Breaking Down the Info from the Hybrid Console’s Big Presser
When Nintendo finally revealed the Switch back in late October, I was left more excited about the company’s future in hardware than I have been in years. Granted, that initial trailer was the idealized vision of the console: it was direct in its messaging while shrewdly omitting any hype-strangling details like battery life, resolution, and, most importantly, price. What we were left with was the exciting prospect of console quality games (like the newest Zelda opus) on a handheld hybrid that features modular controllers; a machine that cobbles together what Nintendo is best at – forward thinking portability and first-party games so good they stand head and shoulders with the best this industry has to give.
On Thursday, Nintendo began filling in the blanks, setting about to answer (at least some) of the questions fans have had circling in their heads since the system’s unveiling. You can watch the entire conference here but, coming from someone that sat through a livestream of the proceeding – awaiting something, anything, that signaled Nintendo’s return to form – I’d recommend just reading up on the cliff notes.
Though the affair was poised in the same fashion as one of Sony’s knockout E3 conferences, Nintendo couldn’t land the same blows. I began the show with more enthusiasm than Nintendo let me leave with. After the abject failure of the Wii U (a console that only managed to push slightly north of 13 million units – the worst sales in Nintendo’s hardware history barring the Virtual Boy) the Switch needed to be touted as a reckoning. It was Nintendo’s chance to convince the fence-sitters to choose their side of the picket. We didn’t get that Thursday night.
Nintendo has always floundered in the stage show department, though. You’re asking the same company that thought this shit was a good idea to try and wow us in an hour and a half. Nintendo’s like that shy kid at the back of the class: he tests well and always turns in his homework, but the second you ask him to walk up to the board and present, he becomes a mumbling, incoherent mess. Of course they shit the bed. This is Nintendo we’re talking about. Credit to that first Switch video, though. I fell for it, too! I wrongly assumed Nintendo was trying to demonstrate they’ve turned a new leaf (no pun intended, Animal Crossing fans). At the presentation, however, it seems Nintendo isn’t just making its same old mistakes but brand new ones.
But I think it’s important to remember that a poor showcase isn’t enough reason to condemn the hardware itself. The tech, despite Nintendo’s aloof messaging, still looks cool. So let’s try to unpack what we learned at the showcase (and the info we gleaned in the days following) without having to suffer through awkward squid doctors and a translator whose probably looking for a new job right about now:
The Nintendo Switch launches March 3rd and costs $299.
I had it in my mind that if NIntendo wanted to blow some toadstools, the price would have been $249. However, this gives them some wiggle room if they wanted to make a $50 cut closer toward the holidays (or if it performs, shall we say, shittily?). Still, $300 is in bounds of reason. Base model PlayStation 4’s and Xbox One’s start at that price. While enthusiasts understand, and could potentially be irked by, the fact that they’re paying the same price for a console that has less horsepower than its contemporaries, we should look to the casual consumer’s mentality instead.
The casual consumer is likely to see this new system from trusty Nintendo –a brand so storied that there was once a time in my childhood where my parents referred to any video game console I had as “a Nintendo” – see the similar pricing, and lump the Switch’s capability in the same bracket. Any cheaper and a casual consumer may begin to think of the Switch as a handheld: a complementary device that can’t do what a home console does. The very perception Nintendo doesn’t want, evidenced by their reminding us that it is a home console every chance they get.
If you don’t think that’s a genuine concern, keep in mind that the mainstream audience who made the Wii a massive success didn’t know the Wii U was a separate console. Sometimes, even retailers didn’t know what the hell it was.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a launch title. Mario isn’t.
Nintendo ended its ten-mile-jog-through-glass of a presentation with one of the only franchises in this industry that hasn’t been poisoned by cynicism. And goodness gracious does it look breathtaking (sorry, another dollar for the pun jar). Nintendo is well aware that a new Zelda game can pry wallets open – especially the rare Zelda game that releases at a system’s launch. Unfortunately, Breath of the Wild seems to be the only compelling reason to snag a Switch on Day One.
Super Mario Odyssey, a brand new adventure that sees the Italian reptile stomper leap between dimensions (including an analog for NYC called “New Donk City”… let that settle inside you for a moment), won’t hit the launch window. It’s tentatively set for Holiday 2017. I’m not trying to gloss over the power or draw of a new Zelda title but… that’s coming out on Wii U as well. If you wanted a surefire system seller that tickles the fancies of the mainstream and hardcore, young and old alike, then you sell it alongside a Mario title. So why not wait until your flagship game was ready?
One gander at the launch lineup only underlines this point: there’s only three other games releasing on day one besides Zelda. You have the gimmicky 1-2-Switch that relies on the motion sensors within your Joy-Con controllers to play party games (you can see shades of Nintendo’s belief that the Wii wasn’t a hugely successful fluke in this game); then there’s two third-party offerings from Ubisoft and Activision – Just Dance 2017 and Skylanders Imaginators, respectively. That’s a paltry showing, even taking into account launches tend to be historically thin.
Beyond that, our confirmed launch window games are either ports of games that have been out for years already (like Skyrim, I Am Setsuna, and Lego City Undercover) or updates to existing Wii U games (like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2… don’t let the 2 fool you, this sequel feels incremental rather than substantial). There’s some standouts, though. Super Bomberman R looks good, as does Arms which is said to be a surprisingly engaging fighter despite its stupid, stupid name and Nintendo’s obvious attempt to make it A Thing.
The accessories cost an arm and a leg and the other leg too.
