It’s been a bumpy ride, but if Nintendo plays their cards right then the Switch could put them back on top
Say what you will about Nintendo, but you can’t accuse them of resting on their laurels. Over the past three decades, the Kyoto Japan-based company has consistently shifted the playing field in the video games industry by delivering unconventional and exciting products which, while not always a success, manage to innovate and set the stage for trends that often become the industry standard. Whether it’s the Wii’s motion-based controls, which went on to inspire the move and and the current stable of VR controllers, or the 3Ds’ touchscreen, which paved the way for the PS4 and Vita’s touch-based controls, Nintendo’s unconventional methods are often a recipe for success. And Nintendo’s penchant for innovation has without a doubt made things more exciting, even if it hasn’t always resulted in the Big N edging out their competition.
Of course, this desire to change the industry’s dynamic isn’t just a phenomenon that started with the Wii and its waggle-tastic peripherals. Nintendo are the ones who made portable gaming mainstream with the monochromatic masterpiece, the Game Boy, way back in 1989. The handheld went on to be a massive success, paving the way for countless handhelds from the competition like Sega’s Game Gear, SNK’s Neo Geo Pocket, and Bandai’s Wonderswan – ultimately paving the way for mighty handhelds that we play today. Hell, you could even argue the ill-fated Virtual Boy laid the groundwork for the PlayStation VR, but that’s probably just me permanently viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses after spending extensive time with the unit. Thanks for that, Gunpei Yokoi.
All joking aside, Nintendo’s dogged efforts to make the video gaming landscape more exciting through unorthodox hardware has been one of the company’s greatest strengths over the years. However, the company’s critics, and even some longtime fans, feel Nintendo’s refusal to adapt to industry conventions has put the company at a disadvantage when compared to their competition. When Sony and Microsoft christened the HD era with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Nintendo decided to stick to low fidelity visuals and focus on motion-based controls. This this did a great job of attracting casual gamers,. Unfortunately, the middling hardware did very little to entice hardcore gamers, who largely shifted their attention elsewhere.
The Wii U suffered a similar fate. Nintendo’s tablet-based controller was an exciting prospect. But the underwhelming hardware that powered the experience was a turnoff to third party studios, who were unable to bring their most successful franchises to the console. This lack in horsepower eventually lead to sporadic first-party releases keeping the system on life support. A real shame, especially when considering the console had a large stable of third party support when it launched on November 18, 2012.
Now, here we are, one day after Nintendo pulled back the curtain and revealed their latest console – the aptly-named Switch. We’ve talked about the console at length since it was revealed, and it certainly looks to continue the trend of technical wizardry over conventional design. Many hoped the console would be a return to form for Nintendo, providing Nintendo’s fans with a more powerful and conventional console meant to rival the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case – at least not at this early stage. That’s not to say the system looks like a bust – quite the contrary – but the system’s focus on portability certainly seem like it could come at the cost of overall power. And a system that’s drastically outgunned by its competition will always struggle to secure to secure the most ambitious titles. It’s happened time and time again for Nintendo, and a repeat could really hobble the onetime console juggernaut.
Of course, horsepower isn’t everything. Nintendo is obviously banking on once again changing the way people play games. Whether it’s starting up a game of Skyrim and taking it on the go as you leave on your morning commute, or making Smash Bros. tournaments possible at the drop of a hat, the Switch seems well equipped for the task. Hell, the controller, known as the Joy-Con, can even slide off the unit and used as a pair of min-controllers for instant multiplayer capabilities. It’s some seriously cool tech. But it’s unclear if all of the Switch’s capabilities will be enough to make Nintendo a contender again. After all, the Wii U was fairly disastrous for Nintendo by most accounts despite its innovative controller, and you have to wonder if all of these bells and whistles, as cool as they are, will be enough to win over the hardcore gamers who’ve felt burned by Nintendo’s last few consoles.
In the end, it will be the games that define the Switch’s legacy, not the hardware. And this is one area where we’re left scratching our heads. We know that the console will at least be getting a new Mario game, along with Splatoon, Mario Kart 8, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Skyrim Remastered. Apart from those titles, details are absolutely scarce – and Nintendo has confirmed to the Wall Street Journal’s Takashi Mochizuki that they won’t be revealing any new details on software or hardware specs until next year, which is at the earliest just three months before the console’s worldwide release in March 2017.
Nintendo: no more official announcement would come this year on 1) game titles 2) spec details, including region-lock status.
— Takashi Mochizuki (@mochi_wsj) October 21, 2016
Having said that, it’s really hard to gauge what we can expect to see from the Switch. But one thing is for certain, after multiple generations of losing ground to the competition, Nintendo desperately needs to craft a console that can go toe-to-toe with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, or at the very least make a noticeable foothold in the marketplace. The hardware certainly does some innovative things that could make the platform a real game changer, but without a stable of strong software to prop it up, the console could be yet another swing and a miss for Nintendo.
Personally, I’ll be lining up to grab my Switch alongside millions of gamers when the console releases next March. It’s something I’ve done for the past few decades whenever a new Nintendo console rolls out. After all, who can resist the allure of taking the Elder Scrolls on the go, or saving Hyrule from the highway? These are the kinds of experiences that players of all stripes are sure to celebrate. However, I’m still not entirely sure the console will have what it takes to win over the majority of my playtime. In any case, I’m certainly excited to find out!
So, do you think the Switch will be able to really compete with the Xbox One and PlayStation 4? Are you happy with what you’ve seen from the console following yesterday’s hardware reveal? We’d love to know what you think. Be sure to sound off in the comments section and tell us if you feel Nintendo can come out on top when they flip the Switch next year.