Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Presentation

I’m starting to switch my feelings about Nintendo.

Terrible puns are fun, and they were prevalent at Nintendo’s Switch Presentation on Thursday, January 12th. I stayed up until 11pm Eastern to watch the stream live from Tokyo, which for me is super late to be up because I’m 24 on the outside but 74 on the inside. The following morning I was up and out the door by 6:30am so I could line up at EB Games to secure my preorder. I intended to write up my thoughts on the event and the Switch itself sooner, but I’ve been busy sleeping.

Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima opened the event by announcing the details we’ve all been waiting for: the Nintendo Switch will launch globally in just 7 weeks on March 3, 2017 for $299 USD ($399 CAD). That’s exactly the price I was expecting, which I think is fair and justified. It’s true that you can buy a more powerful PS4 or Xbox One for cheaper than $299 right now, but they’ve been around longer, have become less expensive to produce, and don’t provide the portable functionality of the Switch. Though the Switch is less powerful graphically than Sony and Microsoft’s consoles, you’re paying for the engineering and technology that makes the Switch playable on-the-go. And if you consider how much tech has gone into the removable Joy-Con controllers, the $299 price is even further justified. It’s too bad that weak currencies in Europe and Canada right now make the system more expensive outside of Japan and the United States.

As Nintendo continued to reveal more information about the Switch, I got a similar vibe as I did watching Sony’s original PS4 unveiling: Nintendo is doing a lot right. The Switch will be region-free, allowing gamers to import and play game cards from anywhere in the world. The Switch will offer a paid online service, giving subscribers a free NES or SNES game to play each month and incentivizing Nintendo to continue improving upon and offering new online play features for their paying customers. The Switch charges via. a standard USB-C connector rather than a proprietary port. The Switch is integrated with a suite of smartphone apps for online features such as voice chat, and managing the console’s Parental Controls. The UI of the Switch is simple and modern, and the lack of non-gaming features and apps shows Nintendo’s sharp focus on providing a great gaming experience. I had wondered if Nintendo would add additional features to the Switch OS in the future, but seeing as the system’s voice chat and Parental Controls will be handled through smartphone apps, it seems Nintendo have chosen not to compete with those devices by offering a web browser, or apps like Netflix and Miiverse on the Switch. Smart.

One of the biggest upsides to the Switch is that it is the most traditional of Nintendo’s recent consoles, despite its many unique gameplay configurations. The Wii introduced motion as its primary control method, while the Wii U required developers to create a dual-screen experience for their games. By contrast, the Switch’s proposition is simple: make games that work with this set of physical buttons and gamers will be able to play your game at home or on-the-go. Developers can entirely ignore the touchscreen or motion controls packed into the Switch but their games will still work in any of its configurations, and won’t feel out of place as they would have on the Wii or Wii U.

We also got some confirmed hardware specs for the Nintendo Switch, with which I have no complaints:

  • 6.2″ 720p capacitive touchscreen (240ppi)
  • 1080p output to TV when docked
  • 32GB storage, microSD support up to 2TB
  • 2.5 to 6 hours of battery life
  • USB-C charging
  • 802.11ac WiFi

I’m extremely impressed with how much tech Nintendo has packed into the Joy-Con controllers. Each Joy-Con features its own battery so it works disconnected from the main console, plus gyroscopic motion controls, HD rumble, and a full set of buttons and triggers. In addition, the Joy-Con R also includes an IR sensor on the bottom and an NFC reader for Amiibo. These are way more than simple plastic controllers: the Joy-Con are Nintendo’s new Wii Remotes and I bet they’ll live on past this first version of the Switch. I’m glad to see Nintendo releasing the Joy-Con in fun neon red and blue colours, though personally I’m holding out for a green set. My only concern with the Joy-Con is how many different little accessories they can connect too – they slide into the Switch itself, the Joy-Con Grip, the Joy-Con wrist straps with added shoulder buttons, and of course there’s a steering wheel accessory. It’s a lot of different little pieces, which I worry could get confusing for some users.

I remain impressed with the concept and hardware of the Nintendo Switch, but the current slate of games has left me a bit concerned. I’m thrilled that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be a day one launch title, but when it’s the only launch title worth buying it’s hard not to be disappointed. Granted, the original Nintendo DS only launched with 8 games – headlined by Super Mario 64 DS – and we all know how that turned out, so I may be overreacting to the Switch’s small slate of 12 games in its first month.

Besides Zelda, which continues to look incredible, Nintendo announced some great first-party titles for Switch’s first year:

  • Super Mario Odyssey will launch Holiday 2017 and looks like the sequel to the Galaxy series we’ve all been waiting for. I’m not sure how I feel about Mario running around a city populated by accurately-proportioned humans, but it appears the theme of Odyssey may be revisiting locations and characters from many of Mario’s earlier adventures: New Donk City seems to be inspired by Mario’s very first game, Donkey Kong, while another level features the same radishes from Super Mario Bros. 2. Hmm. I loved the Super Mario Galaxy series, and felt the Wii U’s Super Mario 3D World left a lot to be desired, so I can’t wait for the next true 3D Mario game this winter!
  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe launches April 28th. It’s the definitive version of Mario Kart 8, and includes all of the DLC from the original game as well as new characters, tracks, and a revamped Battle Mode. Sure it’s a port, but now it’s portable. Looking forward to playing the best Mario Kart game ever made. Again.
  • Splatoon 2 will be my first experience with Nintendo’s new IP; I never played the Wii U version. It looks fun, and I assume it will have an online mode which should guarantee plenty of replay value and multiplayer fun.
  • 1, 2, Switch is this console’s Wii Sports. It’s a multiplayer party game that highlights everything the Joy-Con can do. The emphasis on not looking at the screen is interesting, but I’ll pass on this one. Unless it becomes a huge hit and I need something to play with the family, or I could wait for Mario Party 173.
  • ARMS is another new IP for Switch, a boxing game in which your character has long extendable arms. Another attempt to highlight the Joy-Con, it features fun and colourful character design but it appears to lack much depth.

I’m not super interested in any of the third-party games right now. Most of them are ports of years old console games, such as Skylanders Imaginators, Skyrim, and Rayman Legends. Apparently people are super jazzed to play Skyrim again on a portable, but I’m hoping we see some new third-party games at E3. Minecraft is on the list for sometime this year as well, which is huge for the youths, but already available on pretty much every other game console or smart device.

As for the future, I’m dying to know if Pokémon Stars is real and coming to Switch, and credible reports claim that Super Smash Bros., Pikmin, Mario Maker, and Mother 3 are on their way too. Beyond Good & Evil 2 is rumoured to be a Switch timed-exclusive, Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy is expected, and a Mario and Rabbids RPG from Ubisoft is reportedly in development. There’s clearly plenty of great games in the works for Switch, so I’m looking forward to E3 and the next few Nintendo Direct presentations.

Overall I’m really excited for the Nintendo Switch. I’m not interested in predicting whether or not it will succeed in the market. I hope it does. Despite Nintendo’s insistence that the Switch is a home console first-and-foremost, technologically it’s a handheld with TV output. Nintendo has always been really good at handheld, and I hope that by combining their handheld and home console into one device, they’re able to focus on making the best games they can for the Switch. I’m excited to see more and to finally get my Nintendo Switch on March 3rd.