The Nintendo Switch has a lot going for it considering all we have seen thus far is a three minute trailer with pre-rendered footage. The portability has a lot of people excited and the possibility of Nintendo really getting back into the game hits many right in the nostalgia.
That being said, there are many things Nintendo still has to get right with the Switch. We can’t forget that their reputation with the core gaming crowd has gone straight down the crapper over the last decade due to numerous factors and it’s only going to take one spark to set that anger aflame all over again. I want to state that right now, I’m on-board with the Switch in a big way but here is a list of potential areas of failure that would fling me right back off the bandwagon.
1. Third Party Support
I’m going to start with the most obvious one and the toughest hurdle for Nintendo to overcome, the lack of third-party support. There’s a lot of history with this that I’m not going to get into right now (check out Console Wars by Blake J. Harris if you’re interested) but suffice it to say that Nintendo has never been very friendly towards third party developers, offering far stricter deals than other console holders.
This has only been made worse over the past decade due to the Wii’s bizarre motion hardware that made it nearly impossible to port games over from the Xbox 360 or PS3 and thus, third party developers started abandoning ship. The Wii’s huge console sales weren’t translating into profitable ports for them so why should they continue with Nintendo? The Wii U didn’t help matters as it continued the promise of weaker hardware and strange, unnecessary restrictions that simply made it more difficult to port their games.
The biggest issue with these consoles in the eyes of third party devs was that they were gimmicky, requiring some odd control scheme that made it inherently incompatible with games on other, more traditional consoles. The Switch seems to be ditching those gimmicks for a more traditional console, choosing innovation in other ways. This is a great sign for third party devs who also want to make games for the Xbox One and PS4. So far, many developers have pledged their support to the console but Nintendo isn’t out of the woods yet. If the console proves under-powered or if early adoption rates aren’t high enough, third parties will be quick to turn tail and run back to safer options. The first year is going to be crucial for Nintendo and they will have to prove that they are willing to play ball in order to get the devs back to stay.
2. Battery Life
Another obvious one but again, one that’s vitally important to the Switch’s viability. The Nintendo Switch is breaking new ground by creating the first major console that hybridizes home console gaming and portability. This is a big deal in and of itself but that also means it has to live up to people’s expectations of both ideas. It has to function well as a home console AND it has to be actually viable on the go. My Wii U Gamepad, under normal use, doesn’t last longer than three hours on a charge. This is absolutely NOT going to work for the Switch.
That battery life is going to have to last, at the very least, 5 hours under normal use. That means playing games, having the Wi-Fi capabilities turned on, using external controllers and having the brightness set to a normal level. It’s going to be tough to get console quality games playing for that length of time but it is absolutely vital for the Switch to succeed at this. If the console doesn’t work as a portable console for any reasonable amount of time, it’s going to fail in the same way the Wii U failed: by making promises that aren’t realistic.
3. Portable Charging Options
I know this seems like a no-brainer but there has been no talk about having external chargers for the Switch outside of the docking device. This doesn’t mean much as there are a lot more pressing questions on people’s minds but it stands to be said. The Switch needs to have methods of charging the battery outside of the console dock. If you’re going on a trip and want to bring along Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the last thing you want to do is pack up your docking station with you and have to lug that thing out anytime you want a charge.
The bigger question though is whether or not this charging cable will be included with the console itself or if it will need to be purchased separately. While it wouldn’t necessarily be a dealbreaker for me, it won’t do much to foster goodwill with spurned gamers if they need to pay an extra $20 just to get a charging cable that should be included with the console. Another option that almost certainly won’t be included with the console but should be available for a reasonable price, expanded or external batteries for the Switch. Some people are willing to pay a premium for a battery that helps them through long plane rides and they should have this option available at launch for a reasonable price. Between $30-$50 should allow someone to get an expanded battery to keep them gaming on the go for much longer than the base model offers.
4. Reliance on Alternate Control Methods
This is how people like to hold controllers. They like to hold a single, solid object between their hands with buttons and joysticks readily at their fingers. They don’t like to waggle things. They don’t like to poke things. They don’t like to have their hands cramped onto a controller a third of this thing’s size. Yet, Nintendo seems like they may already be going this route yet again.
This is honestly my biggest fear about the Switch because it has been such a problem with Nintendo for the past two consoles. Think about how many controllers the Wii had available. I’m not talking about one-off accessories like a Guitar Hero guitar or the Wii Zapper. No, I’m just talking about standard game controllers. It had the Wii Remote, the Nunchuk and the Wii Pro Controller. Later on, you got to add the Wii Motion Plus to the mix as well. If you wanted to play Super Smash Bros, you could also bust out your old Gamecube controllers and play with those as well. Wii games could be played with any combination of all of these controllers and the controllers were used in all sorts of ways.
