Less than ninety days ago I penned an article for this very website urging people to approach the Nintendo Switch with cautious optimism. There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about an upcoming game console. We all do. But when there’s next to no information regarding said console out in the open it’s prudent for one to refrain from pledging their undying allegiance to it. You’ve got to wait until all of the cards are on the table. Make Nintendo work for your money.
Well, on January 13th Nintendo hit us with all of the Switch news that they could muster. And after the overwhelmingly positive response to the initial reveal trailer, response to the special Switch presentation was, shall we say, less overwhelmingly positive. Depending on who you ask, the Switch presentation falls somewhere between an effective (if awkward) demonstration of the unique gaming opportunities that the Nintendo Switch provides, and a full-on, trumpets blaring, apocalypse.
The truth, as is nearly always the case in these situations, lies somewhere in the middle. It’s hard to make a case for the Switch presentation being a home run given how polarizing the response has been outside of the games journalism echo chamber, but then for every article declaring 1, 2 Switch to be the worst idea Nintendo has ever had there’s been another filled with excitement regarding Splatoon 2 or Xenoblade Chronicles. Who can you trust?
Nintendo fanboys are, as always, utterly irrelevant in times like these because the Switch could have been revealed to be a cardboard box stuffed with dead cats and they’d probably still herald it as a thought-provoking artistic commentary on the state of the video game industry in 2017. Haters, similarly, are equally untrustworthy because they’ll never be happy about anything that the company does. For the majority of us sat here between the two extremes, we’ve got decisions to make about on which side of the fence we’re going to fall when all is said and done, and it’s not always easy to see the benefits and the potential pitfalls of a product whilst wading through the unrelenting tide of hyperbole and cynicism.
When I wrote about cautious optimism for the Switch I did so because I could see some potential ice bergs on the horizon that I thought people were ignoring as they were caught up in the happy narrative of poor, down-on-their-luck Nintendo’s return to former glory. Now, having seen more of what the Switch has to offer, and the extreme reactions that many people have had to the conference on January 13th, it seems only fitting to once again roll up my sleeves and attempt to bring a modicum of balance to the proceedings. Let’s take a look at the major talking points for excitement and concern in the wake of the Switch presentation, and what they might mean for Nintendo’s latest console going forward.
The Nintendo Switch Presentation Was All Kinds of Wrong
Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by Sony and Microsoft’s superb conferences at E3 and other shows over the last few years, but everything about Nintendo’s Switch event was like stepping back in time in the worst possible way. It was a fantastically boring conference, only occasionally getting out of first gear for the likes of Super Mario Odyssey and the final Breath of the Wild trailer, presided over by a translator that explained what the Japanese instructional videos were telling us with all of the enthusiasm and gusto of somebody in the midst of succumbing to carbon monoxide poisoning.
Who vetted the translator? I’m sure the guy is fantastic when it comes to translating Excel spreadsheets in quarterly boardroom meetings, but this was about getting people excited to buy a new video game console. The narrator’s monotone drawl wasn’t up to the task, but then perhaps he was just as bored as I was watching Nintendo prattle on about motion controls, apparently never getting the memo back in 2009 that we were all sick to the back teeth of waving our arms around like Mr. Tickle. Truth be told, we probably shouldn’t have ever needed a translator in the first place, because a smart Nintendo would have never done this show in Japan. Hey, Japan, we love you, and I’ll sing the praises of Japanese contributions to the video game industry until the day I’m moaning about Nintendo to St. Peter at the pearly gates, but everybody knows that the Japanese market for video game consoles is in the toilet.
The biggest markets for video games in 2017 are the United States and Europe, and they’re also the two markets that Nintendo most needs to impress because they’ll sell units of the Switch in Japan regardless. Doing a Japan-centric show, translated for Western audiences, seems like a monumental misstep. Putting this show in front of a New York crowd of excited gamers, and changing up the order of what was shown to put a headline grabber like Super Mario Odyssey up first could have made a lot of difference in how this presentation was perceived. I’m not a big city marketing executive, but surely it doesn’t make any sense, at all, to do a show like this in front of a live audience if they’re all just going to sit there like the cast of House of Wax. The eruption from an excited crowd is infectious, and a little more response from those in attendance for the announcements might have made them seem a little more impressive.
The show wasn’t ever especially bad, despite what harbingers of doom might tell you. The much maligned 1, 2 Switch section veered toward Wii Music territory in terms of content, but it’s brevity and slick promo video meant that it never managed to be as awkward or cringe inducing as that infamous 2008 demo. The conference was just boring, and that’s not the sort of reaction that you ought to be garnering at a show like this, particularly when you’re trying to get people hyped up for your “revolutionary” new console.
