Nintendo is a very strange company. They operate by their own rules and work by their own invented logic. This kind of strategy would sink most corporations quickly, but Nintendo has always survived — to make more mistakes. And whenever they do address a mistake and correct it, they usually make several new ones in the process.
People began to sense something was off back in 1996 when they committed to cartridges for another five years in the face of a industry-wide shift to CDs…and when they lost sales and developers directly as a result of this, they didn’t seem to care. It’s been a steady stream of head-scratchers since then: the dark screen of the GBA, that time they corrected the dark screen but took out the headphone jack, the “connectivity” strategy of the early 2000’s, the extremely slow adaption of online services, Friend Codes, bad marketing, ordering Youtube to kill video reviews on sight even if they’re positive…..the list goes on and continues to this day.
So why put up with all that? Because they are also the greatest game makers in the history of the world. This is the problem.
If you want Van Gogh’s great paintings, you have to put up with a crazy man who cuts off his own ears. If you want some of the best games ever made, you have to deal with consumer-unfriendly decisions and dismissive replies to complaints about them. This is the world one must brave if they want the Switch, Nintendo’s latest unconventional gaming machine. It’s got several things wrong with it, many of them worrisome, and there is no guarantee Nintendo will listen to the press and correct those issues. But Mario only has one home.
Some of those kinks might have been smoothed out if it had been delayed into a Holiday 2017 release, but the dead weight that was the Wii U had to be cast aside sooner rather than later. Two things about Nintendo: when their back is against the wall, they have a tendency to pull something brilliant out of nowhere and save themselves. However, they perform the worst when they RUSH their products. “Here comes the Playstation; we need a consumer distraction! You there, Yokoi, what’s that red goggle thing? It isn’t done? Oh who cares; we don’t have time! Get it out there!”
Here’s a product that was both rushed AND came at a moment of truth. It’s half-brilliant, half-annoying. Interacting with it is like that scene in Futurama where Fry finds out he’s going to die by Snu-Snu.
The Switch is certainly the slickest machine Nintendo has produced in a while. Unlike the Wii U, the shape is attractive and the menus are very responsive and intuitive. It’s so fancy, and you already know. The device does not come with a manual, but I didn’t even need one: I found all the settings and menus I was looking for almost instantly. Then it said it needed an update before it could do anything. “Here we go,” I thought, and prepared a pot of coffee. The update was over in 45 seconds!
One of the reasons you can tell it was rushed is that, at the present time, you can’t do anything with it other than play Zelda. All the whimsical extra apps that Nintendo stuffed the Wii U and 3DS with are absent here. The Virtual Console is MIA and Nintendo won’t even tell us if we’re getting one. There isn’t even a Netflix app and I’m pretty sure there are toasters that run Netflix now. Hardcore gamers have complained for a long time about the desire of modern consoles to “BE EVERYTHING” and wish for once, they would just focus on games like they did in the days of old. Well, here is what that looks like. Happy?
if there’s anything smart about Nintendo’s strategy here, it’s realizing the obsession with tablets that kids have today and expanding on it. “Here’s a tablet, but it can do all this extra stuff, and you can even play the games on a TV!” The hole in that strategy is the price of everything. Tablet games are generally free (for a few minutes). The price of a Switch game starts at $39.99 and goes up from there. The games are better, of course, but it’s easier to download a free crappy game starring a bootleg Elsa than it is to convince Mommy to pull out some of those fancy bills with Andrew Jackson on them.
We really need to talk about the prices of things, because that’s one of the elements that worries me about this. The scenes you see in the ads of people frolicking in their backyard parties wielding about 20 Joy-Cons aren’t really possible when the asking price of one Joy-Con set is seventy dollars. The original Wii was $250, which is a good range to attract the casual crowd. The Wii U launched at $350 while the Switch is launching at $300…but there’s no game in there and when you buy a game, the price is back in the previous range.
The Switch game packaging seems small, but when you open the box and see nothing inside but a card that is FAR smaller, you may feel like Nintendo is mocking you. “Really? You really haven’t switched to digital by now? What do you gain by owning this little thing? Did you think you were getting a instruction manual?”
And then I say in response, “Yes, I’m sticking with physical. If I were to store all these games on MicroSD cards, which I would pretty much have to, the added expanse of several of them combined with the price of the games (which isn’t any smaller) would make this whole thing a wash.”
And Nintendo would say, “Oh.”
Strangely for a machine that uses clicking as a marketing device, not everything about the Switch “clicks.” The Joy-Cons click into place, but the Switch itself does not make a click when it’s secured in the dock, nor is there any other tactile sensation to let you know it’s in the right place. The first time I tried it, I thought I’d done something wrong until the picture appeared on the TV one second later.
