The Nintendo Switch has officially been unveiled and based on the fact that initial pre-orders sold out pretty much everywhere, it’s safe to say that the console will be a hit when it launches on March 3rd. That being said, as much as I think there’s a lot to like about the Switch, I’m a bit worried about its long term prospects (and I say this as someone who pre-ordered the thing as soon as it became available).
The most worrisome thing for me is that Nintendo seems to be repeating many of the same mistakes that led to the Wii U being a failure, while also creating a few new problems unique to the Switch itself. To be fair, it’s still too early to know for sure whether Nintendo’s missteps will hurt the Switch in the long run, but based on the following decisions, I’m more than a little concerned that Nintendo hasn’t learned the right lessons from their past mistakes.
10. Using A Phone App For Voice Chat
The Switch’s online features have been a major source of confusion so far, particularly because Nintendo is tying a lot of it to a mobile companion app. While I think it’s actually a great idea for Nintendo to have an app that lets Switch owners interact with their friends and perform other functions on the system, there’s one feature in particular that I’m still having a very hard time wrapping my head around because it frankly makes no sense. Here’s Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aimé explaining to Nintendo Everything how the Switch’s voice chat will work:
“The bigger vision is that we are going to provide an overall online service, subscription-based, that not only will capture the multiplayer opportunity, but also the voice chat capability that we’re going to provide through a global app. We think that that’s just as important as access to Virtual Console content.
The reason for that is, it continues to reinforce our commitment to online, and do so in a way that will enable the consumer to enjoy their Nintendo Switch and to still be able to play those connected experiences—like Splatoon, like Kart, like fill in the blank—while they’re on the go. Instead of having some sort of bulky gamer headset, you’ll be able to do it right off your smartphone, put in your earbuds that you use for your standard mobile device. We think that’s a pretty sweet solution. That’s part of the overall opportunity that we see in a subscription service.”
While I can somewhat buy the mobile app’s usefulness as a voice chat option when using the Switch in handheld mode while you’re travelling somewhere, I think it’s a huge mistake to have this be the only way for voice chat to work on the console. Contrary to what Reggie may think, there are many fantastic (and comfortable) headsets out there, but more importantly, this whole voice chat over mobile app thing seems to offer a solution to a problem that doesn’t even exist. Seriously, how hard is it for Nintendo to just let people use a damn USB headset to talk to their friends. At any rate, we’ll have to wait for Nintendo to clarify the reasoning behind this decision more because frankly, I am not following their logic on this one at all right now.
9. 1-2-Switch Should Have Been A Pack-In Game
The massive success of the Wii can be attributed to a variety of factors, but it’s hard to dispute that the console’s pack-in game Wii Sports was an essential part of that success. Honestly, packaging Wii Sports with the Wii at launch is still one of the smartest decisions Nintendo has ever made, so it’s a bit disconcerting that they seem to have forgotten all about it. Nintendo introduced 1-2-Switch — essentially a tech demo for the capabilities of the Joy-Con’s waggle features — at their January presentation and while it doesn’t look like a system seller on the level of Wii Sports, it feels like a great pack-in game for the Switch. Oh, except that Nintendo is selling it for $50 and based on most accounts from journalists who have had a chance to play test it, it’s worth nowhere near that much money.
While I’m sure 1-2-Switch will sell pretty well come launch day, this has more to do with the fact that there won’t be all that many games to choose from rather than a sign of the game’s quality. Frankly, 1-2-Switch is the kind of game that should have been packed in with the Switch, as it’s the exact sort of game that would appeal to the same people who went nuts over Wii Sports. Unfortunately, once those people learn that 1-2-Switch will set them back another $50 on top of the Switch’s price, I have a hard time believing they’ll be as eager to jump in.