As far as console reveals go, the Switch presentation had none of the confident, gamer-centric appeal of the PlayStation 4 debut, nor was it the misguided, arrogant meltdown that introduced the world to the Xbox One. It was just an awkward, archaic, embarrassing conference, the likes of which most of us thought had been relegated to the annals of E3 history and, occasionally, Ubisoft pressers. It wasn’t as cool or impressive as it should have been, and there weren’t as many games on display as many of us would have liked, but it’s hardly the end of the Switch. If Microsoft can recover from an appalling first showing coupled with their on stage humiliation by Sony at E3 2013, then Nintendo can win the skeptics over after this minor debacle.
Showing 1, 2 Switch First Was A Huge Mistake
Once the Nintendo Switch presentation was over and done with, the Facebooks and the Twitters exploded with gushing praise, vicious snark, and everything in between. When it comes to the snark side of the online reaction, a healthy portion of that vitriol was reserved for one new game in particular. 1, 2 Switch is a collection of mini-games in the vein of Wii Sports, except instead of playing easily recognizable games like tennis and bowling, you’re able to play slightly less recognizable games like milking a cow and guessing how many imaginary marbles are rolling around in your controller. Try explaining that cow milking one to your mother when she wanders into your room without knocking.
It looks – for lack of a better word – shite. Our generally positive editor in chief was so infuriated when he saw it that he wrote an article declaring it the worst idea that Nintendo has ever had, and I had more than a few choice words regarding the game when discussing it on the latest episode of Random Encounters. But the video game didn’t look any more offensive than many of the shovelware games that were inflicted upon us during the brief successes of the Wii. Silly projects like this aren’t confined to Nintendo consoles either – what about Wonderbook or Kinect… well, anything on Kinect.
The reaction to what is essentially a fairly inconsequential selection of party games has been surprising in how vitriolic it has been. 1, 2 Switch has garnered such a toxic response from some within the gaming community, that one could be forgiven for thinking that every copy of the game comes with a mandatory dose of the ebola virus. While the Nintendo Defense Force might pop their fingers into their ears and dismiss the overblown reaction to 1, 2 Switch as nothing more than “Haters gonna hate,” the more probing amongst us might question why this game in particular has been held to a level of scrutiny not usually applied to games of this ilk. The answer, I believe, lies in the placement of 1, 2 Switch within the presentation itself.
After all of the hype, and all of the build up, and all of the excitement, 1, 2 Switch was the first game shown for the new Nintendo system. Not Mario, not Zelda, not Metroid. Not even Pikmim. 1, 2 Switch. With millions of people tuned in around the world to see what the Switch would offer, the first glimpse of a new title that we got was not Mario leaping around a weirdly realistic city, or even the hundredth Breath of the Wild trailer; it was two actors dressed as cowboys having a duel with their comically small Joy-Con controllers. Buried in the middle of the show, 1, 2 Switch would most likely have been written off as a crummy but harmless party game of little consequence. Going out first, it carried the weight of unrealistic expectation upon its shoulders, and buckled.
It’s easy to see why people might be disappointed.
1, 2 Switch became a lightning rod for negative reception to what was a badly planned, oddly paced, awkward and disappointing first presentation for the Nintendo Switch. The game won’t make or break the console, but it was the first moment during the presentation that it started to become clear that this system wouldn’t mark the beginning of the new Nintendo era that most of us were hoping for. This was the same Nintendo that created the Wii U, blinkered to what’s been happening in the industry around them since their success with the Wii, once again desperate to appeal to a demographic that no longer exists.
Nintendo Fared Much Better Showing Us Hardware Than Software
If I were to start listing all of the problems with the Wii U right now I’d probably need another shave by the time I was finished. Right from the get-go the console was littered with creative blunders, but one of the biggest issues with the system lay in the confusing name and marketing. Still, today, there are people that think that the Wii U is an add-on for the Wii. That’s unacceptable. You’ve got to let people know what your kit does so that they can make an informed decision about whether they want one under their television or not. Of course, if Nintendo had explained what the Wii U could do properly then they’d probably have sold even le… alright, let’s let the Wii U rest in peace.
Nintendo, for the most-part, got their message across regarding the Switch during the presentation. It didn’t take Columbo to figure out how the console was going to work following the reveal trailer – the various ways to play, the different controller configurations, etc. – but Nintendo went through it all again anyway in painstaking detail. Fortunately, this didn’t go on for too long, and while it might have felt a mite unnecessary, they made absolutely sure that everybody and their dog knows exactly what the Switch does, and what it’s unique selling points are.
Whether you want to play any of the games on the system or not is completely up to you and entirely up for debate, but what’s irrefutable is that the Nintendo Switch has a set of benefits that the other consoles on the market simply can’t offer. Highlighting those benefits is of the utmost importance, and Nintendo hammered those points home. You can play the console on your television like normal, you can take it with you like a handheld, you can pop it on a table as a little screen and play with a controller – the Switch has a unique skill-set that can’t be replicated on a PS4 or Xbox One, and Nintendo wisely celebrated that fact.
