In its Switch Presentation, Nintendo sends mixed messages

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I was amongst the many in the internet who endlessly speculated on what Nintendo’s mysterious NX could be. I ate up every report, every rumor, and every leak (legitimate or not) that was thrown at me, or the good people at /r/NintendoNX, now migrated to /r/NintendoSwitch. Finally, on October 20th, 2016, the loud, obnoxious, and sometimes unreasonable cries of NX theorists and fanatics were answered.

The first Nintendo Switch was successful in building the identity of their new platform, with the repetition of the logo (and the satisfying “click” noise) and overall, a concept that was much easier to explain than that of the Wii U’s. You can play your games wherever you want – play them in your home, or take them wherever you go. The music was catchy, and the use cases demonstrated seemed viable enough, as funny as the rooftop party scenario was. And as Eurogamer reported in the summer, and as the NX theorists predicted, the Switch turned out to be exactly what we expected.

That isn’t to take away from the announcement’s impact – in fact, the trailer excited gamers to the possibilities. By combining the concepts of a home console and a handheld console onto one device, speculation continued that Nintendo’s console and handheld libraries would be combining. The evidence was already there – reports stated that Nintendo’s handheld and console divisions were restructuring and combining, and big Nintendo games like Super Smash Bros. and Super Mario Maker have versions on both the Wii U and 3DS.

The prospect of playing games like the next 3D Zelda game, the next Mario platformer, the next large scale Xenoblade on the same device as say, the next main Pokemon RPG, the next Ace Attorney game, or the next Picross game was quite exciting. That concept alone was enough to convince core gamers such as myself that this was the next natural step. Sure, the graphics would not be as good as a modern day PC, or even the console competition, but who cares when the software lineup could be so strong? Based on that initial trailer, we all expect just good, old-fashioned video gaming, just played in a new way.

But in their January 13th presentation, the messaging became muddled.

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“All I’m offering is the truth.”

If the initial trailer for the Switch was a step forward, I view the presentation as two steps back. In the beginning of their presentation, Nintendo tried to clarify their vision for the Switch, introducing the idea that it takes ideas from all of their previous platforms even hilariously citing the Gamecube’s handle for portability. Looking back, the mention of the Wii’s motion sensing technology should have been a warning sign.

Much of the first part of that presentation was devoted to the Joy-Con controllers, and its motion sensing capabilities and “HD rumble” feature. But after watching this, and looks at “1, 2, Switch” and “ARMS”, it was hard to not get flashbacks of E3 2006. By beginning with motion games, what kind of message are you sending to consumers about your product? The move away from the “Wii” name was a deliberate one, yet it seems like Nintendo is trying to crawl back to what made the Wii a hit for non-gamers ten years ago.

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This is video gaming, right?

One of Nintendo’s big selling points was”1, 2, Switch”, a game that has me quite worried; what looks like a pack-in game (yet isn’t) in the mold of “Wii Sports” and “Nintendo Land” fails to clarify the console’s concept to me. “Wii Sports” introduced the idea of motion sensing gameplay, using sports as an easy example to demonstrate with. “Nintendo Land” introduced the idea of asymmetric gameplay. The overall success or failure of both games is debatable; “Wii Sports” led to endless minigame collections and shovelware titles from third parties, and no other major games even attempted the same type of gameplay that “Nintendo Land” generally excelled at. Yet, both games did an admirable job at embodying the idea of the system it represented; not to mention, they were quite fun at parties.

“1, 2 Switch” does not look like a game I would bust out during a party, and it certainly does’t clear up what the console is supposed to be about. The idea of the game is that you play these minigames without even looking at the screen (“LOOK AT YOUR OPPONENT’S EYES,” the screen tells you), instead depending on audio cues or the rumble function as prompts for the players’ actions. It doesn’t push the idea that the Switch is a console that you can play anywhere (who would want to milk a cow at a party, or outside at a picnic?), and instead combines the concept of motion control and video-less video gaming. It’s a concept that seems unique to the Switch; games like “Spin the Bottle” for the Wii U and “Johann Sebastian Joust” have covered this territory before. At best, this looks like the type of game that you would try for ten minutes when a party has settled down, and then laugh at for a little bit before firing up “Jackbox Party Pack.” Does Nintendo really think they can recapture their Wii audience with software like this?

The rest of the presentation had impressive trailers for Nintendo’s next AAA games, including “Super Mario Odyssey”, “Splatoon 2”, and “Xenoblade Chronicles 2”, but the third party showing failed to excite. Once again, EA promises to bring games as they did for the Wii U, and Todd Howard confirms “Skyrim” (but not the remastered edition?) for the Switch, yet none of this sounded like a commitment to consistently deliver content for the platform. Suda51 and some gentleman from SEGA wearing a key promised that they were making games, but it would have been more reassuring to see actual third party efforts in the presentation.

It would be easy for me to criticize the pricing of the accessories, the small number of launch window titles, the online subscription, and the contrivances of using a smartphone app for communication, but those are all problems that speak for themselves. The big picture problem here is that is does not seem wise to invest in this product early on. This is a company that says they are listening to consumers, a company that says it is focused on content, a company that says they will not repeat mistakes. Yet it is hard to say they are when the “Nintendo flair” they add will make the Switch experience costly and contrived. With its unusual focus on motion games, the Nintendo Switch seems too eager to please everyone. This is a device that Nintendo initially sold as something you can play wherever you want – but what are we to play on it? And will it be worth it? I don’t know what direction the Switch is taking as we move closer to launch, but as of now, I won’t be one of the first ones in line for it.

At least for now, we can keep laughing at New Donk City.

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