So, as I write this, the Nintendo Switch event is just two short hours away.
(And yes, I live in the UK and yes, I’m up to watch it at 4am and yes indeed that’s insane, I know this and you don’t need to tell me.)
With all the talk, rumours, speculation and leaks that have happened over the last few months, as well as the incredible pre-event build-up and undeniable hype for it, I thought rather than speculate on games, hardware or even additional functions, I’d speculate instead on why the Nintendo Switch has been an unavoidable thing since the late Satoru Iwata mentioned it way, way back in March of 2015. Why during 2016, it was impossible to go a day without someone, somewhere proclaiming they had information about the thing, and how every media outlet – including the Daily Mail, CNN and even Fox News couldn’t avoid reporting on it. Because, hey, isn’t Nintendo irrelevant in video games now?
Of course Nintendo isn’t irrelevant; far from it. For all the talk of their hardware issues, one thing has always been clear – Nintendo likes to try different things, and adapt consoles for markets going forward. And whilst they’ve had a few duds over the years – most hardware companies do, unfortunately – even in their darkest moments the company seems to be light-years ahead in certain aspects, and it is often only with the benefit of hindsight that anyone gives Nintendo any credit for their accomplishments in the video game sphere.
When 3D began to become the de-facto movement in video games, Nintendo took a long, hard look at the control schemes and decided – this isn’t good enough, and so the Analog Stick was pushed for the Nintendo 64. This was a full year before Sony got in on the act; and Sony, despite being largely borne of Nintendo’s temperamental period in the mid to late nineties, had little option to follow. Super Mario 64 was a revelation on the market; not only a fully immersive 3D world, with a lot of 360-degree movement in swimming and even flying, but the analog stick brought with it a simpler, intuitive sense of movement. Gently nudge the stick to move slowly, sneaking. Whack it to the edge and sprint, with some variance between the two. Sure, Sony might have got there eventually – but Nintendo was the first company arguably to marry the new hardware capable of pushing 3D graphics with a control mechanism that took advantage of the potential in the hardware.
Look at your games today, and a lot of the time you’ll find things Nintendo helped to pioneer. Sure, they weren’t perfect – nothing except for Eva Green is (I need Penny Dreadful back in my life!) – but Nintendo was there, forging a path in periods when no-one was thankful (and no-one cared that Nintendo was there at the beginning of it all). Your game progression thing? Nintendo was there early on; pushing a specific and understandable goal rather than a non-specific task. You like Dark Souls? Well, thank Metroid for being the origin of the freeform open-world thing.
This is what makes Nintendo relevant, now more than ever.
You see, many people have felt let down by Generation 8. And that’s an understandable feeling; not simply because so many games have been exploitative, unfinished tech concepts rather than actual games in their own right but largely because nothing interesting happened, apart from VR which itself appears to be sinking faster than even I expected it to. Nintendo’s Wii U could have been a game-changer; and I’ve mentioned this before but it is worth mentioning, straight after the Wii U was revealed, within weeks Sony and Microsoft had their own variations on the Wii U Gamepad – namely, the Vita Controller Sync and Microsoft Glass. When the Wii U began to bomb, Sony and Microsoft fled both of these concepts in record time. But why would they have bothered even creating workable demonstrations for their shows if they weren’t going to use them? Well, it’s because Sony and Microsoft both saw what Nintendo was doing… and decided they wanted to tag along with their own variations! Now, does that sound like an irrelevant company to you? When arguably two of the biggest companies in the world are willing to spend vast sums of money just to compete with your new idea?
The Nintendo Switch -is- different; and it’s typically Nintendo-different. A hybrid console, taking advantage of something which has been tried before but needed more engineering work (namely the nVidia Shield, and unsurprisingly nVidia are behind the tech inside the Nintendo Switch) and putting a consumer-friendly spin on it. The Shield was an interesting concept; but it was limited largely by its reliance on the PC. Mobile technology, and the Nintendo 3DS, could be taken anywhere with little compromise and that is what ultimately hurt the Shield – it was, effectively, a Wii U Gamepad for the PC. But its limited mobile capability, and the fact that the Wii U Gamepad was quite a good idea in principle if not wholly in practice, helped lay down the foundations for the Switch as we know it now.
And the hard thing for the haters is the fact there is still consumer and technological interest in what Nintendo is doing. 2016 was a fantastic year for Nintendo, and not because of Pokémon Go, or Super Mario Run or Sun and Moon or anything specific. It was fantastic for Nintendo because they didn’t have to lift a goddamned finger in terms of marketing the NX – now Switch – to the market. The feverish addiction for any and all information on it from consumers drove rumour, speculation, leaks and proof-of-concept mock-ups. Everyone wanted to know about this machine, and what made it tick. Nintendo’s deafening silence for the majority of the year was a little frustrating, but it only serves to prove the point: Nintendo was getting reams of coverage about the NX/Switch, and got acres of discussion going across the Internet. And Nintendo wasn’t even trying. It wasn’t even saying anything. It just happened, naturally, because people wanted more information. Again, does this sound like a company on the edge of irrelevance to you?
