Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch
Tell me if you've heard this one before. Two major console makers have announced new consoles with more power. Then there's the plucky number three console maker. Number three also announces a new console. Not as powerful as the other two, but something a little different. No silly, I'm not talking about the Atari Jaguar (look it up) and I'm not talking about the Gamecube, Dreamcast, or the Wii either. Okay, maybe we've all heard this one before. For Nintendo, this is starting to become a rite of passage for each new console. The Wii was a slightly overclocked Gamecube. The Wii U, a slightly overclocked Wii and so on. This year, we're treated to the new and already sold out everywhere Nintendo Switch. It is different from the stripped down PC you get in a PS4 or Xbox One. But is different good in this case?
What exactly is the Nintendo Switch? It's sort of a gaming console and a tablet, I think. A Cons-ablet? Not knowing what it is doesn't help at all in convincing Mom or Dad, or the spouse/significant other that it is worth the minimum $300 purchase price. Even Nintendo doesn't really explain it. If you go to their site and watch their videos, they call it a console that allows you to play games "when and where you want". So I guess that means it's a mobile gaming device, not the 3DS, and you can't play Pokemon Go with it.
Still, when you buy Nintendo, you're really buying into the Nintendo experience. Nintendo has their own way of doing things, especially with video games and they've always built their own hardware to make those games a reality, except for the very popular Pokemon Go, the profitable $10 Super Mario Run ($53 million baby!), and Miitomo that was probably made by interns. Nintendo usually takes their time to make sure the experience is exactly the way they want it to be. Otherwise Breath of the Wild would have already been released a year ago to multiple patches a la The Division. It's certain that the Switch will be a thoroughly Nintento experience. It's just a question of which one? A market changer like the Wii or a forgettable one such as the Virtual Boy. Ultimately, the market will decide in spite of forced shortages to hype up demand. But let's break down what we know about the Switch into what makes sense, what doesn't, and the rest.
What Makes Sense
The return of the cartridge, I mean "game card", does make sense. Flash memory storage systems have caught up to and surpassed optical media. It's no longer a limiting factor and should decrease load times, giving the Switch a snappier feel as well as saving battery life. It's a lesson that Sony learned with the first Play Station Portable and Nintendo never stopped with its handheld line. What's hard, psychologically speaking, is paying $60 for the game card when you can buy a 128GB micro SD card for $40. I know, I know. You're paying for the experience and the stuff on the game card. They're easy to lose too. I have a 128GB SD card around here, somewhere.
Nintendo either did not have the "courage" or just plain didn't care to remove the audio jack from the Switch. I for one, applaud this "cowardly" surrender to outdated technology. The Switch already has enough things that detach from it to potentially get lost or stolen. There's no need to add another dongle to the list. Besides, it also means the Switch will work with my noise cancelling Bose headphones and that is always a good thing. Likewise, my Bose cans have cancelled out your counter arguments about why USB-C audio is better.
At first glance, I didn't think the Joy-Con grip thing made any sense at all. The problem was, all the pictures were looking down on it and you couldn't see the grips on the reverse side. It looked like an odd shaped dinner plate with buttons.
Upon closer inspection, it looks like Nintendo borrowed the ergonomics of the PS4 controller with the asymetrical layout of the Xbox's controller. It should be a nice combination. The same goes for the Switch Pro controller though I will have to reserve final judgement until I can hold one in my hands to see if it really feels like I think it will.
Remote parental controls make sense. This is a great idea for any parent with kids. Setting up parental controls on the Wii wasn't painful. Just annoying and if you forgot your PIN, then it was even more annoying. I certainly hope the other console makers follow Nintendo's lead here. As a parent, I do not think the time limits should be a recommendation. I would prefer a time limit with a 5 or 10 minute warning and then suspend mode. But Nintendo didn't consult me and I would rather have easier controls than none. I think the monthly playing time summary may be a net positive although I think it should be weekly instead. I mean, if my kids are spending more time on the Switch than I work in a month I should probably get in there and parent.
What Doesn't Make Sense
We're going to return to the parental controls here for a moment. The parental controls apply to the Switch system as a whole and not individual accounts. This is what is called a poor implementation and poor implementations are where good ideas go to die. Case in point, my oldest is a teenager and my youngest is not. A system-wide time limit just doesn't make any sense outside only child families. Look, if you want a debate about justice, equality and fairness, just let one of your kids take 30 seconds longer than the others. Otherise, a better alternative to the parental controls app is anything with an alarm, such as Siri, Goolge Home, Alexa, or a $2.00 egg timer. I know it would have been more complicated but Nintendo missed the opportunity to hit a homerun with parental controls that were account based instead of the single to first base with system wide controls.
Let's be honest, Nintendo has been losing ground for a while now. The Wii U hasn't sold well. In fact, Nintendo has officially ended its production of the Wii U in Japan and we can only suppose that the remaining stock is slated to be buried in a land fill in New Mexico in the near future. The 3DS market has shrunk in the wake of smart phones and tablets. With that in mind, for Nintendo to announce their own version of the PSN or XBox live as an additional cost to get the full experience of the Switch doesn't make a lot of sense. You buy the Switch and it doesn't come with any games. So naturally you have to buy Breath of the Wild and that's another $60. Then once you have Mario Kart Deluxe, if you want online access, you have to incur an additional yearly cost. Nintendo might see dollar signs in this approach,
but try to convince your parents/purchase decision maker it's worth buying once they realize the $300 initial price is really closer to $400 plus a yearly fee. But wait, you'll get a free game download each month. The games will be 8-bit NES or 16-bit Super NES games. What? You wanted Metroid Prime Trilogy? Nope. But you can enjoy Urban Champion should Nintendo decide to make it available. Nintendo recently announced that they'll be choosing the games and you don't get to keep it after the month is up as long as you're a subscriber. For what has been announced of the online service so far, it feels like a very weak value at any price.
