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Nintendo Switch: Is This Console Just Another Wii U?

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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?

Splatoon 2 would have been a good idea for a pack-in game if it had been ready for launch.

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.

If the Switch presentation had been organized by somebody that wanted to sell the Switch, Super Mario Odyssey would have opened the show.

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.

The Switch presentation may have failed to impress, but it never reached the dizzy heights of Ubisoft E3 awfulness.

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.

Is 1, 2 Switch really any dumber than Wonderbook for PS3?

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

“And for my next trick, I will make all of your excitement for the Nintendo Switch disappear…”

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

“Hey, did you know that if you type in 58,008 and flip the calculator upside down… look, it says ‘Boobs'”

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.

One of these two men just won a Wii U and one of them didn’t. I’ll let you decide which is which.

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.

What I don’t get is why the people aren’t proportioned like Mario. He’s an Italian American. I figured this was his home town. The mind boggles.

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.

As a reasonably priced downloadable title, Super Bomberman R could be a fantastic edition to the Switch online store on launch day. At full price and retail, I think it’s asking a lot.

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.

“How-a are they still-a fucking this up-a?”

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.

Absolute tripe, mate.

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.

Turd Party

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.

I just did a quick Google search for “Wii U third party support.”

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.

Here’s a picture of Travis Touchdown with a cat. No, I don’t know why.

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.

“You take the blue Joy-Con, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and forget that the Switch event ever happened. You take the red Joy-Con, you stay in 2008, and I show you just how out of touch Nintendo can get.”

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.

As far as ice-breakers go, “Fancy a game of 1, 2 Switch?” is only marginally more appealing than, “It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.”

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.

Rumor has it that Link will be voiced by veteran actor Christoper Walken in Breath of the Wild.

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.

John can generally be found wearing Cookie Monster pyjamas with a PlayStation controller in his hands, operating on a diet that consists largely of gin and pizza. His favourite things are Back to the Future, Persona 4 Golden, the soundtrack to Rocky IV, and imagining scenarios in which he's drinking space cocktails with Commander Shepard. You can follow John on Twitter at www.twitter.com/JohnDoesntDance

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. ?????? ????????

    January 24, 2017 at 4:47 pm

    Wow, took me 30 minutes to read, but it was worth it. I am one of those Nintendo hardcore fan boys you are talking about 😀 and yet everything is so true… the online service, the lack of voice chat, the motion controls (again??), even I was like that when I watched the conference ‘what, you gonna brag with motion controls again?’

    • John Cal McCormick

      January 26, 2017 at 9:13 am

      Hey, there’s nothing wrong with loving something, as long as you don’t let that blind you. Loving Nintendo is easy, especially if you grew up with them in their glory years like I did. There is a lot of worryingly backwards stuff going on with the Switch though. It’s early days. They still have plenty of time.

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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Games

How Do ‘Pokemon Sword and Shield’s’ Max Raid Battles Measure Up?

Max Raid Battles are one of Pokemon Sword and Shield’s premier new features. Do they live up to their full potential? Let’s find out.

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max raid battles

One of the most heavily promoted new features of Pokémon Sword and Shield have been their Max Raid Battles. These gargantuan fights are both a key part of the online experience and likely the first taste most players will get of Dynamaxed Pokémon in-game. So, how’d this take on Pokémon Go’s raid system pan out in the series’ first mainline entry on console?

Well, on the plus side, getting into the thick of a raid is super straightforward. After the opening hour or two, players are introduced to the Wild Area and can access Max Raid Battles straight away by walking up to a pillar of red light on the field. From there you can invite others, challenge the raid with NPCs, and choose which Pokémon you want to use.

Real Friends Raid Together

Playing with friends online, though, is a bit more convoluted. There’s no “Invite Friends” option to be seen. Instead, all social features are handled through the Y-comm (literally accessed by pressing the Y button). It’s here that players can Link Trade, Link Battle, exchange player cards, and more.

After actively connecting to the internet–which has to be done each play session and each time the Switch is put into sleep mode–it’s up to the host of the match to find a portal and send an invitation to everyone. A notification will pop for friends on the side of the screen, and then it’s up to everyone to join the match directly through the Y-comm interface.

If players want real people to fill in any remaining slots (all raids are four-person affairs), they’ll need to join before the room fills up. Setting a Link Code avoids this hassle by creating a room but, unlike Salmon Run in Splatoon 2, only computer players can fill remaining spots after friends finish joining this way.

After some experimenting and fudding about, my buddy and I were able to hop into matches fairly quickly without much issue. Nonetheless, it’s hard to shake the feeling that creating friend lobbies is only such a headache because it had to be tied to the Y-comm. Pair this with the fact that battling while waiting for a friend to create a room can cause the notification not to pop, and getting a group together is a bit more painful than it should be.

