Nintendo Is In Trouble

Last night, Nintendo held a conference in Japan to officially reveal all the details we'd been patiently awaiting for their next home console, the Nintendo Switch. Originally announced in a trailer back in October of 2016, the Switch is a hybrid console, allowing the player to take the entire console with them and continue playing on the go. It's an idea that is as exciting as it is revolutionary. But that's not anything new to Nintendo, they've been revolutionizing the way we play games for decades. First with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) after the gaming industry crashed. Then with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) that added shoulder buttons and two extra face buttons. The Nintendo 64 brought us into a 3D world for the first time, and on the controller (my most hated controller in all of gaming history, by the way), adding the first ever analog stick. It changed the way we played games forever. And they've consistently done that, with each console iteration. The GameCube, the GameBoy, Wii, and to a lesser extent, Wii U. It's in Nintendo's DNA to experiment with the way we play games. 

The Nintendo Wii U

I was a late adopter to the Wii U (I bought one from one of my wife's friends because for whatever reason, a Wii U is still more expensive than a PlayStation 4 as of this writing). I'm glad I waited, there just simply aren't that many games I want to play on the system. The Mario games are top notch, but I find that most of my time is spent playing the Virtual Console (select games from Nintendo's past consoles, like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, etc.). That's not a great sign. I don't own a PlayStation 4 specifically to play PlayStation 1 games. In fact, Nintendo is the only company that's past games are the best in their library. Part of that is it's incredible history (the NES releasing in the US in 1985). Parents all over the world still tell their kids to "turn the Nintendo off, it's time for dinner". It's a company that has had some incredible staying power. But lately, that power has been headed in the wrong direction. And it really started with the Wii.

The Nintendo Wii

The Wii (launched November 19th, 2006) was a console that could've really changed the way we play games. And it did to a point, but it was overwhelmed with terrible titles and underwhelming Third Party support. Even the typically fantastic First Party support was lackluster. It turned into a machine that was bought primarily for its move-based workout titles instead of games that were intriguing to Nintendo's fan base. It sold a TON of units (over 101 million to date), though, so it wasn't exactly a failure financially. Just a failure to Nintendo's core audience.

But even though the Wii didn't speak to its audience in a meaningful way, Nintendo decided to double down on that name and in November of 2012 launched the Wii U. From the get-go this console was a disaster. When they revealed it, they focused on the controller, which featured a second screen on the controller itself (which could've been an awesome selling point if utilized correctly). Not once during their E3 conference did they show the console itself, leading many people to believe that it was either 1) an add-on for the Wii or 2) the console itself was just the controller. It was confusing to say the least. And just a few short months later, the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were announced, which were much more powerful and showed off games that looked much more interesting than anything the Wii U had shown. It looked bleak; and it was. As of this writing, the Wii U has only sold a little over 13 million units. 

So Nintendo seemingly went back to work on their next console which would end up being the Switch. When they debuted the trailer in October of 2016, everyone was excited. It looked awesome. A console (while significantly less powerful than its current competitors) showed that classic Nintendo innovation at work. You could play on your TV like every other console, but whenever you leave the house, just pull the Switch out of its dock, slide the controllers onto the screen and take it with you. Nintendo's handheld systems have always been great, and this seemed like a way to take your home console games with you (like the PlayStation Vita promised.... RIP Vita). The questions were always going to be, how is the battery life, how much will it cost (which ended up being a fair price of $299.99), what's the online functionality like on the go, and what games could we expect. Well, we got those answers last night. And they're a bummer. 

A gaming console is only as good as its games, and this is the area that Nintendo has been lacking for years. The lack of Third Party support and the continued delays of their own First Party games have made some of their previous consoles obsolete to most of the gaming world. The Switch conference was severely lacking in games. Personally, the only two games that even remotely intrigued me were Super Mario Odyssey (which looks rad) and Legend of Zelda: Breathe of the Wild (which also looks rad). The Legend of Zelda: Breathe of the Wild is a launch title for the Switch, but will also come to the Wii U. Super Mario Odyssey won't be out until the Fall of 2017. And that's it. Those were the only two games of any interest for me. Of course, there will be games that capture the imagination of others, but reading the rapid reactions immediately following the conference reveals I wasn't alone in my disappointment. They had a Sizzle Reel showing off more games that will come to the system that looked intriguing, but most are simply ports from the Wii U or from other systems (like Skyrim, and not even the HD Remaster... just Skyrim). For a company that desperately needed a strong showing to pull relapsed Nintendo fans (like myself) back in, this was an incredibly poor showing.  

The battery life on the Switch when it's out of the dock can vary between 2-6 hours. And those are developer times, so realistically you're looking at an hour to 7 hours depending on the type of game you're playing. I imagine a game like Zelda, with its gorgeous Open-World, will suck the battery faster than most. This is also a bummer considering one of the cool things about the system is being able to take it with you wherever you go. If it's going to die in just a few hours, what's even the point of risking it. Something they didn't talk about is what the screen is made of. How easily am I, a notoriously careless person, going to crack this thing?!

Then, after the show, we begin getting all the other information they didn't go over during the show. Like accessory pricing. This is where things really start to become absurd. The actual controllers for The Switch are called "Joycons". There are two of these, a left and a right Joycon. They're tiny, seemingly fitting in the palm of your hand, so there will more than likely be some broken (especially if you're taking them on the go). Did you break one and need to buy a replacement? That'll be $50. How about buying 2 as backups? Together, they're $80 (or, you know, a Quarter of the price of the actual console....) . Hate how tiny those Joycons are? No worries, you can buy a Pro Controller for $70. The list goes on for how expensive and unreasonably overpriced these accessories are. 

I love Nintendo, and I really, really wanted the Switch to be awesome. But the overpriced accessories, confusing internet functionality (so, do I have to use a dedicated Smartphone app to message friends? Is that not a function on the actual console?), the lack of any semblance of interesting games, the poor battery life for the Switch out of the dock, the lack of Third Party support (again) due to the hardware limitations; all of these factors pull me further away from even considering buying one. And I'm not alone. It's been said for years that Nintendo really needed to knock this console out of the park to stay competitive in the hardware space. After the dismal showing the Wii U had, and the initial poor reception to the Switch, Nintendo may be running out of chances. 

It's not unimaginable that Nintendo could do what Sega did and completely leave the hardware race and instead put their First Party software (which is almost always superb) on other platforms like PlayStation or Xbox. You're already seeing it to a smaller degree with the first Mario title on the iPhone. People would absolutely lose their minds if they could play the newest Mario game on a PlayStation or Xbox, and it would make financial sense for Nintendo as well.

BUT, I still hope the Switch can turn it around. It's happened before. Microsoft's reveal of the Xbox One was an absolute disaster, and they've still managed to turn the messaging around and sell a respectable number of units (more than the Wii U has sold by an astronomical number in 2 less years). But if the Switch fails, I'd bet this is the last home console we see from Nintendo. Which is bad for the gamer, and bad for the industry.