Well, this is it. One short month until the launch of gaming’s first hybrid, the Nintendo Switch. Opinions of the console vary immensely depending on who you talk to. Some can’t wait and already have it pre-ordered (along with the Master Edition of Zelda). Others struggle to see the value in a $300 console that’s only really touting Breath of the Wild at launch. Still, others ridicule the system and those excited about it, condemning them as “fanboys” who’ll defend anything Nintendo does regardless.
Here’s a fact: a lot of gamers have favorite companies. From software developers to hardware developers, people tend to lean one way or another for a variety of reasons. And when people favor one company, they often compare it to others and find ways to claim superiority. Hence the age-old phrase “PC Master Race” and the current trashing of the Xbox One for not having enough exclusives and the Switch for having a weak launch and a $300 price tag.
Did the Switch have a stellar presentation? No. Is it underpowered? Comparatively, yeah. For a console/handheld hybrid, not so much. Is the day one lineup lacking? Probably (unless you love Bomberman). Is the timing unfortunate? Yes, because launching in the middle of a console generation means having your new console’s price compared to those of consoles released four years ago.
Nintendo has a heck of a lot of convincing to do. Those who had their hopes sky-high are now some of the most cynical, and the negativity surrounding the Switch–at least online–has reached disgusting levels of fervor. What can Nintendo still do now, just over a month away from the launch of the system that’ll define them for the next four-five years? A whole lot, it turns out. The Switch still has a chance at redemption in the eyes of the discouraged, but it’ll have to fight tooth and nail to earn it.
Expansive e-Shop Day 1
I am Setsuna’s recent addition to the Switch’s launch lineup confirmed that the console’s e-Shop will be live at launch. What isn’t confirmed, however, is what else will be in it. 2D Boy’s trio of previous eShop games has been confirmed (that’s World of Goo, Little Inferno and Human Resource Machine), but this announcement was significantly less exciting than that of I am Setsuna and The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ because the majority of the trio are quite old. What we need to see at launch is twofold: newer, more exciting releases like Hyperlight Drifter and Owlboy, and key virtual console titles like Earthbound and–finger crossed–GameCube games. With many decrying the Switch’s weak launch lineup, having a digital library full of enticing downloadables on day one would be a great way to tide gamers over in between major releases.
More Nintendo Directs
That Fire Emblem Direct? More of those, please. Though it might’ve only appealed to a relatively small (yet vocal) demographic, the Direct was exactly what Nintendo needed the week after its presentation: more game announcements. Not only were four new games highlighted overall, but it also specifically gave future Switch owners two new games to look forward to (even if one is far off on the 2018 horizon). Nintendo needs more of these great announcements in the weeks leading up to the Switch’s launch. If Fire Emblem got its own Direct, it’s possible we could see a Pokémon Direct, an ARMS Direct, or even a Dragon Quest Direct. More importantly, Nintendo has to double down on its commitment to a quality, paid online service and have a Direct focused entirely on the benefits of the service, the price, and (most importantly) the app. Confusingly, Nintendo has stated that the app won’t be released until summer of this year, but that online services will launch in March with the console. If that’s true, how will matchmaking, voice chat and lobbies work until summer? These are all things Nintendo can easily clarify with a dedicated Direct.
3rd Party Exclusives
Let’s face it: The biggest AAA third party games won’t be arriving on the Switch anytime soon. We won’t see Battlefield 1 or DOOM on the console, and it’ll largely be due to technical limitations and/or doubt from developers and publishers that enough Nintendo fans would buy a non-Nintendo game. However, why couldn’t third parties instead make games specifically for the Switch?
Towards the beginning of January IGN’s Brian Altano declared that Nintendo fans “historically do not buy third party games, and never will.” Amongst the backlash, many fans pointed out that when they do get a multi-platform game, it’s usually a lower-end version of an old game at full price–and they aren’t wrong. AAA multi-platform support generally hasn’t been strong on Nintendo consoles, but that’s because the AAA effort hasn’t been put into many of the ports that land on Nintendo’s hardware. It’s so often that a big budget multi-platform game is developed only with Xbox and PlayStation in mind, leaving Nintendo’s hardware with a shoddy afterthought of a port. No, the Switch doesn’t need these phoned-in makeovers–the Switch needs original third-party content.
Mind you, I’m not necessarily talking exclusives here. More so, I’m thinking of games like No More Heroes that was made with the Wii in mind but was eventually ported to PS3 and Xbox 360. Games built from the ground-up for the system that embraces and optimizes its capabilities. Talented third party developers who’ve employed this philosophy have more often than not produced a critically acclaimed game, a bestseller, or both. The examples abound; Monster Hunter Generations, Rayman Raving Rabbids, Zack and Wiki, Professor Layton, Little King’s Story, the Ace Attorney series, so on and so forth. Third-party developers truly have a chance on Nintendo hardware, but the quality has to be there. If third party devs work closely to make a game beautifully suited for the Switch, they’ll be embraced by the community just as the creators of the games above have.
