Well, Nintendo did it. They created a must-buy console.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Nintendo Switch is never going to be as successful as the Wii, as Nintendo had predicted and hoped, because for all of the great things about the Switch (its mobility, easy multiplayer… that’s… actually all the best parts about it, really) it’s got too many problems to be a console anyone is really super-excited about. Say what you want about the PS4 or Xbox One and framerates, but at least locking it at 30 is miles better than dropping down to 20 when plugged into your TV. Plus, the Wii was a real lighting-in-a-bottle moment where casual gaming was a rich, untapped mine of potential and Nintendo just happened to put their flag down first. Mobile gaming is far from an untapped well, namely because Nintendo’s been plundering it for years and years before the Switch was even conceived.
But despite the framerate issues, the weird charging port (the bottom of the console? Really?!) comfort and connectivity issues with the Joycons, the surprising expense of the whole system, the lack of any tie-in games (the way 1-2 Switch should have been), a limited battery life, barebones online functionality, near-forced smartphone integration, and the always-present specter of limited availability, Nintendo was still able to make a console that gamers far and wide are clamoring to get their hands on.
And they did it in such a Nintendo way, I’m frankly surprised it took them so long to figure out the secret: Launch with a really, really good game.
I mean, let’s break it down. Their first major console “flop” would have to be the Nintendo Gamecube, launched with a handful of games, most notable among them were Crazy Taxi, Super Monkey Ball, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3, Star Wars Rogue Squadron ll: Rogue Leader, and Luigi’s Mansion. A good spread of quality games, no doubt, but nothing that was primed to set the world ablaze. Luigi’s Mansion was certainly good, something of a cult classic, but no one thought “I NEED a Nintendo Gamecube for Luigi’s Mansion!”. Perhaps the first (and biggest, to this day) ‘must buy’ game for the Nintendo Gamecube would be Super Smash Brothers Melee, which wasn’t released until a month later. Hardly a wait, but you know how people are with first impressions.
The Wii U, their other, much larger flop, had the exact same problem. While they had quite a few games on offer, none were console movers. ZombiU, Mass Effect 3: Special Edition, Just Dance 4, Ninja Gaiden 3: Razor’s Edge, New Super Mario Bros. U, Nintendo Land, Skylanders: Giants…. It certainly didn’t help that most of those games were just ports of older titles (some of which had reduced functionality) but even from Nintendo itself, while an old-fashioned Mario Platformer is always nice, it’s not enough to make people break each other’s necks trying to get their hands on a new console.
Which is funny, you know? Because if you think about it, pairing consoles with must-own games not only makes the most sense for Nintendo, given that they’ve always been far better game makers than game console makers, it’s also what’s worked for them best, historically. The NES had Donkey Kong, Duck Hunt, Tetris, and vitally, the first Super Mario Bros. The Super Nintendo had Super Mario World and F-Zero. The Nintendo 64 had motherflippin’ Super Mario 64, which is widely considered to still be one of the best games ever made.
Even the Wii, which was arguably the best game system Nintendo has ever made from a technical standpoint, launched with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, a game that moved audiences around the world to tears when it was first revealed, as the story goes. It also had the astonishingly well-made Wii Sports, which was popular far beyond being a mere tech demo.
And now, the Switch, which has so many problems with its design and hardware you’d think most people would pass it up without a second thought, is being devoured off shelves if only because people are willing to pay 400+ bucks for Nintendo’s phenomenal new Legend of Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, which has been called the best Legend of Zelda game ever made, beating out classics like Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, and even the very first one.
In a lot of ways, it’s baffling. And in even more ways, it’s the perfect antitheses to my earlier, now mistaken claims that Nintendo should consider selling consoles as well as developing games for other companies. After all, the Switch has proven that people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for a well-made Nintendo game. There are people who are legitimately only buying the Switch for this game. Even I, once on the fence about the Switch, am really, really considering buying the first one I come across just so I can play this game.
Clearly, I was wrong. And clearly, Nintendo should realize what approach to take with future console launches: if they can’t make a perfect system (which they won’t, I don’t think, the Wii won’t be happening again), launch it with the perfect game and make sure players know it’s perfect day 1. Because even waiting a month before releasing that must-have game will be enough time for people to cool their jets. Strike while the iron’s hot, as they say, and Iron can get very cool in a month’s time.
But as I write this, I also acknowledge that it’s very premature. The Switch has only been out for a week, and while it’s certainly selling well (better than the Wii U in Japan, and it’s apparently a best seller in Europe as well), these numbers are a product of immediate hype. It could be possible that reports of Switch sales are exaggerated (although there is photographic proof that people were standing in line overnight for the Switch both in the US and in Japan, a treatment I’m sure the Xbox One is quite envious of) or that the fanatics who would buy the Switch for one game consist mostly of people who were planning on buying the console anyway. All of this, and more, is possible.
But yeah, where I sit right now, it doesn’t seem like the Switch is going to sell poorly. Below Nintendo’s expectations, certainly, but I feel as if it’ll definitely embolden Nintendo enough to attempt to make another console after this one. This was not, as some (including myself) feared, the end of the Nintendo Console.
And they just had to do the most obvious thing in the world to sell it: what they’ve been best at all along.
All that said, I’d like to take a moment or two to appreciate what a great year 2017’s been for gaming, as a whole. It’s fitting that now that the real world has taken two turns into hell and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down, the virtual world would suddenly become so appealing, offering us up a hardy slew of high-quality games at a pace I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. On top of Breath of the Wild, which is being hailed as a masterpiece, there’s Nioh, the Asian-themed Dark Souls with about three times the boobs, Horizon Zero Dawn, the female-lead showstopper by former Killzone dev Guerrilla games (that’s actually dramatically outselling Legend of Zelda in the UK sales charts, but given the fact you don’t have to buy a new console (or a Wii U) to play it, that comes as no surprise) where you hunt down robot animals. The next NeiR game was also released this week, and it’s gotten glowing reviews from magazines and publications all around the internet. Resident Evil 7: Biohazard returns the long-beloved franchise to its roots with some actual survival horror, Gravity Rush 2 is a critic gem, For Honor is quite well-received with some truly ingenious multiplayer swordplay combat…
...and we’ve still got Mass Effect: Andromeda, Super Mario Odyssey, The Fractured But Whole, Torment: Tides of Numera, Yooka-Laylee, Detroit, the Crash trilogy reboot, and the new Marvel Vs Capcom came coming out this year.
Oh, and Outlast 2, Splatoon 2, and Shennmue 3, lest we forget. We haven’t seen those games yet, of course, but given who they’re coming from, and the pedigree of the titles themselves, it’s hard to imagine they’d be anything but absolutely magical.
So really, the Nintendo Switch being a good console makes a lot of sense, considering the kind of gaming boom we're finding ourselves in. Hopefully it'll only get better: it'll be good practice for when we have to use virtual reality to escape our dying planet.
Sorry, sorry. I don’t mean to get all political. That’s another prediction that hasn’t gone as planned, I should add: most game-makers are leaving their noses out of politics, now that the immediate threat of that first immigration ban has passed. I’m a little surprised they weren’t more outspoken about it, but hey, that’s what they have on offer, right? Escapism?
...bah, let’s avoid a dower ending. Lots of great new games to look forward to this year, and the Switch is alright.