My Love-Hate Relationship With Nintendo Switch

I’m excited about Nintendo’s new console … but I’ve been down this road too many times already.

By Joshua A. Johnston. Posted 12/20/2016 09:00 2 Comments     ShareThis


Every company fanboy– be they Sony, Microsoft, Apple, or Android– can’t help but get hyped up when a new system is unveiled. But I don’t think any of that compares to the raw hysteria that invariably surrounds a new Nintendo console.

One reason: Nintendo is the most disruptive console maker on the planet. Sony and Microsoft, for the most part, mark each new console nowadays with more horsepower… or, more to the point, better graphics. That’s not all they do, of course, but at the end of the day, that’s their primary selling point. I’m guessing people who upgrade from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 4 Pro aren’t doing it for the extra USB port.

Nintendo, on the other hand, gives only lip service to horsepower– just enough to stay on the fringes of respectability. Nintendo hasn’t had a system with comparable graphics to the competition since GameCube. More than that: Nintendo learned from GameCube that it simply couldn’t keep up in the graphics arms race. So the company changed shifted its focus, starting with the Nintendo DS in 2004 and continuing through Wii in 2006, 3DS in 2011, and Wii U in 2012. Each of these sought to disrupt the paradigm of how games were played, introducing touch screens, motion controllers, tablet controllers, and so on. While this wasn’t a completely out-of-the-blue shift– Nintendo¬†experimented with unique controllers going back to Nintendo 64– it marked a change in priorities.

Enter Nintendo Switch. Like its recent forebears, this new hybrid console / handheld is out to be disruptive all over again, and if you’re anything resembling a Nintendo fan, you have to be excited. I mean, look at the potential: this is a system you can play on your TV or take on the road, and can be played single player or multiplayer in both contexts, with a standard controller or smaller ones.

That’s the love.

Here’s the hate: we’ve been down this road before.

Every new cycle Nintendo gives us something groundbreaking, something that lets us play– no,¬†experience— games in way we’ve never done before, one that is so different that any graphical shortcomings simply melt away. But the key word in that formula is games. It’s in the games. It’s always in the games. Otherwise a system is just a really awesome concept collecting dust.

We already know who will deliver. Why, Nintendo, of course. We’ll get a sizzling new Zelda, several awesome Mario-themed installments, and a handful of other first party IPs, both existing and new. Nintendo’s second parties will also chip in with a few of their own (thanks, Monolift Soft). And we’ll get a few teases of third parties (mostly ports at first) as those companies try to see how they can fit (or, maybe more honestly, shoehorn) existing properties into the capabilities of this new device.

But what happens then? We already know that the first year of a system’s game library isn’t usually the most significant. Launch titles rarely end up as a system’s best. What marks a library is when you get into years two, three, and four, when developers start to really “get” a system and design new properties that reflect that system from the ground up.

I fully expect Nintendo to be around in those crucial years, because the company already is. But those pesky third parties. We’ve been singing this tune for years now. When will GameCube get more third party titles? When will Wii get more third party support? Wii U, anyone?

Nintendo, as always, will be one of the barriers, because its first party titles are so good they eat up potential consumer cash. Another will be the costs associated with developing a system so radically different than the competition– costs that are not as easy to recoup because Nintendo’s games are so good.

That doesn’t mean that Switch won’t have good games. I think it will. But I’m worried that by year three we’ll start to see a drought in third party games, broken up by the occasional first or second party mega-hit. Because that’s the way it seems to go with Nintendo consoles in particular.

I really love what Nintendo is trying to do with Switch. But man, do I hate it, too.

2 Responses to “My Love-Hate Relationship With Nintendo Switch”

  • 402 points
    geoffrey says...

    (Leaving straight up graphical horsepower out of it despite that also being a reason for this discussion,) the “big difference” with the Switch (compared to MS/Sony consoles) is nowhere near as chasmic as it was the last few generations.

    The Gamecube’s itsybitsy discs made straight porting of games nearly impossible, because of the much smaller space available for developers (well, unless they did a multi-disc game). Yes, not the largest of barriers to overcome, but still not a great idea.

    The Wii pretty much required motion controls be glued onto everything. How many third parties really knew how to do this properly? Either it was done as an afterthought and thus sucked, or just wasn’t worth the time and effort of developers to add it to games, so they just gave up on it. Also, and while I must admit to not having checked out the console specs, I’m relatively certain that the gap in raw console strength in the Wii vs the competition was at its largest point here.

    The Wii U took the problem the Wii had and made it infinitely worse – at least with the Wii, you could maybe slide by without going full-on motion controls, or just admit they sucked but still have solid traditional controls. But there is no getting around that you now need to program for a second screen in the game, requiring new art assets, and also factor in the hit that your game will take because of the distracted processing power of the console to do the second screen.

    But with the Switch, the “big gimmick” has nothing to do with, from a developer perspective, how the games are presented. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing on a TV or on the tablet; you’re playing a game on one screen with a (in terms of buttons and actual control interfaces) regular old controller. Nothing extra you need to glue onto the side of the game to get it to work.

    So yes, it being underpowered (compared to the PS4P and the new Xbone) is a bit of an issue still. That Nintendo hasn’t ever really figured out online play/friend lists/et al (as far as we know) could be a bit of a stumbling block. But if a developer decides that they aren’t going to release a game for the Switch, the amount of “well yeah, but look at what we would have to add just to get it to function” excuse they have provided for them is the lowest it has been in a decade.

    Has Nintendo had a history of innovating themselves right out of the market as of late? Sure. But from what I’ve seen, this is an enormous step back in the right direction – for me, it’s enough that the onus is on the developers, no longer on Nintendo.

  • 258 points
    Joshua A. Johnston says...

    Some good points. Unless Nintendo has some extra functionality to Switch that we don’t know about, the input looks to be, by and large, much like other systems. (The one exception is side-by-side multiplayer with Switch in portable mode, with a single analog joystick and four buttons, but that might be more easily surmountable than, say, motion control or a touch screen tablet.)

    That said, I think there are still some barriers. Graphics will likely have to be scaled down for multi-platform titles, for example. And the point you raised about GameCube — and those proprietary discs — could rear its head again here, since Switch looks to be using a cartridge, and we don’t know for sure (outside of some speculation) what the cartridge capacities will be. Plus, there is the ever-present problem of Nintendo’s first party titles being … awesome. That’s a challenge for third parties, too.

    So, I want to believe that Switch will energize third parties more than other recent Nintendo consoles, but right now I’m skeptical. I hope I’m wrong. Time will tell, right?

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