I love Nintendo.
Okay, maybe that’s not exactly accurate anymore. I used to love Nintendo. I still love what Nintendo used to be. But that love might finally be coming to an end.
The year: 1993. The location: a yard sale in North Carolina.
I’d played video games with friends, but there’d never been a console in my house. It wasn’t a rule against them or an attempt to keep me from what would eventually become a lifelong passion, there just hadn’t been one. That all changed when I came across a brand new Super Nintendo Entertainment System with Super Mario World, Super Mario All-Stars, and Super Mario Kart.
I was six, so the details are murky at best. All I know for sure is I saw the system and games sitting on a table, and I later saw the system and games in my living room. I lost countless hours to those games, and others, over the next few years. I was enamored with the challenging simplicity of the games in Super Mario All-Stars, with the pure fun of Super Mario Kart, with the fluid gameplay and near perfection (that “near” may not be necessary) of Super Mario World. My love for Nintendo peaked over the next few years. But my obsession with the Kyoto company was short-lived. It didn’t end when my parents gifted me a PlayStation in 1998, but it did take a back seat.
My relationship with Nintendo was rocky but loving over the next decade and a half: renting an N64 with a handful of games from Blockbuster (there’s a throwback) before eventually buying one, playing a ton of Pokémon and not much else on my Game Boy and Gameboy Advance SP, buying and selling a GameCube on two separate occasions, deciding on a whim to wait in line and buy a Wii at its midnight launch, seeking out the special edition red DS Lite with Mario emblem, buying a 3DS, and later a 3DS XL, and bordering on obsession with StreetPass, waiting a year before the draw of Nintendo and Super Mario 3D World became so strong that a Wii U purchase was inevitable.
Some of these were better than others, but even the choices I eventually questioned, such as buying that Wii, paid off with the likes of Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel. Even the Wii U had its positives. Super Mario 3D World, in all its cat suit glory, was a blast. Super Mario Maker had some fun moments. But they were fleeting. They weren’t enough. I didn’t get enough out of the Wii U for it to be worth the price of admission, even waiting a year after launch and picking it up on sale. I don’t think I’m alone on that.
It became clear that Nintendo had become dependent on gimmicks and unable to compete with Sony and Microsoft’s much more powerful, and frankly more interesting, consoles. An argument can be made that Nintendo wasn’t interested in competing with its competitors’ offerings, but the two are intrinsically linked in my book.
Between motion control on the Wii, dual screens on the DS/3DS line, and the failed attempt at a console/tablet hybrid of the Wii U, Nintendo was steadfast in its dedication to, and dependence on, its gimmicks at the expense of third party developers and publishers, and at the expense of its fans. Whatever Nintendo wanted the Wii U to be, it didn’t get there. It’s the worst selling Nintendo console, only managing about two-thirds of the GameCube’s total to this point, and the worst selling console from any of the current players in that space. Worse, though, Nintendo couldn’t, and still can’t, figure out how to be a modern gaming company.
Friend codes. I don’t even want to expand on that one. I know I don’t need to. Even without them, Nintendo hasn’t been able to figure out how to manage online accounts and purchases. Console and handheld libraries have been tied to hardware rather than accounts, although rumor has it this mistake will finally be fixed next week. The account, or lack thereof, mess seemed to be changing with the introduction of the Nintendo Network ID, but even that was just a new name for the same haphazard account structure Nintendo had been using. The Nintendo Account, along with this week’s introduction of the Switch ID (or whatever it’s actually called) show promise. But even that was needlessly complicated.
My experience with setting up a Switch ID (because why wouldn’t I claim one with no intention of buying the console) were as follows: 1) sign in with Nintendo Network ID, 2) create Nintendo account, 3) enter verification code, 4) navigate settings to find User ID section, 5) enter another verification code, 6) create password, 7) create User ID.
Why? Why did this need to be so backwards and confounding? And the thing is, I’m not convinced there won’t be more in the future.
$300 is a great price for the Switch’s launch—it’s the same price as the Wii U’s basic model at launch, and it undercuts both Sony and Microsoft, which it desperately needed to do. But it’s not a real price. There are already games that won’t fit on the Switch’s internal memory, making a microSD card an essential add-on. Gamers have been largely resistant to the world’s digital future, slightly mitigating the problem here, but it’s inevitable.
Two Joy-Cons are included in the box. Anybody looking for more players or a more traditional controller experience will need to shell out extra money for additional Joy-Cons or for a Pro Controller. The Joy-Con grip included in the box is not the charging version. Joy-Cons run $49.99/$79.99 for one/two. The Pro Controller is $69.99. The charging grip is $29.99. The numbers really start to add up for anybody looking for a complete, multiplayer capable experience, not to mention the almost prohibitively expensive nature of these controllers.
Many of these mis-steps might be forgivable and forgettable if Nintendo’s hardware provided the best way to play all, or almost all, of today’s best games. But that’s not the case. There’s typically third party support at launch for Nintendo consoles, but it dwindles before eventually vanishing. The Wii, and to a larger extent the Wii U, had to exist largely on the strength of Nintendo’s own games. While the strength of those titles is undeniable, it’s not enough to hold a candle to only slightly more expensive consoles that play their own exclusives AND a ton of AAA third party titles and indie games. The Switch has some third party support at and around launch, but it’s concerning.
EA has a FIFA game releasing at some point in 2017. Not its yearly FIFA title, but one made specifically for the Switch. While a console specific version of a game may sound promising, it wasn’t great for the Wii or even Sony’s PlayStation Vita. Bethesda, notably absent from past Nintendo hardware, will be releasing The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition on the Switch. It’s telling that it isn’t 2015’s Fallout 4 from Bethesda Game Studios, or any other titles published by Bethesda in the past couple years, such as Doom or Dishonored 2. It’s a remake of a title originally released over five years ago. Whether it’s because that’s all the Switch can handle or Bethesda wanted to play it safe, it’s telling that this is the title Bethesda chose to develop for the Switch. It’s also telling that companies like Ubisoft haven’t announced anything for the Switch.
Nintendo has tried to thrive on its own games. It’s tried to survive on them. It hasn’t done the former, and it arguably hasn’t done the latter either. Nintendo stalwarts like Mario and The Legend of Zelda will undoubtedly move units. More recent Nintendo developments like Splatoon will surely maintain interest, and maybe spur a few sales of their own. But without proper third party support and a steady stream of releases from developers and publishers from companies without Nintendo in the name, the Switch is doomed to repeat drain circled by its predecessor.
An unfinished online network won’t launch until month’s after the Switch’s release, and even then most of its features will be relegated to a smartphone app. Standard features like Netflix and other streaming services will be absent from the Switch, with the possibility of showing up down the road. Nintendo is only interested in a dedicated gaming machine, which seems like a major mistake in 2017. Potential owners, adults and children alike, have become accustomed to devices that play games and much, much more. Whether there’s a place in living rooms and backpacks for a device that only plays games for anyone other than the most hardcore Nintendo fans remains to be seen, but the negative buzz, or at least hesitance, over the Switch leading up to its launch doesn’t bode well.
Whether the Switch takes off and begins a resurgence for Nintendo or falters and continues its downfall, I wish Nintendo all the best with the launch of the Switch next week. I’ll just be watching from the sidelines.