Well, it’s been a few days so let’s do what everyone is doing and talk about the hangover.
The Nintendo Switch looks like Nintendo is back swinging for the moon.
It’s fair to suggest that the NS – yup, gonna start doing that abbreviation now – is everything that the Wii U should have been. In three minutes and thirty-seven seconds, Nintendo communicated through its promotional teaser exactly what the Switch was, how it worked and why it is a good idea. It’s of course little more than an evolution and streamlining of the Wii U, but in truth I don’t mind that. The Wii U was never truly terrible; it’s just even now most of us have figured out that the majority of games on the hardware were not improved in any way by the dual-screen functionality of it, and whilst Xenoblade Chronicles X and Super Mario Maker have demonstrated the Gamepad at its strongest, there’s the quiet niggling in the back of our collective consciousness that all you’d really need to do to make these games work just as well on a typical console is add a couple of extra menus.
The Switch seems to be dropping the dual-screen, the touchscreen and the kid-friendly look. In their place is a tactile, cleverly engineered device that looks far more slick and grown-up than we’re accustomed to seeing from Nintendo. Within moments, the whole hybrid concept ‘clicked’ into place; a guy playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and now his dog wants walkies. There’s a controller of three parts, remove the left and right bits – click into the docked screen, lift up and take Zelda on the go. If this doesn’t destroy peoples lives… well… just imagine what a full-fledged HD Pokémon game will do.
Switch to an Airport, with a guy playing Skyrim Remastered. Boom – two additional points made. One, it doesn’t need to be near the dock to play the game, as it is cartridge-based and the portable unit is powerful enough. Two – Skyrim Remastered. Bethesda is on board, and that means third-party support is on the cards. It’s a bit early to tell if they’ll actually stay, but part of that will be early launch figures and sell-through, and a Dark Souls Trilogy on the Switch would doubtlessly help shift additional units. Not joking, FROM Software in on board too – see this helpful list from Nintendo of Japan!
Chances are though this isn’t because Nintendo has suddenly kissed and made up with third parties – at least, not entirely. The reason for this early optimism from third-parties is no doubt down to nVidia being on board and providing much of the actual hardware running under the hood, whilst Nintendo offers the engineering know-how to make the Switch work as well as the branding. nVidia has a lot of PC Support – indeed, it has for years dominated the PC Hardware model and has tried, and failed, to shift into its own console hardware with the Shield. The Switch is like an amalgamation of the best parts of the DS, Wii, Wii U and Shield, and that’s a lot of good things to take from. nVidia’s drivers and architecture are more immediately obvious and understandable than Nintendo’s usual custom chipsets and software updates, which means developers will probably have an easier time of it. Plus look, Zelda and Skyrim Remastered on the go. Seriously, how is this not going to ruin peoples lives?!
We also saw some games! Zelda: Breath of the Wild is obvious, and Skyrim Remastered was a surprise. But we also saw a new Mario Kart – I can tell its new because of the dual item slot at the top of the screen and King Boo’s presence, suggesting this isn’t a port but a full-fledged new Mario Kart, which is good because Mario Kart 8 has sold more than 8 million units on the Wii U. We saw a new Mario game – a full 3D Mario, though we can’t really tell yet if this is more in like with Mario 64 or Mario Galaxy, either way I’m quite happy to see it. We also got a glimpse at NBA 2K – I thought this was an EA game, which goes to show how much I know about basketball games (readas: Nothing at all… nothing at all… NOTHING AT ALL!), and then Splatoon 2. Sharper visuals, a new map and new weapons and hairstyles. That’s really all it needs, but to see it lined up as a competitive eSport was genius. It’s not a huge list of games… but it was enough to suggest that Nintendo was ready, and third-parties were ready alongside them.
Of course, there are questions.
