Switch might be the perfect Nintendo system for me, but there’s still a lot left to prove

By Alex Donaldson, Tuesday, 25 October 2016 10:16 GMT

Still thinking about Nintendo’s new console…

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Maybe it’ll be a VG247 civil war. Brenna posted an amazing piece last week about the Switch, Nintendo’s new attempt to recapture past glories by seemingly consolidating its resources behind one machine, at once high-end (by Nintendo standards, anyway) and portable. She was unconvinced. She made a bloody good case, too… But I’m on the other side of the fence.

I see the Switch as a smart realization of the shifting market. Thanks to phones for the first time in 27 years Nintendo’s ability to rely on the handheld sector as a steadfast backup to console-related stumbles is shaky. I see the Switch less as competition for phones and more for tablets. This isn’t a device I see people carrying with them every day to work, but on long journeys, business trips, holidays and so on. This sort of use isn’t dissimilar to how I use my iPad for games.

“At last I could play Pokemon on a big screen getting all comfortable while a 10-year-old could still play it in the back of their parents’ car, but for Nintendo the game library and development resources are shared. This is perfect.”

Its concept also solves another problem I’ve long-held with Nintendo – all those games I want to play on a handheld but never have time to do so. I never play games on flights (I just get drunk and sleep, it’s easier), and the concept of playing a games machine with a two-handed grip in a cramped train carriage has never appealed.

The end result is me sitting playing Fire Emblem, Ace Attorney, and Rhythm Paradise on a comfortable sofa in my dressing gown on a Sunday morning. Which is fine, but I’d rather be on the massive TV than the 5-inch handheld screen. Wouldn’t you?

That choice is what sells me on the Switch. If we presume the price is right and the battery life decent (large presumptions, I know) this means that at last I could play Pokemon on a big screen getting all comfortable while a 10-year-old could still play it in the back of their parents’ car, but for Nintendo the game library and development resources are shared. This is perfect.

If Nintendo follows through, it should be a consolidation of their resources that turns all the guns of their first-party output, the best on the planet, onto only one platform. We should be getting big-budget adventures like Zelda right alongside the little cutesy more handheld-friendly games like the excellent Rhythm Paradise.

It’s in this that Brenna and I most disagree: I think even if third-party support evaporates as it did for the Wii U and even to an extent the Wii, a Nintendo fully turned on to and focused on the Switch will be putting out more than enough games to keep me interested and to make the purchase worthwhile so long as it isn’t grossly expensive. If all the exclusive 3DS games from November 2012 onwards were instead on Wii U, I’d feel a hell of a lot better about that console.

“Nintendo’s content turned onto one machine that can be whatever you want it to be? It can be 1080p on a TV or slung into your bag? That is bliss.”

The things that worried me most about yesterday’s messaging is Nintendo’s repeated stressing that this is a home console. The 3DS deserves an extended swan-song, but if they don’t shift their resources behind this one console as an all-in-one catch-all solution for the company sooner than later an opportunity is missed. This talk of course smacks of the age-old lie that DS was a ‘third pillar’ and not a replacement for the GBA, so I have hope this is just the company hedging their bets in case uptake is slow and they need to reconfigure.

There are other things I think are smart about the design. For Japan, handheld-focused, Switch can be marketed more as a commuter machine that can also hook up to your TV. There is an appetite for more console-like games on the go there, something the Vita has proved there, the only region it’s had any real success. In the West, this is instead a home console that can handily be unplugged and taken away. It can be both things to both markets.

It also fulfills the most enticing USP of Wii U for parents, a vital market for Nintendo – the ability for one player to play off-screen without disrupting Eastenders or Bake Off or whatever guff is on the TV.

This position brings with it challenging expectations. If it’s a replacement for both the console and the handheld, the price-point needs to be such that it’s not too much cheaper than a console for power concerns and not too much more expensive than a handheld.

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The Wii U retailed for £250 at launch while the 3DS kicked off at £230. This is the price point. All those snappy on-and-off bits and what looks to be a high-end screen and current-generation like visual capabilities are all well and good, but this is the bracket the system needs to hit even if it is significantly more powerful than the Wii U (and one hopes it is). If it doesn’t hit or undercut it, they’re in trouble.

If they can find that sweet spot, I think they have a compelling case. It could be the kind of machine older gamers who grew up with Nintendo will find enticing as a second console and that parents will be drawn to for kids.