The Price Isn’t Right
When I wrote about the potential issues that the Switch could face back in October, one thing I was concerned about was the price. Given the handheld/home console hybrid nature of the system, it seemed like cost could be a problem, especially since a lot of budding consumers probably won’t have any interest in ever removing the console from its dock. Back then, I said that $299 was about as high as they could reasonably go without crippling the console, and lo and behold, that’s the number they landed on. Kinda.
No pack-in game bumps the cost up another $60, and if you want another controller then you’re looking at another $80 on top of that. Then there’s whatever it costs for the online service if you’re so inclined. That’s over $400 for a basic set-up. “That’s what the PS4 launched for, and less than the original price of the Xbox One!” cried the Nintendo faithful. And they’re right. But that was three years ago. It doesn’t matter that the Switch is cheaper than the Xbox One was when it launched three years ago, because that’s not the price that Ma and Pa see when they’re shopping for little Timmy’s birthday present from March 3rd onward.
This is the problem with launching a new console partway through the generation. Sony and Microsoft are currently laughing having produced two of the fastest selling gaming consoles of all time. Nintendo are wandering into the fight on the back of their worst selling console – a console that some people didn’t even realize was a console, no less – and they’re fighting to take attention away from an Xbox One and PS4 that have built strong libraries, and undergone savage price cuts. Personally, I don’t think that the central gimmick of the Switch is strong enough to justify the additional cost of the new Nintendo system over the Sony and Microsoft consoles. And so I’d wager that the price of the system will be a major turn-off for a lot of gamers.
Think about it. Currently, for less than the cost of just the Switch console without any games, you can pick up an Xbox One or PS4 – a more powerful console – with a game, and with access to their huge libraries full of acclaimed titles. The biggest games are on PS4 and Xbox One. If you’re a one console household and you don’t have a terminal case of Nintendo fanboyism, making the case to spend more money for the Switch versus the competition is a difficult one. I’m not sure even Johnny Cochrane could make that case.
If your favorite game series’ are Zelda, Mario and 1, 2 Switch, then obviously, the Nintendo Switch is the console for you. But Nintendo needs to appeal to more than their devoted fanbase if they want this thing to be a success. If their own fans were enough to sustain a console then the Wii U wouldn’t have been an abject failure. If the Switch is going to be a commercially viable product then they need to appeal to the man and woman on the street. In this regard, cost is super important, and given what Nintendo showed off at the presentation, it’s not on their side here.
It’s Always Sunny In New Donk City
It’s hard to surprise anybody when it comes to Mario. When you’re watching a PlayStation conference and they throw Final Fantasy VII Remake at you it’s guaranteed to bring the house down because it’s a wonderful surprise that we’re getting a game that we didn’t know was coming. We all knew Mario was coming. A Mario game releasing on a Nintendo console is a foregone conclusion. Still, Nintendo managed to surprise people with a wacky trailer for Super Mario Odyssey that showed the mustachio’d hero wandering around a realistic(ish) replica of New York named New Donk City.
While the immediate visual of Mario walking past realistically proportioned humans going about their daily business was initially jarring, the second the little Italian plumber started swinging on a lamp post and wall jumping up a skyscraper I’d bet that most of us watching at home were sold on it. Mario games are reliable in that they sell well, they’re easy to play but offer challenge to more seasoned gamers, and they’re, by and large, fantastic games. Mario is the perfect launch title, and so the only sour news regarding Mario’s first adventure on the Nintendo Switch is that it won’t be arriving until Holiday 2017.
Still, the stellar track record implies that Super Mario Odyssey will be a must-play game when it arrives, and more importantly, it’s gotten people talking. Sure, a lot of those people might be comparing it to Sonic 2006 – a game that no game wants to be compared to – but for the most part it seems that people are excited about playing a Mario title on the Switch. Given how lackluster the games on display at the Switch presentation were generally, the trailer for Super Mario Odyssey was an unquestionable highlight in what was a highly questionable conference.
Failure To Launch
Well, I sure hope you like Zelda games. If you don’t like Zelda then can I interest you in this cow milking simulator in which you wave your arm up and down in a vaguely erotic manner while you stare directly into the eyes an almost certainly embarrassed friend or loved one?
Yes, the Switch launch line-up is absolute bobbins. There’s Zelda, which looks like a treat, but has never been a series that sells in huge numbers, and it’s on the Wii U to boot. There’s Bomberman R, which is a pleasing, but at $60, an inessential throwback to the Nintendo of yesteryear. There’s Just Dance 2017, for those times when you take your Switch to rooftop parties. There’s Skylanders Imaginators, because of course there is. And there’s 1, 2 Switch. That’s your lot. Between launch and Super Mario Odyssey there’s a slightly remixed version of Mario Kart 8, a remix of Splatoon masquerading as a fully fledged sequel in Splatoon 2, and very little else of any importance unless they manage to get Xenoblade or Dragon Quest XI out the door quickly. The first year looks grim, people.