Max Raid Battle Rundown

The raids themselves are a surprisingly engaging twist on the classic Pokémon battle formula. Groups of four challengers work together to take on a Dynamaxed raid boss. Each raid boss has a different star rating, and even the 1-star battles are no joke the first few times around. These boss Pokémon are merciless, and regularly one-shot lower leveled ‘mons with ease.

To combat these monstrous foes, one random trainer in every group is granted the ability to Dynamax their chosen Pokémon and lead the charge. The Dynamaxed Pokémon gets the benefit of having extra-powerful moves and increased HP, though it’s rather disappointing that there only seems to be one Max Move per move type (one Grass move, one Dark move, and so on). Each of these has a secondary effect on the battlefield; some trigger sandstorms, others trigger a health regeneration field that heals everyone a bit each turn. Regular moves with type advantages deal a significant chunk of damage, but it’s Max Moves that can truly turn the tide of battle.

If one of the group’s Pokémon faints, that trainer has to sit out for a turn before it automatically gets revived (a smart design choice to keep all trainers actively involved). However, the fainting of each Pokémon triggers the storm above to become more and more vicious. After four faints or ten turns, everyone is booted out of the raid sans rewards.

max raid battles

The Fruits of Victory

Two of the easiest ways to better your odds are 1) Choose a Pokémon with a type advantage going into battle, and 2) Manage who Dynamaxes when. Each trainer’s Dynamax meter grows periodically and, though only one trainer can use it at a time, multiple players can activate it over the course of a raid. It also seems like each raid’s star rating is tied directly to the raid boss’ level, so bringing a generally powerful Pokémon to a lower-level raid is another viable strategy for success.

Aside from the chance to capture the raid boss itself (and some Pokémon are Max Raid Battle-exclusive), winning a raid nets players some very worthwhile rewards. These include everything from EXP candies and berries to nuggets and TMs. It’s not so much of a haul that it hurts the overall balance of the game, but there’s enough to make getting a few friends together and grinding raids for a couple of hours worth it.

max raid battles

Though Max Raid Battles are just a small part of the overall Sword and Shield package, they’ve ended up being a rather fun take on Pokémon’s traditional multiplayer offerings. For as unnecessarily complicated as playing with friends is, there are also a few cool ideas here, like being able to join a raid from anywhere on the map as long as the host is at the raid pillar. There’s some good fun to be had here if you prefer to battle alongside your friends instead of against them.

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15 Years Later: ‘Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater’ Is Kojima’s Espionage Love Letter

On November 17th, 2004, ‘Metal Gear Solid 3’ was released, marking the first entry in what would become a major part of the Metal Gear Saga.

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Metal Gear Solid 3

“After the end of World War II, the world was split into two — East and West. This marked the beginning of the era called the Cold War.”

On November 17th, 2004, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater released in North America and Japan marking the first entry in what would later become a line of prequel games within the Metal Gear Saga. Big Boss’s story would finally be expanded upon in the Hollywood action game that forever changed the course of video game storytelling.

The legendary mercenary’s journey began in Kojima’s espionage love letter to the ’60s that broke the primordial gaming standards of both interactive design and visual storytelling through immeasurable gameplay depth piled onto a mind-boggling top-notch origin story. Snake Eater was only the beginning of a tale of how one of gaming’s greatest heroes descended into a villain through what is not only arguably the most compact and well-executed Metal Gear story, but Kojima Productions story ever conjured up to date.

Taking the Narrative Back

Metal Gear Solid 3
“Snake, try and remember some of the basics of CQC.”

Snake Eater ditched Solid Snake and Raiden’s current predicaments in a postmodern world to provide audiences with background knowledge and explanations for the previous chapters that came before it in what was intended to be Hideo Kojima’s final Metal Gear game at the time. Cold War political fiction and espionage thrillers from the game’s time period such as the Sean Connery and Roger Moore James Bond 007 films became the foundation for this entry’s story and tone; a balance of both goofiness and seriousness that is simply unmatched when compared to the rest of the series.

Metal Gear Solid 3 marked the beginning of a prequel series of games that would later proceed to continue after Solid Snake’s story had concluded in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the PatriotsSnake Eater threw players back in time to tackle the story of Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake villain Big Boss, who was formerly referred to as three different names being John, Jack, and of course the iconic codename Naked Snake — the first character to take on the reptilian infiltration name.

Revolver Ocelot’s gun-slinging pre-boss cutscene was completely animated through motion capture footage.

Whereas Metal Gear Solid and Sons of Liberty questioned the fantasy aspects of the story, Snake Eater fully embraced the campiness that it provided. A gun-slinging, cat-growling GRU Major or a man who is able to manipulate bees are never questioned by the game’s characters. Nothing feels out of place due to how accepting everyone is of what is going on in their interpretation of history. The first fantasy aspect that players encounter is during the opening 5 minutes of the game when Naked Snake makes the HALO jump. The location the game takes place, Tselinoyarsk, is not the actual name of the location and isn’t an area of the world that has jungles.

