It may not feel like it, what with how busy most Switch owners have been with hunting down shrines and Korok seeds in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but it’s already been a full month since Nintendo launched its latest console. Switch’s full story is yet to be written, so it’s far, far too early to predict with any accuracy whether the console will ultimately deliver everything fans want from it. We have, however, had a lot more time with the console than anyone did when reviews rolled out last month. So, one month in, has the Nintendo Switch delivered what gamers expected of it?
To answer that question, it’s necessary to first explore just what exactly gamers were expecting of the Switch. Are you in the crowd that wanted the best handheld games console ever made? Did you want a system that was equally capable in the living room and on the go and that could compete with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, multimedia features and all? Were you hoping for Nintendo to finally, after 20 years of mostly abysmal third-party support, get its act together and start landing all the multiplatform AAA releases? Or did you simply want more incredible Nintendo software and are happy with any hardware that delivers it to you?
It’s likely that most gamers were looking for at least some combination of the above boxes to be checked on March 3. The early adopters and even curious onlookers among you surely have already formed a holistic view of the console. When looking at the big picture like that, though, it’s easy to lose sight of the many individual cogs in the wheel that make or break a games console. Let’s step back for a moment and analyze them each.
Console Gaming on the Go
Nintendo is largely competing against itself here. Yes, the PlayStation Vita has some cool indie games, and there have been plenty of handhelds from other companies with great tech behind them over the years, but all of them paled in comparison to Nintendo’s various GameBoy and DS offerings. While Nintendo’s home console business has had its hits and misses, the console holder has never done us dirty when it comes to gaming on the go. The Game Gear, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita each looked for all the world as if they would stomp the Game Boy, DS, and 3DS, respectively, but the exact opposite happened in every case.
Enter the Switch, which has no real handheld competition while boasting the most powerful internals and the best controls of any dedicated mobile gaming device to date. For once, Nintendo has the most technically able handheld on the block, even if that’s mostly because its only neighbor is the five-year-old Vita. Nevertheless, removing a Switch from its home dock and seeing Breath of the Wild running in all its glory – albeit it at a lower, but still HD, resolution than on TVs – is an astounding experience. This is the biggest, most fully realized game world Nintendo has ever made, and you can take it with you wherever you go.
If you choose to do so, you won’t sacrifice much in the way of controllability, either. Handheld gaming has always meant suffering from inconvenient, uncomfortable, and/or insufficient control options. And while playing Switch on the go is still a step back from refined Switch Pro Controller you can (optionally) use while playing at home, the Joy-Cons provide such a close facsimile to traditional console controls that it’s hard to complain at all. If they were any better, you’d just be holding a console controller.
In return for all this greatness when playing the Switch undocked, the tradeoff Nintendo has asked us to accept is to, well, not play undocked as much. What I mean by this is that the device’s stated battery range is a very wide 3.5 to 6.5 hours. Not too shabby at all – if you hit that 6.5 hours. But graphically intensive games, like the Switch’s marquee title, Breath of the Wild, are coming in at the low end. In fact, some users are reporting that Breath of the Wild lasts just over three hours on the go. That’s not terrible, considering what you’re getting in those three hours, but it’s not great, either, or even good.
Not Quite Next-Gen
For all of its myriad innovations, there’s one thing Breath of the Wild does that many other Nintendo games before it did – comparatively for their time – just as well. It somehow manages to look visually breathtaking despite running on Nintendo hardware with specs that are appreciably worse than the competition’s. Meanwhile, Nintendo still hasn’t shown us almost anything outside of its own stable of releases that can go toe-to-toe with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 games. Arms is also going with the stylistic beauty approach that helps mask the Switch’s inability to keep up with other modern consoles. Further down the road, Super Mario Odyssey looks weird but fantastic, and Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 look like the slightly improved versions of Wii U games that they are.
While the software wizards at Nintendo do their magic to conceal Switch’s power outage, it would seem the company’s hardware team had more trouble than just trying to fit enough (affordable) power into a phablet device without compromising its battery life. In attempting that balancing act, it seems they may have overlooked a problem with how much heat the unit kicks off while docked.
Reports began emerging this past weekend that a number of Switch units were warping, seemingly due to exposure to too much heat while being played in docked mode.
Some Reddit users claim Nintendo has offered to fix their literally bent-out-shape consoles for free. This is the same policy Nintendo eventually adopted for what seems to be the console’s other problem: troubles with the left Joy-Con controller desyncing from the system. While it’s nice that Nintendo is speedily fixing these hardware problems without charging its customers, it’d be nicer if these problems weren’t popping up all over the place to begin with.
Microsoft infamously suffered from the “red ring of death” errors with its Xbox 360, but that console’s fantastic online feature set, deep and varied AAA games library, and wide array of multimedia features helped it overcome massive hardware problems to achieve mass-market success. The Nintendo Switch, however, doesn’t have those luxuries.
One month in, the Switch still can’t stream music, movies, or TV shows. It can’t play YouTube videos. It can’t really do anything except for play games, and while it may do that one thing well, the competition does it just as well, if not better.
Sure, Nintendo’s lightning-fast game load times are gaming’s most pleasant retro revival in 2017, but this is offset quite a bit by the system’s offensively diminutive 32 GB hard drive. Breath of the Wild eats up more than a third of that space on its own. Worse, Japanese Switch owners already have a game that requires 32 GB, which the Switch doesn’t even have available after mandatory system storage is taken into account.
