Nintendo Switch might be just crazy enough to work
Nintendo has a history of dancing to the beat of its own drum, but with the long-speculated Switch (known as "Nintendo NX" by the rumor mill) now out in the open, it looks like the slow-to-adapt Japanese giant has finally learned some lessons from its previous gaffes. While we didn't get too much information from the three minute reveal trailer, so far the Switch looks like the console that may let Ninty do its quirky dance without tripping over its own feet.
For generations, the Big N has deliberately bucked trends to make itself stand out. It's your little brother or sister who can't quite keep up with the adults, but tries to earn your affection with a childlike sense of wonder and a creative way of looking at the world. The DS threw a second, touch-enabled screen at the GameBoy and showed us why we should care. The Wii introduced motion controls to kids and grandparents the world over. Nintendo devices were in far more homes than its competitors – even if, in the long run, they spent the majority of their time in the back of the wardrobe.
With the next iterations, Nintendo tried to replicate that success, with disappointing results. The 3DS, while successful, added glasses-less 3D to the top screen of its portable device, in a world that was already getting bored of 3D. The terribly-titled Wii U tried to capitalize on the tablet craze, but largely failed to demonstrate what that second screen could do. Meanwhile, confusing marketing about whether it was a new console or an add-on for the Wii did it no favors.
So what makes the Switch different? For one, the company made the wise move to distance the new console from the Wii branding, ensuring that there could be no mistaking it for an optional Wii or Wii U peripheral.
But it's also taken steps towards patching up one of the main weaknesses of its previous consoles – third party support. Nintendo seemed pretty excited to announce almost 50 partners supporting the Switch, including regular bedfellows EA and Ubisoft, alongside those who have traditionally been a little more reluctant, like Take Two Interactive and Bethesda.
That said, just because those companies have agreed to "support" the Switch doesn't mean anything will necessarily come of it. EA and Ubisoft have a tendency to make Nintendo games for a year or two before they stop returning Ninty's calls, and some of the others appeared in a video singing the Wii U's praises back in 2011 – before never following through with a single title. In fact, after the remastered edition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim featured heavily in the Switch trailer this week, Bethesda came out and told Games Industry that it isn't "confirming any specific titles at this time." One of the very few games we thought we could count on, can't be counted on.
Whether or not third parties pull through, perhaps the biggest point of difference between the Switch and the ill-fated Wii U is that, for the first time, Nintendo has managed to build a console around a central idea (gimmick?) that doesn't impact on the gameplay significantly. For third party developers, trying to make use of the Wii's motion controls or the Wii U's second screen required more work and resources than the console install bases were worth.
But the Switch doesn't have that issue. From early on, Nintendo has said that this time around it's been trying to seduce developers with a painless dev kit, and once their games are on the device, the home-or-away scheme shouldn't require anything else of them. Bethesda doesn't need to code waggle physics into the swordplay of Skyrim, or half-ass a use for the touchscreen. Not to mention that the option for portability is a feature that players might actually care about.
Power-wise, being close to the competition helps, too. While we won't pretend to believe it'll be on par with the PS4 or Xbox One, the heft of a custom Nvidia Tegra GPU should mean Nintendo isn't trailing quite as far behind as in previous generations.
But what about its first-party games? Nintendo's in-house titles are invariably the highlights of its machines, and the Switch trailer showed off some juicy clips of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, an as-yet-untitled Super Mario game (above), and footage from Splatoon and Mario Kart. But of those, Zelda is the only confirmed launch title so far – and that's after we were promised, way back in 2011, that the game was coming to Wii U. Mario is a pretty good horse to bet on, but Splatoon and Mario Kart seem to be just slightly updated versions of the previous entries.
In the end, we aren't yet sure how to feel about the Switch. It seems like a deliberate move from a company that's finally realizing that it needs to adapt to its audience or risk irrelevance. Embracing mobile sure worked a treat with Pokémon Go, and it's that spirit that we hope the Switch continues. As cautiously optimistic as we need to stay, the console seems like a genuinely good idea that shouldn't trip up either itself or its third party supporters, and we're intrigued to see what Nintendo reveals about the Switch between now and March 2017.
In case you haven't seen it yet, the reveal video is below.