Going forward, I can confidently say that Sony and Microsoft are going to be watching this event – and the later Treehouse Live Stream – with great interest. Because, again, Nintendo is pushing something quite different, blazing its own trail again, and whilst I doubt Nintendo will nail everything down at once – it will have enough there to give Sony and Microsoft an idea of where Nintendo thinks the consumer market is heading. Although, really, where Nintendo is heading shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has looked at sales figures for 2016. Mobile technology is fast outpacing traditional console hardware. Mobile is king of the heap in terms of software and revenue. Nintendo is going where the market has already moved to; Japan and China are addicted to mobile technology for cultural reasons, and even in the United States and Europe, mobile gaming has become unavoidable. And let’s not forget that one of last years biggest games was Pokémon Sun and Moon, shifting ten million copies in a week. There is an appetite for mobile gaming; more than home console, but Nintendo is keeping the home console aspect somewhat.
Indeed, one might argue Nintendo has done this before; the GB Player and GBA Player for the N64 and Gamecube respectively allowed home console users to play their Game Boy and Game Boy Advance games on their home consoles. The concept was one Nintendo themselves pushed long before cross-play on newer devices, and it’s surprising how few people remember these additions (which actually weren’t that expensive when you think about it – about the price of a typical retail game). We’ve come a long way since then, and modern technology has all but destroyed the boundaries between the home console and handheld consoles. Given another generational cycle, I’d dare say there’d be almost no difference at all, and even if Sony and Microsoft stuck with home consoles, chances are much of the hardware they’ll be using four or five years down the line will have been entirely driven by the mobile industry.
That’s not to say the Switch will be a guaranteed hit – I hope it is, because this seems like a great concept that should do well – because Nintendo does have a history of screwing up (though Sony and Microsoft haven’t proven to be any better, but I guess we give them a pass for some reason). Especially Mid-90’s Nintendo; Microsoft’s hubris with the XBox One and Sony’s hubris with the PlayStation 3 is small fry compared to Nintendo’s hubris with the Nintendo 64. There are tons of great in-depth articles out there about this dark era of Nintendo, where it treated a lot of companies with absolute contempt, an era which Nintendo still suffers some hangover from today (anyone who remembers Body Harvest may be interested to know that studio, which Nintendo treated terribly, went on to be reborn as RockStar. Yes, they of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption!). Nintendo is changing – new talent and blood has taken the reins in recent years and whilst some of the old, bad Nintendo fights for control I do think old, bad Nintendo is definitely on the way out to be replaced with people with more modern sensibilities – and the Switch is a sign of that change.
You don’t need to do anything more than look at the Switch. It’s sleek, elegantly designed. The home dock is smart, nice-looking. The controllers harken back to its old days, whilst retaining modern functions and design. It’s rebirthed the Nunchuk Method. The one-screen solution allows for more power to be used where it needs to be used. Hell, the fact it is a mobile device in an age where mobile devices are all the rage. Its reveal teaser, using catchy music and pitched not towards families, but those who arguably have the money – younger, tech-savvy adults. And holding a live conference for its big reveal, knowing the tech world – and most of the gaming world – will be watching, baited breath, to see what they have to show off.
Nintendo Switch is a good idea, at a time when it is most needed, from a company that frankly seems to give not a dime to your nickel about what others are doing. It’s Nintendo arguably at their most confident; and they should be, as all sounds from the industry so far point to overwhelming praise for the device. We’re all fascinated. We’re all eager to see it. And despite a few naysayers, pre-orders going live barely an hour or two after the live showcase will sell out incredibly fast. A lot of people have already decided they want it – and they’ll pony up the cash for it. And with a lot of retailers pitching this in the UK at around £180 ($250), it’s not nearly as much cash as they’d probably have expected to part with.
It’s incredible to think that Nintendo did a lot of this without saying a word though; we did the work for them, and it has been “Super Effective” to say the least.
Overall however, what is most obvious is now more than ever we want and perhaps need “Nintendo”. With Sony and Microsoft off chasing power again, Nintendo is slipping in with an alternative. Cheap, high-concept and interesting. It’s undeniably Nintendo through and through – finding an angle, rather than looking for pure raw horsepower. But it’s the cleverest way of doing it; utilising mobile technology and a number of its own good ideas and reinventing it once more for a market that, frankly, seems to be pining for something a little more off the beaten track. With falling hardware sales, Nintendo is banking a lot on the mobile functionality being the main draw – and unlike in the past, where the devices were sold seperately (PS Vita and PlayStation 4 together would have set you back almost £600!), this is all-in-one. No mess. No fuss.
That’s arguably the least-Nintendo thing about the Switch. It’s just… polished. Refined. Smart. If it can rock a solid online account system and perk up its interface just a little, the Switch will be as an end-product the least Nintendo console ever launched. Despite the fact it’s clearly the most Nintendo console ever launched too. Nintendo rarely seems to have all the hard edges shaved off right out of the box. If this can do that, it’ll be a delightful juxtaposition that will drive Nintendo-haters to the point of an aneurysm. And also perhaps the easiest sell Nintendo has ever made. All of the flavour of Nintendo with none of the fatty gristle? Sounds delicious to me!
Nintendo has only one hurdle left; to get through the next few hours without a major technical issue or without dropping the ball. And with so much pressure on this event, I wouldn’t want to be anyone involved in this presentation. We’re watching. We’re interested. We’re curious. We want more. We want games. We want the Switch. Now all Nintendo has to do, with an open goal right in front of it, is hit the back of the net.
Yeah, I got £20 that Nintendo misses too… does that make me a bad person?