Nintendo Switch Presentation – Hits and Misses
14 January 2017
After the failed Wii U, and the Wii for those alienated by motion controls, Nintendo presented its new system, the Nintendo Switch, in Tokyo yesterday. The system was already revealed in late October of 2016, albeit without crucial details like price, games and its full capabilities. As a presentation it had hits and misses of its own, with price and release date immediately revealed, followed by a muddling session showcasing various games, before finishing with the long-awaited Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and its confirmed released date.
1) The release date of March 3 is much sooner than anyone expected. It’s only 7 weeks away. Nearly all predictions were for late March. Banzai!
2) The system itself is impressive, and the idea of being able to switch between home and portable and retain the same experience is fascinating. This portability is not so much about travelling either, as I suspect many people will play at home in this mode instead of taking over the family TV. Personally, I find myself playing the 3DS so often because I don’t need the TV. Often I play while watching TV, particularly watching things like sport or news that don’t require full attention.
3) The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a launch title. This game was originally intended for the Wii U before delays struck and poor sales of that system saw the advancement of its successor and games postponed or cancelled in anticipation of it. Not only is Zelda a launch title, it looked stunning. Any Zelda fan will be salivating to get a hold of it.
4) Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario Odyssey. While the latter is the Wii U version with all DLC, a proper Battle Mode and other updates, the latter is brand new and looked superb, especially seeing Mario bouncing around “New Donk City”. Classic! Let’s note that the Wii U was so poor that not only were many games abandoned, many players abandoned it too. With MK8 the best of its series on home console, it’s spectacular that Switch players will get it so soon – on April 28. SMO is coming later in the year. Also coming, mid year, is Splatoon 2 – a successor to the popular and well received shooter/painter turf war game on Wii U.
5) The joy con controllers are full of technology, including motion controls and realistic dynamic feedback. Apparently you can shake it as though it’s a glass of ice and count the ice cubes in it. Whether this evolves to anything meaningful game-wise, it’s wait and see. The Wii was met with similar skepticism and it ended up a raging success. Because of the switch capability of the Switch, it means you get two individual motion controllers in the box too. The Wii shipped with only one.
6) Third party support. Over 80 games in development, with particular emphasis on games from major Japanese developers, like Xenoblade 2 and Fire Emblem Warriors. While the presentation confirmed the likes of Skyrim and FIFA, they are flotsam in the Nintendo market and exist more to show there’s broad third party support. Serious players of games like that are glued to other systems. The real issue is to ensure that support lasts. Developers were abandoning the Wii U even before it was launched.
7) Region free. Yes, you can buy games anywhere in the world to play on the Switch. Good idea considering if people travel with the damn thing overseas they might want to buy a local game in that country they are visiting.
1) To keep it simple, I’ll stick to USA prices and round up to the whole dollar. Price of $300 is $50 higher than the sweet spot, especially considering PS4 and Xbox One are competitors at that level. In the pack you get the tablet, a pair of joy con controllers, a grip, a TV dock and all necessary cables. When you see the price of individual accessories, you soon realise why the Switch is $300. A separate joy con is $50, a pair is $80 and the TV dock is $90. Separately there’s a pro controller at $70. Japan’s prices line up roughly the same as the USA. In Australia, the system’s RRP is $470 despite 300 USD converting to 400 AUD. The extra $70 is because Australians are prepared to pay higher. Converting the accessories to AUD and adding our special premium, you’re looking at $70 for a joy con, $120 for a pair, $130 for the TV dock and $100 for the pro controller.
2) Technical specifications, where were they? We got the battery’s life ranges between 2.5 and 6 hours, with Zelda lasting for 3 hours. That’s quite adequate in this day of USB charging and generic battery packs, and note that some mobile games will deplete your phone’s battery in 2 hours. As for the system’s processing power, there was nothing, not even a hint of its capability. As mentioned in the Nintendo Switch Preview, it needs to be at least PS4 level or close enough to it. Otherwise it’s kiss those third party developers goodbye if the system is not a raging success in its first two years.
3) As much as the joy cons have this fancy technology, it will all mean nothing if games designed specifically for it don’t sell. Two games were shown: 1-2-Switch looked like a collection of standard motion control gimmick games, while Arms had potential. Then consider those players, like myself, not interesting in such games anyway. Potentially all this technology has done is jack up the price of the system for no reason. If the joy cons were basic button and stick controllers, you easily launch the system at $250 in the USA and $400 in Australia.
4) Launch games. Other than Zelda, that’s it! 1-2-Switch is confirmed; whether that means much, no one knows. It’s untried. If you were juiced for a Switch day 1 with plenty of great games, you’re disappointed.
5) Nothing about the Virtual Console or whether games you already own on Wii U or 3DS can be transferred free to the Switch. This simply better happen! I’d love to play Shovel Knight on the big screen, while Wii U players would love to travel with their potentially already voluminous library of Virtual Console and eShop games.
6) Online play is only free for a few months. If this period starts from March 3, rather than when you activate the system, that’s even more disappointing, bordering on woeful. Note that Sony and Microsoft charge a subscription to play online so Nintendo’s version is only a miss because it was previously free. One bonus from the Nintendo subscription is you get to play a free NES or SNES each month. To keep it permanently you must pay for it. While that sounds a bit stingy, if it’s a choice of any game, you can re-download it in the next month if you never finished it.
Many of us haven’t learnt from history. Despite wanting several compelling games and the Virtual Console brimming with Nintendo classics on launch, Nintendo don’t operate this way. Even the notion of a “system selling launch title” is bogus. There’s probably never been such a thing for any system, non-Nintendo included. You get system selling games over time, like Street Fighter 2 on the SNES, not day 1 monsters. This time is actually a slight exception given that Zelda – yes, a brand new Zelda game – is available on launch. That will sweep up those fans.
For the less fanatical players and the broader audience, Nintendo’s strategy is get the system out with a strong statement about its capabilities and a grand plan of future games to get you salivating, and then build momentum over the year releasing those games. Then comes the inevitable price drop and a pack-in game to begin reeling in all those that nibbled on the original bait. Selling crazy amounts of systems on day 1, it’s no chance, nor is it their goal. It’s doubtful they can produce enough units for such a demand anyway. Look at the disaster with the NES Classic.
Personally, I’m waiting. The price is too high, and I have plenty of other games to complete, and even start, than to donate more money to gaming companies. Because I bypassed the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is of huge interest. With Super Mario Odyssey later in the year and Zelda long out, that’s three compelling games already, and there could be other surprises. Metroid? F-Zero? Star Fox? I’m in.
The broader market will be much tougher to crack. Competition from Sony, Microsoft and mobile these days is so fierce, and the market has changed. Christmas 2017 will be the pivotal time. The market for PS4 and Xbox One should be well filled by this point, leaving a void for Nintendo to exploit with their marquee titles, discount pricing and, possibly, new found hype as a result of games taking full advantage of the joy cons. Otherwise, it’s life again as a niche player, and a long-term future as a games developer only.