Nintendo’s new console sounds pretty cool. Almost cool enough to buy.
It reminds me a lot of the time I spent in college with Nintendo’s momentarily game-changing motion-controlled experiment, the Wii, a console for which I camped out overnight in a Target parking lot during a near-freezing, mid-Michigan winter.
The Wii was instant fun, always sure to reel in a few friends on any given night of the week. With its motion-controlled games, it offered something other video games didn’t — a new kind of play experience that was novel and inventive. I was excited to see Nintendo pushing the envelope of what video games could be.
Watching Nintendo’s Tokyo press conference about the Switch, I was struck by that same initial excitement. It’s the Switch’s “Joy-Con” controllers that carry all the innovation, just like with the Wii. They’re packed with tech, sporting accelerometers and gyroscopes, infrared sensors and “Rumble HD,” which Nintendo says is precise enough to let you feel the difference between a virtual glass with one ice cube in it, and a glass with two.
I realized that Nintendo had created an interesting console, but probably not one I’d ever actually buy.
Nintendo also discussed titles like 1-2 Switch, a party game that’s fully dependent on its controllers and, letting you play out gunslinger duels and other quick, goofy activities. It looked like a fun experience — maybe fun enough to try to get a few friends in the same room to play a game, something I’ve struggled to do since Guitar Hero fell out of fashion.
The idea of using the Switch’s controllers to play with people, and not with digital representations of other people, also seems as though it could potentially open a breadth of new experiences. It’s the sort of idea that encourages game developers to reevaluate what they can do with digital interactive media.
But then the bit about Joy-Con ended, and my excitement dwindled. Soon, I realized that Nintendo had created what might be an interesting console, but probably not one I’d ever actually buy.
Good ideas going nowhere
The rest of Nintendo’s announcement showed game after (old) game. Hey, there’s Skyrim. And Minecraft. Oh nice, Mario Kart 8. And plenty of other games we’ve already seen.
Nintendo has been touting The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for what feels like forever, but seeing as it’s also a Wii U title, there doesn’t seem to be anything about it that’s geared toward the Switch. We don’t know much about the newly announced Super Mario Odyssey, either, but we have no reason to believe it’s making special use of Joy-Con capabilities.
Switch packs a lot of the same tech as the Wii, but Nintendo doesn’t seem to be using it to field new game ideas. Despite the time spent talking about the Joy-Con controller, most of the Switch announcement was video game business as usual. Old games in the standard style, and sequels of the same.
I’ve already got a copy of Skyrim, and a copy of Minecraft. The console’s portability is nice, but not essential. If not the weird controllers, what’s Switch got for someone like me? It’ll be the only place to get Zelda and Mario — but does that mean it’ll be a console I fire up twice, and then consign to a corner of the entertainment center?
The tragic part about the Switch announcement is that Nintendo does come up with cool console ideas, and I often look back fondly on the early days of the Wii. I had a lot of fun with the machine, one that popped up at a perfect moment in my life to take advantage of nearby friends without a lot of obligations, and offered motion control as an exciting new development.
But 10 years later, motion control has been downgraded from wave of the future, to fleeting gimmick that pops up now and then. The tech is best used in games made for smartphones. Add to this the fact Nintendo hasn’t done a great job of keeping its consoles stocked with strong games. The last few Nintendo consoles have always been thin on titles, from birth to death, compared to Sony’s PlayStation or Microsoft’s Xbox.
Switch packs a lot of the same tech as the Wii, but Nintendo doesn’t seem to be using it for unique games.
By the end of the Switch announcement, I wasn’t thinking of my fun days with the Wii. I was thinking of its years collecting dust, years that started too soon after launch. There are good ideas in Nintendo’s new console, certainly, and maybe clever uses of technology that could offer something new to the video game landscape, but nothing Nintendo executives said on stage was enough to sell the idea that dropping more than $300 on this gaming machine would be a good investment.
The Switch needs more. A killer game, more imaginative than yet another take on Zelda, that warrants offering up the big cost of a new console — and one that specifically focuses on providing an experience that is unique, wholly, to Switch. Or a library that suggests a strong long-term return on the investment. Or other offers that add value, like free online play, or lower-cost accessories. So far, Nintendo’s offering none of those.
A lot of what Nintendo showed of its new console seems intriguing, and there’s no denying that there’s potential in the Switch. But I’ve banked on Nintendo potential before. And it wasn’t worth standing out in the cold
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