THINKERBIT DARK MODE

A few thoughts on the Nintendo Switch before it launches

March 2, 2017
switch

Before the Switch officially launches in just a few hours, I'd like to write down a few thoughts, which I've neglected to do (and later regretted) probably 3 or 4 times now.

First, I think the Switch is easily poised to sell far more than the Wii U ever did, and maybe even the Wii provided a few things (and surely more) happen:

  1. Netflix, YouTube, and other apps become available, making it a slightly pricier substitute to entertainment-oriented tablets like Amazon's Fire line
  2. Indie games shine (and thrive) so much on the Switch that it becomes the preferred platform for smaller developers, turning iOS into a second thought and Android into an even more distant third
  3. The Switch's unique library and portability make it a natural second console for the PC/Steam, Xbox, and PS4 gamer crowds alike
  4. Nintendo doesn't shoot itself in the foot with dumb inconveniences that today's smartphone world won't tolerate

The news, reviews and discussion from the gaming media in recent months make it seem like 1, 2, and 3 are well on their way to holding true. 1 is easy and is already hinted at in the Switch's settings. 2 and 3 we're already seeing the results of, and Nvidia's chip seems to be making it super easy for PC indies to bring their games over, particularly if they developed their games using Unreal Engine or Unity. 4, however, is always a coin toss, and yesterday's surprise resurrection of Friend Codes has the gamer crowd a bit worried. Nintendo still hasn't detailed exactly how the Switch's online services and account stuff will work and apparently didn't tell reviewers much of anything new on that front either. That's worrying, but who knows, the tick-tock of Nintendo's pendulum seems to be swinging in the right direction overall.

Second, despite Nintendo's advertising focusing on teenage and young adult gamers, whenever Minecraft hits I think kids are absolutely going to love the thing and buy it in droves, particularly if it has Netflix and other entertainment apps that kids using iPads often use. The iPad (particularly the mini) could start to hurt even more by the end of the year if Nintendo has its way.

Speaking of Apple, I can't help but wonder about what discussions are already beginning to happen behind closed doors. Apple rolled out the reddest, velvetiest carpet Nintendo could have asked for when they decided to make Super Mario Run (spot at the keynote, Apple Store demos, podcast, iOS exclusive at launch, App Store feature and never-before-seen notification system, etc.) and despite the decent sales I can't help but feel like Nintendo is at least somewhat disappointed by Mario Run's long-term revenue. Fire Emblem seems like it'll fare a bit better, and Pokémon GO was a big cash cow, but it's clear that Nintendo doesn't feel like bringing "full" games to iOS.

Does Apple actually understand that Super Mario Run is a Mario game in name and character only? Game Center and their weird policies around the Apple TV's remote indicate that they still don't really get it, but I suspect they'll start to get the picture if the Switch starts eating into their iPad sales. At that point discussions could either go very well - a Joy-Con adapter for iPads, Bluetooth compatibility with iOS, and maybe a partnership for bigger games in exchange for product hardware insight (Nintendo has been better at keeping secrets than Apple recently) - or really poorly - Apple making their own controller, Nintendo letting their iOS strategy lapse, and Apple courting indies and major publishers with big contracts.

I'm just spitballing here. The most likely outcome is Nintendo finds a niche and both Apple and Nintendo succeed along their own courses. Maybe Apple's courtship of Nintendo was just a mutually beneficial (and well-timed) marketing fling.

Third, I think the multiplayer and portability aspects of the Switch are just incredibly cool and smart. The last time a Nintendo console was multiplayer-ready out of the box was the SNES released in 1990, and being able to play console-level games anywhere (even for a few hours) is something I think today's iPad generation will really appreciate.

intec-gamecube-screen

In the 2000's my brother and I had a small screen we could attach to our GameCube, allowing us to play more easily while at our grandma's house or even in the RV we had at the time. We had handheld consoles and Pokémon too, but at the time nothing could beat the fun we would have playing multiplayer Super Smash Bros Melee and Mario Kart: Double Dash together. With the Switch, that same freedom doesn't even require a power cord anymore.

That said, the portability of the Switch comes with a catch; I think the dock severely needs a price cut. If I were to frequently bring the Switch over to a friend's house for a game night or whatever, I would much rather just bring along an extra $30-$40 dock than unplug the one connected to my TV every time. That capability shouldn't be a $90 luxury. Maybe a cheaper, more portable dock with less material will eventually be available? The price just doesn't make sense for what it appears to be.

Fourth, I think combining Nintendo's two consoles (portable DS and stationary console) into one device was also extremely smart, and I think/hope we'll feel the result of that decision over the next two years with a release cadence we've never seen from Nintendo before. Not having to create two versions of a game saves a ton of development effort and allows Nintendo and other developers to save a lot of time and money that they can spend on other games. If the enthusiasm around the Switch continues, I think it could have one of the best and most diverse (and fun) game libraries of any home console.

A related fifth, I seriously hope the Virtual Console is one of the things Nintendo can now speed up. Nintendo has a treasure trove of great, nostalgic classics that the audience it's marketing toward would love to play this holiday. Trickling out one or two (usually dud) games a week like they did with the Wii isn't enough. If there ever were to be a time to put everything into one basket, including GameCube classics, the Switch would be it.

Sixth, as much as I'm hyped at the moment, I know that disappointment is inevitable. Zelda's frame rate dropping doesn't bode well for the last-gen Nvidia chip it's carrying, and I can't help but wonder how things will fare if major developers shun Nintendo's console again because it can't handle the intensive games they're developing for the Xbox/PS4 and eventually the next Xbox and PlayStation in a couple of years. Maybe Nvidia's architecture and Nintendo's dev tools will make optimization easy enough to the point where doing so becomes standard this generation, or maybe Nintendo plans on upgrading Nvidia's chip before the new consoles launch (which they did with the 3DS) to keep it closer in performance.

Like many other gamers, my worries extend to the Virtual Console, Nintendo's online service, and their software decisions as well. I'm also concerned by Nintendo's decision to pre-announce DLC for Breath of the Wild, which felt a bit tone deaf to gamers who've long been wary of developer's intentionally holding back content. More unfortunate things and gaffes are likely to surface in the next month or two as the Switch's launch hype levels out.

Seventh, going back to Apple, what happens when the Switch is 4 years old, its Nvidia graphics have been completely outclassed by the A12 chip (and the next Xbox/PlayStation) , and people are clamoring for the Switch's games to be ported over to better-looking and more capable tablets running iOS and Android? Nintendo could find itself stuck trying to convince people to buy an anemic tablet-y thing simply because it provides access to their extensive game library. The decision to converge both the mobile and console form factors into one familiar tablet design seems smart right now, but I think it'll also make comparisons way more stark as the years go on.

So there are a few barely-edited thoughts written on an iPhone in one sitting. In a few hours I'll have an even better idea of where this is all heading, but for now I'm just excited to play what's shaping up to be the best Zelda game ever.