On March 3rd – roughly a month and a half from now – Nintendo will release its eighth home console, the Switch. Its release comes at a pivotal moment in the company’s history and may well determine its future viability as a hardware producer. The Switch’s predecessor, the Wii U, was a commercial failure; approximately 13.5 million Wii U’s have been sold since its launch in 2012. Compare that to the roughly 25 million Xbox One’s and 54 million PS4’s sold since their respective debuts in 2013 and it’s evident that Nintendo is struggling to appeal to the gaming public.
Like a lot of avid gamers, I watched Nintendo’s Switch debut event last week. It was pretty corny at times, but also effective in demonstrating the console and showing off some of the key titles. There is undoubtedly excitement for Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but beyond that the offerings at launch are pretty underwhelming. An upgraded version of Mario Kart 8, a 2D Sonic game called Sonic Mania, and a new sandbox Mario title called Super Mario Odyssey will be released later this Spring.
At the core of the Switch’s identity – and as the name implies – is the first real amalgamation of a console and a handheld. Nintendo toyed with this idea on the Wii U; it’s mammoth controller featured a large screen that was ostensibly for taking games from the TV screen to the controller’s screen, but the implementation of this feature was minimal as most Wii U titles didn’t support it. With the Switch, any game can go from the TV to the included tablet. You just slide the tablet component out of the main Switch unit, or dock, and you’re good to go.
Battery life will vary between two and six hours when the tablet isn’t docked, and more often than not will likely be closer to two hours than six. When you want to play on the go you have to remove the left and right part of the controller, called Joy-Cons, and slide them into the left and right sides of the tablet. A bit tedious to have to do every time you want to be mobile, but a clever design nonetheless. Another big plus is that all Switch consoles will be region free, meaning that any game from any territory (Europe, Japan, North America, etc.) will work on any Switch system.
While the system is certainly priced very competitively at $299, the same can’t be said for the accessories. Those little Joy-Cons that slide off and on will set you back $50 a piece, or $80 if you buy a combo pack. Want a traditional style controller? The Pro Controller has you covered, but it’ll cost you $70. Maybe you’d like to use your Switch in multiple rooms without moving the dock back and forth between TVs? No problem! You can buy an extra dock for $90. Maybe you just want an extra basic controller like the one included with the system. In that case you can get the Joy-Con Charging Grip for another $30 (you’ll need another two Joy-Cons though, so add $80 to that). Games will vary in price from $40 to $60 with special editions being more.
Whether the Switch can reverse Nintendo’s fortunes and return them to their past prominence remains to be seen, but it’s undoubtedly going to be an uphill battle. The perception and reputation that Nintendo has cultivated is that of a company that makes systems and games for kids. Almost all of their titles are very cartoonish, and while many end up being quite good they fail to appeal to an older demographic. The cost of accessories is also quite excessive, with a multiplayer, multi-room setup costing between $500 and $600. Add some games to that and you’re looking at $700+. If the Switch can’t find a niche for itself in a gaming landscape currently dominated by Sony and Microsoft, then Nintendo may well end up following in Sega’s post-Dreamcast footsteps and simply make games for other platforms.
This article was submitted by Ian Johnston – edited by JB