As a Nintendo fan, Friday the 13th 2017 was a big day for me. It was the day Nintendo presented their upcoming console, the Nintendo Switch. In Europe the time of the presentation was horrible but the presentation itself was far from it. This is my personal opinion about everything we learned about Nintendo’s soon-to-be-released console.
To be honest, the presentation was as cringe-worthy as it was awesome. It was admirable of all those Nintendo execs to do the things they were doing on stage with the Splatoon 2 outcry being the worst of the bunch. But all of that didn’t matter because of what Nintendo was presenting.
For me, the best part of the presentation were the Joy-Con controllers. After the reveal video from October, I had deemed them a compromise to make two player gaming possible on the road. Being able to play games leisurely with the Joy-Con’s disconnected being their biggest appeal for me. What the presentation showed me, however, was that not only do they pack a few more buttons than I had expected they also seem to be a new take on the Wiimote!
In case you didn’t know, I am a huge fan of the Wiimote. The Joy-Cons seem to take a lot of the aspects of the Wiimotes and apparently improve on them. There is a camera, that can recognize shapes, detect distance and seems to work without a sensor bar. I hope all Wiimote functionality is covered in an improved fashion. In particular, the pointer controls because I still can’t get used to dual analog first person controls. Unfortunately, they didn’t mention it nor did they add support for it in Splatoon 2 (at least they didn’t say they did). What also made me very happy was the Switch version of the Wii wheel that was announced outside of the presentation, to keep my MK8 experience the same as it was on the WiiU (“I’m using motion controls”). Perhaps what I found most appealing was that the Joy-Con controllers seem to make Wii backwards-compatibility an option.
What made the Joy-Con reveal especially joyful for me is that it showed Nintendo hasn’t stopped being Nintendo. I had feared that the end of the Wii’s lifecycle and the WiiU as a whole had forced Nintendo into complacency. But the Switch and its Joy-Con controllers showed me that Nintendo still believes in expanding the way we interact with our games. When I saw “1-2 Switch” and “ARMS” it showed me that Nintendo still believes. In a way, they are providing an IRL alternative to VR at a much lower pricepoint.
Backwards-compatibility was one of the main topics that wasn’t addressed during the presentation. No word on a Virtual Console either. Outside of the presentation, Nintendo has mentioned downloadable NES & SNES games in combination with their upcoming online service. They even briefly mentioned a major feature for these games as they seem to be getting online functionality. These added features make the virtual console a lot more appealing and is an excuse for Nintendo to charge me for these games once again. No word, however, on games from systems other than the NES & SNES, in particular the Gamecube. It will be interesting to know if the Switch is powerful enough to emulate the architecture of the Cube, Wii and maybe even the WiiU. The WiiU seems unlikely, not only from a horsepower perspective but also due to the absence of a second screen (even though all games that offered off-TV play should work). I’m pretty sure we’ll learn more about this soon enough.
Game distribution as a whole was missing from the presentation as well. While the reveal video did show game cards, Nintendo haven’t mentioned them since. The Switch will have internal storage (32Gb) that is extendable with MicroSD cards. But how you get games on the system remains a bit of a mystery. The presentation showed seconds of the Switch’ OS that had an icon for the eShop. While this is hardly a surprise, it does show that Nintendo will continue with digital distribution. Being someone who has been downloading a lot of games on the WiiU, I am very curious what this means for me. Especially when I look at a game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (which wasn’t mentioned during the presentation) since I’ve bought most of that game’s content already. It would be interesting to see if Nintendo will provide an upgrader’s discount for those who bought the game on the WiiU.
What I’m especially curious about is how Nintendo will handle digital ownership this time around. Up to now, your digital purchases were linked to your account & hardware combination. With the promise of cloud saves through My Nintendo Nintendo could finally remove the dependency on the physical hardware and adopt the more common “Steam/Mobile model” where you play your games on each piece of hardware you log on to. Given how several Switch systems can be joined together it’s not hard to imagine having multiple Switch’ within the same household. Not having to pay for each game several times would be a boon. Also with a portable device, it would be reassuring to know that you can replace it (after theft or damage) and have all your games ready to go when you boot up the replacement.
