In a world where couch co-op seems to be heading towards the door, Nintendo has always been the go to company for providing players with an accessible, in the same room, 3-4 player social experience. The Wii and Wii U are some of the most co-op friendly consoles in memory, with not only backwards controller capability on the Wii U allowing players to keep all their old Wii Remotes while upgrading, but by also making the included GamePad usable as a additional controller for games such as Mario Kart 8, Mario Party 10, Nintendoland, and more at no additional cost.
If you’re hoping for this trend of 3+ couch co-op to continue for Nintendo, then the Switch may come as a disappointment. Admirably, the console comes with a set of Joy-Con controllers that make two-player co-op a possibility for all players right off the bat. However, for more than two-players to get in on the fun, it will require an additional set of somewhat pricey Joy-Con controllers at $80 (or $50 if you are just buying one, but why would you ever do that), a Pro controller for $70, or an additional Switch system altogether with each priced at $300 (or $400 for us Canadian residents).
As for if the Pro controllers can be used for couch co-op multiplayer, it’s likely but thus far unconfirmed. Any time Nintendo has shown co-op on the new console its been two-player with the Joy-Con controllers, whereas when the Pro controller is featured its during single-player games during the docked TV mode. It would be silly to spend $70 on a Pro controller for co-op purposes when you could spend the extra $10 and get the Joy-Con controllers that act as two, so this is likely why Nintendo is pushing the marketing for Pro controllers to be for solo play. It still would be nice for Nintendo to mention whether they could be used for co-op, as would it even be fair for one player to get a Pro controller while another uses a much smaller Joy-Con?
The kicker, though, is if you do decide to get an additional set of Joy-Con controllers, if any of them die during play then you will have to plug it into the tablet base, the portable Switch system, or the
The marketing towards the Nintendo Switch has thus far been heavily leaning towards either one-player or two-player gameplay. Besides obvious first-party inclusions like Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey, games shown at the hour-long Nintendo Switch Presentation in Japan on Jan. 13 were primarily included to show off the two-player capabilities of the dual Joy-Con controllers. Titles like 1-2-Switch focused on two-players now being able to face each other to play while each using one of the Joy-Cons, while fighting game Arms requires both Joy-Con to play and a second set to play with a friend according to a promotional image from the Nintendo Switch features webpage. Snipperclips is another game coming early for the Switch that focuses on two friends working together to get through puzzles while each using one of the two Joy-Con controllers. It’s page on the Nintendo website says up to four-players may play, although it’s unclear is that means they can play all on the same screen with more Joy-Cons or a second Switch console is required.
And what about four-player split screen? Well so far confirmation has been cloudy. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, the revamped version of the Wii U title, states that up to 12 people can play together, and there are even screenshots of four-player gameplay as seen below. However, thus far the ads and promotions for the game have focused on either two-player split-screen or multiple Switches using local multiplayer functions being the primary source of gameplay footage. When compared to the marketing for Mario Kart 8 on the Wii U, the Switch’s Deluxe version has defiantly paid less attention to marketing the 3+ multiplayer modes on this console in comparison.
The highly anticipated sequel Splatoon 2 will be arriving to the Switch in Summer 2017, and split-screen doesn’t seem like a feature Nintendo wants to focus on for the IP. Its game description reads “In a first for the series, compete in local multiplayer Turf War battles, whether in TV mode or on-the-go in handheld or tabletop modes.” While it also states up to eight players can join up, its unclear whether two Joy-Cons or two separate Switch consoles will be needed in order for two people to play together, let alone three or four. If multiple consoles are needed to enjoy a true couch co-op experience, then its likely most players will not be able to try out Splatoon 2 while together in the same room. Even if the Joy-Con controllers do allow for split-screen, reaching the full eight-player co-op cap (or even 3-4 players) while together will requires hundreds of dollars worth of hardware that just doesn’t seem possible for the vast majority of players.
Another flaw in the way in which the Nintendo Switch’s multiplayer functionality has been marketed is how Nintendo believes due to its ability to go portable, it will thrive around larger groups of people (i.e. parties). During the First Look at the Nintendo Switch ad back in October, we see two women playing the Switch together at a roof-top party. Notice anything odd about the scenario? Perhaps the awkward cluster of people just standing and watching behind, clasping their red solo cups and probably thinking, “when are these two going to stop playing so we can get back to the party?” Or what about 1-2-Switch, when during the Nintendo Switch Presentation its producer and Nintendo Switch General Director Kouichi Kawamoto stated, “We’re creating 1-2-Switch to be a staple for parties and to become an icebreaker for all kinds of fun communication.” But 1-2- Switch is a two-player game, and while its true the mini-games are quick allowing the controller to be passed along, it still means people having to wait their turn on the sidelines if a larger group (which usually constitutes a party) is present.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s unknown how other, yet to be announced multiplayer IP’s staple to the Nintendo consoles like Super Smash Bros. or Mario Party will work on the Nintendo Switch. Games such as these thrive on playing alongside your friends in the same room, and with what Nintendo has shown of multiplayer thus far, it doesn’t look promising unless you and your group of friends all happen to own your own Nintendo Switch like the four buddies seen above who together have spent over $1200 to each own a system and then play Splatoon 2 together.
Hopefully the majority of the games set to release on the Nintendo Switch will have 3+ Joy-Con functionality, in that a console owner could just buy one additional set for $80 and be able to experience couch co-op with up to four people (assuming the batteries don’t die too frequently). But with that Nintendo has shown thus far of the console, there’s not a lot of motivation to buy that second set of Joy-Con controllers. The focus seems other single-player games either from first-party or third-party developers, and two-player games to show off the dual Joy-Con controllers. If Nintendo starts to drop 3+ affordable couch co-op support, perhaps it may really be on its way out of the games industry for good.