Well, Nintendo made me late to band practice again. Except this time I wasn’t playing, I was watching and drooling. You’ve done it again, Nintendo. I wish I could hate you, but you’ve been there for me through thick and thin — bad breakups, bad work days and everything in between.
Ten days ago, Nintendo streamed a worldwide event for the Nintendo Switch, their new tour de force of a gaming console. Gamers got more detailed hardware specifications, a hands-on look at the system in action, and an official release date of March 3, 2017. We saw the first truly open-world Mario game since “Super Mario 64,” a confirmation of more than 80 games being developed by third-party developers, and a brand new look at the highly anticipated “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” And if my face was being broadcast across the ether, you would have seen a grown man in tears.
Despite being a skeptic by heart, Nintendo still locks me in a vice grip a quarter-century after my first encounter with Mario. And while it may be easy to let nostalgia and childlike wonder cloud my judgment, it’s important to observe the advent of the Switch with cautious optimism, especially after the Wii U became such a commercial disappointment.
That being said, I’d like to make a critical assessment of the things I liked — and disliked — about Nintendo’s laser-adorned Switch event.
THE EMPHASIS ON FUN AND SIMPLICITY
It didn’t take a die-hard player of the Wii U to know why it failed: It relied too much on it’s gamepad gimmick, which was already in danger of becoming obsolete by the time Nintendo released the system in Nov. 2012. Sure, the Wii’s motion controls were a very distinct gimmick as well, but Nintendo emphasized fun and accessibility with the Wii. The Wii U didn’t know what it wanted to be, which was reflected in the muddled marketing, slow sales, and cantankerous player base.
On the flip side, the Nintendo Switch knows exactly what it wants to be: a consummation of everything “Nintendo” that allows players to adapt the system to their personal gaming style. The greatest selling point for the Switch — its portability — allows the system to be plugged into a TV and also taken on the go using their new JoyCon controllers. The JoyCon controllers evoke a Wiimote sensibility with their use of motion controls, but the gimmick ends with their detachability. The Switch controller doesn’t force gamers to use motion controls or a touch screen as the way to play, rather as a means to play on a traditional button layout — which is something that will feel comfortable for gamers and developers alike.
ZELDA ARRIVES ON DAY ONE, BUT MARIO WON’T BE HOME ‘TIL THE HOLIDAYS
Although I hoped to follow Mario through the wacky world of “Super Mario Odyssey” earlier than this coming holiday season, I’m perfectly happy having the “Hero of Time” around to distract me during the remainder of my senior year. If anybody sees my name pop up as a Ledger writer in Autumn 2017, it’s because I played too much Zelda and destroyed my grades.
THE LAUNCH DAY SOFTWARE LINEUP DISAPPOINTS
Although the long-awaited “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” launches alongside the system on March 3, players clamoring for more substantial games on day one will be sorely disappointed. In addition to the new Zelda title, the only other launch titles will be “1-2-Switch,” “Super Bomberman R,” “Skylanders: Imaginators,” and “Just Dance 2017.” And while my lifelong love for Bomberman remains intact, the non-Zelda releases reek of casual filler. Don’t be too alarmed, though — Nintendo plans to release several more triple-A titles in the following months, such as “Mario Kart 8 Deluxe,” the wacky brawler “ARMS,” and the 16-bit throwback, “Sonic Mania.” In the meantime, Nintendo clearly exudes enough confidence in “Breath of the Wild” to tide over early Switch adopters, such as myself.
ALL SYSTEM AND SOFTWARE, NOT ENOUGH SERVICE
Many of the biggest complaints hurdled in Nintendo’s direction center around their online service. With the Wii, Wii U and 3DS, any titles purchased from the Nintendo eShop were system locked, meaning the games are tied with the player’s system rather than their Nintendo account. In other words, if a player’s Wii U crashed without the data being sent to another Wii U, they would lose their purchases unless they contacted Nintendo by phone. Even after verification, having your data completely restored can take up to 24 hours. This process is archaic and alienating to devout Nintendo players, having no place in a gaming climate where competitors conveniently tie online purchases.
The Switch reveal brought confirmation of a new, currently unnamed online service, designed specifically for the system. This time — breaking from Nintendo convention — it will be a paid service like the Playstation Network and Xbox Live. Instead of having online services built around specific games, their new network will now link with a person’s Nintendo ID in a universal online system. Will this be the saving grace for Nintendo’s online woes? Hopefully yes, but Nintendo dropped the ball by not providing any specific details.
THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD
Oh my god, guys. Have you watched the newest trailer? I got teary-eyed, then walked around the neighborhood while listening to orchestral arrangements of Zelda music on YouTube. Forget about me — I’m a hopeless nerd.
LOTS OF HYPE, HOPE AND UNCERTAINTY
Only time will tell how the Switch will affect Nintendo’s legacy. Will it be a surprise renaissance like the 150 million-selling Wii? Will it be a middling novelty like the disappointing Wii U? Nintendo seems to have learned from past failures, pitching the Switch as a consummation of all their past successes. They realize now that the best gimmick of focus isn’t motion controls or a convenient touch pad — it’s pure fun. Fun that you can play at home and anywhere else. In any case, I’ll be an early adopter, waiting to flip the switch on day one.