Battery life was a concern before this presentation. And to be honest the number given by Nintendo was not what I was hoping for. Playing Zelda on the go will only be possible for 3 hours at a time. However, Nintendo have been so kind to equip the Switch with a soon-to-be universal USB-C connection. Thus opening it up to a wealth of charging options already available. This means you should be able to extend the Switch’ battery life with Powerbank-like gear you may already own! That said several accessory makers are bound to jump in to provide even more options in this area. If nothing else charging the Switch should be a lot simpler than with a proprietary connector. So while the actual numbers are a little disappointing there should be a lot of ways around it. And given the size of the system, it seems like a valid tradeoff.
Then on to the games. In my last speculation before this presentation I figured the launch games might leave a lot of room for third parties and to an extent, this is the case. The main difference being Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is a launch title. This, of course, is fantastic news and is very similar to how the Wii launched with Twilight Princess. Other than that epic title the other main launch title from Nintendo is 1-2 Switch. This also makes a lot of sense, since this is the game that is aimed to show the unique control options provided by the Joy-Con controllers. But apart from that, the current launch line-up is pretty slim.
While this may sound bad it is compensated by the lineup for the rest of the year. Assuming all the games meet their projected launch windows (which is hardly a given) it means that the Switch will see a Zelda, Mario Kart, Splatoon and Mario game within its first nine months on the market. And that isn’t even counting major third party titles like Skyrim and FIFA. Beyond the first year, things are also looking good as Xenoblade 2, Suda 51’s game and the Atlus game don’t have (western) launch windows just yet. This is a very big deal for Nintendo as the WiiU was crippled by the drought of games it suffered after it’s launch window. Interestingly two of the games that were important during that period (the delayed Rayman Legends and LEGO Undercover) are also coming to the Switch. Nintendo have already planned out a steady stream of (very) big games for the Switch while still leaving a lot of room for third parties. I can only hope that those same third parties will make the effort to bring the gaming experiences that you simply don’t want to put down!
On the gaming front Nintendo seem to be playing it reasonably safe. They are offering four major titles within the system’s first year. All of those games use ‘classic’ controls and don’t use the possibly gimmicky perceived Joy-Con controllers. This should do well with the “hardcore” crowd. While this is very sensible of Nintendo I do hope they have a lot more Joy-Con “joy” up their sleave. For this to happen the ARMS game might prove to be crucial. Boxing was easily Wii Sports’ worst executed sport. But if ARMS works, it can prove that the Joy-Cons have transcended their Wiimote predecessors and perhaps trigger renewed interest in alternative gaming controls. And yes, I hope that means EA will make a Star Wars light saber game.
To finish, I want to address the online service Nintendo talked about. Basically, they have delegated long-absent features like a central lobby and voice-chat to an app. This means you need a separate device to do these things. Which is very similar to how I have been doing voicechat on the WiiU, hardly the easiests of setups. The upside of this approach is that all of the hassle needed to run these services is removed from the Switch, leaving it to run games. So, I can see why Nintendo did this and I just hope the integration with the actual Switch system and its games is done right elevating this system beyond using Skype next to your game. Looking at the (darn cute) video Nintendo have released for it’s parental controls app it seems like Nintendo might actually get this right.
Even though the presentation was cringe-worthy at times I think Nintendo is really onto something with the Switch. The Switch’ main appeal of home console gaming you don’t have to put down was driven home. On top of that Nintendo added additional flair with support for alternative means of gaming. By doing so the Switch really is a culmination and a refinement of a lot of what Nintendo have done before it. I, for one, couldn’t be more excited for it and March third can’t come soon enough!