THIS IS TOO MUCH! If the Switch is going to be successful with core gamers again as well as third party developers, Nintendo needs to focus support on the traditional controller method. The trailer for the Switch shows that the two Joy-Cons (the controllers on the sides of the console/the sides of the Joy Con Grip controller) can be separated, held sideways and used for two player. This in and of itself isn’t concerning. Some games can choose to support this if they want but this should be a secondary feature.
The Wii U had a problem of requiring game developers to support odd features that they didn’t need. Things like, game developers had to incorporate both the Wii U Gamepad screen and the TV into the game but the game also had to be playable on just the Wii U Gamepad. The Switch cannot follow this example!
The Switch needs to appeal to third party developers and a great way to turn those developers off is to force them into making controller configurations using a smaller amount of buttons than the competition. This simply isn’t going to work. Gamers want to be able to play games on the Switch comfortably and without having to go out of their way, doing strange things to play them. They also don’t want to have to figure out what controllers they need to have to play each game, paying ridiculous amounts to be prepared. Switch Controllers should be Switch Controllers for the vast majority of games available. Like I said, oddities like Guitar Hero or Rock Band are the exception to this but this cannot become the rule like it was for the previous two generations.
5. Touchscreen Implementation
I’m honestly torn on this issue but it will be a dealbreaker for a lot of people. As much as I enjoyed many aspects of the console, the Wii U was a colossal failure and Nintendo needs to distance themselves as much as possible from that console. That being said, it would be a shame to see great games like Splatoon and Super Mario Maker thrown out along with it.
While it looks like Splatoon won’t have much of an issue as it was featured in the Switch’s trailer quite prominently and wasn’t reliant on any of the Wii U’s control features, Super Mario Maker is another story. This game all but requires the use of a touch screen and the way it’s implemented in the Wii U and 3DS games, a second screen is also quite important. Nintendo has already announced that the Switch will not have any second-screen functionality, meaning there won’t be an option to use the system outside of the dock while also using the TV. This is probably for the best as it limits the portability of the console but what does that mean for Super Mario Maker?
The rumormill is constantly churning and saying that the console’s screen will have a touchscreen built into it. While this makes sense in a time where tablets are the norm and would allow for the Maker series to live on, I’m not sure it’s the best idea since this functionality will obviously only be available to the console when it is outside of the dock. The Switch needs to be able to function as a home console AND a portable console, not just one or the other. Opening up the floodgates and allowing developers to make a game that only functions in one mode is dangerous to the console’s viability as a hybrid device.
I’m not sure what the right move is here but Nintendo has to be careful as choosing the wrong path could alienate a lot of gamers and severely impact the lifespan of the Switch.
6. Product Launch
The Nintendo Switch is launching into an atmosphere of general Nintendo distrust. Sure, the console has hype now but that’s already fading. Come March, gamers are going to be thinking about the Wii and the Wii U and really heavily considering whether or not they want to bet on Nintendo again. Not only that but if Nintendo can’t bring out the early adopters in a big way, third party developers won’t bother taking the risk to develop on the new console. This is why it is so incredibly vital they get the launch just perfect.
The product has to be priced competitively. While I’d bet strongly on a $350 price point, I think that Nintendo should consider launching at $300 if they can manage it. It’s a risk, especially considering that would probably be selling consoles at a loss but Nintendo needs that adoption rate or they are in trouble either way. Another failed console, especially one without the safety net of the 3DS, would be devastating to Nintendo no matter how much they make from their mobile deals. $300 would put them in line with the base models for the Xbox One S and the Playstation 4 so this would be the best marketing position to put them in. They will be cheap enough for parents to consider for their kids while not being so cheap that they market themselves as an inferior product.
This also means that they need to have a strong launch line-up. Video game consoles aren’t really known for strong product launches. Sure, there are consoles that sell a lot of units up front but few of those accompanying launch titles ever have much longevity. There are certainly exceptions throughout gaming (Super Mario World, Halo, etc.) but most of the time, this is the case. Nintendo cannot fallback on that standard though. They are going to need to launch with some strong titles to convince people that they need this console.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild needs to be available on launch day for the console. Frankly, if that game’s not done in time, they are better off delaying the launch of the Switch. They 100% need a strong Nintendo launch title available for people to buy at the same time as the Switch. Frankly, though, that isn’t enough by itself, not only because people have different tastes but also because it won’t be a Switch-exclusive and Wii U owners are unlikely to upgrade right away if the only game for them can be purchased for the Wii U.
