If you’ve been on Facebook or Twitter since about an hour ago, you probably know that Nintendo has a new console coming out March 2017, officially called Nintendo Switch:
I’ve been pretty hard on Nintendo on this blog, but from what was shown in the trailer for the Switch, I’m actually pretty optimistic about it for a number of reasons. The first is that I like the idea of handheld/mobile gaming, but over the years I’ve found it increasingly uncomfortable to play a dedicated handheld like a 3DS or PS Vita and dedicated mobile games, with their touch screen controls and money-grubbing free-to-play design, are something I normally stay, far, FAR away from. The Switch’s ability to allow you to play on a TV at home, and also on the go like a traditional handheld or stood up on a table with its dedicated stand and two detachable controllers is a brilliant way to bridge the home console and rising mobile market like never before. As a low-income, budget minded gamer who tends to save up for games over a period of time, not having to spend $50 (the going price in Canada) on “just a handheld” game is also a value added proposition I can get behind. Not having to have a segmented market of developers working on both console and handheld games also gives Nintendo a degree of focus not seen since the days of the NES in both their first and third-party games.
Secondly, Nintendo’s Switch is finally a gimmick that won’t devalue the quality of games. I love my GameCube: I love the console, I love the controller, and it’s the last Nintendo console I actually loved that I always look for an excuse to play. While, like many, I did fall in love with the Wii’s charm when it launched in 2006, spending many hours in my University residence playing Wii Sports with friends and having a blast, it quickly gathered dust after I got a PlayStation 3, partly because of a lack of third-party support, but also because motion controls rarely felt right. There were a few examples of games that I honestly liked better with motion controls, such as Metroid Prime and Resident Evil 4, but most titles felt like they had to use the motion controls and led to games that didn’t organically integrate the technology well. You can tell that even Nintendo gave up on motion controls in late party games like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Donkey Kong Country Returns that played like NES games with the Wii-remote turned sidways.
The trend of poor gimmicks continued with the Wii U, a system that I bought for the sole reason to play Bayonetta 2, a decision I don’t regret, and to try out ports like Batman: Arkham City Armored Edition. I did see some value in the Wii U tablet, especially in a game like the first Resident Evil: Revelations where your map and inventory were on-screen, but more often than not, it was either ignored (like in Bayonetta 2) or used poorly. My favourite Nintendo franchise is Star Fox, and one of my favourite developers is Platinum Games, so when I found out that Platinum was working on a Star Fox title, I was excited…until I found out that in order to play the game, you had to balance between looking at the tablet and your TV, so I never played it. That, to this day, is a decision I stand firmly behind. From the less than three-minutes of footage we’ve seen of the switch, we know three things: no motion controls, no Wii U tablet gimmicks, or ties to the “Wii” brand in general, which confused a lot of people in 2012 into thinking the Wii U was an upgrade to the system they already had.
After the conclusion of the Switch trailer, it was revealed that all the heavy hitters third-parties are on board to develop games for the new hybrid console: Sega, Capcom, Bethesda (whose Skyrim was shown running on the Switch in the debut trailer), Ubisoft, WB Games and Telltale among many others. Third-party support is where Nintendo has suffered since the release of the N64, and hopefully it’s something that they’ll foster better with this latest console, because frankly, they can’t survive on their first-party output anymore, even with the focus only having one console and no handheld brings. For many years now, Nintendo first-party games in my opinion, while of high quality, have not only felt unexciting, but pandering to the same, dedicated fan base who want little more than nostalgia over industry defining games.
Those who own and love their Wii U’s can’t deny how long it is between new releases, which again has more or less how it’s been since the N64. The GameCube had a promising start, securing exclusives like Resident Evil 4 that sadly came too late in the GameCube’s life cycle and was eventually ported to well, everything. As late as RE4 was though, third-party support on the Wii U was almost non-existent with half-hearted ports of games that were already old news to most people, like Batman: Arkham City, Mass Effect 3 and Darksiders 2. A promising game from Ubisoft, Rayman Legends, that started out as a Wii U exclusive like Resident Evil 4 before it, made its way to every other console, both last and current generation. Not long after the first year, about the only third-party games you could find on the Wii U were Skylanders and the Lego games. WB Games even had to issue refunds after it cancelled the Season Pass content for Batman: Arkham Origins, a game that on Wii U was already missing multiplayer.
When my love of Nintendo is at all time high, it’s when their games are the ones that people strived to emulate: On the N64, Super Mario 64 was a game that developers even at the end of that consoles life cycle still couldn’t match; The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’s Z-targeting lock-on mechanic was emulated in countless games shortly after its release and 2002’s Metroid Prime was a game unlike any else that you simply couldn’t find on either a PlayStation 2 or the original Xbox. Outside of a game like Super Mario Maker, a game with a community unlike any other that has produced levels beyond imagination, Nintendo games have felt very safe. I’ve no doubt the new Mario Kart is great, the same with the unfortunately titled Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, but they fail to excite like they once did.
Fans of previous entries in either of those franchises I’m sure are okay with how comfortable both titles are, but don’t impress in the way they did when they were new, or in the case of Mario Kart, seeing it in 3-D for the first time. For all their brilliant level design and tight controls, other titles like New Super Mario Bros. Wii U as well as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, just come across as HD SNES games and look, I loved the SNES too, but I’ve already played games like that to death. Not one game on the Wii U has made me saw “WOW” in the way Mario 64 or Metroid Prime did, games that made me jealous that I didn’t own either an Nintendo 64 or a GameCube respectively. Already in the Switch trailer there’s brief footage of a potential new 3-D Mario title that, fingers crossed, will once again shows how creative and game changing Nintendo’s first-party output can be.
Right now we only know the most basic information about the Nintendo Switch, and in the months leading up to its release, it will be interesting to see the information regarding price, games, and specs come to light. Based on what we’ve seen so far however, it’s very promising to see Nintendo merge mobile and console games in a way they only know how, and with no gimmicks like a tablet or remote as well as a large list of third-party developers, I haven’t been this optimistic about a piece of Nintendo hardware since the GameCube. For once in a very long time, I can’t wait to see what Nintendo does next.
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.