We’re just over a week away from the launch of the Nintendo Switch, which releases in the United States on March 3 for $300. Any way you slice it, that is an attractive price point for a console launch, especially given the Switch’s design as a home/portable console hybrid. Like any piece of new gaming hardware, you’re going to be paying significantly more than the asking price of the console if you actually want to have any games to play on the Switch at launch, but the recent news that the digital version of Dragon Quest Heroes will take up more storage space than the Switch includes out of the box reminded me of just how expensive this thing is going to be for anyone who wants to do some serious gaming on it.
Best case scenario, you’re out $360 (plus tax) on launch day if you’re just looking to pick up a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with the Switch, which is what I’m sure many plan to do. However, I’d wager that most people are going to want to have a bit more than that before long, especially since the Switch (and Nintendo consoles in general) is designed with multiplayer in mind. Since the Switch only comes with one pair of left and right Joy-Con controllers + dock, you’re going to have to pony up for more controllers down the road if you want to play with other people and that’s where things really start to get pricey. A single Joy-Con retails for $50 and the price climbs to $80 for a pair, which is more expensive than a standard PS4 or Xbox One controller (and that’s not even counting the additional $30 you’ll have to spend if you want another Joy-Con Grip to attach the controllers to).
There’s also the Switch Pro Controller, which I imagine will be an essential purchase for anyone who wants to play fighting games or other types of games that demand more precise (and comfortable) inputs than the Joy-Cons allow. The Pro Controller, which is pretty much the Switch equivalent of a PS4 or Xbox One controller, is $10 more expensive than either at $69. Sure, the extra cost can probably be attributed to its additional functionality like HD rumble, an NFC chip for Amiibo support, and an accelerometer and gyroscope for motion control, but that still doesn’t change the fact that Nintendo now has the most expensive traditional controller on the market.
Returning to the storage issue, unless you plan on never downloading any games for the Switch and are only using game cards, buying a microSDXC card is going to be an essential purchase. Right now, you can get 64GB cards for very reasonable prices (less than $30) but if you want a big storage boost, expect the cost to jump into the hundreds of dollars. Although Nintendo has stated that the Switch supports up to 2TB microSDXC cards, they aren’t on the market yet and the largest available card right now gives you 256GB of storage, but with a price upwards of $150.
Now, it really only makes sense to purchase a large memory card if you know you’re going to buying most of your games digitally and since the physical game cards will not require any installation (although I’ve heard that Zelda requires a 3GB install no matter which version of the game you get), I suspect that physical sales are going to be the more attractive option on the Switch. That being said, physical media sales are in decline across the board, whether we’re talking movies, music, or video games, so it feels more than a bit odd to see Nintendo privileging them over digital. There’s nothing wrong with buying Switch game cards, but I know I for one hate the idea of having to bring all of these things with me on a trip rather than just having them all installed on my system, accessible at any time. Plus, buying digital means you’ll always have access to your game, whereas you’re out of luck if you end of up losing one of those tiny game cards.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that the Nintendo Switch is in no way a “budget” alternative to the PS4 or Xbox One, even if its underpowered hardware suggests otherwise. Yes, the Switch is selling for less at launch than what those consoles sold for back when they were released in 2013, but in 2017, neither console costs much more than the Switch and by the holiday season, they’ll probably be less. Even though Nintendo likes to think that they’re not competing with Microsoft and Sony, the truth is that the Switch most definitely is competing with the PS4 and Xbox One and once the honeymoon period is over and the novelty of the hardware wears off, I just don’t see the Switch being able to compete with either console, let alone PCs.
Not only is Nintendo going to (again) have the most underpowered hardware on the market, but they’re still not going to have access to most of the biggest AAA games of this year, unless they’re hiding the fact that the next Call of Duty is coming to Switch this November. Nintendo’s first party offerings, such as Zelda and Mario, will no doubt be as strong as ever and perhaps the Switch will become a legitimate second system option for those who already do most of their gaming on one of the three aforementioned platforms, but what worked in 2006 with the Wii may not necessarily fly in 2017. People have more options for entertainment than ever now and even with the strength of Nintendo’s first-party and the console’s selling features, it remains unclear if the average consumer is going to give up gaming on their iPad, which can also do a variety of other tasks that the Switch simply can’t (such as a Netflix app, which the Switch will inexplicably lack at launch).
I really do hope I’m wrong and that the Switch can maintain momentum throughout the year and not just at launch, which is no doubt going to be huge. My point is that it’s naive to point to the Switch’s $300 price point and label it as an inexpensive machine, as the truth is that it’s just as expensive as the competition when you start factoring in the various games, accessories, and storage that will become necessary to get the most out of the system. Nintendo already has its die hard fans on board, but time will tell whether the Switch’s hidden costs end up being a barrier to entry for the mass gaming public, who may end up deciding that they don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars just so their kids can play Mario Kart in the van on the way to soccer practice.