This one truly boggles the mind. It’s like Nintendo is trying to offset the money they lost on the Wii U by taxing the shit out of us. Here’s the breakdown:
-Left & Right Joy-Con Controllers: $49.99 for one/$79.99 for both. Okay, I get that there’s all sorts of fancy tech shoved into these little guys. They feature “HD Rumble” which offers impressive feedback, letting you feel like you’re rattling a real cup full of ice or fondling a cow. Then there’s the IR sensor capable of spatial detection so precise, it can detect your very hand gestures. Awesome. Except… will that make a difference when you’re playing a traditional single-player game like Breath of the Wild? Motion controls and playing virtual rock, paper, scissors are decidedly not why I’m excited about a console/handheld hybrid.
-Pro Controller: $69.99. Now you’re off your fucking rocker, Nintendo. The way in which traditionalists and hardcore gamers will undoubtedly favor to play is more expensive than a PS4 or Xbox One controller. Granted, they couldn’t resist tossing in that “HD Rumble” and amiibo functionality. I’m sure that drove up the cost. But goddamn. Imagine wanting to play Zelda with a Pro Controller at launch. You’re out $430 and you only own one game.
-Joy-Con Charging Grip: $29.99. If you’re skipping out on the Pro Controller but still wish to play on your TV, you’ll have to snap off your Joy-Cons to go wireless. Ah, but the charge on those babies drains. Enter the Charging Grip, a peripheral that serves as its own controller while it juices up your Joy-Cons. Ostensibly the only other reasonably priced accessory besides the $14.99 set of Joy-Con Wheels.
-Nintendo Switch Dock Set: $89.99. And we’re back into the clutches of greedy insanity. Now, this bundle – which includes the dock, AC adapter, and an HDMI cord – is paired with every Switch out of the box. But, say, your toddler decides to feed your dock some peanut butter or subjects it to a water level in your bathtub, this is one pricey replacement. It looks like a hunk of plastic (and very well could be) but the fact games run at a higher resolution when the Switch is docked could point to more intricate internal components. Still, a $90 price gouge dashes most gamers’ dreams of buying a dock for every TV in the house for convenience’s sake (don’t act like you didn’t think about it; deep down, we’re all that lazy).
There’s going to be a paid subscription service for online play, and it already sounds bad.
It’s astounding Nintendo hasn’t figured out an online ecosystem. Nintendo struggles with requisite features companies like Microsoft figured out fourteen years ago. I don’t even mind that they’re charging for the service. Feels like an inevitability in the console space – though I will argue they have a serious uphill battle ahead to prove the service is worth the coin. What bothers me is that there has been no information on the continuity of service when it comes to transferring Virtual Console games over from the Wii U. There’s also been no word if we’ll finally see a system-wide Achievement feature – another failing of the Wii U that fans have been pleading to see.
What we do know is that the online service will be free to Nintendo Account holders until the Fall – when the feature is launched in proper. They’re also offering a free NES or SNES download every month. That’s cute, and they’re incorporating online play to these retro titles, too, but the sour little caveat is that these games are free and playable only for the month you get them. Nintendo, buddy, you’ve already allowed yourself to get meat-checked by the competition, and your system isn’t out yet.
It gets better. They’re attempting to launch a “dedicated smart device app” that “will connect to Nintendo Switch and let you invite friends to play online, set play appointments, and chat with friends during online matches in compatible games – all from your smart device.”
Are you seriously telling me the console that you’re launching in 2017 doesn’t have native voice chat? That I have to use an external device to play with friends? Nintendo’s been vague when it comes to online-play. Hell, Nintendo’s vague in general, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt until they clarify the matter… Otherwise, I’d have to call them out for being hopelessly fucking antiquated and warn them that their clownish decision making is a self-paved death march out of the hardware business.
Listen, I want to eat crow. I hope Nintendo makes me choke on my own words. I hope, as I always do when they release new gadgets, that Nintendo succeeds. The company is how I first broke into gaming, and those early days with the Super Nintendo are some of my fondest. Of course I want to see Nintendo score another win. In a year’s time, I want to feel like the Switch is an integral, oft used part of my gaming life. The device is interesting and the most appealing piece of machinery Nintendo has shown us in years. But a system is only as good as its games, and this March, there’s only really one title I can hang my hat on. I sincerely hope that changes and that 2017 isn’t as dry as looks right now.
Something stinks about this launch lineup. It stinks of Sega Saturn. The Saturn launched before developers were ready for it, having very little in the way of games prepared for the new console, and Sega suffered the consequences. Again, I’m behind the concept of the Switch 100%. But, from this outlook, it makes little sense for Nintendo to launch in two months. It doesn’t feel ready.
Sure, Nintendo has survived abysmal launches before. The 3DS launched with a nigh empty catalog and that little bastard has been kicking for five years now (managing to smother the Vita along the way). But for as much pull as our favorite Hyrulian has, Mario’s your bigger draw. And what happened to that Pokemon game supposedly in development for the Switch? If Nintendo waited until the Fall and launched with the holy triumvirate of Breath of the Wild, Mario Odyssey, and a new Pokemon, the Switch would sell like gangbusters.
Even the company’s shareholders are having a tough time believing the Switch can reach a wide audience. Just a day after the big conference, Nintendo’s stocks dropped 5.75 percent. It feels just as dismal on the game dev side. The Game Developers Conference released the results of a poll where 50 percent of developers think the Switch can outsell the Wii U. I know, predictions don’t necessarily dictate reality. No, what has me distressed is that, of those who were polled, only 3 percent were actively working on a Switch game.
I’m… trying to remain optimistic. Consoles can make turnarounds. The PS3 famously pulled away from the faulty, downright arrogant decision making that plagued its early years and fought to close the gap Microsoft had forged with the Xbox 360. It’s just that I’d hate to have to wait four years for the Switch to really find its step – in the same amount of time, the Wii U expended its entire life cycle.