With the launch of the Switch just over two weeks away, many are still dubious as to how Nintendo are trying to position this system within the current generation of relatively super-powered consoles from Sony and Microsoft.
Nintendo’s narrative has never shifted from the Switch being classed as a home console – something they’ve been keen to drive home from as early as the first reveal trailer. The primary reason for this is clearly the launch price. But delve a bit deeper and it’s clear Nintendo want to allay fears Switch isn’t merely a repeat of the PlayStation Vita – a portable which promised (and ultimately failed) to deliver full-blown console experiences on the go.
It’s interesting, in fact, to compare the Switch price point to that of Sony’s moribund handheld. The Vita launched here in the UK for £229. Now if you consider Switch’s relative power advantage, the highly advanced Joycon controllers, and a bundled dock – the £279 price doesn’t seem extortionate. But therein lies the oxymoron, Nintendo is positioning this as a home console, so naturally comparisons will be made to the already established PlayStation 4 and Xbox One – both of which are now available for less, and are considerably more powerful.
It also doesn’t help that, with little over a fortnight until launch, much of Nintendo’s latest is still shrouded in secrecy. So many questions remain unanswered. How will the online infrastructure work? Can we connect with friends using the unit itself? Is the user interface more dynamic than previous efforts? Is there a systemwide trophies/achievements implementation? Will Virtual Console even exist at launch? These all seem like basic queries most companies would have cleared up by now, and in this digital age, no news very rarely means good news.
But keeping its mouth shut could become Nintendo’s best weapon. In these times of over-scrutiny, the touchscreen is perfect evidence of this. Indeed, by not promoting it, Nintendo are clever to realise that multi-touch is so ubiquitous in modern day, it would almost become a negative talking point, born from the array of games that haplessly utilised the Vita’s touch interfaces. The fact is, when you have dedicated controllers, touch generally becomes an afterthought.
And those controllers, the Joycons. They dictate so much about how people will use this console. We’ve already heard how a smartphone app is required for online voice chat. This could be partly down to reducing processing overheads (especially when in handheld mode). But it also alleviates the problem of having to plug headphones into a Joycon. Something that would become unmanageable in movement heavy games like ARMS.
The key focus in Nintendo’s marketing so far has been not to overwhelm the audience. They’ve concentrated on the core experience, using the Joycons, undocking the unit, and generally just having fun with it. This is a far cry from the disillusioned launch of the Wii U, where nobody really knew what they were buying into. Essentially you could argue the Switch name was born from Nintendo ‘switching’ back to the ethos of the Wii days, rather than the hybrid nature of the unit itself. Much of the original Wii’s success was owed to word of mouth sales, going to a friend’s house for multiplayer fun. Casual gaming if you will. This is something Nintendo are definitely looking to tap into again.
Indeed the entire Switch concept is a culmination of everything Nintendo has gotten right in the past. The N64 introduced rumble to masses, and now the Switch is iterating on it using haptic feedback to produce a true advancement in force feedback. The Joycons hark back to the success of Wii, driven by sales in family gaming, and local multiplayer fun. The portability not only alludes to Nintendo’s historic success as a handheld giant, but also takes one of the best features of the Wii U Gamepad and makes it work anywhere.
It’s no secret that software sells hardware, and while Nintendo needs third-party support more than ever, being without the likes of Call of Duty and Battlefield isn’t really the main issue here. The majority of gamers who buy a Switch will be doing so as a secondary system, and gamers happy with just a Switch will have little to no interest in those franchises. What Nintendo needs is continued support from the likes of Square Enix, Atlas, Telltale, UbiSoft, SEGA. Studios who create more scalable experiences. And they need these titles releasing simultaneously with the competition. Then there’s the need to encourage more indie developers on board, the likes of which have kept the Vita on life-support for the past couple of years.
While the launch lineup is sparse, it does have an ace up its sleeve in Breath of the Wild. Twilight Princess was a launch title for the Wii and remains the biggest selling Zelda game of all-time (inc. GC sales). It’s Nintendo’s fourth most successful franchise, but more importantly, one of its most iconic. A lot is riding on this new open-world Hyrule, but based on everything we’ve seen so far – in particular that Guardians trailer – there’s little reason to believe it’ll disappoint.
The beauty of having Zelda as a launch title is longevity. It’s not an inFamous Second Son, or an Assassin’s Creed. This is a game people can get lost in for weeks, if not months. It affords Nintendo the luxury of drip-feeding us titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Splatoon 2. Titles that are no doubt already finished in all but polish. When you add in the rumoured prospect of Virtual Console offering a back catalogue of GameCube games, then the Switch suddenly becomes a much more enticing prospect.
Ultimately, the trump card for Nintendo will always be the first-party titles, and with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, Splatoon 2 and the new Super Mario: Odyssey all coming this year, what they are essentially selling us is the idea that this is the platform for top-tier first-party franchises, and you can take them on the go – if you like.