As I’ve been following the Nintendo Switch for a long time now, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about it with you.
The idea of the Nintendo Switch - local multiplayer one can take with them and share with others, multiple play styles, a high-end portable that doubles as a sufficiently powerful home console - really appeals to me. In particular, I am excited about the social aspect, one which was previously exclusive to card and board games (with the exception of carrying a large laptop and gamepads with you, I suppose).
Personally, I enjoy multiplayer gaming a lot - I don’t think I have ever completed a singleplayer run of Minecraft, for instance. In countries where Nintendo does not have a strong presence, such as Poland, local console multiplayer has always felt somewhat hard to access - for portable consoles, very few people usually owned one in the first place and, even then, those of your friends who didn’t own one couldn’t play with you. Home consoles did not have this issue, but you had to either bring one to a place which has a TV or invite your friends to your house. All of this meant that playing video games together had to be a planned activity, with preparations and arrangements involved. The Switch has a chance to change that, letting you just carry the console with you and, as Nintendo’s marketing team calls it, “share the joy” wherever you may end up being.
It’s not just the concept which matters, though. There is also the execution. The Nintendo Switch seems to have the right blend of compromises to succeed - which include the removal of the crosshair D-pad and the usage of plastic instead of glass for the screen. In addition, rumors of decreased development kit prices, ease of porting games and the increased approachability of Nintendo by independent developers are fairly good signs for the console’s future. However, there are a few minor flaws:
- The kickstand is less than ideal. I’m not talking about its flimsiness - a detached kickstand is better than a cracked kickstand, just like a scratched screen is better than a cracked screen - but about the unfortunate position of the charging port. I can imagine that playing the Switch in tabletop mode on long trips or away from a TV/monitor can be a common occurence for many people. I also understand that, in terms of docking and undocking the console, the position of the port is very good; however, I still consider this a flaw.
- The console appears to have a limit of four wireless devices connected to it simultaneously. I do not have confirmation for this, but Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’s local multiplayer behaviour seems to hint at it. While this is enough for most uses, one cannot use four Joy-Cons (that is, two grips with two Joy-Cons inside each) for local multiplayer while also being connected to other Switch consoles. While it’s not likely to be a significant issue in practice, I feel it’s worth bringing up for people who want to get really creative with the various play modes the Switch offers.
- I’ve heard mixed reports about the dock’s build quality. I cannot speak from experience on this, however.
All things said, however, I feel the execution is also pretty good. From what I’ve managed to experience myself, playing Snipperclips with a friend at a StreetPass meetup, I don’t think I can name any obvious issues with the console itself. What about the other things - in particular, the things I’m worried about?
First and foremost, the paid online service. Nintendo is not known for providing stellar online services, and I can only hope that their paid offering will be an improvement over what they used to offer freely - however, we won’t know any details until the summer. I’d like to briefly go through the information we have so far, however.
- Let’s start with the price. Nintendo has confirmed it will cost between $17 and $25 a year. In comparison, PS Plus and Xbox Live Gold cost $60 a year ($55 discounted), with rare deals bringing it down to $40. This means that Nintendo’s service will be roughly 1/3 to 1/2 of the price of its competitors, therefore I would tolerate - though not exactly be happy - if it offered 1/3 to 1/2 of the value.
- Online lobby and voice chat. I believe that, as long as it ends up being streamlined with Nintendo’s ecosystem, it could have a chance. However, initial reports seem to say this part of the experience will be conducted via an external smartphone app, which sounds less than ideal as users could just stick to one they already know.
- Monthly game download. Every month, one gets to play an NES or SNES game for that month. Now, this sounds like a poor deal compared to competitors’ “you get to keep the game until you cancel the subscription service and, in addition, you get current-generation games” proposal. However, Nintendo’s plan is to offer online multiplayer for those games. Emulators have not so far managed to make high-quality (that is, corrective) online multiplayer user-friendly (it does exist, however!), and I see the company having a chance in this regard.
- Exclusive deals. The main problem with this for me is that the eShop is already more expensive in Poland than buying the games physically. For instance, I can buy Breath of the Wild on cartridge for $10 less than via the eShop; that is a ~15% discount. If I were to buy used, I can already - keep in mind it was released just two months ago - get the game for 30% less than on Nintendo’s digital online store. Thirty percent also happens to be the typical discount amount Nintendo games get. Now, I know that Poland is a bit of a special case in this regard, but - keeping in mind the physical games’ possibility to be resold - it makes Nintendo’s exclusive deals seem a lot less attractive, especially for games which aren’t digital only.
Overall, there’s a lot of unknowns in this regard and the service could end up being anything from fantastic to terrible. I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see. I do have to say, however, that a disappointing online service wouldn’t be good for a console which has “fantastic multiplayer” as one of its key selling points. What about the other aspects which worry me?
- Games. Now, I absolutely expect the Switch to be dominated primarily by Nintendo and indie developers - as I said above, Nintendo is trying to reach out and become more approachable to them. I just hope the console won’t feel abandoned in the event of it flopping outside of Nintendo’s core fanbase. It doesn’t seem likely, but it doesn’t also seem impossible.
- Speaking of games, there’s also performance. While porting is rumored to be very easy, not all of the ports so far are great. Super Bomberman R runs at 540p in undocked mode and 720p in docked mode to maintain 60 FPS. Dragon Quest Heroes I & II has very visible stutter in just about any battle. Even Breath of the Wild, the flagship launch title of the system, runs at 900p. On the other hand, most other games released for the Switch seem to run great, with no major issues. While I am aware that visuals are not everything, especially on a Nintendo console, and that developers are yet to get accustomed to the hardware, this still leaves me somewhat concerned about the console’s future in the games aspect I mentioned above.
- Development. If I ever want to develop for it officially, I’d have to sign an NDA, buy a development kit, potentially invest in better locks and, of course, never talk about it outside of Nintendo’s developer forums. I am aware it’s common practice, but it always makes me just a little bit sad. This is one of the areas PCs may remain superior in for a long, long time - with honourable mentions to Net Yaroze and the WonderWitch.
Personally, I am considering buying the Nintendo Switch after all - over here, they’re not in danger of selling out every weekend, so I feel comfortable waiting; also, I enjoy the type of fun/gameplay-focused games Nintendo and indie developers release, though I can have most of the latter on PC as well - but I’m also not entirely sure yet for the reasons mentioned above. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below - who knows, they may help me make a decision!
PS. I can’t help but wonder if Nintendo will use the opportunity to turn the online service’s monthly game downloads into some kind of spiritual successor to the Satellaview.
UPDATE 2017-07-14: Apparently the online service now will have a subscription fee for access to a small library of retro games instead. I suppose that’s what people wanted after all. (Also, $20 a year confirmed, and delayed to 2018.)