“The mobility of a handheld is now added to the power of a home gaming system to enable unprecedented new video game play styles.”
The above is from Nintendo’s press release regarding the unveiling of its new console, Switch. The debut trailer was an entertaining piece of video that showcased how the system will allow players to take their home console experiences on the road like never before. Yet, as enticing as that prospect sounds, there are questions I still have about Switch that make me wonder if the system will have what it takes to make Nintendo relevant again as a home console manufacturer.
The video showcased “short glimpses of representative gameplay to demonstrate the liberating nature of the Nintendo Switch home gaming system”, as Nintendo puts it, but in all honesty those “glimpses” need to be dead-on what the console will have to offer at launch. If Switch can’t provide graphical parity to what Xbox One and PlayStation 4 produce, then don’t even bother showing off Skyrim and NBA 2K (or facsimiles thereof) playing on the thing. That might sound harsh, but the reality is that there’s no point in offering pared down versions of the games that the hardcore crowd flocks to.
Let’s get something out of the way: Switch is no Wii. Wii showed up and blew everyone’s minds by offering something unabashedly different from what came before it. Just about everyone who got their hands on a Wii Remote and played Wii Sports for the first time knew that they’d never experienced anything like it before. I’ve never touched a Switch and I can say, without reservation, that it’s not the revolution (how fitting a development handle that was) Wii was. That’s not a slam on Switch, just an honest truth. It’s attempting to bridge the gap between home and portable consoles, but that’s more a matter of convenience than anything else. Based on what I saw in the trailer, there is no “it” here that will bend people’s minds in the way Wii did.
I will concede that the modular, detachable controllers are cool. Being able to split the JoyCons, as they’re called, into segments on a whim and burst into impromptu multiplayer matches wherever a person wants is enticing, for sure. What I’m trying to impart here, however, is that it won’t be enough if the core gaming experience of Switch isn’t on par with PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. If NBA 2K is going to be on Switch, it needs to be the exact same NBA 2K that’s on every other system. Being able to play anywhere won’t mean a thing if it means playing an inferior piece of software. Wii got away with its weaker graphics because of the novelty of its motion controls. Switch doesn’t have a level of novelty that will excuse any such inferiority.
In some ways, I feel like Switch is Nintendo’s response to the reaction that Wii U got when it was unveiled. Many people at the time erroneously believed that it was some sort of hybrid portable/home console, only to be disappointed that it was not. Switch is living up to the fantasy that Wii U inadvertently managed to illicit in its first moments of life in the public consciousness, but I sincerely fear it won’t be enough. I think my biggest concern at the moment is that Nintendo is now relying upon coming up with a hook or gimmick for its hardware simply for the sake of having one.
I realize I sound incredibly dour, but believe me when I say that I don’t mean to for the sake of riling everyone up. I’m just trying to be realistic. If Nintendo is going to tout a giant list of third-party development partners, along with showing off popular titles playing on its new console, then I can’t help but infer that the company is trying to reclaim some of the core player base that it lost years ago. It’s been a long time since Nintendo went head-to-head against Sony and Microsoft, and I’m not sure if it will be a level playing field if Switch doesn’t come armed to the teeth. It needs the graphics, the online architecture, and all the social media connectivity that PS4 and Xbox One have to offer if it’s going to compete with them. Otherwise, players are going to look and think, “Well, I might be able to play it anywhere, but it doesn’t play as well as my PS4/One, so why bother?”
There’s also the question of cost, in terms of money and power. If Switch is pumping out current-gen graphics in portable form, I can’t help but wonder how much time players can spend with the thing away from a power source before it needs to be recharged. A PlayStation Vita has sub-PlayStation 3 levels of graphical horsepower and its battery life isn’t all that great. If this system is nearing PS4’s graphical output, I can only imagine what a strain that would be on any battery. Of course, then there’s the question of how much the console will cost. All this technological wizardy can’t be too budget-friendly, I’d assume, and that’s not even asking the question of how much storage it’ll come with, if it that storage can be expanded upon, and more. Nintendo doesn’t tend to go off half-cocked, but if Wii U is any sort of indicator… well, maybe sometimes it does. And it’s not going out on a limb to say the company can’t afford to do so again.
Negative as all that sounds, I still have some hope. There’s no denying that even if Switch isn’t the marvel that Wii was, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still innovative. I’m dying to take my games on the go after seeing it in action in the trailer. I know that Nintendo’s software for Switch will be top tier, as always. I just worry that the console will end up sharing the same indifferent response that Wii U got from the market. Wii U had a handful of third-party games to tout at launch, too, and we all saw how that worked out in the end. Here’s hoping that Nintendo has crossed all its T’s and dotted its I’s this time around, and that Switch will be the next-gen Nintendo system that fans have been waiting years for.