Nintendo controllers go in cycles of good and bad. The NES controller had sharp corners; the SNES controller had rounded ones. The N64 controller was shaped bizarrely and had a wonky stick; the Gamecube controller had a shape that melted right into your hands. The Wiimote was like controlling a game with your father’s remote control; the Wii U was smooth and comfortable. With the Switch, we’re back to weird again.
Because the Joy-Cons have to double as both console and handheld controls, they’re somewhat small. They’ve got the smallest control sticks of any console to date. There are several ways you can hold them: apart from each other like Wiimotes (comfortability may vary depending on the size of your hands), attached to the controller Grip included in the box (again, rather small, but you’ll get used to it), and attached to the Switch itself in handheld mode (which feels the best, but you won’t always be playing this way).
As it stands, to play a game on your television with just the tools the box gives you, you’ve gotta detatch the Joy-Cons from the main unit, stick them on the Grip, turn on the console, play for a while, turn it off, detatch the Joy-Cons from the Grip and put them back on the main unit….or they won’t recharge. There’s a separate version of the Grip that charges your Joy-Cons by itself, so you can leave them in there, but that version doesn’t come in the box. There’s also an optional “Pro Controller” so you don’t have to mess with the Joy-Cons at all, but it costs $70 and you can’t really buy it because it’s sold out everywhere. NINTENDOOOOOOO!!
Like the Wii U, the Switch never truly turns off, though this time it’s honest about it. When you try to shut the Switch down, it will say it’s about to go into “sleep mode.” The only way to turn it completely off is to find the option in one extra menu (it says “Power Options”), or to hold the power button down for an extended time. I prefer to keep my consoles completely off because I don’t like them leeching the power. I found out the hard way that if the Switch isn’t in sleep mode, the Joy-Cons do not recharge! Don’t be like me and have to waste an extra half-hour watching YouTube before you can get back to Zelda.
So about those pre-release complaints you might have heard…I have had no issues with the left Joy-Con de-syncing at all. I also haven’t had the included dock scratch my screen (but I am a very careful person). No dead pixels on said screen. Any hardware launch is prone to issues, but generally Nintendo builds sturdy products that withstand things like Gulf War bombs, so I trust them enough to buy them Day One.
Realize, though, that buying on launch isn’t an activity for everyone. EVERY new game machine, with rare exception, experiences a drought of games in its first year. All models of the Playstation had butkus to play on launch, and no one even remembers what the XBox One launched with. Your best hope is for one stellar game to come out of nowhere and make the full launch price worth it. It doesn’t happen very often, but this is one of those times.
I’m telling you, everything you’ve been hearing is true. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a gift from heaven. My favorite thing about Zelda games is exploring around hunting for hidden treasure, and recent 3D Zeldas have felt very unsatisfying in this regard. (Skyward Sword, the worst example, had about three places to explore.) This game is for everyone that’s been frustrated when a character is blocked by a simple wall shorter than the character is. That nonsense never happens here. From the very beginning, you’re allowed unprecedented freedom…and it’s VERY addicting.
And yeah, you can buy a version of Breath of the Wild for Wii U identical to this one, but once you start playing, you’re really going to wish you had a portable version. Also, there are a lot of people who don’t have a Wii U at all — and they’re not going to find one, now that Nintendo has stopped manufacturing them. Wii Us are also the same blasted price they were at launch (NINTENDOOOOO!!). It may be easier to get a Switch!
Nintendo was very wise to save this game for a new console, and it will probably sell Switch units by its lonesome as word of mouth spreads. I would’ve really hated to see this amazing title get sunk by the Titanic that was the Wii U along with other excellent games the general public may never play. Thank goodness for Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Now port Smash 4 and Bayonetta 2!
The future release schedule is cloudy. 2017 is mostly filled with indie games and the next big Mario title, which you know will be good. After that, no one knows. Based on past history, I’m guessing mostly family titles. If you’re the type who needs those big serious manly AAA shoot-em-ups, the Switch is not for you — in fact you should have learned to ignore Nintendo a long time ago. Whether this affects sales or not….well, the Wii sold infinity billion units without attracting a single Call of Duty fan, so it may not matter.
In just 48 hours the Switch provided the most memorable gaming experience I’ve had this year, while at the same time it did things that are unforgiveable from a consumer standpoint (saves are locked to consoles? Really?) It is both brilliant and rushed. It makes you both smad and frappy. To summarize it in one sound bite, it’s a frenemy of a console.
If you’re entering this generation of game consoles for the first time = get a PS4
If you already have a PS4 or an Xbox One, and you have the money = get a Switch
If you don’t have the money = get Zelda for Wii U and wait on the Switch
If you’re a big Nintendo fan and an early adopter = you have a Switch already
If you don’t have a Switch, a Wii U, or the money for either = here’s a photo of Judy Tenuta wearing eggs you can stare at