Flatiron Hot! Gamer: Is the Nintendo Switch Destined to Succeed or Doomed to Fail?
By Max Shapiro
Two months ago, Nintendo finally pulled back the curtain on their upcoming video game console codenamed “NX”—now called the Nintendo Switch. And to no one’s surprise, it’s not your typical gaming system. As many have suspected, the Switch is a home console and a handheld system fused into one machine. The console itself, in its purest form, is simply a 7.25 × 4.19-inch tablet. When you insert the Switch into a docking station, it can be played on your TV. The system’s main controller consists of two detachable pieces called “Joy-Cons” held in a grip (a more traditional-looking controller called the Switch Pro Controller will also be available). But when you want to take Switch on the go, you simply take the console out of the dock, detach the Joy-Cons from the grip, and attach them to either side of the system itself, converting it into a PS Vita-like device. But that’s not all: using an adorable little kickstand, you can prop the Switch up and detach the Joy-Cons, which both function as individual controllers (but you can still also use both of them as one unified controller à la the Wii Remote and Nunchuck), allowing for a true home console on the go. If you’re still confused, take a look at the videos above.
But enough summarizing. The real question is: will the Switch fly off shelves like the Wii, or does Nintendo have another Wii U situation on their hands?
I’ll start off by saying that Nintendo nailed the reveal. When you go back and watch the Wii U’s reveal trailer, it was very low-energy. The poor messaging led to many people thinking it was some kind of attachment to the Wii instead of a new console, and all that was shown were a bunch of generic tech demos. That wasn’t the case here. The Switch’s trailer did a superb job of conveying the message that this is a brand new device, and showed off what it’s capable of in a clear and concise manner. And instead of tech demos, we saw footage of actual games—the upcoming Legend of Zelda title, an exciting-looking new 3D Mario, what appears to be a sequel to Splatoon, and new versions of Mario Kart 8, NBA 2K17, and even Skyrim: Special Edition. That, coupled with the super-upbeat background music, made me giddy just watching it. And then there’s the name—I love it. It’s simple, elegant-sounding, and, unlike the Wii U’s name, actually ties into the console’s core concept: Switching between TV and portable play. Weak messaging essentially killed the Wii U out of the gate. The fact that Nintendo avoided that pitfall this time gives the Switch a fighting chance at success.
Additionally, the hybrid concept is something that has the potential to really grab people. This isn’t a device that plays small-scale handheld games you can plaster onto your TV, it’s one that plays full-scale console games you can take anywhere. That sounds more impressive than Wii U’s “Hey, the controller’s got a touchscreen you can do cool little things with.” The magic of the Switch is the sheer amount of options it gives you. The “gimmick” is more passive than those of the Wii or Wii U, but at the same time more meaningful. The focus is on the games themselves, not how you play them. It’s not about using yet another unusual controller that directly impacts the way you play specific games. It’s about being able to play the same games in multiple different scenarios. But if you want to use it as just a normal console or just a normal handheld, you can do that.
What is vital is the Switch being able to reach an audience beyond Nintendo diehards. Dedicated fans like myself aren’t the ones Nintendo should worry about chasing. We’ll always be there on day one. And we make up a majority of the Wii U’s install base. So clearly, the core fans alone aren’t a big enough group (this goes for almost any company). Nintendo should make an effort to win over people who don’t follow the company religiously. They need to show what value this system has to the many people who already own a PS4 or Xbox One. If the Switch was just a regular old console, owners of those platforms would see no reason in picking it up. We’re right smack in the middle of a gaming generation, so anyone who wants a traditional console already owns Sony’s or Microsoft’s hardware. Those people will buy the Switch if they think it will bring something completely new to the table. Nintendo’s strategy should be to bait people with the unique hardware, and then reel them in with the amazing games they’re known for making. And I think the design of the Switch itself will help it appeal to more people. The Wii U GamePad was bulky and unwieldy-looking (some have compared it to a Fisher Price Toy). But everything about the Switch looks sleek and elegant. It’s still quintessentially Nintendo, but at the same time has a bit more of a sophisticated look, which I like.
But what might be the strongest asset of the Switch is the fact that it seems to signify the end of Nintendo having separate console and handheld platforms. Because the Switch acts as both, it will allow Nintendo to focus all their efforts on one system, no longer having to split their attention between a home console and a handheld. And it is because of this that Switch has a huge chance of avoiding one of the Wii U’s greatest problems: game droughts. The Wii U at this point has more than enough great games to prove its worth, but a spotty release schedule caused it to take a while to reach that point. But hopefully the Switch will have no such issue. By putting all their eggs in one basket, Nintendo will be able to pump out games at a far more consistent rate. No longer will you have to buy one system for Mario and Zelda and another for Pokémon and Animal Crossing. Just buy the Switch and you’re set.
But despite the many things the Switch has going for it, I still have my concerns. The first thing that comes to mind is battery life. For a home console it’s likely modestly powerful, but for a handheld it’s a total powerhouse. If running these beefy games tears through its battery too quickly while in portable form, that’s a major problem. The entire selling point of the Switch is playing without limits. If it’s crippled by an abysmal battery life like the GamePad was, it will shoot the core concept of playing on the go in the foot. Hopefully the battery will last at least 3.5 to 4 hours.
And then there’s the matter of power. Given how impressively small the console itself is, it’s impossible that it will match the power of the beefy PS4 Pro and upcoming Xbox One Scorpio. But it’s necessary that the Switch still has enough power under the hood to be able to run games sufficiently while in its portable form. Ideally, it’ll be at least somewhere in the ballpark of the standard model PS4 and Xbox One. I’m not someone who cares all that much about graphics, but I recognize that having a sufficient amount of power is necessary for multiplatform third-party games to be brought to the Switch. Even if it’s a little behind the competition, the system’s hardware needs to at least be competent enough so that these games don’t need to be severely downgraded to be able to run on it.
And speaking of third parties, that’s another point of anxiety some have for this console. Aside from its launch window, third-party support on the Wii U was practically non-existent. On the plus side, many third-party developers such as EA, Ubisoft, Sega, and Bethesda have all said positive things about the Switch. But on the other hand, Ubisoft and EA said similar things about the Wii U during its launch, only to jump ship once they realized the system was a flop. One can only hope that the praise is genuine this time around, and that the Switch is as developer-friendly as possible. But as I’ve said before, while there’s nothing wrong with the system having a version of the latest Call of Duty or Assassin’s Creed, these aren’t the games people buy a Nintendo console for. More “Nintendo-y” franchises like SEGA’s Sonic, Ubisoft’s Rayman, and to an extent Square Enix’s Final Fantasy are ones I can see doing well on the Switch—maybe even as exclusives. Better yet, third parties should build new unique IPs that are exclusive to the Switch. After all, this is what the Wii’s best third-party support consisted of (see Zack & Wiki, de Blob, and No More Heroes).
The good news is that we don’t have to wait long at all for answers to these questions. On January 12, Nintendo is holding a live event in which they’ll showcase tons of details on the Nintendo Switch’s hardware and software (it will be streamed from Japan at 11 PM ET, and can be watched here). All the potential is there for the Switch to be a success. It’s just a matter of whether or not Nintendo optimizes it.