Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch from a Non-Nintendo Fan:

By / February 11, 2017 / Features

The last Nintendo game I played was Wii Sports Resort. The last (and only) Mario game I played was New Super Mario Bros, for the original DS. Despite owning several Nintendo consoles, mostly handhelds, I haven’t played much from their 30-year-spanning catalogue. I grew up with a Sega Genesis, so I played Sonic on my Gameboy Advanced SP, not Mario. It wasn’t even a conscious effort to avoid first party Nintendo games, I was just a kid that played what his parents bought him. I loved my Gameboy Color with its transparent purple body. It was where I played the Harry Potter licensed games, which triggered my love affair with RPGs. I loved my blue SP, where I played Sonic and Spyro and Crash, the franchises that made their way over from my Genesis and Playstation. I enjoyed my black DS Lite (that I bought myself thank-you-very-much), where I played the surprisingly good Guitar Hero On Tour with it’s weird cartridge peripheral. In the car, mind, proving to no one in particular that I couldn’t possible have epilepsy.

The best looking Nintendo handheld.

Now that you know half of my gaming history, don’t you agree that there’s no one more qualified to talk about the fast-approaching hybrid console/handheld Nintendo Switch?

The core concept of the switch, the fact that it can transform into several different configurations, is undeniably cool. As a Playstation Vita owner, who played a solid chunk of Fallout 4 with remote play from PS4, the ability to take full console games anywhere greatly appeals to me. I use remote play to game while watching sports as it is, latency and all. If there was better alternative, which the Switch very well might be, I’m interested.

But already the cracks are starting to show. About a month before it’s even released, we still don’t know all that much about the Switch. Specs and power aren’t everything, just look at the success of the 3DS compared to the Vita, but Nintendo hasn’t said a word about the internals of the machine. Not a word on the supposed Nvidia mobile GPU, nothing about the screen resolution. Without those specifications, it makes it difficult to judge what kind of games the device could see in the future, and whether it’s even in the realm of possibility for the Switch to see third party titles seen on PS4 and Xbox One. It even took prodding for them to reveal that the screen had touch functionality. Thankfully during the reveal they did give out the (understandably) paltry battery life of 2.5 to 6 hours. Consumers should expect the former, especially for more demanding “console” quality games.

There’s so much doubt swirling around in my mind about the Switch. I’m worried about the build quality. Will this feel like a modern, premium device? At $300, $50 more than a PS4 slim bundled with at least one game, it sure as hell should. But looking at Nintendo’s past two home consoles, build quality isn’t a given. I have almost traumatic flashbacks of attempting to use a Wiimote. The things could never hold a charge, even with fresh batteries inserted in them. They could never properly connect to the system either, even with the ludicrous Motion Control Plus attachment that supposedly improved connectivity.

And then there’s the WiiU. Enough has been discussed on the console’s failures, so I’ll avoid repeating most of them here. But the thing just felt cheap. Cheap plastic, mushy buttons on the Gamepad. Analog sticks that were awkwardly placed. It felt like a plug-and-play knockoff videogame toy you’d find at RiteAid. The touchscreen was garbage and the corners of it collected dust that could never really be cleaned despite proper care because the plastic had a gap instead of meeting the screen flush.

I hope Nintendo has learned, but some facets of the Switch lead me to believe that they haven’t. The analog stick placement on the Switch’s JoyCon controllers, offset in the normal and combined configurations, are placed bizarrely when the controllers are used separately and sideways, in the two player configuration:

The right JoyCon controller in its multiplayer configuration.

The stick is smack-dab in the middle and looks painful to hold. I’m hoping this time around that the Switch doesn’t go the way of the Wii and WiiU, which essentially forced the need to purchase a “Pro” controller separately to comfortably used the system. This gen, the Pro controller runs for $70, around $20 more than the competition’s standard controllers. At least one of those competitor’s controllers comes bundled with the system anyway, like the JoyCons and the JoyCon base seen here:

The JoyCon controllers slotted into the dock attachment.

The WiiU felt stuck in the past, despite its ability to play games comparable to last-gen’s PS3 and Xbox 360 in a smaller form factor. But it wasn’t truly up to par, especially regarding its online systems. Nintendo still doesn’t have a unified account system, at all. This means that purchases from one console, most importantly emulated classic Virtual Console games, cannot transfer from one system to the other. This is a problem Sony and Microsoft solved a decade or more ago at this point. On a Nintendo system, if you want to play a game, say the original Legend of Zelda, on two consoles you better be prepared to pay for it again. All Nintendo has said regarding the Switch’s online capability is that it will go through some sort of smartphone application, separate from the console itself. Nothing about an account system yet, a month from launch.

And as far as backwards compatibility goes, since the Switch uses proprietary cartridges, the WiiU’s discs and the 3DS’ carts won’t be usable. They’ve been mum on any form of digital backwards compatibility like the Xbox One’s or Playstation’s PS2 classics and Playstation Now service. (This silence has simultaneously curbed and piqued my interest in picking up a 3DS, but they’ve somehow been sold out everywhere on the planet since November 2016. Fine, Nintendo, whether your shortage is due to artificial demand inflation or incompetence, I won’t buy your product if you make it that difficult.)

Does all of this sound complicated? That’s because it is. And Nintendo hasn’t done much to alleviate any of that confusion. But at the same time, there’s a lot to be excited for. If the console works as intended, if the controllers feel good in their myriad configurations, if the games are fun, if there’s just enough third party support, if the online systems are competent, the Nintendo Switch could succeed. It could even become a must-own because of its versatility. But that’s a lot of “ifs” isn’t it?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild looks great, although it’s also available on the WiiU too, like Nintendo promised eons ago. I’m sure the new Mario will be solid as well, unless they pull a complete Sonic ’06 with the human interaction angle. There’s going to be a bit of third party support at the start, but like the launch of the WiiU, it will begin with older games most people have probably already played on other platforms like Skyrim. And I’m most intrigued by the teased Shin Megami Tensei entry. But outside of Japan, the diehard fans, and the prospective diehards like me, that won’t really move units.

Breath of the Wild.

This is all just a roundabout way of saying that I’m cautiously approaching the Switch with a wait-and-see attitude. And if a majority of the above “ifs” are answered positively, I’ll consider picking one up down the line. But right now, it’s difficult to imagine leaving the Sony cross-buy/cross-play ecosystem behind. Perhaps when the Vita finally dies and Sony makes it markedly clear that a successor isn’t in the works. But who am I kidding? Long live Vita.

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Bill Stevens

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