Oh, Nintendo. Dear, sweet Nintendo. We’ve had a long relationship you and I! Indeed, you’re the main reason I’m a Gamer, and almost 30 years ago you were the one who took me by the hand, introduced me to a dude by the name of Mario, and together, in the space of a few short hours, you both showed me momentous, Life-changing things.
And whilst I appreciate that all sounds a bit like an episode of Law and Order: SVU, I mean it in a good, non-creepy way. In short (and like many people of my generation, I suspect), my own Gaming odyssey began with you, and you’ve always played some part in it throughout the years. There were some real highs, a few lows, but we’ve made it through together, and precisely because I love you, Nintendo, I want us to have a future too.
So, bearing that in mind, I honestly hope you’ll take the following in the loving, concerned spirit with which it’s intended; namely, what the fuck are you thinking? Like, what the actual fuck? I mean, are you trying to fail? Do you not want this relationship anymore? Are you deliberately sabotaging your chances so you don’t have to bother with us Gamers anymore?
Look, personally I loved the Wii U. I even wrote a long ode to it because I genuinely wanted it to succeed, but facts is facts, and it really wasn’t a huge success, was it!? Sure, a chunk of hardcore fans loved it, and it wasn’t a complete failure per se, but we’d both be lying if we suggested you were still considered in the same league as Sony and Microsoft, right!? When people talk about console wars, the battle for Next-Gen supremacy, they’re not even including you in the conversation. It’s taken as a given that it’s a two horse race, and it’s been hard for us fans to watch a Gaming giant all but disappear from this Generational fight with barely a whimper.
We still bought the games, we still wrote the reviews, but honestly, there were times when it was almost impossible to ignore the elephant in the room; the Wii U was a niche console, and all the real, serious Gaming seemed to be happening elsewhere. Yes, you had the console exclusive card – and at times it really was a truly awesome card to play – but whilst almost every big third-party release bypassed your lovable little machine, we could only do so much.
“Yeah, The Division’s a great shooter” we’d say, “But have you tried Splatoon?”. “Yeah, it was fun…” came the reply, “but all my friends are currently in the Dark Zone, so I’ma head there right now!”. “Oh, you’re thinking of getting a second console” we’d ask, seizing the opportunity to big you up; “Hmm, that sounds kinda cool…” they’d say, “But more of my friends are playing Halo/Uncharted/any of the big two’s exclusives, so it’ll make more sense to get an Xbox One/PS4 instead”.
It was the same story over and over again, and we tried – honestly, we did – but in the end, Wii U fans ended up being a small (yet, dedicated) band, relagated to the realm of secret handshakes and shared interests in huge rooms where everybody else was talking about the Xbox One and PS4. We’d explain that the Wii U was underpowered, but that it didn’t matter because you squeezed every last ounce out of that potential with in-house development, but what could we really do when everybody just pointed out your tri-core CPU versus the PS4’s 8-core AMD APUs, or that you were rocking a measly 2 GBs of RAM to the Xbox One’s 8.
Still, we dealt with it. I mean, we felt bad, obviously – defeated, even – but we knew you’d pull through; take stock, regroup, and come back stronger than ever before. We took solace in the fact that you’ve consistently managed to innovate, change the game, and that you’ve often come out with something so original, so ahead of the curve, that even Microsoft and Sony end up copying it eventually. Then, when we heard whispered rumours of the mysterious NX, we felt sure this would justify that faith. We rationalised that the Wii U was struggling against true Next-Gen machines because it was released before them, so we knew, like intuitively, that the NX would be a true Next-Gen contender. Huzzah, we cried. Nintendo’s back, baby. In your face haterz, shit’s about to get real!!
Then October came, and the NX – now officially the Nintendo Switch – was revealed to the world. Despite the reveal being slightly sparse in terms of cold, hard specs and shit, what we did see made us cautiously optimistic. “BOOM – INNOVATION” we exclaimed when we saw the whole portability thing, “FINALLY, A TRUE CONSOLE EXPERIENCE ON THE GO” we cried, mentally handing over a wad of cash as we did so.
