First off, know that I am a Nintendo fan. I write this not to troll, I just felt it needed to be said. I find myself confused by the blind enthusiasm for Nintendo’s newest console, the Switch.
I have always backed Nintendo, a gaming company, over massive electronics companies Sony and Microsoft. TheÂ Ocarina of Time is one of my favorite games and my Gamecube probably saw more playtime than every other system I have owned combined. It is with frustration and disappointment that I find Nintendo’s latest console to be an indefensible miscalculation. I wanted to want the Switch, but the gimmicky system is another disappointment. It is on the the infinite goodwill and patience of their most stalwart supporters that Nintendo continues to repeat past mistakes and ignore the pleas of fans.
As it stands Nintendo Switch preorders are sold out at various retailers.Â Perhaps it is simply the excitement that greets any new video game console or shiny new electronic gadget. Or maybe it is the fact thatÂ The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild just looks so damn good. Just as likely is that it is a combination of nostalgia and hope. People want to believe in Nintendo. No company has characters as iconic or a history as deep. Nintendo conjures warm and fuzzy emotions for gaming fans both current and lapsed. This is a powerful recipe for selective memories and wishful thinking. But, if we are trying to be objective, take a step back and ask yourself, what are the real differences between the WiiU and the Switch?
Newer motion controls and an advanced rumble, sure. Marginally more powerful, ok. A seemingly endless combination of play styles, alright. But the real difference is portability. Once again, Nintendo seems insistent on providing solutions to problems that don’t really exist (buttons are intimidating, here wave this thing around). We are being sold on the idea that if you are playingÂ Breath of the WildÂ and someone else wants to use the TV, you can just switch to playing on the tablet. Sound familiar? It was the same pitch for the WiiU. This isn’t really a problem as this isn’t the 1950’s and most families have more than one television. But hey, true portability is cool, who wouldn’t want to playÂ Zelda on the plane or the subway. Except how portable is that system really, with its multiple pieces that can get lost and the potential cannibalization of their long and successful handheld line. Not to mention that the system is decently larger than the 3DS and hardly pocket-friendly. I know the counter argument is look at how many people carry around iPads. Sure, lots of people carry tablets around, but tablets also take pictures. And let you surf the internet. And stream music, movies and TV. AndÂ play video games.Â With the Switch’s less than stellar battery life is it really worth it? Aftermarket battery packs will likely help but at that point with different necessary pieces adding up, how long before it becomes unwieldy? A dedicated gaming system that lacks the simplistic portability of a 3DS or the versatility of tablets and phones, will have difficulty finding a place in today’s gadget filled pockets and bags.
Since the Wii, Nintendo has contended that their strategy is that of a blue ocean, that they don’t have competitors because they are going after a broader audience. That sounds good on paper and in an investor presentation but it is a fantasy. True, it worked for the original Wii for a time, but just because you don’t acknowledge your competitors does not eliminate them from existence. When parents go Christmas shopping for a game system they will see three, similarly priced options.
Parent: So which of these three game consoles is the best?
Nintendo Rep: Well, its not really fair to compare them. These two over here are playing in a red ocean and what we have here is the Nintendo Switch in a blue ocean. Totally different.
Nintendo Rep: Ignore those other two, they’re regular gaming consoles, this is what you want.
Parent: Does this hook up to a TV and play video games?
Nintendo Rep: Yes, but..
Parent: So it’s a gaming console?
Nintendo Rep: Well…yes.
The parent will not be convinced that this is entirely different and make the distinction between this and the other game systems that have much fuller shelves of games. They are trying to duplicate the Wii’s strategy and success.Â They hope that the various play styles and games likeÂ ArmsÂ andÂ 1-2 Switch will bring back those casual Wii fans. But they forget that those casuals have moved on to smartphones and tablets. The first iPhone didn’t even come out until seven months after the original Wii. Now these devices are ubiquitous and casual gamers remember the amount of dust that covered their Wii’s once the novelty wore off.
Nintendo also seems either unwilling or unable to commit to a quality online experience. As if mimicking the successful model pioneered by their competitors will somehow diminish their ‘Nintendoness’. I realize they want to maintain a family friendly image and that the internet, and especially online gaming is anything but. However, that is what parental controls and parenting are for. A damn shame too, because few multiplayer games demand a quality online experience and community more so than Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros.
In defending Nintendo, people often site that power isn’t everything. I couldn’t agree more. To me Wind Waker HDÂ is every bit as visually stunning asÂ Uncharted 4, perhaps more so. But it matters to third parties. Nobody tells a painter that he is limited on how many colors he can use. When there are two other game systems with huge install bases that you can create a game for do you dumb it down so that it works on all three? Or do you realize the full potential of your vision and put the best experience in front of as many people as possible?
Nintendo’s first party efforts and IPs are the best games out there, but Nintendo can only do so much. In the past we have seen long spans of time between Nintendo releases and the inevitable delays that come from them accepting nothing less than perfection. But when was the last time we got a properÂ F-Zero orÂ Metroid? Third party support is vital to the health of a system and without it, like the WiiU before it, the Switch will fail. Don’t let that graphic with all the third parties that are on-board fool you. This is anecdotal but I seem to remember similar graphics and interviews with developers praising the Wii and WiiU and we all know how much support they received. When shovelware, HD remasters and neutered ports of five year old games are the bulk of your library, what does that say about your product?
I hope that this system is as innovative as they seem to think. I want the third parties to see something I don’t and bring unique experiences to the platform. I want Nintendo to consistently deliver their beloved first party franchises in new and exciting ways with the level of quality we have all come to expect. We are in early days and I hope Nintendo proves me wrong, but every piece of news diminishes that possibility. The charging grip doesn’t come with the system, the accessory costs, battery life, the weak launch lineup, storage capacity, radio silence on the virtual console and online experience. These things do not inspire confidence.
Everyone has the right to spend their money how they see fit and I am not here to tell you otherwise but just to offer an opinion. I cannot trust them on faith alone this time, they have to prove it to me and I’ll vote yes or no with my dollar. Nintendo consistently disappoints their fans by pretending to hear our concerns and then just continuing on with whatever wacky idea they have. Then, when a console cycle comes to an end and we decide to finally leave Nintendo for good, having been burned one too many times, they dangleÂ The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in our face. The temptation is there, but to go against our better judgement ignoringÂ the past gives them license to continue to repeat the same mistakes. Maybe Nintendo is too prideful to ever go software only like so many fans desire. Perhaps it will take another WiiU level flop to force them to look in the mirror and confront some harsh realities.
Nintendo deserves to fail and we need to let them.
Image via Nintendo