Strong Indie Support
One of the Wii U’s few strengths was its courting of indie developers. The list of indie titles on the system runs the gambit, from Guacamelee Super Turbo Championship Edition to Child of Light. These are precisely the kind of quality indie games the Switch needs in the face of such cautious third-party support. Launch year titles like The Binding of Issac: Afterbirth+, Rime, Stardew Valley, and Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove are all great starts, but the Switch would really have legs if it premiered fantastic indie games as well. Yacht Club recently announced that the new Shovel Knight expansion Spector of Torment will actually come to the Switch first, a key example of the kind of support the console needs. Retroactive additions like I am Setsuna‘s Switch-exclusive multiplayer mode are nice, but can always be criticized away for simply being an enhancement of a port. But if the Switch can premiere more games in the vein of Graceful Explosion Machine and even FAST RMX–quality Switch premieres–it’ll fare much better through those months without major releases.
Strong/Cheap Online Service
Nintendo generally disappointed long-time fans and newcomers alike when they announced that they’d be the last of the Big 3 to finally begin charging for online. While at first glance this may seem like a negative, let’s look at the possibilities here. In the past when the Wii, 3DS and Wii U all had sub-par online experiences, it was hard to really complain or take the company to task because, well, it was free. Sony struggled with adequate online play all the way up to the PS4, when they started charging and could then be held to a certain standard (Microsoft) by the consumer.
In moving to a paid online model Nintendo is going all-in with online, which would–theoretically–be wonderful for everyone involved. Nintendo gets some additional revenue and gamers get stronger online play, matchmaking and lobbies (finally!), and a free monthly game download. But wait, the majority of the online functionality goes through an app? And hold on, those monthly downloads are only for NES or SNES games, and they’re only playable for one month??
Issues? Yes. Irredeemable? No. In terms of the app, we still aren’t really sure how it’ll work or why it exists. Maybe it provides extra functionality to the online architecture already on the Switch. Or maybe the app is only for use when undocked, but when docked the Switch handles online on its own. We just don’t know. What we do know, however, is that Nintendo has undoubtedly heard the negative response to the app from the internet at large. If there’s enough negativity around the idea, Nintendo may pull a c.2013 Microsoft and scrap it entirely in favor of native online through an update somewhere down the road. And the NES or SNES monthly rental issue can easily be solved: they include N64 and eventually GameCube games (all with added online functionality), and they charge no more than $30 a year. The online service will be DOA if it arrives anywhere near $60. $30 may still be too pricey for some, but at that price, Nintendo could make the argument that a monthly classic game rental is acceptable as part of a $30 annual service. In other words, they’d be low enough to continue not competing with Sony and Microsoft.
Everywhere you look, Switch pre-orders are sold out. They sold out the day after the presentation in the West, and they sold out last week in Japan in about 15 minutes. Nintendo has committed to 2 million units in March which, if all pre-orders are honored, would put the Switch’s launch figures right around those of the Xbox One and PS4. However, what’ll really be telling are the third and fourth months of the system–the months the Wii U began to lose steam.
Luckily for Nintendo, E3 falls right into that timeframe. Unluckily, their showing at E3 will likely make or break the system among core gamers. While some may argue that the January presentation already did that, there are many gamers simply on the fence, loving the concept but wary of the software support. It’s in this key area that Nintendo will have to truly shine to push gamers over the edge. I’m talking dream announcements: a new true Metroid Prime title for 2018; Smash Switch with all the Wii U/3DS dlc and more. A Mother 3 release date; an exclusive, massive new entry in the Monster Hunter series. They’ll also need to show us that previously announced games are on their way. We’ll need to see Switch gameplay of Dragon Quest XI, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Super Mario Odyssey. We’ll also need more details on Splatoon 2, new indie partnerships and–again–exactly how the online service will work with the upcoming mobile app. Nintendo has a lot to prove at this year’s E3, be it by traditional conference or Direct. It may be one of their most vital E3s, period.
You have nothing if you don’t have hope. Hardcore fans of Nintendo and their games will be happy regardless of what the months following launch look like (albeit to varying degrees). What’s key is connecting with the gamers who didn’t buy a Wii U or even a 3DS. The Switch has to convince those people that there’s quality, value and, most importantly, fun to be had if they give it a shot. As is the case with many Nintendo games and products, they’ll have to show us better than they can tell us.