Thoughts on Nintendo Switch

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While I was gone, Nintendo released a video just over three minutes long previewing their upcoming console, Nintendo Switch. The video was pretty short, but it revealed quite a lot of things, particularly in regards to Nintendo’s direction, as a company, going forward.




Experience over mechanics

It’s hard to not compare the Switch with Nintendo’s current home console, the Wii U: the Switch is the Wii U’s successor, but also its actualization. It’s what Nintendo really wanted the Wii U to be. Well, sort of.

Particularly absent in the Switch trailer was motion control, a staple of Nintendo gameplay for the past decade. There weren’t many unfamiliar gimmicks present either. I think it shows Nintendo realizing that these are things people don’t latch onto, and what people do latch onto is their IP: Pokémon, Mario, Zelda, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing, etc.

There are signs that Nintendo, while having done this all along to some extent, are taking advantage of their IP more than ever. See their various ventures into mobile thus far, for instance. See Super Mario Maker. See their t-shirt competition with Uniqlo. See their upcoming park at Universal Studios. Also, while not entirely Nintendo’s doing, I don’t think the resurgence of Pokémon in pop culture is a coincidence at all – Nintendo, along with the Pokémon Company, Game Freak, and now Niantic, have been firing on all cylinders to try and make 2016 the best year in the history of the franchise.

What Nintendo also seems to have realized is why people latch onto their IP: it's because of the quality of the games that have brought them to life. This is Nintendo’s claim to fame, and I think it will be for as long as they make games.

The Switch seems to be a product of that realization. The Wii U was a console only Nintendo could take advantage of because it was a playground for them and their style of game development. As I mentioned before, Nintendo had a bit of a fixation with gimmicks, and a lot of them were found in the Wii U (see the GamePad and Amiibo). On top of that, while the quality of their games were still great overall, nothing seemed novel or noteworthy (with Splatoon as an exception) – nothing seemed to set it apart from games on the Wii and prior consoles. Neither third-party developers nor customers were particularly receptive to the Wii U as a result.

Instead, the Switch is a playground not just for Nintendo, but for everyone else. Sure, the Switch has its bells and whistles like the Wii U had, but I think these are things that people will appreciate more. With the Wii U, it was a matter of people maybe getting into Amiibo or maybe using the GamePad while the TV was used for something else. With the Switch, the features that set it apart from the Wii U have more definitive appeal – either that, or they’re designed to have their defining features taken full advantage of. (We’ll get to that later.)

This, alongside their mean streak of milestone games in recent years from doubling down on IP, boils down to one objective: making the Nintendo experience better for everyone.

Nintendo’s product portfolio – how will the Switch fit?

All that said, it’s safe to say that this will effectively replace the Wii U. I’m sure Nintendo will continue to support the Wii U through some games in the pipeline and software updates, but nothing substantial.

What I’ve been hearing a bit about is how the Switch also aims to replace the 3DS, which I think is totally wrong. The 3DS is, in its essence, a handheld console, meaning it’s a more personal console. The 3D capability is exclusive to one person, and doesn’t work for two sets of eyeballs at the same time. In addition, many of the DS commercials over the years featured only one person enjoying a game by themselves.

The Switch teaser video not only featured, but made sure to emphasize the social aspect of the gaming experience with the console. Sure, it’s also a portable console, but that’s where the similarities end – it’s basically a home console with the TV included. The multiplayer experience will probably be the Switch’s key differentiator from the 3DS, apart from its catalogue of games.

The hardware will have to be great

I think people know by now to not expect the highest-grade hardware and processing power to come from a Nintendo console, but there’s still a base-level of power and quality the hardware should have to fulfill the promises and expectations they’ve set.

I won’t bore you with the specifics, but I think those expectations – even for Nintendo – will be a challenge to meet, and I don’t know if they’ll go at length to prioritize having the hardware be optimized for third-party games, especially as Nintendo’s been explicit in their adamancy towards mainstream gaming, at least through the decisions they’ve made.

There’s also the fact that the console is really, really small. In my understanding, all the hardware of a basic home console ought to be packed into the small “tablet” component of the Switch, unless additional capabilities are enabled by other hardware components in the dock connector. In that case, there’d have to be limitations when the Switch is in “portable mode” and not connected to the dock, which seems off-putting to me. Oh, and a battery has to fit in there, too – with sufficient power, no less.

Home-console-quality games seem to be a big selling point of the console, and it would be a shame if, one way or another, it would be limited by hardware constraints. I’m a little pessimistic that the staggering expectations will be met, but I’ll be happy if I’m proven wrong. I’ll keep my eye out for news about this as the launch approaches.

Quality gaming outside the living room

The Wii U dabbled a bit with the concept of bringing a more immersive gaming experience from the living room to elsewhere. I think the Switch is Nintendo’s more serious attempt at doing that.

With the Wii U, there wouldn’t be much detracted from the console’s appeal if the GamePad – supposedly its biggest draw – suddenly ceased to exist. Lots of games could still operate with just a Wii Remote. With the Switch, it would be a shame if the the portable functionality was neglected. I think the video suggested that, again, the Switch is primarily a portable device – still a home console at heart, but in a portable form factor.

Also, regardless of potential latency issues for now, if the multiplayer functionality works as advertised, that’s also an amazing thing that would be a shame to neglect. It won’t be as much an afterthought as, say, the 3DS’s multiplayer capabilities. (Then again, connecting to anything with the 3DS, even the internet, is an archaic experience at best. That said, there are a few big ways the 3DS can improve that I can think of – perhaps that’s for another post – which is to say, again, the 3DS probably won't be going anywhere as long as it has that room for improvement.)

Following up on the Wii

I mentioned how the Switch has potential to be what Nintendo wanted the Wii U to be, but what I think nudged the steering wheel in the wrong direction for the Wii U was that it also wanted to be the Wii 2. Hence the compatibility with Wii Remotes and sequel titles to Wii games (Wii Fit U, for example), among other similarities. The result was a confused product – still honest, still high-quality, but confused nonetheless.

Thankfully, the flaw was plain as day and Nintendo made sure that the Switch was not the Wii – instead, it's the best aspects of the Wii U, and more. Nintendo seems to have also made sure that they weren’t the same Nintendo they were during the years of the Wii’s dominance and popularity. When people were receptive to the control method they wanted to develop for, everything went well – that wasn’t the case anymore with the Wii U, so they’re now banking on their IP to draw eyeballs and interest to the fullest Nintendo experience possible, not just with gimmicks.

Considering the conditions of today, I think that’s a recipe for success. We’ll see if Nintendo can pull off the balancing act once again.