Nintendo took a major step on the road to launching the Switch console. It was revealed in a special livestreamed presentation that the console, which allows users to switch from a home television gaming system to a portable one by removing the device from a dock, will sell for $300 on March 3. The company tapped into its 33-year gaming history in hopes of bringing a sense of nostalgia to the event by recounting all the past consoles and how they moved the industry forward. The Switch is said to have the DNA of all that came before it. They showcased the console’s major features in addition to several other announcements, including new games, a premium online service (similar to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold), and third-party developer support.
But in contrast to the general enthusiasm felt by critics and audiences when the Switch’s announcement trailer first released in October, impressions from the official reveal have been mixed. Some commended the Switch for its unique features, which bridge the world of home console entertainment and the mobile market. Others were disappointed with the slim selection of launch titles and relatively high price point for what many see as a secondary console that complements owning a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One—both start at $300.
It appears Nintendo is out to please almost everyone, which might explain why the little Joy-Con controllers have so many features, such as “HD rumble,” an NFC reader for Amiibo, and infrared scanning. This is clearly a system that both casual players and gaming enthusiasts might enjoy, but gatherings and parties deserve special emphasis, given the portable nature of the Switch and how it was party games like Wii Sports that brought the Wii console to its heights of popularity. Although newly announced games such as 1-2 Switch and Arms have the potential to catch on as party games, it’s unclear whether either one will see the same kind of popularity that Wii Sports did. Aside from having to crowd around a small screen to watch the action, it’s also unclear at this point whether a battery life that ranges between 2.5 and 6 hours, depending on the game, will be enough to satisfy gamers.
The slim collection of launch games isn’t helping matters, either. While the announcement of Super Mario Odyssey made a huge impression on audiences, the game isn’t expected to ship until at least the fall, which means that it won’t necessarily be able to take advantage of the momentum established by Super Mario Run on mobile devices. Most agree that Splatoon 2 is shaping up to be a fun shooter that may even be picked up as an eSport, but it won’t release until months after the Switch launches.
Furthermore, even though third party publishers have committed to the Switch, games such as FIFA are already available on other consoles. Meanwhile, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim might have been a greater win for Nintendo if it weren’t a five-year-old game that had a remastered edition launch for other platforms last fall. The fact that most games, including original ones such as Xenoblade Chronicles 2, don’t have a release date may hamper the enthusiasm for the console.
All this means that Nintendo will essentially have to pin all its hopes on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild as the game that will appeal to its core fan base while showcasing the console’s capabilities. This in turns leads to a host of other questions, such as whether or not one game—even one with Zelda in the title—coupled with a few casual party games is enough to convince consumers to pick up a Switch when it launches. Even if it does, one can only guess how long the game will keep players engaged before they decide to move on.
Reggie Fils-Aimé, president and COO of Nintendo of America, said that the company has learned from its past mistakes with the Wii U, but it is still sticking to its reputation for “doing its own thing.” That approach has helped it break into the mobile space with the social app Miitomo and the endless runner, Super Mario Run, but it is one that has often left fans wondering about consoles and games instead of championing them.
Nintendo would do well to reveal more details about its online service, which will be free for players from March to sometime in the fall. The service will support a connected mobile app and will offer one free SNES or NES game a month with the subscription—some upgraded with multiplayer. Given the steady growth of digital sales and subscriptions over the past year, coupled with the tremendous success of the NES Classic Edition, a service that draws heavily from the company’s gaming history to keep players engaged is almost a sure win. Much will rest on pricing, and Nintendo must address whether digital Wii U purchases will carry over to the new system, but this feature may have a greater chance of generating enthusiasm than its portability, the handful of party games, and HD rumble controller capabilities can create.
In other words, Nintendo should go back to its original plan of using its incredible sense of nostalgia as a foundation while it builds a game library and proves that the Switch is a must-have console for livening up gatherings. We can hope that the Switch does significantly better than its predecessor, the Wii U, but it will need a stronger and clearer marketing message to convince consumers that it’s worth getting.