8. Storage Capacity
In some ways, Nintendo really is the Apple of console manufacturers, as they too can’t seem to get on board with the idea that hard drives have gotten much larger (and cheaper) in recent years. For some unfathomable reason, the Switch ships with a measly 32GB of storage capacity, which is frankly absurd when even the PS4 and Xbox One 500 GB drives felt insufficient when those consoles launched back in 2013. Admittedly, it appears that Switch games will significantly smaller than the average PS4 or Xbox One game, as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s shockingly small 13.4 GB file size shows, but that still means that users will only be able to put 2-3 games on the Switch before running out of space. Users will be able to expand the storage significantly with Micro SD cards, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that launching a new video game console in 2017 with only a 32 GB hard drive is not only woefully insufficient, it’s downright insulting.
7. Announcing A Paid Online Service With Limited Details
Sony and Microsoft have had paid online services for years at this point, but Nintendo has until now kept their’s free (the right decision, considering it’s inferior to its competitors services in pretty much every way). So it was a bit of a surprise when Nintendo revealed that the Switch would be adopting a paid service, although not until later this year. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with Nintendo deciding to go with a paid subscription model, but unfortunately, they did not offer a single compelling reason for why they’re doing it or why consumers should fork over their money for it. The Switch presentation was extremely light on details when it came to the online service, to the point where Nintendo didn’t even announce what the price would be. All we really know so far is that subscribers will get access to online gameplay, an online lobby & voice chat mobile app, a single monthly game download, and exclusive deals.
While I’d like to give Nintendo the benefit of the doubt that they will have enough features to justify the Switch’s online pricing, their past incompetence in this space doesn’t fill me with much confidence that they’ve suddenly figured out how to build a solid online service for the Switch, let alone one that justifies a premium price tag. Nintendo really should have waited to reveal the Switch’s paid online service until they were ready to back it up with actual information, rather than vague comments and promises.
6. One Free NES or SNES Game A Month. Seriously Nintendo??
Okay, so the fact that Nintendo announced a new paid online service without giving much in the way of details is bad, but hey, at least they’re taking a page out of Sony and Microsoft’s playbooks and giving away some free games to subscribers as a perk, right? Well, leave it to Nintendo to bungle something as straightforward as monthly software lineups, as they have confirmed that subscribers will be able to download one free NES or SNES game each month. When compared to what Sony and Microsoft offer, the Switch is a letdown both in terms of quantity and quality, as one measly NES or SNES title, which are only worth about $5-10 at best, is a far cry from Sony and Microsoft’s services, which give away multiple titles each month. Oh and the cherry on top is that you only have access to the one game for the month, after which you can only keep it if you purchase it. Fortunately, it would be easy for Nintendo to revise its approach to free games between now and when the Switch is released, but they won’t, so really all that’s left to say is: seriously Nintendo?!
5. Lack of Big Game Announcements
One of the most disappointing things about Nintendo’s big Switch presentation was the overall lack of exciting game announcements. With the exception of Super Mario Odyssey, there weren’t really any huge games revealed that could help drive Switch sales down the road. Sure, there were quite a few good games announced, but they just didn’t have the impact that something like a new Metroid, for instance, would have had. Yes, it’s great that the Switch is getting Splatoon 2, but it just looks like more Splatoon (which isn’t a bad thing, but also isn’t all that exciting either).
Yes, it’s great that Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and a few other newly-announced JRPGs will be coming to the console, but all of those titles have niche appeal at best and work better as complimentary titles to the heavy hitters. Of course, it’s still quite early in the year and I have no doubt in my mind that Nintendo is saving some major announcements for E3 and other industry events, but it’s still disappointing to see how very few “must-have” games have been revealed so far (and before you ask, Breath of the Wild only partially counts since it’s also coming out on the Wii U and owners of that console may very well pass on the Switch at launch to play it there instead).
4. Everything’s Too Expensive
Although Nintendo received a bit of flak for pricing the Switch at $300 rather than the rumored $250 price tag, I think that it’s a fair price, especially when you consider that the Wii’s $250 launch price would translate to around $300 in today’s dollars. That being said, the price of the console itself is about the only piece of Switch hardware that feels like it’s priced fairly, as the peripheral prices are bordering on absurd. In particular, both the Joy-Con and Pro Controllers are priced too high, with a single Joy-Con setting you back $50 and a pair selling for a whopping $80 (plus another $30 for a grip controller that actually charges the Joy-Cons).
