Get it? Ha-haaaa.
Alright, cheesy title aside this is me finally getting around to explaining why I am excited at all about Nintendo’s new console entry – The Switch. The name takes me back a little bit to the Wii and whether or not it maybe needed a little more time in the oven. It’s a little too on the nose while at the same time sounding like the name of a knockoff console you would buy from Leap Frog or Play Mobile. Its hard to know for sure whether or not the names they’ve chosen for the last couple cycles are over or under-engineered. Perhaps its not the most pressing concern as far as Nintendo’s business practices go but for me its an interesting thought to consider whether their problem has been over or under-thinking their direction as a game company.
On to the subject at hand – The Switch. After a few weeks have gone by I have to say that I am still legitimately excited for it while at the same time accepting that many people are not. I get why, I really do, because its exactly the same reason that I was not excited for anything they did since the Game Cube. I have always defended Nintendo’s attempts to innovate where other console makers have stuck to safe and progressive improvements on specific homogeneous items for each console generation. Most of the risks that have been taken are software or policy related and easily changed based on feedback during their E3 reveals. Nintendo on the other hand over the years has decided on a course of action internally and has staunchly stuck to it, in some cases forcing their competition to design and release hardware or change policy of their own so as not to leave a section of the market to one company. In their own way they have pushed the industry forward and have successfully been crowned the undisputed lords of portable (NOT mobile) gaming which is no small accomplishment in addition to Virtual Console and the incredible access they have given gamers to classic games on 3ds and console alike.
What impressed me the most about the Switch is how it seemed to be a far more focused product than in the past years. Nothing that they showed in their trailer seemed gimmicky or unnecessary. Whenever a game company shows off a piece of tech the first things that cross my mind are, “Do I need this?” or “Do I want this?” and then the Why’s for each of those. I have wanted to need Nintendo products for years but none of them have quite gotten me there. The Wii was a really neat idea and the times I did play it I had fun but nothing about it seemed to tell me that I needed to add it to my gaming regimen. The 3ds I played when it originally launched and it was cool, Street Fighter and Pilotwings were fun and the 3d made them visually even more interesting but again, I didn’t need to have it. I want every new phone that comes out and every piece of tech that is demonstrated I want just because its interesting but as I lack an unlimited amount of funds each of these purchases needs to earn my money. I wanted a 3ds but ultimately what is it? A Pokemon, Mario and nostalgia machine. I know that isn’t the extent of the library but I cannot justify purchasing any console for a couple specific exclusives, at least not at launch. I desperately want to play Xenoblade for Wii-U but I can’t justify that purchase for the few games I would play. None of the unique hardware for those systems is really enough to push it ahead of its competitors if you aren’t swimming in disposable income or a massive Nintendo fan.
There are a couple interesting tidbits on the nVidia blog which had me appreciating the level of effort that went into developing the Switch.
“The development encompassed 500 man-years of effort across every facet of creating a new gaming platform: algorithms, computer architecture, system design, system software, APIs, game engines and peripherals. They all had to be rethought and redesigned for Nintendo to deliver the best experience for gamers, whether they’re in the living room or on the move.”
I’ll let you read the post and decide for yourself but ultimately what this says to me is that Nintendo really invested the proper effort into making this a worthwhile experience for the people who purchase it. Not to say this hasn’t been the case with their previous consoles but as everyone knows the Wii and the Wii-U always came with a “… but” attached to their existence. Nintendo had to compromise in order to make those consoles a reality where their competition didn’t. Even Microsoft is feeling the effects of their decisions to compromise with the Xbox One, although that isn’t the only reason its suffering. In order to bring a more robust multimedia experience they gave more of the system to things other than gaming which in the end has it lagging behind the PS4 in horsepower. Motion controls, affordability, rear and front facing cameras for ARG games, 3d capability, while all fantastic concepts it forces them to compromise elsewhere to make them a reality and not all of them ended up being worthwhile.
Watching the video for the Switch I did not see anything that had me questioning where they cut corners to make a certain feature a reality. I know a lot of people will immediately say, “But Non-Washable, its a fucking 3ds that plugs into a dock so it can pretend its a console, it’s corner cutting all over the place!” Normally I would agree and it is a valid concern however the fact that nVidia and Nintendo invested so much into creating the scalable technology for the Switch tells me that they in fact did not compromise on their vision in an attempt to appeal to everyone while sacrificing overall quality. The fact that the Switch may or may not reach parity with the XB1 or the PS4 on graphics or frame rate is a separate issue. If you demand that your games look like a Witcher 3 or Battlefield 1 then the proffer of a portable system like the 3ds or mobile gaming is probably a no-go and there is nothing wrong with that. The reason why it was okay to judge the Wii and the Wii-U on how it performed vs PS3/Xbox 360 is because it was still competing in that arena. While the peripherals may have been different it was still a standard console and when put up against the competition it fell well short of the benchmarks. In much the same way people have been comparing the current generation, and to a lesser extent the last generation, of consoles to PC’s. At this point they are PC’s in a standardized case and as such they are now fighting in a new weight class, although that is a whole different rant. I don’t feel it is fair to prematurely assume that the Switch will not provide an amazing experience in its own right because it doesn’t conform to the hardware standard we’ve become accustomed to.
The Switch at this juncture appears to me as a very refined and direct expression of the company that Nintendo has been transitioning into since the Game Cube’s reign ended. Nintendo has always been the leader of quality portable gaming and while other companies have tried to challenge them it has never lasted. Even in an era where the majority of people carry a gaming capable device on them Nintendo still offers the best portable game experience of all. Their consoles have been hit or miss since the golden years of the NES and SNES so to me the Switch feels like the most natural answer to the question of their destiny in the game industry. Technology that is purpose built to deliver the most top-tier portable gaming experience with a host of creature comforts and in addition to that the option to play it on your 50″ TV from the comfort of your couch while not sacrificing anything?
That sounds like an ideal marriage of the best the 3ds has given us and all the promise we’ve been intermittently excited for when it comes to the Wii consoles.
We want to give you our money, Nintendo, desperately. Give us a reason to.