Even me – cynical, ‘let’s not get carried away just yet, eh!?‘ me – was almost certainly on board, even as I was urging caution and a ‘wait and see’ approach. I mean, I knew a reveal trailer was supposed to generate hype, but even I recognised that I’d likely be getting the Switch anyways, even if it wasn’t quite as good as the trailer would have us believe. It was a Nintendo product afterall, and you’d almost certainly learned a few hard lessons in your years in the Next Gen Wilderness, so there was absolutely no way you’d make the same mistakes again, right!?
Because, honestly, that’s pretty much exactly what you’ve done, and even worse this time, you’ve done it in an environment that’s worse than the one that existed when the Wii U was released. Because, back when the Wii U landed you had two huuuuuge advantages; Primacy and Momentum. In terms of the former, the previous generation had been around for the best part of a decade, and people were ready and willing to make a leap, to buy something new, and as such, the Wii U had a distinct advantage releasing a full year before the PS4 and Xbox One. In terms of the latter, the Wii U followed the (unexpected) success of both the Wii and the (3)DS, so there must’ve been a distinct element of momentum there, with people thinking Nintendo were a pretty safe bet, even if the PS4 and Xbox One did eventually out-power the Wii U a year later.
In contrast, this time you’re releasing a console that’s already under-powered, and you’re doing so in an environment that’s overshadowed by the perceived failures of the Wii U. Yes, Nintendo fans know the power thing won’t necessarily be a problem – as it wasn’t necessarily with the Wii U – but we’re not the problem (although, actually, we might be a problem now – I’ll come to that in a bit). In terms of your on-the-fence, casual Gamers though, you’re going to plonk a console in a competitive market, with some specs that look horrific in comparison to the competition (32 GB memory!!), and ask people to lay out the same (or more) cash-money for that seemingly inferior product.
I mean, seriously, how do you see that going? Do you think folks wanting a console to play on, either casually or not, will knowingly pay the same, or more, for yours, particularly when their friends are likely to already have the PS4 or XB1? I mean, that’s not the smartest move, like, business-ly speaking, is it!?
So, really, you’re then relying on two things to shift the Switch; Games and the whole “portability” thing.
Now, Games are something you’ve had some success with, and Nintendo exclusives are, admittedly, usually pretty fucking great. That said though, we also know they’re not enough on their own – see, for example, say…..the Wii fucking U (FFS)! Sure, you’ve got more 3rd party developers on board now, but with what, exactly!? You’ve suggested that the Switch architecture is more similar to PS4 and Xbox One than was the Wii U – which bodes well – but, then again, whether developers see a value in porting games will largely depend on sales, which will largely depend on…..games. This is exactly the kind of vicious circle you found yourself in with the Wii U isn’t it? Developers didn’t see any value in porting (or making original) games for the Wii U because console sales were relatively low, and console sales were relatively low because there weren’t a huge number, or consistent flow, of games.
Obviously, one way to combat that, to get some sales momentum, is to have a really strong line-up at launch, but that doesn’t entirely seem to be a thing either. Some of your “launch” titles appear to be decidedly less than “launch-ey” in nature, instead stretching into ‘within the first year of launch’ territory. Your biggest title is arguably Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which looks awesome, but……I can also get that for my Wii U, right!?
I mean, don’t get me wrong, that’s great for me, but what it also means is that I’ve less incentive to upgrade right away. And, here’s the Kicker; even as a Nintendo fan – and one who wants to see you succeed – I’ve inevitably been burned by my experience of all of the above before, and just because you’ve apparently failed to learn from history, doesn’t mean that I won’t. Precisely because I’ve been there before, I’m even more likely to adopt a wait and see approach before I jump onboard the Switch Train. Honestly, if even Nintendo fans (i.e. your core audience) are hesitant, there’s a real problem there, and you’re even more likely to find yourself in that vicious circle than you were with the Wii U, no!? Christ, it’s not like you have to be Nostra-fucking-damus to see this shit is it!?
So, finally, what are you left with? What’s your one remaining, sure-to-shift-a-console Trump card!? Well, it’s that it’s not just a console actually, and that it’s a console/handheld hybrid. That’s great. Honestly, I think it’s pretty fucking cool, and even that on its own might be enough. I travel a bit, I don’t always have access to the TV, and having the ability to play a ‘genuine’ console game on the go is a real potential boon for me. Boom, job done, surely!?
