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5 things Nintendo Switch needs to get right

Thursday’s unveiling trailer for Nintendo Switch told us a lot about the Big N’s vision for their hybrid console. It’s messaging was very clear: play however, wherever and whenever you want. And it conveyed this message in a very stylish, attractive, and decidedly un-Nintendo way. I must have watched this trailer over a dozen times at this point, and with each viewing I am further convinced of its brilliance. It does nearly everything right — one exception being that very silly moment when a group of young-adult males sit down to play a simulation of the very real sport they were just partaking in moments ago.

While the trailer was incredibly informative, it also left us with many questions — and, apparently, those questions will remain unanswered until next year. I find the concept behind Nintendo Switch to be very exciting, but there are still many things to consider — things that could lead to the console’s failure.

 

The Controllers

Nintendo learned a lot about controller versatility with the Wiimote. Though clearly designed primarily for one-handed motion controls, it worked surprisingly well as a NES-style remote for games like Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, New Super Mario Bros, and nearly every game available via Virtual Console. Nintendo Switch seems to follow a similar design mantra.

Save for the laughable name, the Joy-Con looks like a great controller concept. The idea of having a controller for practically any imaginable scenario in one compact package is very attractive. However, I’m a bit concerned about the size of the individual Joy-Cons as a simpler multiplayer controller; they have a sort of cuteness to them in the trailer, but I could easily see a single Joy-Con being uncomfortably small for two hands. I used to hate PlayStation’s Dualshock 3 for the consistent thumb-bumping it induced, and I can imagine similar issues ruining the Switch’s multiplayer experience.

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Concerns and speculation aside, there is still plenty we don’t know about the Joy-Cons; will they have “rumble” or other haptic feedback? Do they have rechargeable batteries? Will they feature motion controls and accelerometers? Nintendo has been utilizing motion controls in their games for the last ten years; it will be interesting to see whether or not their once-signature feature made it in the Switch’s final design.

 

The Specs

Speaking of the last ten years — for Nintendo, the launch of the Wii back in 2006 marked a departure from the competition for power in the video game industry. Instead of pushing for better performance and hardcore gaming, the Wii focused on bringing in both gamers and non-gamers for an affordable price. Since then, every piece of Nintendo hardware released has been moderately or significantly underpowered compared to its “competitors;” the 3DS and New 3DS are both underpowered compared to the PS Vita, and the Wii U was not only eclipsed by the Xbox One and PS4, but was even underpowered compared to the Xbox 360.

Nintendo seems to be under the impression that power is unimportant for their platforms because they offer a unique experience. This is admittedly half true — Nintendo’s revered IP and novel game designs often do very well critically and commercially, despite running on less-capable hardware than that of its contemporaries. However, if Nintendo hopes to keep third-party developers interested in their platform, it needs to be on par with current consoles. The Wii U was a tremendously flawed console, but it’s killer was a lack of third-party support. Without that, the Switch won’t stand a chance.

While we’re on the subject…

 

Games

From what we saw in the trailer, it’s looking like the Switch might be getting a good number of near-launch games — both first and third party. A quick list of what games appear to be shown running on the Switch:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Mario Kart 8
  • NBA 2K
  • Splatoon
  • Mysterious 3D Mario game

Unfortunately, besides Breath of the Wild, none of these games have yet to be officially confirmed for the console. The secrecy behind the Switch’s lineup is so absurd, Bethesda wouldn’t acknowledge Skyrim’s appearance on the console when asked for a statement regarding Thursday’s unveiling.

As was mentioned before, the Wii U’s failure was primarily due to a lack of games; third parties backed out early on, and Nintendo did the barest minimum to keep it alive. The Switch is a great concept, but it cannot succeed without a robust lineup of games.

 

Battery life

If the Switch is as great as it seems in the trailer, and it comes jam-packed with great content, then this might be one of the only potential caveat capable of trumping the console’s appealing concept entirely. Taking full gaming experiences with you on long commutes or to social gatherings will be worthless if you have to tether the thing to a wall every couple of hours. Hypothetically, if the Switch features an HD display running current games at 1080p30+fps and supports two wireless chargeable controllers, it’s easy to see how the console could be a huge power-suck.

The Wii U Gamepad lasted a meager 2-3 hours before running out of juice, unless you purchased a larger battery pack separately. Considering how disappointing this was for a “handheld” that couldn’t even leave the 4 foot radius of the base console, it could be catastrophic for Nintendo to release a portable console without a substantial battery out of the box.

 

Price

Nearly every aforementioned feature adds up to a single deciding factor: a price tag. Nintendo is known for insisting on selling their hardware at a profit, which is what lead to the Wii U’s absurd day-one price of $350 US. Earlier this year, we found out from Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima that Nintendo was “not thinking of launching the hardware at a loss,” the Switch then going by the codename NX. If Nintendo has stuck to its word — and provided the Switch has a dependable battery, contemporary specs, and a quality controller and screen — then we might be in for a hefty investment.

Price is everything in the gaming hardware business, and it’s something Nintendo has gotten very right (Wii) and very, very wrong (Wii U). In my opinion, Nintendo Switch needs to cost $300 — and even that is a hard sell with other current consoles going for the same price. Thursday’s reveal trailer showed a dramatic shift in Nintendo’s marketing strategies; perhaps Kimishima’s rethought the company’s philosophy on pricing as well.

 

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These are all very real concerns, but the fact that we’re asking these questions is itself a good sign for Nintendo. The initial messaging for the Wii U was so confused and muddled that it practically set the system up for failure. This time around, Nintendo effectively communicated what the Switch is and why we should be excited. Any questions we have about the hybrid console are questions Nintendo meant to leave unanswered. I remain cautiously optimistic about finding out more, but it’s exciting to see the Big N come out in such style after remaining cloistered for so long.

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