The ability to use SD cards is a bit of a workaround, but it’s not a solution. The storage shortage (sorry) isn’t really something Nintendo can fix other than potentially selling a future Switch model with a bigger hard drive. Nintendo has shown no indication to date that it has plans to do that, however, so if it is coming, it’s probably a ways off. Plus, that’s asking your early adopters to pay to fix a hardware shortcoming so obvious that it should be downright embarrassing for Nintendo.
Meanwhile, we still don’t know when or which multimedia functions are coming to the Switch. Nintendo of America COO Reggie Fils-Aime did at least give owners cause for some optimism here, though. Fils-Aime told the Washington Post that it’s been in talks with service providers like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon and that those types of services would “come in time” to the Nintendo Switch. For now, though, there’s not much compelling for anyone who finishes Breath of the Wild to do.
Third Parties Are MIA
Back in October, Nintendo announced that a significant number of third-party partners had pledged support for the Switch. This is a move that is written in permanent ink somewhere in the Console Holder’s Playbook. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all do this every time they unveil a new console. The difference is that Microsoft and Sony tend to follow through on those partnerships, whereas Nintendo doesn’t.
As of this writing, there are 29 Switch games available. It’s a decent number for a console that’s only been on the market for a month, but the library is dominated by Nintendo titles, indie releases, and smaller games from big studios. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those types of games. In fact, they can each be excellent in their own way, and there’s no question that you’ll be seeing Breath of the Wild on just about every publication’s Game of the Year list in eight months or so. But can a games console thrive without third-party AAA support? If any system can, it’s one powered by great Nintendo software, but even Nintendo’s wildly talented internal studios will be stretched thin trying to keep up Switch popularity practically all by themselves over the remainder of 2017 and beyond.
They’ll have to do just that, though, because this month’s Lego City Undercover – a port of a four-year-old game – is the closest thing Switch will get to a blockbuster third-party release until The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim gets ported over to the console later this year, when that game will be approximately six years old. The Switch needs more support, it needs it now, and it needs it to not come in the form of years-old ports.
One area where Nintendo has unquestionably delivered the goods is with its own first-party software. 1-2 Switch may be a throwaway minigame collection, but Snipperclips is a fun co-op puzzler. And then there’s Breath of the Wild, which is at worst one of the best games of this generation, and at best one of the greatest games of all time.
Breath of the Wild is the type of killer app launch title I’d argue the industry hasn’t seen in more than a decade. The GameCube launch window title Super Smash Brothers Melee and the original Xbox launch game Halo: Combat Evolved are probably the only launch and launch-ish games from this century that even belong in the same conversation. And you’d have to go back another half-decade to the Nintendo 64’s launching with Super Mario 64 to find another comparable title. There will never be full agreement on any ranking of launch games, of course, but Metacritic averages provide the closest thing to definitive evidence of this reality.
The only problem is that while Zelda is enormous and magical, all games eventually come to an end. When this one does, it’ll be a long wait for its story DLC coming this holiday and Super Mario Odyssey, also planned for a fall release. Arms feels like it will be fun in the meantime, but how long will that keep owners occupied? Mario Kart 8: Deluxe and Splatoon 2 should be entertaining. The former, however, is an outright port, albeit with a heavily requested and absolutely enjoyable new mode. And the latter feels it will be more akin to glorified DLC than a full-blown sequel.
Switch owners — myself included — had better hope Arms is even better than my limited demo time led me to believe; that Super Mario Odyssey makes it out this year as planned; and that I’m wrong about Mario Kart and Splatoon and they both offer more new thrills than they seem to on the surface. Failing all of that, the wait for that Breath of the Wild story DLC is going to be excruciating. But hey, at least Nintendo has already made playing Zelda more, uh, “pleasant.”
So Is This What We Wanted?
One month into its life cycle, the Nintendo Switch is absolutely what I expected it to be. The console already feels like the most competent dedicated handheld gaming hardware ever made. It already has an all-time great Nintendo game, and it looks to have at least one more on the way this year. But it’s also severely lacking in tangible third-party support, and it doesn’t do basically anything other than play games. For longtime Nintendo fans, everything aside from the hardware problems — which have doubtless been received as nasty little surprises for some owners — should have been completely expected.
But there is a perceptible gap between expectations and desires, and Nintendo has not fully bridged it. Just because you expect Electronic Arts and Capcom to have no plans to bring Mass Effect: Andromeda or Resident Evil 7, respectively, to the Switch doesn’t mean you should be happy with that situation. Looking further out, the chances of major third-party holiday releases like Red Dead Redemption 2 appear to have almost no chance at all of finding their way to Nintendo’s console.
What this means is that, if you’re a hardcore Nintendo fan who is content with quirky, exciting hardware that exists almost exclusively as a means to play Nintendo’s latest and greatest games, then the Switch looks like it’s exactly what you want it to be after month one. For everyone else, spending $300 on a console that has no multimedia features and scant few big guns from third parties is kind of crazy, even if Breath of the Wild turns out to be 2017’s best game.
If — and this is a big if — sales keep up at anything close to their current breakneck pace that has caused Nintendo to double production, however, major third-party support will almost certainly arrive eventually. So the Switch may one day grow into the console every gamer would like it to be, but it isn’t nearly there yet in April 2017.