The launch period for a new console is almost always a trying time. This is nothing new. But the lack of compelling software available for the Switch in 2017 is a big problem for a console that’s already facing an uphill battle against the competition in terms of cost. Games should be their ace in the hole given Nintendo’s proven track record of producing top quality first party titles, but the sparsity of games available in year one for the Switch should be of major concern to anybody that is unsold on the Switch because of their relatively weak first-party support for Wii U.
I was expecting Nintendo to knock this one out of the park. We had rumours of a Pokemon and a Mario game at launch for Switch, but we didn’t get either. Pokemon wasn’t even mentioned, six months removed from Pokemon Go being a bona-fide, international, cultural phenomenon. That’s crazy. And just another example of how Nintendo well and truly cocked-up this opportunity to sell us on the Switch. Right now, besides Zelda, there’s not a very convincing argument for anybody other than the Nintendo die-hards to fork out $350 for a Switch.
Nintendo’s Online Service Sounds Like An Absolute Joke
Online gaming is a thing. Whether you love spending hours playing Overwatch with gamers across the world, or if you find the idea of playing video games with people you don’t know scary and confusing, the fact remains that online multiplayer is big business. Nintendo has been woefully slow to jump aboard the online gaming bandwagon, and with their infamous friend codes officially going the way of the dodo, now is the time for a robust online infrastructure for Nintendo consoles that can stand proud next to Xbox Live and PSN. Well, maybe not PSN.
Sony and Microsoft are both offering gamers a service in which they pay a monthly fee for access to multiplayer gaming, and a perk of signing up to the service is that each month a number of games will be made available to download and keep for as long as you remain a subscriber. It’s a fantastic deal. Currently if you’re a PlayStation gamer you get up to six games a month. Sony came up with the idea of PlayStation Plus back in the last generation when the PS3 was trailing in sales behind the Xbox 360 and needed something that their competition didn’t have. With Sony now dominating the console market, Microsoft has taken a leaf from their competitors book and introduced their own “free” game service, called Games With Gold.
While Sony and Microsoft are offering up numerous games to subscribers each month that they can keep forever as long as they remain a subscriber, Nintendo’s new paid online service is offering a paltry one game a month and when that month is up, the game can no longer be played. Now, in theory, this isn’t a terrible idea. Having timed access to games should, presumably, allow Nintendo to give gamers newer, bigger, better games as part of the deal, knowing they could make more money on the back end if people who played the games and liked them wanted to buy them to keep forever. Something like Splatoon 2, for example. Lure a few million in with a freebie, and then reap the benefits later on. It worked for Rocket League. But that would be too sensible, so of course the games Nintendo will be giving away with this pseudo-rental service will be NES and SNES games that we all probably owned at the time, and have then bought over and over again on the various Virtual Consoles since then.
In short; it’s a bollocks version of PlayStation Plus.
Even more worrying are details about the nature of Nintendo’s online network as a whole. There won’t be any voice chat system built into Switch, which is incredible for a console launching in 2017. If I hadn’t seen the quote myself I wouldn’t even believe they were doing it. I was using voice chat on Halo 2 twelve years ago, but on Switch, all voice chat and matchmaking will be handled by a dedicated smart phone app. Don’t have a smart phone? Then don’t play online, peasant. What happens if you want to use your phone for anything else while you’re gaming? I don’t know. Nobody does. But the answer probably sucks.
Nintendo claims that their reasoning behind this frankly baffling decision is so that people aren’t required to take gaming headsets with them when they take their Switch out and about, apparently forgetting that they’ll still need a headset when they’re out and about but now they need a smart phone too. Their explanation is, of course, bullshit, and there’s almost certainly no online system built into Switch because it would eat too much battery, causing the already borderline unacceptable three hour battery life of the system to drop further.
Given all of this bad news regarding Nintendo’s first paid online service, one is left to wonder who, exactly, is going to be paying for this? Nintendo seems to be embracing their position as the second console of choice for gamers, but since most of those gamers will already be paying for an online subscription, and since Nintendo has few online multiplayer games, is there any point signing up to this? PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live are worth signing up to even if you don’t play online because the games you get through the service are more than worth the price of admission, but given the miserly approach to freebies Nintendo is taking here, there doesn’t seem to be any reason to sign up at all.
The only potential silver lining here is that Nintendo hasn’t revealed a price for their online service yet. If it’s noticeably cheaper than the PlayStation and Xbox offerings then perhaps it won’t be a disaster, but if it’s anything close to what Sony and Microsoft are charging, Nintendo’s online ambitions could very well end up being one of the first nails in Switch’s coffin.