Political fiction often comes into play during the story by incorporating real figures and the game’s characters into events that actually happened during the height of the Cold War. For example, Eva and Ocelot are depicted as the two NSA codebreakers, Martin and Mitchell, who defected to the Soviet Union. Weapons and designs featured in the game such as the hybrid screw-propelled metal gear, the Shagohod, are based on real blueprints for military weapons of the time period. While the story incorporates science fiction and fantasy aspects, the story still remains grounded and has its own limits even in gameplay.

A Whole New Meaning to Survival

When Hideo Kojima and Yoji Shinkawa saw the 1987 movie Predator, one concept from the film that stuck with them was how the technologically advanced alien Predator used camouflage within the jungle setting to stealthily take out a military rescue team lead by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Camouflage became part of the foundation for Snake Eater‘s gameplay that delved into the realism and campy side of the series. Players could swap outfits and face paints at any given moment to adapt to their current surroundings. The top right-hand corner has a camouflage index that constantly keeps track of how well-hidden you are in the environment.

Just as gadgets are a critical part of James Bond’s arsenal of weapons, Snake Eater saw the Metal Gear Solid series expand on the variety and utilization of items. The number of different ways to tackle standard environmental obstacles and boss battles was exponentially increased due to how many ways one could actually use their equipment. Grenades, lethal firearms, night-vision goggles, cigarettes, and even cardboard boxes all inherited a multi-functional philosophy that most players would never even discover unless they had experimented during their playthrough or were told to do a specific action. Even food became a weapon of war that could be used to poison and distract guards if it had gone spoiled.

On the topic of food, alongside the standard health bar, Snake has a stamina meter that must be ministered to constantly by eating foods found on-site and administering proper medical treatment. Animals, fruit, medicinal items, and various packaged resources must be collected and watched over throughout the game. All food items ran on a real-time clock leaving food to go unsanitary and rotten after a matter of real-time days.

The Beginning of Product Placement

Fun Fact: Kojima has gone on record saying that Naked Snake’s favorite CalorieMate Block is the chocolate-flavored line (rightfully for promotional reasons!).

The Metal Gear Solid series kickstarted Hideo Kojima’s constant usage of product placements within his games that are still ongoing today. These products include but are certainly not limited to clothing, accessories, toys, household items, and of course, food. Snake Eater began a trend of future Kojima Production games featuring real-life items that are purchasable in many small scale and large retail stores throughout Japan through the brand of nutritional energy bars and gels, CalorieMate.

The chocolate-flavored CalorieMate Block appeared in the original version of Snake Eater, while the maple-flavored kind replaced it in the HD Collection due to it being the latest flavor release at the time. Advertisements for CalorieMate during the game’s release showed Naked Snake holding a chocolate-flavored Block saying “If you wanna survive in the jungle, your going to need one of these.”

When initiating a Codec call with Paramedic after eating a CalorieMate Block, the character will question the legitimacy of the food. In reality, CalorieMate first released in 1983, contradicting the 1960’s setting of the story, therefore, making its placement in the game an anachronism; an object or person that is displaced in time.

A Legacy Worthy of The Big Boss Rank

At the time of Snake Eater’s release, although the game garnered a completely positive reception from critics with a 91 Metacritic score, it was highly debated whether the sequel-prequel was superior to the entries that came before it. Critics commonly praised the graphics and cinematics the game had to offer but questioned whether the gameplay was too complex for its own good. Snake Eater also had to ride the coattails of unsatisfied audiences originating from the previous entry’s lack of Solid Snake being the protagonist which ultimately lead to sales of the game being significantly lower than the previous Solid entries.

Over time, Snake Eater became the fan-favorite entry of the series and would go on to receive the most re-releases out of all the Metal Gear games to date. Most notably, in 2006 Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence expanded upon the online mode in the game and added a completely new third-person controlled camera system that enhanced the overall experience and became the right analog stick standard for future entries. Buyers of this version were also treated with the original two MSX Metal Gear games found on the main menu- the first time the original Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake had ever been localized outside of Japan.

Snake Eater 3D Limited Edition Bundle included a ‘Snake Skin’ themed standard 3DS (only released in Japan).

2011 saw the release of the Metal Gear Solid HD Collectiona compilation title that included an updated version of Subsistence — arguably the best way to play Snake Eater today. In 2012 the game also saw a release on the Nintendo 3DS dubbed Metal Gear Solid 3D: Snake Eater which included a new real-life camera camouflage system and multiple gameplay changes inherited from Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker to accommodate the 3DS’s lack of dual analog sticks.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater is a true patriot that definitively holds its ground against the rest of the series today due to its creative liberties that the series never quite revisited in complete depth. Hideo Kojima and his team of masterminds behind Kojima Productions are well deserved of a salute for the tremendous efforts they put into creating a groundbreaking title that forever changed what it meant to be a cinematic video game. From its action-packed plot to its cinematic orchestra inspired-score, even after 15 years the pure indigenous nature of creativity from the studio never ceases to amaze audiences.

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