I know I've praised the Joy-Con above and there is much to like about it yet there's a couple things that have me scratching my head. Think back for a moment, what was the number one complaint about the GameCube and PS3 and earlier Sony controllers? They were uncomfortable mainly due to their small size. There's a reason console controllers have gotten bigger since the GameCube days, comfort. The size of a single Joy-Con is a step backwards with regards to ergonomics.
I just don't think the design allows for a single Joy-Con to be held comfortably for any length of time, depending on the game. For example, on Mario Kart Wii, the wheel for the controller was completely optional, though it looked cool. It looks to be absolutely required for Mario Kart Deluxe. Likewise, the Joy-Con grip exists to improve comfort as much as usability, which tells you that it's not comfortable on its own.
Speaking of using the dimiutive Joy-Con, it's on display with the announced launch title 1-2 Switch. Here's what Nintendo has to say about it. "Throw an impromptu party anywhere with anyone thanks to a new play style in which players look at each other—not the screen!" I think this is where the figurative wheels start to come off. You know what else you can use to throw an impromptu party with anyone? Uno, and it's almost 100x cheaper. Let me ask you, if you just bought a brand new game console, why in the world would you then buy a game where the "fun" is in not looking at it, especially one with a screen you can take anywhere? Wii Sports, the game that sold 82 million copies was the signature game that showed off the range of the Wii motion controller. It featured well known sports and people of all ages could play it. Wii Sports Resort was a refinement of the original along with introducing the updated Wii motion plus controls. We have to assume that 1-2 Switch is supposed to be the signature game to show off all of the impressive tech stuffed into the Joy-Con. Wo what's on the list of the games? Competitive cow milking. Seriously!
I'm sorry but Amish simulator is not an improvement over 100 pin bowling. This is much more like Wii Play, which was $40 and included a Wii controller. One of the critiques of the Wii haters out there (including my older brother) was the "waggle" controls. All you had to to was just waggle to win. Comparing the 1-2 Switch version of table tennis demo with Wii Sports Resort table tennis makes it really really hard to argue with them. I hope, I really hope that the advanced HD-rumble and motion controls are just that good. Besides, I hate it when my older brother is right.
Will it Netflix? No. Well maybe later. Nintendo is thinking about it. I can't say this doesn't make sense as there are all sorts of legal agreements with streaming rights and the taking of resources to develop a Netflix app for the Switch. I can say it's not good for the Switch. The Switch isn't just competing with Sony and Microsoft, but they have to also compete with Apple, Amazon and Google in the smart phone/tablet market. The Switch costs almost as much as an iPad and all it does is play games. An iPad also plays games (crappy mobile games, but games nonetheless) but you can also do so much more, including the streaming of media. After realizing how much time and money you've wasted on Candy Crush and Game of War, what better way to ignore your poor gaming and life choices than to stream some shows on any number of services?
The Switch can't offer you that sweet relief from the shame of buying 1-2 Switch. Hopefully Nintendo will see the value of giving its customers more reasons to use their console. In this case, more is more and this is especially true when the Switch doesn't come with any bundled game.
One thing that Nintendo has done that has completely outshone the competition is the ability of the new console to be backwards compatible. The Wii could play Gamecube games. The Wii U could play Wii games and so on. The Switch looks to be one of the most backwards compatible devices Nintendo has ever made. Unfortunately, there is no way for the Switch to read the data on your physical copy of Metroid Prime Trilogy, or my copy of Smash Brothers Wii U. Nintendo could be poised to hit a grand-slam homerun if they can develop a Vudu-like service for all of the older games people own and love. I've purchased several games on the Wii U's virtual console and I don't know if those purchases would transfer to the Switch, but I'm sure they would be playable.
In conclusion, Nintendo's release on the Nintendo Switch has been a thoroughly Nintendo experience. There are those who see the possibilities of what the Switch can offer. There are those look at the announcement with confusion and wonder just what were they thinking. This is typical. As for me, I'm still not sure I like the Switch or think it's stupid. For every positive I see, I can easily come up with at least one or more negatives. Worse, I tried selling my wife on the idea and I couldn't do it. She couldn't see the value of a new console that makes all of the games and Wii controllers we've amassed over the years useless. My kids still enjoy Mario Kart, both the Wii and Wii U versions. To upgrade to Mario Kart Deluxe, I would be looking at $300 for the Switch, $60 for the game, $80 for another pair of Joy-Cons, and possibly $30 for 4 Joy-Con wheels for a total of $470 not including sales tax. I could do that, or I could pick up a couple more ps4 controllers and play Rocket League instead. But my attitude reminds me of a lot of people's feelings about the Wii when it was announced. Bowling? You're going to choose bowling over Call of Duty they asked? They sure did. Millions and millions of them choose the Wii. The Switch could be just as successful. T-minus less than a month and counting.