With third party support for the Wii U being somewhere between nowhere and Fred Astaire, Nintendo has made absolutely sure to let us know that the Switch will be supported by some of the biggest studios in the world. We’ve all seen the infographic. The importance of third party support for the Nintendo Switch differs depending on who you ask. If you ask the Nintendo fanboys, third party support doesn’t matter because people only buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games. If you live on planet Earth with the rest of us, then third party games matter a great deal.
Third party support is important because not everybody can afford to buy numerous consoles. It’s easy to say that Switch will be a great second console for PS4 or Xbox One owners, but not everybody has the luxury of throwing $400 at a system to play Mario and Zelda while they do the rest of their gaming on a PS4. For somebody that is only going to buy one console, the Switch not having games like Call of Duty, Madden, Far Cry, Fallout, Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Tomb Raider, Deus Ex, and many, many more, could be all it takes to lose a sale.
During the Switch presentation on January 13th, the third party studios that turned up in support of the Switch did more harm to the perception of the console than good, if you were paying attention. Yes, it’s nice to see Skyrim arrive on a Nintendo console after five years on the market, but that’s all Bethesda brought. No Fallout. Not even the remastered version of Skyrim that released on PS4 and Xbox One last year. Plain old Skyrim.
EA arrived to let us know that they’d be bringing FIFA to the Switch, but the phrasing made it sound like it would be a worryingly down-tuned version of the game compared to the PS4 and Xbox One editions, and they had no information on any of their other franchises. Square Enix showed off a couple of lovely trailers, but with no Final Fantasy to be seen, and with Dragon Quest XI having already been outed by the company months ago there wasn’t much to get excited about.
If you want to get a party started then you can generally count on Suda 51 to up the ante, but since the translator on English streams appeared unfamiliar with Suda 51’s particular brand of lunacy, his banter failed to impress. Even worse, when it came time for him to reveal why he was there, his appearance on stage was apparently to announce that he’d been talking to some people about maybe bringing a No More Heroes game to Switch and that was about it. Also he had a picture of Travis Touchdown to show us just in case we’d forgotten who he was. Or in case we never knew. If Suda 51 turning up to announce nothing seemed a little strange, then the most bizarre of the cast of characters that Nintendo had on stage was the representative from SEGA who looked like a priest from the future, and had nothing to say except that he’d heard of the Switch, and his company would be releasing games for it at some point.
This was by far the most troubling portion of the Switch presentation because as each third party representative left the stage it became increasingly clear that studios have little confidence in the new Nintendo console, and that the games they’ll be releasing for it are part of a tentative show of support that will almost certainly dissipate the second that the Switch shows no signs of being a sales juggernaut. That’s exactly what happened with the Wii U, and since Nintendo has repeated many of the mistakes they made with that console in their approach to Switch, history is dangerously close to repeating itself.
A Brand New Console, A Familiar Set Of Mistakes
I’m not sure I’ve ever lost excitement in a new console quicker than I did with the Nintendo Switch. The reveal trailer promised a Nintendo that had learned from their mistakes with the Wii U, and were determined to win back disillusioned fans. Aimed at adults rather than children, and featuring hardware that looked sleek and cool rather than like a cheap toy, it really seemed like Nintendo had finally caught up to present day and realized that they needed to appeal to a new demographic if they wanted their hardware to succeed.
The Switch presentation was a stark reminder of just how behind the times Nintendo truly are.
While the initial focus on hardware during the presentation was well made, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns once they started to focus on the motion control features of their hideously named Joy-Con controllers. Motion control was responsible for the Wii flying off the shelves for a year during the last generation, but the fad was over even before Sony and Microsoft could get their attempts at cashing in on the trend – Move and Kinect – out of the door. The success of casual-friendly waggle games on the Wii meant that third party support for the console was high in quantity, but bereft of quality, as studios realised that it was easier to make cheap arm-waving games of little merit than it was to bother coming up with genuinely interesting ways to use Nintendo’s unique hardware. The popularity of motion control was short lived, it went away, and everyone was happy.
It’s not that including motion control options in the Switch is an inherently terrible idea – the PS4 has motion controls built into the Dual Shock 4 and it didn’t stop them selling. The problem lies in the optics of the situation, and how Nintendo’s focus on once again attempting to recapture the lightning in a bottle success of the Wii shows a company that, for all their innovations, is absolutely out of ideas. The Joy-Con being able to sense movement isn’t an issue, it’s that Nintendo talking about how exciting that is in 2017 like they’ve just invented fire looks fantastically backward thinking.
1, 2 Switch earned the ire of many on the Internet, in part, because as the first game out of the blocks, it created the the impression that Nintendo is once again targeting lowest common denominator gamers in order to make a quick buck, while the fans who stuck around and bought the Wii U once again get the shaft. But it’s not just the motion controls built into the system that create cause for concern. The hardware itself seems generally problematic, despite how cool it looks, and could very well be the undoing of the system commercially further down the road.
