtual Console games, where a proper Virtual Console platform would have interested many people. The system is so backwards that it appears it doesn’t even have built-in social functionality, relying on a smart device app to hold friend interactions. Nintendo always touts that it doesn’t want to compete with Sony and Microsoft, but they fail to prove that they should be considered as separate but equally entertaining by avoiding things that should be industry standards or simply common sense.
However, the biggest mistake I see Nintendo making with the Switch is how it is being marketed. Nintendo is marketing the Switch as an underpowered console, when they should be marketing it as an extremely powerful handheld. Actually, the Switch has been displayed as a console, but has actually been marketed as a jack of all trades, as a medium between console and handheld. This, however, is going to inevitably lead Nintendo into trouble, as they are trying to classify it as a console, when it is currently an in-between and should be a handheld.
As a concept, Nintendo’s idea of a portable console experience is extremely innovative and niche, but not new. The Switch is almost exactly what Sony set out to create with the Vita, and it’s already looking like both will reach the same fate in the end. The Switch has grabbed attention up until now because it promises to bring games that would previously have been tethered to a TV or PC monitor on the go, just like the Vita. The Vita was marketed as a companion to the PS3 and PS4 so players could bring their games wherever they went. However, while the Vita was a handheld that wanted to give a console experience on the go, the Switch seems to be a console that wants to give a handheld experience. That’s where the hope lies for Nintendo where Sony went so wrong.
Nintendo has unequivocally been uncontested in the handheld space for as long as they’ve been making handheld gaming systems. You can attempt to say dents were made with consoles like the Game Gear or PSP or Vita, but there is no doubt that Nintendo holds a monopoly on handhelds. Their first-party releases are almost always extremely well done, and support from third parties is always incredible and numerous. Companies know that Nintendo handhelds sell, and so they make games for the system across every genre.
On the flip side, Nintendo has stopped competing with Microsoft and Sony in the console space, and has seen itself as an innovative addition, rather than a complete alternative. Nintendo has always marketed their consoles as cheaper and more forward-thinking than the other consoles. What their consoles lack in power, they make up for in engaging and entertaining experiences. They constantly break ground on different features to add to their consoles so that developers have more unique features to work with, and therefore titles can stand out as being console necessities. However, with the Wii U and now the Switch, Nintendo has lost both of those compelling arguments to the companies that they swear aren’t their competitors. The Switch is not cheaper than some PS4 or Xbox One bundles, even if it’s the fourth-cheapest major console launch ever when adjusted for inflation. Why would someone buy a less powerful machine for more money?
Every way you look at it, the Switch is not a modern-day console. It lacks many features that should be considered an industry standard, and is probably only a little more powerful than consoles that were released in 2006. Even by attempting to be its own thing, it is impossible to market the Switch as a new console when it is so different from the other consoles. The company is attempting to be a low-cost outlier from the main consoles through innovation, yet innovation is what is keeping the console from being low-cost. There is very little reason that the Joy-Con controllers should cost $20 more than a PS4 or Xbox One controller besides that they are a decently innovative new product. The added features to the controllers might give developers new gaming opportunities, but the Wii U’s second screen did the same, and all that did was confuse developers as to how they should truly utilize the system. It wasn’t clear to them how to make a Wii U game. HD rumble and infrared detection on the controllers are pretty cool, but in the end they’re simply extra things for the developers to think about rather than defining gameplay innovations. Even the motion controls probably could have been left out, as the best part of those on the Wii was the pointer functionality, and it doesn’t seem possible to bring that back for the Joy-Cons. By removing these features, Nintendo could have probably lowered the cost of the Switch to a competitive price of $250, which would be an insane, appealing deal for such a forward-thinking device. That’s the same price as a Vita was at launch, and the Switch is attempting to do so much more than that system, but if the company wants to be separate from Sony and Microsoft’s attempts, they have to bring a price that’s actually competitive.
So instead of floundering as a console, why doesn’t Nintendo focus more on the handheld nature of the system? Nintendo has so many companies making games for the 3DS that they have to be able to bring them on board. If Nintendo can coax handheld developers into developing for the Switch in addition to console developers, that means you not only have full huge experiences to bring everywhere, but you also have the smaller, bite-sized games that are tailored to a style made for mobility. You could get amazing games like Bravely Default and Monster Hunter as smaller $40 titles, while the more ambitious console-level games can remain at $60. Nintendo should foster developers into transitioning, similar to how they would do so between the GBA and DS or the DS and 3DS. It creates a larger ecosystem that genuinely benefits gamers, and therefore they are way more likely to spend their money.
I completely understand why Nintendo has pushed for their new system as a home console, but it is going to be extremely hard to be successful with this mindset. There are some genuinely great ideas within the console that would make it a must have if the launch didn’t feel rushed with a lack of games. With the ability to just bring your console, out of the box, to a friend’s house and play a game, each with a Joy-Con, local multiplayer has a glimpse of being a huge thing again, even if playing on a single Joy-Con is designed for baby hands. Playing with the Joy-Cons separated from the system also seems extremely freeing. A screen that is only at 720p means that Nintendo will continue their track record of games that perform really well, technically-speaking. But if they push this thing as an extremely beefy handheld, home to games of every size and shape, and fix a few of the logistical issues, the company has the chance to surprise everyone and come out on top once again.