Mixed Feelings: Some Thoughts on The Switch Presentation

Aside from the NES (because I wasn’t born yet) I’ve owned almost every Nintendo console to date, and the ones that I didn’t own at the time, I’ve scavenged from garage sales and eBay. It’s not that I’m sitting around playing them all the time or am some sort of mint-condition collector, it’s that I know Nintendo is an icon in the games industry, and in the minds of a lot of 80s and 90s kids, a symbol of the good ol’ days of childhood. Nintendo’s latest ventures have left a lot to be desired, and were flawed in a lot of ways, but even its last console, the Wii U, with its terrible controller battery life, its lack of account integration, abysmal marketing, and lack of third-party game support, was one of my most memorable gaming investments.

The countless hours playing Smash, Mario Kart, and the indie games like Runbow and Sportsball far exceeded the amount of money I spent on the console. It’s the perfect supplement to a solid gaming PC: I’ve spent far more time playing the Wii U than I have on my Xbox One or my PlayStation 4. The online (even though I played very little of it) was free, every other game had a tremendous amount of social and couch multiplayer content (while other consoles went ahead and ditched split-screen entirely), and the weird controller led to some really interesting play styles down the line.

It wasn’t a bad console, not by any margin. And even after the presentation today, I’ll be playing it, no doubt. But it was bad for business. That balance needs to be struck at some level, and that’s precisely what Nintendo is having the most trouble with.

The Switch, on the other hand, is good business. The first reveal trailer said it all: this is a gaming console first and foremost. “We are doing away with the gimmicks! It’s simply a console that you can take on the go!” To a lot of people, Nintendo found a balance between being unique and interesting, and being stable. They showed off a Mario game, a Zelda game, and some third party games that people know and love. It all just made sense. As of tonight, though, things got a little more complicated, and perhaps not for the better.

Maybe it was the terrible English translation, and maybe it was the decision not to show recognizable Nintendo faces, but something felt terribly off about this entire presentation. I suppose it is too much to ask to have a repeat of the 2004 Twilight Princess reveal at E3. I mean, seriously, take a look at this:

But something a little more exciting for the console that is supposed to redefine Nintendo for the next few years, no? Instead, we got…this? I’m not sure what happened.

Anyway, marketing aside, the console that was shown off looked *awesome.* I don’t see anything wrong with the thing. Simple but hi-tech controllers. Touch screen (capacitive, no less!). Decent battery life. Decent resolution. Decent design. Neat logo.

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But a console is nothing without its games, and that’s really what most people were there to see, I think. That’s where Nintendo started showing its ineptitude. One announcement after another left viewers underwhelmed. Barring the phenomenal Zelda trailer, the game announcements were exceedingly strange. 1-2 Switch, a game that almost instantly registered in my mind as a glorified tech demo, was revealed to be a separate purchase and not included with the console. Seeing as how bundling Wii Sports back in ’06 was one of the best decisions Nintendo could have made with the Wii, not doing so here was a bizarre choice. The second game, Arms, a new IP, looked threadbare, and void of replayability.

While most of the first-party anticipated games from the reveal were eventually shown (except for Mario Kart, for some reason) there was very little to be excited about. Splatoon 2 looks like…Splatoon 1 with a couple of DLC packs. If that’s not the case, great. I’ll be a happy customer come March.

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, not shown at the presentation, looks more exciting than the Splatoon trailer, but again seems a lot like the game was updated with a routine patch rather than an entirely new version of the game. Also, how much are these games going to cost? With no real mention of that off the bat, there is a lot of talk about these games going for full price, which isn’t great for loyal players, who’ve probably owned all the iterations of these in the past, including the original Mario Kart 8.

The new Mario game that was shown off was way more of a surprise than I thought it’d be. While the fantastical worlds and strong platforming (and beautiful art!) of the other Mario games was there, what was there alongside it was a frankly bizarre hub world with Mario running around a model New York City (called New Donk City…really?) with accurately proportioned humans. It gave off some Sonic Adventure vibes, and not really in a good way. It is way too jarring to see Mario running around with his gigantic head and mustache in a world where there are normal people. Part of me hopes that it is one of many worlds, all with different art styles, rather than some unified hub world to traverse, but part of me knows Nintendo and their streak of weird design decisions wouldn’t let that happen. It also doesn’t help at all that the city area looks absolutely abysmal from a graphics standpoint. What is Nintendo thinking? At the end of the day, it will be a fun game, because I’ve not played a Mario game that isn’t. But come on…that level is weird.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks as great as it always has, and despite the plain, uninteresting graphics, the game (a launch title!) looks really, really fun. The decision by Nintendo to incorporate more traditional storytelling in a highly nontraditional open-world game was genius, and couldn’t have come at a better time. Unforunately for Nintendo, it being the only big launch title being announced (other than the tech demos mentioned earlier), it likely won’t get many to spring for the console on launch. It’s one of the more exciting things about the Switch in general, and I’m really hoping they don’t muck it up with any bad news in the coming months.

Then came the logistics announcements. There *will* be a paid online service. Now, this may be the PC gamer in me talking, but paying more money to play online should really go away. It makes sense for people without a gaming PC, perhaps, but then again, it makes little sense for people who like gaming enough to play online to not have a gaming PC…but that’s a rant for another day. The real issue here isn’t *just* that you’ll have to pay something every month or year, but that Nintendo’s online features have never been good or reliable enough to give anyone faith in paying them for it. The amount of times Splatoon kicked me off of the multiplayer service for no reason says a lot to me about that. The only real hope here is that they have fortified their online service, and the money paid is going towards maintenance of that service.

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If what was talked about wasn’t strange enough, what *wasn’t* talked about is stranger. No mention of Virtual Console or the future of purchased games. Will they port over? Will you have to rebuy, or pay-to-port them? Is there any emulation at all? If not, Nintendo is really shooting themselves in the foot here. Another thing that was not mentioned was the way Nintendo Accounts would integrate into the system. What kind of data will be synced over? In 2017, information on this, whether inside or outside of the presentation proper, is necessary. Consoles cannot live without their online features any longer, unfortunately, and it’s best to not pretend like they can.

Despite all the negatives above, there are still positives (and unanswered questions!), and the hype train for this console is still chugging along. I know I’m being critical of Nintendo more than I am about any other company, but much of that has to do with my love for Nintendo and the way that the experiences they provided crafted my understanding of video games. I want the company to stick around and possibly craft more amazing experiences for the years to come, and that will take a lot more business sense, understanding of what fans want, and careful planning than what seems to be going on right now. Either way, we won’t be long to find out, because the console is coming out in less than two months. Here’s to hoping for a good launch.

-FS

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