Nintendo has long been seen as the manufacturer of the second console for many gamers. That’s fine if you’re selling the Wii for $200, but when attempting to sell a product at a premium price it becomes a little bit of a harder sell. The Wii U fell afoul of this by shipping with a cost-heavy yet irrelevant tablet controller that made the console too expensive to justify for a lot of gamers who might have been interested in a Mario machine had it been a little cheaper. Similarly, the hybrid nature of the Switch has cost implications, and if the public don’t embrace the notion of taking their home console games wherever they go, then those costs could be detrimental to the potential successes of the system.
I’ve long been an advocate for Nintendo just picking a side – either make a budget console that will play Nintendo games and won’t break the bank for gamers that already have a PS4, or make a premium console that can compete with Sony and Microsoft, creating parity and thus garnering more third party support. Instead, Nintendo has made exactly the same mistake that they made with the Wii U, in that they’re asking for more money than is acceptable for an underpowered system that will largely only play Nintendo games, all for the sake of a hardware gimmick that likely won’t be compelling for a huge portion of the market.
The difference this time around is that they’ve explained what the Switch does, and what it’s unique properties are, and they’ve done it well. While being able to take my Switch with me when I leave the house isn’t an appealing prospect to me as somebody that does their gaming in their underwear in front of their television, the idea might resonate with enough gamers to rack up enough sales to convince third party studios it’s worth taking a punt on the system and developing some games. I have concerns about the Switch hardware, but at least Nintendo has done a pretty good job selling it. Now it’s just up to the public to decide.
The Most Exciting Thing About Switch Is What Nintendo Didn’t Show Us
While the Switch presentation might not have been the resounding success that Nintendo wanted – and needed – it to be, you can’t argue with how they ended the show. Sure, they might have teased the Legend of Zelda: Breath of Wild release date for an outrageously long time given how obvious it was it would be shipping with the console on March 3rd, but when they slapped us with that trailer, oh boy, my finger started hovering over the pre-order button on Amazon.co.uk without me even knowing it. Fortunately, Nintendo once again ballsed up their pre-order system so it didn’t happen, but the trailer was still much appreciated.
Still, as superb as the latest trailer for Breath of the Wild was – and it was superb – it was the conspicuous absences from major Nintendo franchises that will prove tantalising to many long-time Nintendo fans. With the Switch being an amalgamation of Nintendo’s home and handheld consoles, the library of first party games for the system – theoretically – should be incredible. Pokemon, Layton, Fire Emblem, Smash, Mario Party and Golf, Paper Mario, Pikmin, Star Fox, and Metroid were all nowhere to be seen (barring the Warriors spin-off for Fire Emblem) during the presentation but will all presumably be coming to the console at some point. If Nintendo had had a Pokemon and a Metroid game at the show then perhaps the naysayers would be in the minority right now, and I, and a lot of other people, would be $350 worse off.
Perhaps it’s part of a long-term strategy to make sure that they keep having announcements for new games throughout the year – at their Directs, E3, etc. – or maybe they just had nothing else to show, but since what we saw at the presentation was largely underwhelming, it’s the possibilities for the future that are most exciting for the Nintendo Switch right now.
It’s A Marathon, Not A Sprint
Writing the Switch off after one disappointing conference is folly. One misguided presentation isn’t enough to sink a console. Just look at the Xbox One, which was revealed in a disastrous, television-centric conference, and then resoundingly beaten to a pulp at the following E3 thanks to the DRM shaped elephant in the room that hovered over their entire show. Microsoft handled things appallingly at the start of the generation, but thanks to Phil Spencer’s guidance since previous gaffer Don Mattrick left everyone else to sort his mess out when he jumped to Zynga, the Xbox One is now selling units at a rate that will be leaving folks back at their Redmond HQ smiling.
Nintendo had a disappointing first real showing for their new hardware, with questionable announcements regarding price and online infrastructure, worrying third party support issues, and a distinct lack of compelling software to be excited about, but let’s not blow things out of proportion. As long as they make smart moves regarding announcements and they’ve got plenty of first party games in the works to soften the blow of the presumably weak third party commitment, there’s every chance that the Switch could be a success for Nintendo.
Does the Switch hardware have enough going for it to appeal to gamers in the face of what seems like a high price and a low volume of quality software? That’s my biggest concern coming out of the Switch presentation. And that is, for me, the biggest question mark that hangs over the Switch’s potential for commercial success going forward. While their hardware and their marketing decisions might, at times, have seemed to pay more than a passing nod to their well documented issues with selling the Wii U to, well, anyone, the potential of a hybrid games library and the unique nature of the Switch hardware could be enough to sway opinion. Back in October I wrote that we should be cautiously optimistic about the Switch. I think that still applies.