The Pro Controller, which looks like it will be the ideal way to experience most of the Switch’s games, is priced at $70, which is $10 higher than a standard PS4 or Xbox One controller. When you factor in the fact that the Switch doesn’t come with any packed-in games at launch and has an obscenely small hard drive that will need to be expanded almost immediately with a SD card, the Switch ends up being a very expensive proposition indeed.
3. Paltry Launch Lineup
Look, I know that console launches are never flush with tons of must-have software, but unless Nintendo is hiding a bunch of games we don’t know about yet, the Switch’s launch this March is destined to have one of the smallest software lineups since the Nintendo 64. In all, only five ‘AAA’ games have confirmed for day one: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Bomberman R, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders Imaginators, and 1-2-Switch. In other words, the Switch will have Zelda and only Zelda as its must-have game on launch day (although I’d argue Super Bomberman R is worth picking up too if you’re looking for a good multiplayer experience).
[Update: Five more titles have been confirmed for launch, although they are all ports: The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth +, I Am Setsuna, Human Resource Machine, Little Inferno, and World of Goo]
Basically, the Switch is only worth picking up on launch day if you like Zelda and if you don’t, there’s practically no reason to jump in right away. The Switch’s paltry launch lineup is a pretty clear indicator that Nintendo is launching the console way too early and may have been better served if they had waited a few more months in order to build up a larger software base on launch day. Then again, as someone who didn’t own a Wii U, I’m getting a Switch at launch for Zelda alone, so maybe Nintendo knows what they’re doing after all.
2. Third Party Support Looks Minimal At Best
One of the biggest issues that has plagued pretty much every Nintendo console since the N64 is a lack of third-party publisher support. While this is a major problem on its own, the weird thing is that Nintendo seems acutely aware of the issue and yet seems to continually shoot themselves in the foot. The Wii U was touted as a return to third-party glory, with an impressive array of third-party games out of the gate, but this support quickly dried up due to the console’s poor sales and lack of horsepower in comparison to other consoles and especially PCs. Although Nintendo is again positioning the Switch as having strong third-party support, that support looks minimal at best.
Skyrim, which is over five years old at this point and FIFA, which is about the least-riskiest franchise EA could have chosen to throw onto the Switch, were each given considerable stage time at the Switch’s recent Tokyo presentation and it’s not hard to read between the lines to see that the Switch will be yet another Nintendo console that acts as a compliment to either a PS4, Xbox One, or gaming PC, as most developers are not going to want to port their games over to a system that is significantly underpowered when compared to everything else on the market. The one saving grace so far is that the Switch could very well be a beacon for good JRPGs, but that’s small consolation when some of the biggest upcoming third-party games, such as Mass Effect: Andromeda and Red Dead Redemption 2, will unlikely ever made their way to the Switch. In other words, get ready for long waits in between each big Nintendo first-party release yet again.
1. Confusing Messaging
The Switch’s initial announcement trailer was such a success because it got its messaging across clearly and effectively, establishing the Switch as a console that could be played at home or on the go. While that is certainly still the console’s main selling point, Nintendo focused very little on this aspect of the Switch at its January presentation and instead spent a lot of time showing off the system’s new motion controllers. While the motion control technology present in the JoyCon controllers certainly looks impressive, Nintendo has now overcomplicated the messaging surrounding the Switch, to the point where it feels like they’re taking a kitchen sink approach to features in an effort to recapture the success of the Wii.
Frankly, I’m having a hard time keeping it all straight in my head, as the Switch not only has waggle controls, but touch controls on the tablet, as well as like half a dozen different control variations and inputs. While there is something to be said for giving players options, Nintendo seems to have a short memory, as the Wii U suffered at retail primarily because the average consumer had no idea what to make of it. To be fair, the fact that the Switch is a home/mobile console hybrid is much easier to market than whatever the heck Nintendo was trying to do with the Wii U, but the Switch’s increasing number of features and gimmicks could potentially could push consumers away if they can’t determine what the console’s main selling point is supposed to be.