I won’t bother trying to encapsulate the Nintendo Switch’s astonishing commercial success any more eloquently than what’s already been written a hundred times before, but it’s absolutely a tour de force of the gaming industry beyond the initial launch hype. The numbers speak for themselves, anyway, and Nintendo’s projections are impressively bullish.
What I will say is that I’ve found the console’s rise to prominence and Nintendo’s resurgence absolutely fascinating to watch unfold. From rumor to the first tease, the big on-stage reveal to its record-breaking numbers and absurdly good year one game library, it sure has been an eventful ride. More and more over the past year, I’ve found myself shifting from critiquing Nintendo’s many awkward missteps to commending their inventions.
Yet, while Switch is certainly firing on all cylinders now, there has been one aspect of the console’s design that has remained a mystery. Nintendo’s online service, alluded to at its launch presentation but only vaguely referenced in dribs and drabs ever since, has been puzzlingly absent. Its delayed arrival has understandably led to all sorts of speculation about potential package bundles, pricing options, rotating Netflix-like game streaming options, and other inventions that might undercut the shortcomings of two already decent and well-established services in PS Plus and Xbox Live.
No longer, however, as this week Nintendo finally revealed plans for its online service, and it’s… fine, I guess? The $20 price point certainly appeals, and at last we can backup save files to the cloud. We’ve also got a glimpse at some vintage NES games that I’ll enjoy replaying on the go, but I was somehow expecting a little more. The final trump card of Nintendo’s inventive new system has been played, and yet I’ve found the revelation a little deflating. It’s disappointingly anemic and bland from a company that has impressed so thoroughly as a master innovator.
Perhaps I allowed myself to be caught up too much in the potential of what might be for Switch’s online functionality? Based on its track record, I probably shouldn’t have been overly surprised at the lackluster effort; Nintendo’s previous efforts have always felt woefully old-fashioned next to its competition.
Yet Switch has also marked a noticeable shift in the company’s mentality. It seems fresher, somehow – mature, cutting-edge, and seemingly more perceptive of trends. There are a new generation of faces, its iconic franchises have reinvented themselves, and Nintendo isn’t mucking around promoting indie and third-party support for Switch. The brand has been given an overhaul while still keeping everything that came before intact. It doesn’t feel like a stale old dinosaur anymore – it’s an exciting and trendy brand. But that’s also why the generic nature of this latest online service news is so depressing to me.
Ultimately, Nintendo’s online service is just another way to squeeze some extra money from its user base more than it is about delivering any sort of innovation. It’s essentially a cheaper version of what we’ve seen Sony and Microsoft do with their services, except the undercut price is reflected in a comparative lack of features more than it represents a slap in the face to its competition.
Not that Nintendo deceptively teed us up for anything else, mind you. Its delivered exactly what it said it would. Yet there are these nagging caveats to each feature that I can’t help but contemplate: I’m happy that I can cloud save, lest my Switch be stolen or dropped on the floor as I’m gaming in portable mode, but the reminder that I can’t already back the data up via microSD for free makes me slightly wince at the same time. The $20 price point is sharp enough, though I’m worried it’s almost so sharp that we’re unlikely to ever see N64, Gamecube, or Wii games make their way to the service (presuming it’s a rotating game collection). And even though Nintendo never promised anything else, I can’t help but feel disappointed that some sort of new voice chat option wasn’t part of the package. Not to mention, what about a streamlined friends list function, a better way to add usernames, an achievement system of some sort, or the tandem announcement of that streaming service we’ve all be fantasizing about?
I suppose all this time the online service had been brewing had me thinking a new-look Nintendo would have something unique and more interesting than the status quo. But no, it’s just your your industry standard online service à la Sony and Microsoft, except not as accomplished or flush with features. Sadly, it’s a case of move along, nothing to see here when I’d hoped, perhaps naively, for so much more.