‘Coffee Talk’ Review: The Best Brew in Town
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
It’s 9:00pm. The rain just started coming down softly a few minutes ago, and the street outside is reflecting the lights above it. Neon signs shine brightly in the distance, although it’s hard to make out the words. You unlock the doors to the coffee shop and wipe down the counters in order to get them clean for the customers. The rain makes a soft sound as it hits the glass and passerby speed up their walking pace to avoid it. The bells chime as a tall, green orc walks in and sits down at your table in silence. You wonder what their story is…
I wanted to set the tone for this review because of how important atmosphere and audio/visual design is in the world of Coffee Talk. While it’s easy to boil the game down as a visual novel-type experience, it’s honestly so much more than that. A unique cast of characters, incredible user interface, and a mysterious protagonist combine to form the most enjoyable experience I’ve had this year on Switch.
Coffee Talk is beautiful because of how simple it is. The entire game takes place within a single coffee shop. As the barista, you’re tasked with making drinks for the patrons of the shop as well as making conversations with them. The twist is that earth is populated with creatures like orcs, werewolves, and succubi. The relationship between the various races is handled very well throughout the story, and some interesting parallels are made to the real world.
Making drinks is as simple as putting together a combination of three ingredients and hitting the ‘Serve’ button. If a unique drink is made, it will be added to a recipe list that can be referenced on the barista’s cell phone. This is where the awesome user interface comes in, as the phone has a series of apps that can be accessed at any moment in the game. One app houses your recipe list, another acts as a facebook for the characters in the game, one allows you to switch between songs, and the other houses a series of short stories that one of the characters in the game writes as it progresses. It’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience and helps it stand out from other games in the genre.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen.
Coffee Talk cycles between talking with customers and making drinks for them. In the beginning, they will ask for basic beverages that can be brewed on the fly. Later on however, they may ask for a specific type of drink that has a unique title. These drinks often have certain descriptive features that hint at other possibilities in terms of unique dialogue. If the wrong drink is made, you’ll have five chances to trash it and make a new one. If the wrong drink is made, don’t expect the customer to be pleased about it.
The gameplay really is not the focus here though; it’s the characters and their stories that take center stage. An elf with relationship issues, a writer that can’t seem to pin down her next story, and an alien whose sole goal is to mate with an earthling are just a few of the examples of the characters you’ll meet during the story. There are tons of memorable moments throughout Coffee Talk, with every character bringing something unique to the table. The barista develops an interesting relationship with many of these characters as well.
Even though serving the wrong drinks can change some of the dialogue, don’t expect any sort of options or branching paths in terms of the story. It’s not that kind of experience; the story should simply be enjoyed for what it is. I found myself glued to the screen at the end of each of the in-game days, waiting to see what would happen in the morning. The first playthrough also doesn’t answer all of the game’s questions, as the second one is filled with all kinds of surprises that I won’t spoil here.
Coffee Talk is as quaint as your local coffee shop. It’s relatively short, wonderfully sweet, and absolutely committed to the art form of telling a story through a video game screen. It’s an easy recommendation for anyone who loves video games, not just visual novel fans. There are characters in the game that I’ll certainly be thinking about for a long time, especially when the setting brings out the best in them. Don’t pass this one up.
The Magic of Nintendo: How Mario and Zelda Connect us to Our Inner Child
Nintendo is special. Many excellent developers depend upon story or progression systems to entice engagement, but not Nintendo. Nintendo games captivate because of their immediate charm. There is no need for a payoff. The games, themselves, are enough: they elicit feelings, hard to find in adulthood. Through intrepid discovery, playful presentation, and unfiltered whimsy, the best of Nintendo connects gamers to their childlike selves.
The heart of any great Nintendo game is discovery and no encounter encapsulates this better than Breath of the Wild’s Eventide Island. First, finding the island requires genuine gumption. Found far from Hyrule’s shore, the island is only clearly visible from other islands, and even then, it’s only a speck in the distance. Reaching the island requires players to brave the open ocean and head towards something … that could be nothing. Then, upon arriving on the beach, a spirit takes all the player’s gear, including clothes and food. Link, literally, is left in his underwear. From there, players must make clever use of Link’s base skills in order to steal enemy weapons and make traps. The scenario creates a marvelous sense of self-sufficiency brought on by one’s own desire to discover. The player comes to the island purely of their own choosing, tackles the sea, and then overcomes obstacles without the aid of their strongest tools. The game turns players into plucky children who are discovering they can take care of themselves.
The intrepidity of Breath of the Wild and other Nintendo greats mirrors the feelings Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of many Nintendo franchises, experienced as a child. “I can still recall the kind of sensation I had when I was in a small river, and I was searching with my hands beneath a rock, and something hit my finger, and I noticed it was a fish,” Miyamoto told the New Yorker. “That’s something that I just can’t express in words. It’s such an unusual situation.” In sequences like Eventide Island, players don’t just understand what Miyamoto describes, they feel it: Apprehension gives way to exhilaration as the unknown becomes a place of play.