Chiefly among which are battery life. The U-Pad’s battery life was shockingly poor, and here we have what we presume to be a sharp, crystal-clear tablet running at one presumes 720p and running brand new, resource-hogging, power-hungry games. Most of us know that you can play games of PC Quality on a tablet, but this comes at a cost – it sucks the battery dry in record time. Even accounting for a 720p resolution, running Zelda and Skyrim aren’t going to be kind to the battery – or batteries, since the controller bits on each side can be removed and used wirelessly. Mario Kart was even running split-screen on the remote screen; again, one assumes that’s not going to be friendly on the battery. Nintendo has to offer a device which can be used for more than an hour or two at any given stretch – my expectation for battery life is at least four hours, because that’s the time it takes to go to my nearest major hospital, have scans, tests and possibly even chemo in the future, and then come home. Anything less than that and it’ll be disappointing.
Cost is also a big question. Now, we’ve heard talk that nVidia is giving the hardware to Nintendo on the cheap as a means to crack into the console market proper, and that’s an interesting thing to do and it will undoubtedly if true help curtail the costs. But similarly, there’s a lot of engineering work that has gone into the Switch, and its online network – we’ll get to that shortly – won’t be cheap to maintain either, especially if this thing takes off. I’m hoping for something around £250 – but £300 seems a reasonable place, considering running Skyrim Remastered suggests it’s as powerful as the XBox One and possibly even closer to the PS4 (in a hybrid handheld device of that size? Holy moly…). If it inches closer to £400, we’re going to have problems. Nintendo needs to get this into peoples hands, and this may be another case of Nintendo having to be willing to sell the console at an operational loss initially with the aim of recouping that spend on software and subscription models.
Which is a good time to broach the online aspect, which we saw nothing of. I’m of the view Nintendo should keep the online portion of the NS free; but it needs, in my view, to start charging a subscription for access to its back catalogue of games. And believe me, £9.99 a month for access to a library of N64, SNES and Gamecube games alongside Sega Mega Drive and possibly even Dreamcast stuff? There’s not enough yes in the world to describe how much I would want that. And Nintendo would benefit from it, these games won’t tax the hardware too much and should be able to generate long-term profit margins. But all we have for now is My Nintendo, which is a neat concept that ties into its smartphone offerings but hasn’t really had any real-world demonstration of change yet.
Also, is that pro-style controller in the box, or is it going to be another £40 extra addition? It’s nice and all, and I want one, but I’m sure Nintendo and third-parties would much prefer on launch to have people putting that £40 towards an extra game, not an additional controller.
For the most part, I’m cautiously optimistic. The cartridge-based format should negate the need for huge on-board storage; 32GB on board seems small, but that’s on the handheld – and if we can expand on that with an SD card up to 256GB, well, sorted. Cartridges also mean we don’t have to save games on our device, they can be stored on the cards themselves, which should help with that. The design is slick and modern. It’s being aimed at the grown-ups; time will tell if this means we’ll see the likes of GTA or Doom on our Switch, but if things go well – I wouldn’t put it past anyone. And as I said… the moment we get a proper 720/1080p Pokémon game on this thing, there will be a worldwide meltdown. Nintendo isn’t likely to be able to make enough and countries aren’t likely to be able to print money fast enough. That’s a huge deal – I’m relatively surprised that Pokémon Sun and Moon aren’t getting bundled into the Switch promo, but Nintendo really wants to shift the last batch of 3DS models (and likely the last remaining dregs of the Wii U) over the holiday season, and saying hey, Pokémon is on Switch would probably make people wait until March. Hey, I didn’t say that was a nice thing – just that this is how business is.
Time will tell, but so far it seems Nintendo has learned from its mistakes over the last few years. A clean, modern-looking machine with an engineering trick that merges both its hardware divisions into one cohesive whole suggests that Nintendo is really making an effort, and the promo trailer was a little cheesy, but it was still packed with enough information to explain what it was and why we’d want one. We’ll have to wait until probably after Christmas for a full Switch Direct now, with a show-reel of launch software, but I’m still quite excited for it.
That said, seriously gaming press. You want Nintendo to grow up and cater for the adults, then when they do you bitch and moan that there were no kids in the promo trailer. I’d point out how stupid that was, but I’ve a feeling it would be lost on many of you so… eh, why waste my time.
Keep the faith. And Nintendo… if you announce a Zelda Souls, I swear, I will camp by my front door on launch day all night long to get my hands on that delivery.