It’s Thursday, and we’re a week out from the unveiling of the Nintendo Switch, where we finally received a release date, a price, and a list of launch games. The initial teaser had me pretty stoked for the system, but I can’t help but be a little wary after being burned by Nintendo weirdness. I’m excited about the system, I’ve pre-ordered it, and if it’s good, I’ll crow about it from a literal rooftop if I can find one.
In the meantime, these are the things that have me keeping a careful eye on the system, watching with excited trepidation.
A lack of focus
Part of what was so appealing about the initial teaser was that it was a tightly focused message showing a console that could double as a handheld, offering multiplayer options and the kinds of experiences we as gamers tend to crave.
What we saw during the reveal felt different. Instead of a Nintendo looking forward, the presentation felt like Nintendo grasping at every bit of its history at once. There were parts I liked, but there was so much of it, and so many features that look like they’ll get tossed by the wayside apart from a few fun minigames at or near launch.
The IR cameras and motion control are two of the biggest things. I’m bullish on the system’s so-called HD Rumble, but worried that game developers outside Nintendo won’t make use of it since it’ll inevitably be harder to develop for than the standard rumble tech seen in Xbox and PlayStation controllers.
And while the launch lineup does feature The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the long-term appeal of the other launch games isn’t as apparent. That doesn’t mean that much. Just about every other console has a gem or two and a laundry list of regrettable titles. With only five, though, one falter is felt that much more strongly.
The pricing might be right for the hardware, but it’s wrong for the market
The $300 pricetag isn’t as eye-watering as the Xbox One’s original $500 asking price, nor the PlayStation 3’s massive $600 tag. But the system is still more expensive than the Xbox One and the PlayStation 4 at this point, despite there being a power gap that casts the Switch in a less-than-ideal light.
The pricing problem extends to the hardware, too. The Joy-Con controllers, for example, are packed full of technology. HD Rumble, IR cameras, analog sticks, NFC readers, accelerometers and more are packed into those tiny candy bar controllers. In terms of the tech powering them, they’re probably worth $50 a pop, and the $80 tag attached to the pair is probably reasonable. But they’re teensy little toys attached to a system that, right now, looks like it has a lot of gimmicks around a few future-classic titles. The Pro controller is $70. Only Microsoft’s Elite controller really out-prices it. Compared to its competitors, it seems wildly overpriced.
The dock for the system clocks in $90. We don’t know what hardware is inside it, and the reveal deemed details like that unnecessary. We likely won’t know until someone does a teardown of the system in March. But from the outside, it looks like a charging port and video dock. It might as well be one of those USB Type-C HDMI dongles you can buy to plug into a MacBook Pro, for all we know about it. There might be more to it, but the lack of information makes it look like highway robbery.
Even the six-year-old Skyrim is going for a full $60 right now, as if dumping it onto an SD Card somehow warrants paying full price for an ancient game.
At every step, the numbers following the dollar signs feel like they could shed a few pounds.
The garden behind the paywall needs tending
Nintendo has, for years, had trouble with the internet. This monstrous thing went from game-adjacent to game-centric in just a few years, and it’s a double-edged sword. For every benefit it adds, there’s a pitfall, and those pitfalls are ones Nintendo worked hard to avoid for years. The last thing Nintendo wants is to risk putting a child in a place where they’ll hear a swear or see a drawing of a butt. Nintendo tried to use friend codes to mitigate this, but they ended up making online into a huge headache.
To their credit, Nintendo is doing away with those, but so far the argument for a pay-to-play service is pretty weak. Multiplayer isn’t enough anymore to justify a pay wall, and what Nintendo’s offering up so far isn’t up to snuff. Voice chat, for example, doesn’t happen through the system. It’s through an app on your smart device. Actually, that deserves its own section–
The voice chat app is a terrible idea
What if you had pay to use a playground, and then had to bring your own equipment? That’s about what this is. When I’m gaming, my cellphone is a clock. Or, if the game is real grind-heavy, it’s a podcast player. But it’s not much else. Microsoft and Sony pretty quickly proved that secondary screens weren’t fun for anyone. This is another secondary screen, but it’s mandatory to use a basic feature of the system.