I think parts of the aspirational lifestyle trailer are absolute bunk, of course. Nobody is going to show up to a party with this bloody thing unless it’s a pre-arranged Smash Bros get-together or a ‘I’d like to come to hate my friends’ Mario Party session.

“Far more interesting than the concept of a portable Skyrim is the idea of both handheld and console style games all in one place, offering players the option of both without having to buy two different bits of hardware.”

As I said earlier, I also think the concept of this as a machine that an adult takes to work with them every day for lunch misses the fact that the Vita already tried this and largely failed. The Vita had ‘proper’ Call of Duty and Uncharted games that were impressively similar to their console peers. Ultimately, nobody cared. If I’m on a train, I’m more likely to boot up Final Fantasy Record Keeper, the excellent bite-sized mobile spin-off, than, say, Final Fantasy 7 Remake. Far more interesting than the concept of a portable Skyrim is the idea of both handheld and console style games all in one place, offering players the option of both without having to buy two different bits of hardware.

In this I agree with Brenna’s take: the mass market isn’t interested in playing things like Skyrim on the go. Certainly not in the park while walking/ignoring your dog, as the reveal video depicts. I’d take it into the garden on a sunny day, though. I’d take it to the kitchen to play while keeping one eye on the oven so something doesn’t burn. I’d take it abroad to play in a hotel room. I’d take it if I knew I had an extended wait, like in a hospital waiting room or something, and in a sense that is justification enough.

These, incidentally, are the things I currently use my 3DS for. I probably use my 3DS too rarely, in truth – because as mentioned earlier if I’m at home I’d rather be gaming on a big-screen, and these opportunities are slim and short. If I can continue something I’d been playing on the big screen, even the shortest of mobile sessions becomes more enticing. For kids I think the conversation shifts and their experience might well be the inverse of mine, but that’s the beauty and strength of this concept: it can be both.

So all that lifestyle stuff is rubbish, yeah. But, man – Nintendo’s content turned onto one machine that can be whatever you want it to be? It can be 1080p on a TV or slung into your bag? That is bliss. Nintendo can release both kinds of games: the handheld-friendly bite-sized stuff and the large-scale stuff, and they only have to market one machine in different ways depending on the experience.

If their first-party studios are turned up to 11, I don’t even care about third party all that much. I know I’m an outlier on that, mind.

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The people Nintendo need to try to capture are those I think of as the ‘casual-hardcore’ – core gamers who are up on their games but also don’t live and breathe it as some of us do. These are the people who push something like Skyrim from being a 10-million seller to a 20-million seller. They also buy FIFA, or Madden, and some shooty-bang game every year. This is a market Nintendo has consistently failed to capture other than with their wild success as a family machine with the Wii.

SEGA discovered that market under Nintendo’s nose; while the SNES was largely sold as a toy, SEGA realized there was scope for adults to play games. Sony swept in with this market as their primary target for the PS1 and that was that. Things changed. Nintendo has always struggled to capture this market, instead succeeding with families and the full-on hardcore gamers who grew up with a loyalty to their hardware.

“In many households, the Wii was a family friendly compliment to the 360 or PS3 they already had. Switch should be shooting for that again, then chasing up an even broader market later. This is a challenge, but I do think that Nintendo’s software development teams are up to it.”

Is a PS4 owner really going to buy a Switch to play Skyrim or even Elder Scrolls VI on the go? I’m not convinced. We return to the Vita argument. I reckon if you strip away the portable bit folks are still going to go with a PS4 first – and the portable bit isn’t that compelling to everyone. It’s better for kids, certainly.

A strong first party line-up will help, but the system has an uphill battle in this regard. In many households, the Wii was a family friendly compliment to the 360 or PS3 they already had. Switch should be shooting for that again, then chasing up an even broader market later. This is a challenge, but I do think that Nintendo’s software development teams are up to it.

It all depends, of course. The price is key. Battery life likewise. Nintendo’s software focus needs to be tightly drawn to this machine and not linger for too long on the 3DS in order to ensure support is excellent no matter what happens with third parties.

I’m conscious that I’m a Nintendo fan, and Nintendo games alone are in a sense enough for me. I also think they’re enough for kids and families if the machine is marketed right (the 3DS was, the Wii U was not). If they’re to find an audience beyond this, however, the company needs to be aggressive with price, performance, third party partnerships and very savvy marketing.

Last week’s video was for the most part pretty damn savvy, and my hopes are high. It’s going to be an excruciating wait for the new year, however, when we can really learn in detail about things like the specs, price and software line-up. Fingers crossed. I have high hopes.

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