Last weekend, Nintendo finally revealed more details on the long awaited Switch console that fans had been frothing at the mouth for more information. Reggie’s body wasn’t the only one that was ready as the clock counted down to zero, with the anticipation levels being the highest they ever could be for a Nintendo product in quite some time.
Finally, the lights dimmed, we got to the presentation, and… it practically fizzled out. Not a complete wash, but it also definitely didn’t end with as much of a bang as one could reasonably expect. In fact, if you weren’t paying attention to the past three or four months of anticipation building up, you could reasonably think both the conference and the system itself were things that they just threw together over the holiday break. It’s a sentiment that the stockholders seem to share as well.
There were some cool things on display with the Switch — Zelda looks breathtaking, and Mario in the real world is sure to be a hell of a time — but there were also moments that were silly or straight up baffling, and not just in the way that conferences usually can be. Cringeworthy moments are to be expected, but then there were appearances from studios like Bethesda and SEGA that, in all honesty, didn’t need to be there. Their announcements were either obvious (Skyrim confirmed for the Switch) or empty (SEGA did little more than say they were going to develop for the console.)
For all their talk about third party support, there wasn’t much of that on display. This would’ve been a great moment to highlight Skyrim’s Switch capabilities, but all we got was Todd Howard giving us a token “we’re excited to work with Nintendo” video. While it may have been too much to expect just a bevy of launch titles populated by third party games, the current offerings aren’t instilling a lot of confidence.
It would be forgiven if there were at least some impressive launch games on display, but most of the games shown are releasing either later in the year or just don’t have a release date at all. Considering that the only other launch title outside of Zelda shown at the event was a motion control-heavy game, that’s not encouraging, especially when the company releasing that console is a staple of gaming. We know that more of their first party franchises are coming eventually, like Mario Kart 8 in late April, but “eventually” is the problem in and of itself. Zelda can only take up so much time on its own.
It isn’t too much of a stretch to say that Nintendo’s first party lineup is the thing that’s kept them afloat over the last four or five years. People trust them to treat their characters well with each new game, but there’s also something to be said for having some diversity amongst the system. The Wii U was notorious for having nearly no real third party support after that initial year. On the other hand, Microsoft and Sony dominate the third party space. They have strong first party projects as well, but they’re known as more than just “the Halo guys” or “those dudes who put out an Uncharted every couple of years.” There’s more incentive to buy an Xbox One or PS4 because even if their first party stuff doesn’t interest you, you can rest knowing that there’ll be some great third party games for you to enjoy. Not so with Nintendo, and adding on to that is their notorious approach to online.
The Switch presentation was the opportunity for Nintendo to cement themselves as being able to stand alongside Sony and Microsoft in terms of online gaming, but that was also a slam dunk they missed. They gave no concrete answer as to what their approach to online gaming will be, instead choosing to reveal more at a later date. Not helping is the fact that the chat functions of their new online service won’t be around until months after release, and that alone doesn’t exactly inspire confidence with Nintendo. If they want to be serious about the ever growing online space, not making it a thing on launch day is the worst way to go about that.
There have been games that didn’t have their online up on launch day, to be sure; most famously, GTA V had players wait two weeks before unleashing GTA Online to them. But for one thing, Rockstar isn’t a company who really needs to assuage the general gaming world that they’re serious about online gaming, and two weeks is small potatoes compared to months. Any other company in this position would at least have more information than “we’ll talk about this later,” and that same standard should apply with the Big N. We at least know the console will be ditching archaic friend codes, but this information took three days to come out, and the lack of communication doesn’t bode well.
All we really know is that there’ll be a paid service and it’ll include free SNES or NES games each month, PS Plus and Xbox Gold style, and that’s admittedly cool news. But then you hear that you’ll need to re-buy the game after the month is over, and it sounds like the worst imitation of PS+ and Xbox Gold ever conceived. And then there’s the matter of voice chat; learning that you’ll need to use a separate smart phone app for voice chat and that it may be the only way to communicate with other players is borderline absurd. Given that the system is expected to be played while you’re on the go, there’s no doubt that it’ll eat up data. Why it isn’t just built into the system is a mystery, and one with an answer that can’t be all that satisfying. It’s admittedly cool for portability purposes, but the fact that it isn’t built into the console itself is more than a little eyebrow raising. Both of these feel like features that needed more time to develop.
The operative word here, in fact, is “time.” The year is going to go by quick, and it won’t be too terribly long before the Switch releases. Last weekend was the time for Nintendo to wow everyone, but the reactions seen have ranged from optimistic to confusion and hesitance. There’s a little over a month and a half before the thing hits stores, but with the information presented, you’d think that this was still months away from release. The launch game lineup is weirdly small, everything else has vague release windows, and their approach to online gaming doesn’t seem well thought out.
Nintendo can’t really take another hit like they did with the Wii U, and the Switch was the chance to turn things around. It doesn’t look like they’ve truly righted that ship. Zelda is sure to tide over many fans until Splatoon 2 hits in the summer, but that’s months away, and most of the other games set for the system have vague release windows as well. Combined with the frankly absurd prices of peripherals, and it’s hard to find a good enough reason to Switch to this new system.