Nintendo’s intrepid gameplay is often amplified by playful presentation with Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island being the quintessential example. The game’s visuals, defined by pastel colors and simple hand-drawings, appear crayoned by a child while the celestial chimes that punctuate the jubilant soundtrack evoke shooting stars. The overall effect cannot be understated. It takes the surreal and turns it real, allowing players to interact, tangibly, with imagination.
Even if one removes the presentation and gameplay from Nintendo’s masterpieces, an unabashed creativity remains that bucks norm and convention. The arbiter is fun; reason and logic have no say. For instance, Super Mario Odyssey’s Wooded Kingdom, takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting akin to Nier Automata. Players explore the metal remnants of a civilization that has become a lush home to robotic beings. However, unlike Nier, the dark undertones of the past have no bearing on the game or those who inhabit its universe. The post-apocalyptic setting is just a fun backdrop. It’s as though a bunch of children got together, began playing with toys, and one of the kids brought along his sibling’s adult action figures. There is no attention paid to the context, only unfiltered imagination.
When they’re at their best the creators at Nintendo invite gamers to come and play, like a parent arranging a play date. Pulled along by joyful gameplay that expands in unforeseen ways, players desire to play for the sake of play. It’s a halcyon state of being: No messy thoughts or contradiction, just joy.
‘Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind’: An Utterly Shameless Cash Grab
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some other trash.
In the 15 year long history of DLC, we have seen some really shameless displays. The notorious horse armor incident of 2006 and a notable day one DLC for the ending game of a trilogy notwithstanding, few companies have had the utter audacity to offer so little content for such a high price point. Enter Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind.
Coming in at a $40 price point (!!!) Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind offers an 80% recycled campaign, a boss rush mode, and some social media nonsense for people who really hate themselves. That’s really it, that’s what you get. Honestly, Square-Enix should be utterly embarrassed by this DLC.
It’s been one year: 365 days, 8760 hours, 525600 minutes, or 31556952 seconds, since the release of Kingdom Hearts III. Let that sink in as you begin the meat of Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind. Think of it as the extended version of a movie you really like… you know, the kind where they add 4 minutes to the 120 minute runtime.
Yes, Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind, really is that cynical. I’m not kidding when I tell you that the game literally starts with an exact cut scene from the base game, and a cut scene that happens to be available from the theater mode of the main game that you’ve already bought if you’re playing this DLC. Yes, the introduction to this new content is… content you’ve already seen.
In fact, that’s kind of the sticking point here: most of what you get for your hard-earned cash is footage you’ve already seen, and battles you’ve already fought, and story you’ve already experienced, just with slight alterations for context. Remember back in the 2000s, when we were super obsessed with prequels? This is like that, except even more egregious.
Generally I’m not so unforgiving as to call a company out for a forthright cash grab, but that’s absolutely what Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is. There’s just no other way to put it. You might find someone in the marketing department for Square-Enix who would disagree, but being a company that has faced just these sort of allegations for their last two major releases, Square-Enix either doesn’t read the news, or doesn’t care what people think of their products.
Square-Enix was roundly accused of shipping unfinished products in the case of both Final Fantasy XV and Kingdom Hearts III — their two most high profile releases of the last decade. I personally gave mostly positive reviews of both games for this very website but if you want ammo to suggest that this company is deliberately trading on the nostalgia and passion of its fan base in order to make financial headway, there are few examples you could draw from that are as obvious as this DLC.
Look, maybe you’re a really big Kingdom Hearts fan. Maybe you just really wanted to know what the context was for that cliffhanger ending in Kingdom Hearts III. Maybe you just don’t do much research before you buy something. Or maybe… you just really trust this company for some reason.
Hey, I’m not judging… hell, I bought this DLC for $40 same as anyone else. I oughta be honest that I’m not reviewing Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind as some holier than thou critic, talking down to you from my position of privilege. No, I’m an angry consumer in this particular case. I’m a person who spent enough to replace a flat tire on my car, or buy my family dinner, on a game that is clearly playing off of my love for a franchise, and using it to bilk me out of money in a method that is so clear, and so concise, that those involved in the entire endeavor should be totally embarrassed for their part in the creation, marketing, pricing, and distribution of this expansion.
Yes, fans had their complaints about Kingdom Hearts III. “Where are the hardcore boss battles? Where are the Final Fantasy characters? Where are the secret areas? Where are the hidden plot developments?” Still, to address these particular complaints by hammering a few minutes or seconds here and there into already existing content is truly like spitting in the faces of the people who have built the house you’re living in.
I haven’t sat in the board rooms at Square-Enix and I haven’t been in email chains about the planning of projects at their company but what I can say is that there is something rotten in Denmark if this is what passes for a satisfying piece of content for the wildly devoted fans of a hugely popular franchise in 2020. Kingdom Hearts III: Re:Mind is literally, truthfully, and succinctly, the worst piece of DLC I’ve ever purchased.
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