I was pretty confused by the reveal of the Switch. The Artist Formerly Known As The Nintendo NX was pretty much everything I expected it not to be, judging by the sorts of things Nintendo had been feeding into the rumour mill up till that point.
What I thought we were getting was a current-gen console killer that can not only hang with the big boys, but maybe send them home with a black eye. What we got instead was another underpowered oddball that doesn’t seem to care about fitting in at all.
That was a problem for the Wii U, and it may just be a problem for the Switch as well.
Let’s talk raw stats here – the Switch is currently, on paper, not as powerful as the PS4 or Xbox One. That’s not according to me, it’s according to the far more knowledgeable nerds who’ve broken down the capabilities of the Nvidia hardware Nintendo is running with for the Switch.
In a world where Sony and Microsoft are locked in an arms race for hardware supremacy, the Switch seems to find itself in the same awkward spot the Wii U did. When the Wii U dropped, it was more powerful than the current offerings from the big dogs, but was overshadowed shortly after by the Xbone and PS4.
Here we have the same thing happening, but this time Nintendo isn’t even coming out ahead of the current gen, which means they’re worse off than they were with the Wii U. You or I may not think power is everything, but for consoles it can be. With power comes third-party support, the lack of which was undoubtedly the major downfall of the Wii U. With the world looking towards 4K, VR and other power-hungry endeavours, buying into an expensive, underpowered console that doubles as a handheld you may or may not even want is a tough ask.
Now I know what you’re all thinking – you don’t need power for Mario Kart. Or Zelda. Or Mario. Nintendo has always done its own thing, and that’s just how they roll. But there’s a problem there too.
Compatibility may be an issue
Nintendo haven’t said anything about backwards compatibility with the Wii U yet, so I may be eating my words come January. That being said, we do know two pretty critical things – the Switch uses completely different hardware, and the Switch uses cartridges.
Both those things make compatibility between the consoles difficult, although as the Xbox One has shown, not impossible. It would be quite the undertaking however, and whether or not Nintendo is willing to go down that path remains to be seen. Nintendo have confirmed that you can’t use 3DS cartridges or Wii U discs, but that was fairly apparent from the trailer.
Why this matters is that Nintendo were pretty damned terrible at putting out quality content for the Wii U. There were quality games, but there just weren’t enough of them – especially in the first year. With third party supporters like Ubisoft pulling out early, the lack of software ended up being the death knell for the console that brought the big guns and fired blanks.
So you can’t play old games, and the third party support may be an issue a few months or a year in. This means you may end up relying entirely on Nintendo’s content, but there’s a problem with that which goes beyond the company not putting out enough good games to make it worth it.
Why would Wii U users switch?
The major draw-card Nintendo has going for their own next-gen is the new Legend of Zelda – which is also coming to Wii U.
I don’t know what exactly Nintendo’s plans are to cross over to their very own next-gen, but considering the existing Wii U fanbase has been sorely lacking games they’ll likely have to cater to them for some time.
Nintendo’s first-party developers are usually pretty good at squeezing great performance out of sub-optimal hardware, and their games often aren’t particularly demanding – good news for Wii U owners hoping to squeeze a few more years of buyer’s remorse out of their console.
Did anyone want this?
Nintendo have, in the last several years, been really good at making the things they think are cool without much concern for what the people buying their products think is cool.
I’ll admit the trailer is slick, and really good at showing off a whole bunch of features you’ll probably never use. If you’re really into handheld gaming, you probably own one already. Bringing your console along to a social event and having everyone grab one of the super crappy looking side controllers is probably the kind of thing that only happens in promo videos.
If you’re going to a gamer’s house they probably have a console there already, and if you’re going to the movies or a restaurant or, bless, a pick-up basketball game, you’re probably not going to be crowding around a tiny screen together.
The mobile gaming market is already pushing handhelds into a corner, and if the PS Vita is anything to go buy the whole “powerful handheld” thing isn’t really what people are hankering after. If you want a great handheld experience, I recommend the 3DS – it’s really good, and has an enormous library of first and third-party games.
I’ll admit, the Switch does look cool as hell – but when it comes down to shelling out R6K+, I find people tend to move away from cool and head towards sensible. If you can only afford one console, the situation for most, you want something that can play the latest and greatest, and do so with ease. Right now, that doesn’t seem to be what Nintendo is offering.