Stepping up to the plate- the home runs, strike outs and everything in between to expect from the Nintendo Switch event.
Shigeru Miyamoto infamously once said ‘ A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad’.
After his most recent console offering – the journey of the serviceable but awkward and uninspired Starfox Zero, the mantra, while noble in today’s gaming landscape, now has to be taken into consideration with Nintendo’s previous console, and the subsequent lead up to its successor, the Nintendo Switch. The Wii U was rushed, neglected and, to some in hindsight, a sacrifice that needed to happen for Nintendo to learn from their mistakes and realise their true vision. Regardless of commercial and technical intricacies, for all intents and purposes, calling the Switch ‘what the Wii U should have been’ is only half the story.
Rewind to E3 2013. Microsoft obtusely enforced a mandatory Kinect and DRM restrictions on the XBOX One. With a 20 second video, PlayStation not only highlighted their competitions arrogance and won over the public, but forced Phil Spencer and co, tails between legs, to retract and until recently, play catch up. Hardware as well as software is at the mercy of the audience in a way no other medium is to the same extent. Online multiplayer especially relies on building a community, and multi platform games can thrive or die on their attach rate.
So, where does Nintendo fit in to all this? They have, for better or worse, played their own game for most of this century, with only the GameCube being on par with its rivals in terms of power, ‘traditional’ input and even the last examples of AAA third party exclusives. Despite its install base conforming to the downward trend except the Wii, it arguably had some of the best iterations of both third and first party games. The legend of Zelda-Twilight princess and Wind Waker got HD upgrades on Wii U, as well as the best version of Smash brothers in terms of competitive community. In addition, timed exclusive Resident Evil 4 and Metal Gear Solid Twin Snakes, were mature and polished titles the system needed against PS2 and XBOX. I’ll save rest for later.
With (presumably) this much (a lot of) information disclosed this close to launch, Nintendo has to be incredibly astute with getting customers, investors and the media on board. Transparency does not have to be comprehensive, there are a few key issues and questions that Nintendo doesn’t have just answer or even satisfy. They need to engage and maintain not just the interest, but the cash that consumers will part with. I find it ironic that for the company to tout this as their new home console, the October reveal trailer focused on different scenarios to use the machine outside the house. How Nintendo balance, or indeed justify the existence of the thing and co existence of another (at least in part) portable in the autumn years of the 3ds will be especially challenging.
Games part 1- online.
It really felt like Nintendo was going in the right direction in terms of online. Mario kart, smash and splatoon are robust, fun and were sustained multiplayer games in terms of content. Runbow is an absolute gem of a game, and a real advocate for maintaining Nintendo’s stellar line up of local multiplayer titles. What is concerning is how they dealt with the 3ds port of Super Mario Maker and what could potentially damage a key component of their modern games. If it were me? A solid message of ‘design and share at home, download, save and play on the go’ could be the answer. A clear message is key in every aspect of this system and its succes. Assuming that they get ‘ultimate editions’, a seamless and uncompromized experience either at home or on the go for these three games alone could be an incredible start, but is the tech (or wifi services) going to be up to the task? Are the 13 million Wii U owners going to double dip? As a member of the target demographic and a Wii U owner, I’m concerned about another investment in both hardware and software to get the experience I should have got in the first place.
Verdict- Ball. Building on their flawed but solid foundation, the best versions of Nintendo’s best titles would welcome returning and new players.
Network- please please please Nintendo get this right! The NNID, rewards, trophies and friend systems and interfaces on previous Nintendo consoles are a joke, but the family friendly miis and restructure may work out ok.
Verdict- straight into centre field’s mitt.
As mentioned earlier, and as Sony and Nintendo (with the initial launch of the 3DS) found out the hard way, customers vote with their wallets and their feet. Establishing a user base in the wake of the Wii U and the grip that PS4 and XBOX one already have on the market, the balance of price to profit is a delicate one. Audiences didn’t need another DVD/ blu Ray drive in their living rooms in 2010 any more than they need another Netflix box or internet browser now, which cuts out cost, resources and space for Nintendo. The product itself also seems better produced than the toy like Wii or Wii U. While not detracting from their core approach, competing in a market in the home space against consumer electronics giants or the portable space with kids using parents (or their own) smartphones will be a task neither the Wii U or Sony’s own PSvita was up to. Reacting to the market with price drops, bundles and hardware revisions are part and parcel of the industry, but the handling of the 3DS ‘ambassador program’ proves that, if wrong, the damage could be two fold- seeming disingenuous to early adopters as well as newcomers being inclined to ‘wait and see’.
Verdict- 1 base hit. Trying to find another (or even regain) their ‘blue ocean’ in terms of audience as well as providing waning Nintendo fans with a product with at least respectable assets at a ‘sweetspot’ price point is a great challenge, but the release window, it should allow for a bit of wiggle room before the summer and especially Christmas.