And let’s talk about about that bonus game
If you’re subscribing on Sony or Microsoft’s services, you get access to anywhere from 3 to 6 games. On Xbox One, you get access to 4 games thanks to backwards compatibility, and on PlayStation 4 it varies from month-to-month just how many of the games are PlayStation 4-compatible. These games are accessible as long as you have a subscription to the service, and can range anywhere from indie hits like Rocket League to big-name games like Sleeping Dogs, back down to tiny games from small studios.
Nintendo’s answer to this is downright arrogant. Nintendo has a back catalog rivaled in size only by Sony and in quality by literally no one. No one has as many incredible games as Nintendo. I’m talking round-one knockout. So what do they do?
You get one game – NES or Super NES – per month, and you get it for that month. Just that month. Not the other months. End of the month? Poof. And like that, it’s gone. Nintendo could give away a beloved classic every month for keeps and it would be sustainable.
The only problem? It would cut into Nintendo’s lucrative Virtual Console sales and could even undercut stuff like the NES Classic and the seemingly inevitable SNES Classic.
Nintendo’s willingness to sell our nostalgia back to us has forced them into a corner on this front. Giving us enough bonus stuff to make our subscription fee worthwhile cuts into their profits in other areas. And honestly, I’d rather just buy the games right-out than have them dangled in front of me when I’m too busy to play them only to find them gone when I finally get a second.
Back to the online stuff.
Nintendo’s network has been, at its best moments, painfully clunky. Now, Nintendo’s throwing us a bone here. The first six months of the service will be free. This means that when it crashes from overuse on launch day, we’re not out any subscription money. When it’s unstable in those first months, Nintendo can call it a work-in-progress. There’s time for Nintendo to mature their network, but we’ve seen little in the last decade to give us confidence that they’ll be able to do very much in six months.
Third-party over here?
Back in the day, Nintendo had their third-party situation on lock. Sega was competitive, but not enough to slow Nintendo down. In the course of a single generation, Sony swiped that out from under them, and the company never really recovered. Where the SNES had the best games (and the Genesis had the weirdest ones), the N64, GameCube, Wii, and Wii U had the best Nintendo games. And truly, there are too many classics to name in there, but a scant few of them are from developers outside Nintendo.
Now, in the handheld space, that’s been different. Nintendo’s never really had much in the way of competition. The Sega Game Gear and the Sony PSP and PS Vita bounced off the dreadnought that is Nintendo’s handheld division without making a dent, and other systems aren’t even worth mentioning (this means you, Nokia N-Gage).
But the Switch isn’t a replacement for the 3DS, Nintendo says. It’s a replacement for the Wii U and its predecessors. The presentation last week seemed to confirm that. Sega’s Chief Creative Officer Toshihiro Nagoshi, the only guy in Japanese game development that looks as much like a real yakuza as Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima, offered that his company is working on some stuff, but didn’t really say much apart from that. EA offering up support isn’t insignificant after the way they left the Wii U to founder, but it’s not enough. Companies like Atlus and Square Enix have some intriguing stuff on the way, but there were a lot of really vague release windows on games, andit’s tough to tell when much of this stuff is actually coming.
Nintendo’s bad history with third parties is longer than its good history at this point, and it’s hard to see it improving, as much as I’d like that.
I want the Switch to be not just good, but great. Nintendo has more potential than Microsoft and Sony put together. They have the best characters beloved by the most people. They have experience making sturdy, consumer-friendly hardware with little in the way of hiccups. They have elite game designers who know how to make legendary games.
And don’t get me wrong. Some things had me genuinely excited. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and even Snipperclips had me excited for first party stuff, while Project Octopath Traveler and whatever Ubisoft is brewing up will likely be worth checking out. Despite all these complaints, I’m excited.
I just hope they can make the Switch work. Nintendo makes some of the best games, but the Wii U proved that Nintendo can’t survive on Nintendo games alone, and that despite trying to play a different game than their competitors, their points are still counted.