Nintendo Switch: Has Nintendo Set It Up To Fail?

On January 13, 2017, Nintendo held a press conference live from Tokyo, providing new details about the video game console it announced in October 2016, the Nintendo Switch. I’ve now had some time to dissect all of the information from the conference and press opinions from the subsequent preview event. In summary, I think the Nintendo Switch is an interesting piece of hardware that could succumb to the same fate as its predecessor if third parties fail to show support.

The Hardware

The Nintendo Switch’s multiple modes of play make it an interesting piece of gaming hardware. The device can be plugged into a TV and used like a regular gaming console. It can also be played on the go like a handheld device by taking the screen out of its dock and plugging in the two controller parts (called Joy-Cons) to either side. Or you can use the kickstand on the device and pass one of the Joy-Cons to a friend for multiplayer games.

The controllers themselves are intriguing, drawing on the success of the Wii’s motion controls, while also appealing to the typical gamer who prefers playing games with a standard analogue controller.

In a way, I think the Nintendo Switch is a final realisation of what Nintendo envisioned the future of its hardware would be, with the Wii U being the initial test. The Wii U, released in November 2012, brought Nintendo into the high-definition world, and laid the foundation for a gaming console that you can play on your television or hand-held in your home. The Nintendo Switch takes that vision a step further by becoming completely hand-held – albeit for 2.5 to 6 hours depending on the game.

nintendo-switch

Despite no official specifications detailed, it’s plausible the Nintendo Switch will not be as powerful as the Xbox One and PlayStation 4. That’s not Nintendo’s aim though. The company has a legacy of creating its own terrific games that preach gameplay over cutting edge graphics.

Games At Launch

It’s not the hardware that Nintendo has to worry about, rather it’s the games that will be released on the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo is relying on a small library of titles to entice initial adopters. Breath of the Wild, the new hotly anticipated Legend of Zelda title is the stand-out. It will be the first game purchased with most systems.

Other choices on launch day are Super Bomberman R, 1-2-Switch (a collection of mini-game tech demos), Just Dance 2017 and Skylanders Imaginators. Apart from Breath of the Wild, it’s not a great launch line up, with Nintendo banking on the world wide appeal of The Legend of Zelda franchise rather than the more recognisable Mario franchise.

The absence of a Mario launch title is confusing, considering he is basically Nintendo’s mascot. The Wii U launched with New Super Mario Bros. Wii U, but Nintendo Switch owners will have to wait until Mario Kart 8 Deluxe on April 29 for a Mario game to play on Switch. It would have served Nintendo better to release Mario Kart 8 on launch day, considering it is a title already available on Wii U.

Nintendo appears to be spreading its internally developed games across 2017, with fighting game Arms (Spring 2017, North America), shooter Splatoon 2 (Summer 2017, North America) and a new open-world Mario game Super Mario Odyssey (Holiday 2017), all scheduled for later this year.

The issue with the Switch, as evident from the Wii U before it, is not first party titles, but third party titles – games published by companies other than Nintendo such as Electronic Arts and Ubisoft. The Wii U launched with 32 day-one titles in 2012, only four of those published by Nintendo. Another 23 games were released during the six-month launch window ending in March 2013 (IGN).

It was a strong start for a console attempting to claw back some of the market that the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had captured. However, most third-party support stopped in November 2013 once the more powerful Xbox One and PlayStation 4 were released. Wikipedia’s list of Wii U games sorted by release date is a wonderfully stark realisation of this fact.

The market demands great graphics and feeds off buzz words, and because the Wii U didn’t carry as much power as the current consoles, third parties stopped creating games for it. Nintendo’s initial reveal trailer for the Nintendo Switch highlighted the third party support coming to the Nintendo Switch, but the launch line-up for 2017 fails to represent that thus far.

nintendo-switch-third-party
Third-party partners from Nintendo Switch reveal video, October 2016.

Nintendo could be facing a chicken or the egg scenario again with the Switch. A console needs games to sell units, but developers won’t invest in a console that has no owners. The Wii U shows that quality third party content is extremely important for the on-going success of a console, but at the moment Nintendo is hoping its strong internal catalog of games can bring the Nintendo Switch success. It is a big gamble that has already failed once.

I believe that the Nintendo Switch will be a great piece of gaming hardware. However, I can’t see it gaining mainstream appeal if it becomes another Nintendo console where you can only play Nintendo produced games, regardless of their track record for creating amazing experiences. Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong.


Nathan is the founder of Think First Entertainment. You can chat to him about the Nintendo Switch in the comments below, or you can find him on Twitter @Nathan_M96.

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