Nintendo’s “Switch”?

Nintendo’s “Switch”?

With the Wii U clearly in its rear-view mirror, Nintendo formally introduced gamers to the Switch late last year.  The concept behind the new console is pretty enticing… a unified hardware platform that allows for both in-home play on a television and portable gaming all on the same unit.  Add in the included Joy-Con controllers that allow for different configurations and the Switch can suit nearly any user interface scheme required.  Third party developers and publishers seem to be back on board as well, with teasers for 2K Sports titles and even an Elder Scrolls game being prominently displayed.

More recently, Nintendo fully took the wraps off of the Switch in an hour-long presentation that revealed the release date, price, and a complete lineup of games that are presumed to launch sometime between day one and years end.  Although vastly forthcoming, the details of the reveal suggest that Nintendo has learned very little from their failed attempts with the Wii U, repeating many of the same mistakes and sometimes making more egregious ones.

The first point of contention is with the price of admission. At $299 USD, this puts the Switch at cost parity with both the base level Xbox One S and Playstation 4 Slim configurations. Things might’ve been ok if Nintendo was providing hardware that carried the same (or even close) specs to Microsoft and Sony’s respective offerings. To be clear, it doesn’t and continues the trend of Nintendo offering hardware that ranks several notches lower in raw power than its immediate competitors. With Wii and Wii U, this strategy was coupled with a lower price point or some other value add, but that apparently won’t be the case this time. The Switch doesn’t even include a pack-in game, something nearly all configurations of the latest Xbox and PlayStation SKUs provide.

Even after giving it careful consideration, I still don’t understand why Nintendo believes it can justify the price point of not only the Switch, but it’s games and accessories as well. It can’t be due to the smallish 6.2″ touch screen that barely renders HD resolution. The mere 32GB of internal storage certainly doesn’t move the cost/value needle in their favor either, particularly when Microsoft and Sony are affording more than 10 times that amount in their cheapest offerings. Configurable click-lock controllers are intriguing, but those alone don’t add enough value to justify the price. The $60 asking price on many new games (well, new to Switch anyway… more on this later) is just as prohibitive, and $80 for a second Joy-Con set or the more traditional Pro controller makes me downright question their sanity.

Pricing woes aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the glaring issues with the launch lineup both on day one and beyond. In short, it’s weaker than weak and represents the antithesis of what a successful console introduction should look like. Pre-order offerings at various retail outlets suggest that the Switch will have a mere 6 games available at release, making it the least supported console in recent history. “But the new Zelda!” the Nintendo faithful will cry in unison, to which I’ll retort, “a game that will also be available the exact same day on Wii U” eliminating any exclusivity that Nintendo’s new flagship may have enjoyed.

Even if I were to jump on the whole “Zelda is enough” bandwagon, that’s only one (probably) standout title in an otherwise sea of mediocrity and disappointment. Other day one releases like Just Dance, Binding of Issac, and Skylanders have been out on other systems (including Nintendo’s) for half a year or more. The situation is even worse with Rayman Legends which, despite being an excellent game, made its way to every other viable platform years prior and was even on the launch lineup for Wii U 4+ years ago. Adding a DLC packs worth of content and slapping “Definitive Edition” in the subtext doesn’t change that.

Beyond launch week, the release landscape for Switch doesn’t really get any brighter for most of 2017. A slightly enhanced re-release of the three-year-old Mario Kart 8 (with a few new characters and no new tracks) will somehow take an additional two months to become available. Capcom’s support for the new console, though welcomed with open arms, is tepid at best with Ultra Street Fighter… 2? A decade old XBLA reissue of a quarter-century-old arcade game that brings 2 new characters (effectively palette swaps of Ryu and Ken) and little else. Sega will have Sonic Mania ready a month or so after that… the same time it’s available for every other applicable platform. Ditto for Has-Been Heroes and Lego City (also seen on Wii U 3+ years prior). About 6 months later, the half-decade old Skyrim will finally show up. The verdict is still out on if this will be the updated “Special Edition” that other consoles enjoyed last year.

As for the entirely new games the Switch is expected to receive in year one, ARMS looks fun… if you represent the .001% of the gaming population that mains Dhalsim in every iteration of Street Fighter. 1,2 Switch looks like a rudimentary time waster of Wii Play proportions that might’ve served well as a pack-in game for Switch, not a $50 retail offering. Key exclusives like Splatoon 2, Fire Emblem Warriors, and the new Shin Megami Tensei don’t have universally agreed upon release windows, let alone firm dates. My “Ninty-sense” tells me that at least one of these games won’t make it out this year. Likewise for Super Mario Odyssey. While a December release is currently being promised, I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re told to please understand after the game is pushed firmly into 2018.

Though there’s admittedly a lot of salt here, my frustration and disappointment with the introduction of the Switch ultimately comes from a good place. As its name could’ve implied, Nintendo had the opportunity to truly switch things up, taking a very different approach to releasing and marketing its latest console. The general gaming public, which the company desperately needs to gain back, seemed eager to give the Switch a fresh look and a new beginning. Third parties, alienated from the Wii U just a few years prior, also appear willing to afford Nintendo a clean slate. For some reason or another though, it just doesn’t look like Nintendo wants to play and considering the monetary catastrophe that was the Wii U, I can’t figure out why.

In 2017, it’s imperative that Nintendo realize that they simply don’t maintain the same position from 20-30 years ago, where their name alone would move 80 million units. This is despite what the current Switch pre-order sellouts might suggest. While their IPs remain Disney-level strong, their new hardware launches have succumbed to more than a fair amount of tarnish. Prices that are equal to, and in some cases exceed, the competition are difficult to justify. History has proven that one standout game can’t carry a system alone, even if that game is Zelda. A steady stream of slightly upgraded Wii U re-releases that didn’t drive sales during that systems lifespan won’t either. Third party support that is sparse, aged, or just plain confusing complicates matters further. A mainline Mario title with a tentative release date so close to year’s end that it’s almost guaranteed a delay into the following year might just be enough to seal the Switch’s fate. The fan in me doesn’t want to see Nintendo fail again with the Switch, but without significant changes to the release strategy and marketing approach, the realist in me can’t see how they won’t.

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