Third parties aren’t going to cut it either in this regard. Indie titles only offer so much and major developers either won’t be ready for launch or aren’t going all in on the console yet anyway. If Ubisoft could bust out Beyond Good and Evil 2 for launch day, that would be pretty damn amazing but I wouldn’t count on it. No, that’s why, if it were up to me, I would launch another major first party Nintendo game on launch day. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the Nintendo Switch is great but can you imagine coming home with your new Nintendo Switch, Breath of the Wild AND a new 3D Mario game? That would be the kind of release people would be talking about for years. It’s a risky move, no doubt, as they would have to struggle to ensure they could keep up consistent product launches post-release but if nobody buys the console up-front, it doesn’t much matter anyway. That’s why, I think releasing two massive titles on day one is worth the risk and effort.
7. Online Environment
One of the Wii U’s lesser sins but one that is vital for the Switch to correct is that the online infrastructure is terrible. Nintendo hasn’t had a good track record for this. I have been a gamer for over 20 years with significant experience writing for the gaming industry and I can barely find things I’m specifically looking for in either the Wii U eShop or the 3DS eShop. You can bet that if I can’t find what I’m looking for, Mommy and Daddy certainly aren’t going to be able to buy games for little Timmy. If your game didn’t just come out and if it wasn’t made by Nintendo, you have to jump through some serious hoops to find what you’re looking for.
This isn’t going to cut it anymore. The eShop needs a serious overhaul and Nintendo needs to feature it’s third party partners much more prominently than they do now. Right now, when I open up my 3DS eShop, there are five things I can see on the opening page: Pokemon Sun and Moon, Nintendo Switch, a Recommended section I can click into (the first four games listed are Nintendo games), Best Sellers (mostly apps until I finally found Monster Hunter), and Games on Sale. Everything is themed with Nintendo characters and heavily features Nintendo products. If I enter Yokai Watch into the search bar, I’m given a trailer for Yokai Watch 2 and nothing else, even though a Yokai Watch 2 demo is available for download. Also, the recently released Dragon Quest VII is seven items down, shoved below demos and pre-orders despite being one of the biggest 3DS releases in months.
The Virtual Console is a great system hampered by ridiculous restrictions. For some reason, the Virtual Console games don’t follow you between consoles, even if the game is playable on different consoles. I purchased Super Mario World on the Wii and yet if I want to play it on my Wii U, I have to buy it again, even though it’s the same game coming from the same marketplace. That’s not even bringing into it how slow Nintendo has been to release their old games, still not having any kind of Gamecube backwards compatibility even when Wii games are available. The Virtual Console could be great but they need to make purchases synchronized between all consoles where the game can be played and they need to put some serious effort into making as much of their back catalog available as possible. If my 5 year old budget laptop can run Gamecube games via an emulator at 60 frames per second consistently (We do not support piracy! I simply did this as a test!), there is no reason the Switch shouldn’t be able to do the same thing. Yes, I realize this is reductive of the situation but especially if the Switch isn’t going to have any backwards compatibility available, the Virtual Console is going to need to up its game. The average gamer isn’t going to care about processing power and display capabilities, they’ll simply care that they can’t play Super Smash Bros Melee or Super Mario Sunshine on their Switch.
Finally, they need to update their matchmaking and friends list capabilities. This stuff is a no-brainer. Copy how Xbox Live and PSN have been doing it for years and call it a day. Nintendo doesn’t need to do anything revolutionary here, they just need to get on board with everyone else and then excel in their other strong areas. People don’t like to have to fight with their consoles in order to play with their friends. Online gaming is the norm now in most regions and Nintendo needs to get on board with that, especially if they want to bring competitive gaming circles over to Nintendo’s arena. In the first year or two, there will undoubtedly be a port of Call of Duty or Battlefield heading to the Switch and while it isn’t going to make converts overnight from longtime Xbox and Playstation fans, it can’t disappoint those willing to bet on Nintendo for their competitive shooting needs.
The Nintendo Switch is an interesting time for video games. Nintendo has a lot going for them but they’ve also been fighting a string of failures. After those mistakes and a change in leadership (RIP Iwata-san), Nintendo has a lot to prove and a huge amount of potential but they have to get these things correct on launch day. If the Nintendo Switch fails, it may possibly mark the end of Nintendo as we have known them. If it succeeds, it has the potential to change the way we view console games. With only a few months to go until March, history will be here soon enough.