Because, again, as much as I love that idea, you’ve somehow managed to trigger the ‘hang on a minute… ‘ part of my brain – which takes some doing because when it comes to buying stuff with plugs on, I’ve got the self-control of a three month old puppy. See, whilst I’d love to take Breath of the Wild with me, say to ease the tedium of the 24hr Trek from my Mum’s house to mine, thanks to the distinctly unimpressive battery life of the Switch, there’s a fairly big chance I’d be out of juice before I’ve even finished the train journey to the airport. And sure, that battery life would increase if I was playing a less console-ish game, but then – and here’s the thing – if I want to play a less console-ish game for longer, I’ve already got a PS Vita. And I love my Vita.
Whilst it’s not as good as the Switch will be in some areas, it also benefits from being a machine specifically designed for portability and “on the go gaming”. The Switch, I fear, will pay the price of being a hybrid, and hand luggage space being at a premium, it’s highly likely that I’d have to choose my Vita, given I can’t rely on having access to plugs and whatnot whilst I’m travelling. Again, whilst I like the hybrid idea in theory, when it comes to laying out real cash-money for it, particularly when I’ve already got both console and portable options, one that’s not necessarily as good as those I’ve already got (in at least some areas) is going to make that purchase anything but a no-brainer.
And finally, this whole second screen thing. Great, I love the idea that, rather than having to turn my console off and sulking through an episode of the fucking Kardashians, I can simply pop out the Switch and carry on within seconds. It really looks so simple and quick that it’d hardly be worth even a little, token sulk on my part.
But……and you really don’t need me to tell you this, I already have that option with my other consoles, which both have at least a few second screen work-arounds. What’s more, most of them are waaaay better than the tiny little screen the Switch will be offering. My tablet’s twice the size and twice the resolution of it, and it’s pretty simple to hook up to my PS4 controller, so again, you’re already outplayed before you’ve even launched. I can even pick up the PlayStation TV for about £40 now, and that’ll allow me to do pretty much everything the Switch does, and will also allow me to continue playing my PS4 on a second, decently sized TV.
Sure, you’ve made a big deal about how the Switch’ll be great in a social setting – the typical Nintendo thing – and how, when all your friends have a switch too, you’ll be able to transform even the dullest of parties into an epic Mario Kart battle – particularly thanks to all your joystick configurations and whatnot. Again, that’s kinda cool, but a) I don’t really have any friends, and b) even if I did, there’s only so many times you can hijack somebody’s party with a Switch before you stop getting invited in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a cool idea – and I’d love to rock up to a (theoretical) friend’s house with my Switch, but it’s not a scenario that’s going to happen that often for that many people, surely!? As for taking it to the local park to hang out and play….. Have you been to a public park recently? Christ, if I do pay 300 quid for the Switch, the last thing I’m going to do is wave it around in front of the local gang of yoofs in a dimly lit fucking park!!
Anyhoo, I digress. Point is, whilst I’m definitely interested in the Switch – in many aspects of it – almost all of them are in ‘that’s quite cool’ territory, and there’s little-to-nothing that’s got me screaming #shutupandtakemymoney. There’s basically nothing that’s completely original, with even the hybrid thing being a slightly better version of the PS Vita/PlayStation TV ecosystem.
Even more worryingly, it really seems like you’ve failed to learn the lessons of the Wii U, and that’s really, really hard to swallow as a Nintendo fan. I don’t want to go through that again, and I don’t want to see you guys go through that again, but honestly, I fear that’s exactly what’s going to happen. At the very least, you’ve left yourselves relying on luck, initial momentum (i.e. people ignoring the whole Wii U incident), and people looking for second, or even third consoles. A few spectacular games will certainly help, but they might also not be enough.
Honestly, I hope I’m wrong, and I’m sure I’ll get the Switch at some point. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and pray that it’s not already dead in the water by then……
Good luck and godspeed, Nintendo. I fear you’re really going to need it!