Last Friday Nintendo unveiled more details on and the games line-up for their upcoming console, the Switch. Expectations were high, but if there’s one thing the Japanse company does well, it’s defying those expectations.
The release schedule of the Wii U was looking sparse for a few years and people were speculating that a focus on developing Switch-games was the cause. That is why after the presentation last Friday, people were somewhat disappointed: a lot of gamers expected more games, perhaps the return of old franchises like Metroid, Wave Race or Animal Crossing, and against all odds even more Western third party support.
Instead, Nintendo surprised with a new focus on motion gaming with 1-2-Switch and the fighter ARMS, bringing back memories of the Wii days, moderately strong Japanese third-party support (especially Square Enix seems to be an early supporter with multiple Dragon Quests and a unique rpg called Project Octopath Traveler) and a spread out first party line-up that ensures some of Nintendo’s biggest series make their appearance in the first year of the Switch.
Part of the disappointment you can read online is also due to expectations of Nintendo merging their console and handheld divisions, coming together to support one platform and ensuring there will be twice as many games available for the machine. Nintendo themselves however never stated that they would do that, and recently even doubled down on the fact that the 3DS will exist next to the Switch. However, that could also be a safety net to fall back on in the chance the Switch won’t be as successful as Nintendo hopes.
Hands-on with the Switch
At any rate, a lot of the doubt people might have about the potential of the system disappears once one gets the chance to go hands-on with the Switch. Yours truly was invited to go to the press event in Frankfurt, Germany to test out the console and the first games. What hits you instantly when you start playing is the feeling of holding a luxury item. While the Wii U GamePad felt like an expensive toy, the Switch is perhaps the most slick, mature console Nintendo has ever made. Holding the Switch in your hands feels satisfying and the screen is very bright and clear, miles ahead of the 3DS- and Wii U-screens.
More importantly, all the concepts that the Switch leans on work like a charm. It’s extremely easy to place the Switch itself in the dock and to take it out again. After doing that, just press L and R at the same time and you can instantly play on the screen of your choice: the television or the Switch-screen. While that might not sound terribly exciting for everyone, one just has to do this ‘switch’ once for the potential uses to become clear. Playing an exciting dungeon in Zelda but you have to go to the restroom all of a sudden? Just pop out the screen and take it with you. Playing all Sunday but going to your work on Monday and sad that you have to wait an entire day to resume your game? Just take the Switch with you and turn it on while on lunch break.
The different controllers you can use are just as satisfying and well thought out. When using the Joy-Con controllers separately, you create a Wii-like set up, but by playing the surprisingly deep fighter ARMS it is clear that Nintendo has refined motion controlled gaming for the use of very precise movements. Also impressive is the new rumble, which is definitely an underrated feature. It gives very nuanced vibrations, immersing you more in the game.
So the potential is there, but the games line-up leaves something to be desired. As it is now, the Switch is launching with about six games on March the 3rd, a smaller line-up than we are used to, even compared to previous Nintendo-consoles. Thankfully, one of the launch games is Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which is looking very promising indeed and has even more graphical details and a better framerate on Switch. The other games during launch, however, are the experimental 1-2-Switch, which should have been a pack-in with the console, a few third party games like Just Dance and Bomberman, and a couple of indie games. So if you’re not too keen on Zelda, you have very little reason to buy the console at launch.
The rest of the year is looking a bit better: a port of Mario Kart 8 looks and plays like a dream on Switch and will come out in April, Splatoon 2 is more of the same but who cares if the gameplay is solid (and it is), the fun and surprisingly deep fighter ARMS will arrive in spring, a holiday hit in the form of Super Mario Odyssey and hopefully a translated version of Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Combined with moderately solid third party support in the form of titles such as Skyrim, FIFA, NBA 2K18, Sonic Mania and Square Enix’ numerous rpgs, Nintendo has ticked most of the boxes for the console to have some variety.
It’s now or never
But that is not enough. After the disappointing sales of the Wii U, it’s make or break time for the Japanese company and it needs to be firing on all cylinders to ensure the Switch is a massive success. No doubt the console will sell out during launch, but where is the steady stream of first and third party-games to win over not only long-time Nintendo fans but people still on the fence? Where are the yearly big hitters like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Assassin’s Creed? And why do we still know very little about important details like the online options and console interface when the console launches in a mere seven weeks?
These are questions that we will find the answers to in the upcoming weeks, months and years. Nintendo has made an incredible slick system that makes players fall in love with it as soon as one holds it in their hands. With that kind of potential, we want to see it succeed, and that is why Nintendo can’t hold back. It needs to blow away gamers with a steady stream of great titles, both from their internal studios as from partnerships with other developers. That in turn, will ensure sales in Japan and the west, which will attract more third party support.
One thing is for sure: Nintendo once again did it their own way, expectations be damned, and they make for the most interesting console maker in the industry to follow because of that. We can’t wait to see more of what the Big N has in store for gamers these coming years.