Power. Nintendo is a games company. Gameplay and fun has always been the top priority, even during their eventual transition into optical media and even HD. Whether Nintendo have even considered to compete with current gen hardware, they have always made games that get the most out of the respective console, simultaneously giving third party’s an inevitable catch 22. Granted, the versions of Mass Effect 3 and Arkham City were solid, if unspectacular but more importantly, late. The emphasis on the console being portable has almost reduced fans to admitting defeat- conceding that the absolute best the thing could produce is Skyrim HD comparable in spec to current gen.
Super Mario Galaxy, The Wind Waker HD and especially Mario Kart 8 prove that art style, charm and technical consistency are just as valuable as pushing for photo realism.
Verdict- strike. Admitting the fact that the switch isn’t trying to compete in terms of power will hopefully work in its favor in terms of Nintendo, but the issue is whether third parties will still embrace it. With heavy hitters on the press release such as Bethesda and From Software, it’s difficult to predict the success of ports or exclusives on what the industry and seasoned gamers would define as underpowered.
Games part 2- Nintendo.
The prospect of a new Zelda as a launch title is most exciting. The fact that it was delayed, at least in part for this reason will leave most (including me) Wii U owners burnt and bitter. But, Nintendo fans are nothing if not loyal, and gone are the days where a console launch was supported by a handful of titles. The rumors swirling of three of the Wii Us best may be enough to break consumers in the know- always interested in a Wii U but the successor on the horizon didn’t warrant a purchase. But what else? It looks like Skyrim HD, FIFA and NBA2K will appear, as well as just dance, and the usual casual/ shovel ware nonsense. No Effect Andromeda, Resident Evil is optimistic to put it politely and maybe a version of call of duty. Lego and telltale games would boost, if not blow away and I hope that UBIsoft and Capcom have something to offer. With the recent cancellation and Nintendo’s relationship with Platinum could they swoop in for a resurrection of scale bound? Another Wii sports or brain training, anyone?
Verdict- 1 base hit. Nintendo can’t do it on their own. Set up a solid foundation and a steady stream of quality for the year, and give this machine a fighting chance.
Battery- put simply, under 3 hours would be a disaster. 5 hours would be barely satisfactory. Anything else is at best hopeful.
Verdict- strike out. I’m predicting 4 hours on ‘skeletal’ functionality (dim settings/ no volume).
No more false promises. No more gimmicks. As much as hard core gamers are hoping, and current products are screaming at consumers, claiming to offer something innovative and unique, the market can become easily over saturated or worse, ignored. Admittedly, playing othello on the Wii u would have bee almost as redundant as soduku in a newspaper in 2017, but the Switch reveal trailer had a clear message with stalwart games- a home console that you can take and play anywhere. Nintendo moving away from the Wii branding was a necessary step, regardless of whether Wii remotes are compatible or amiibo get new functionality. The potential for cosmetic customization or accessories that genuinely enhance the experience need to be as relevant as they are affordable. A product range walking the line between sky landers and elite controllers could unite or divide.
Verdict- strike. The opportunity for accessories is as massive as it is dangerous. There will probably be more expansion packs and Wii wheels than there will be a wavebirds, especially considering it took the 3DS two attempts to become what it should have been in the beginning.
Cartridges- what could (and is in some respects) a step back in terms of tech, carts for a system that is at least partly portable is a no brainer. Capacity could be an issue for third parties, but I think power is the bigger hurdle.
Verdict- swing and a miss.
The Nintendo factor part one- Recent missteps regarding puzzling marketing decisions have hampered what have been overwhelming successes for Nintendo during the last few years. History repeated itself after the Wii, amiibo and now the shortage of stock (as well as controller cord) of the NES Classic mini that had the magnetic illusion of desire, and impulse buy price tag, but whether their fault or not, it has been a trick many have been fooled by once too often. Similarly, the announcement of Super Mario Run on iOS in September came from left field, and was launched with a few small but significant footnotes, such as the demand for always online.
The Nintendo factor part two- IP, legacy and the best in the business. Coming round to the realization that Star Fox Zero was a stop gap and an obligation to Wii U owners, there is still hope that Nintendo have a few aces up their sleeve. FPS, reimagining and GameCube highlight Metroid Prime, 3DS titles Kid Icarus, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem and, I especially hope, Star Fox, can have a proper, definitive showing on switch, and it’s wealth of potential features have only been hinted at. Miyamoto, as well as the pool of new talent and the consolidation of development teams on hardware with a lot of potential could be the biggest hitter for the company in over a decade. The stage is set, the time has come. The critics maybe fickle but your fans are loyal, so swing for the fences, because I’m rooting for you.
Hit… The ball is high in the air…