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Editorial: Switch-Stepping to the Side

So yes, today Nintendo finally unveiled their new platform, console, and handheld, all in one: the Nintendo Switch.

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Some top level stuff: it is a handheld console that can dock into a base and be played on a TV, with two slide-to-remove controllers locked into each side of the large screen. The controllers can be used with the screen, separate, or conjoined together on another piece. There are also “Pro Controller” options, and each controller “half” can be used individually.

We don’t know anything about price, storage, battery life, or really any specific details past the top-level overview, which is fine for now. I’m sure Nintendo will have more to unveil, and they did phrase this as a “preliminary announcement”. The important bit here is we know what this is, and going off of that, I’ll kind of give you my two cents on the whole situation.

This is awesome. This is exciting. This is different, and I’m interested to see what kind of path this leads Nintendo down. They showed essentially the dream machine, the console you can take with you wherever you go without losing any aspect of that experience, and demoed a bunch of software that could be feasible on it. Games like Splatoon, Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart, a new Mario game we know nothing about, and even third party games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and NBA 2K. The idea is that console games can now live anywhere, without limits, or at least that’s how it played to me. Sure, it’s weird to show a five year old game like Skyrim here, but the breadth and scope of that title is leagues and bounds beyond what we still see in handheld games today, as is Breath of the Wild.

But this leads to another huge point of contention: third parties, and their support therein.

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I see a lot of this rhetoric surrounding the NX and continuing now, post unveil: Nintendo getting third parties “back”, like they ever had them to begin with. Even on a recent podcast, Kaylie Woomer came on asking how Nintendo was going to “win back” the PS4 gamer, etc. That’s just not going to happen, and it never was.

It’s contrarian to say this, especially when we see a huge wall of third party publishers that will be supporting the Switch, and an emphasis on Skyrim in this reveal, but Nintendo just doesn’t care about third parties. They never have, really. Not in the way that Sony and Microsoft do, at the very least. It’s never been about getting Titanfall for console exclusivity, or getting Call of Duty DLC first, and it never will be for them. If anything it’s more of a trick to get people to buy the hardware at launch, and stick with the games that they will continue to make for the hardware going forward, which they’ll then make more money on anyway.

This console doesn’t compete with PlayStation 4 or Xbox One. Period. Not in the same way we think of the two competing with each other. And really, do you want another one of those consoles?

The PS4 and Xbox One are essentially indistinguishable: where you play has never mattered less. The vast majority of games come to PC in bigger and better forms anyway, so this argument of “why can’t my Nintendo platform be my primary platform again” just doesn’t make sense to me. The only time that was ever really the case was with the GameCube, where the PS2 and Xbox were in relatively equal footing, and even then, each console was it’s own message.

The Switch needs to be different, and in today’s industry, there are already two home consoles you can play Destiny, Call of Duty, and Battlefield 1 on. Why not aim for the stars and do something that, in five years, goes down an entirely separate path? I don’t see major third party support lasting at all past launch, at least not in the way that PS4 and Xbox One have it, especially given that Scorpio is cresting on the horizon.

Now I’m not saying that to be a pessimist, I’m saying it because that’s what Nintendo consoles are and always have been: places to play Nintendo games. But Nintendo games don’t have to just be the Marios and the Zeldas. People will say in the past that they used to be home to the Final Fantasies and the Resident Evil 4s, but those people clearly don’t care about Nintendo’s handheld business, where those games go to thrive. Phoenix Wright? Professor Layton? These are third party games that flourish on Nintendo platforms, and now even more people will get to see them because (presumably) the handheld and console markets merge into one super platform for all things Nintendo, and their cool partnerships can grow past the niche communities they came from.

This isn’t just a platform for Nintendo games, but also for “Nintendo games”. Now, in days of yore, “Nintendo games” meant Castlevania, or Chrono Trigger, or Final Fantasy, but today it means Bayonetta 2, or Yokai Watch, or Shin Megami Tensei IV. Those games have audiences, and value, and could only work before on a Nintendo Handheld. Now the handheld and console are one in the same, meaning the third party support we see may not be Infinite Warfare DLC exclusivity, but really cool RPGs and indies that Nintendo still cultivates. They may not be the big names, but they’re not anywhere else.

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So yeah, assuming the 3DS market shifts to making games for this platform as well, we could have something truly exciting on our hands. But this isn’t here to replace your PS4 or Xbox One, and frankly: I don’t want it to. I already have two wanna-be PC consoles, I don’t need another one.

This isn’t even to mention the consolidation of console and handheld development houses at Nintendo, which combined put out 12 games between the 3DS, Wii U, and eShop in 2015 alone. If all the Nintendo studios are making games for just one platform, that is far and away reason enough to buy the platform. At least for me

And we still have a lot of unknowns. Battery life? Huge issue. Storage? Better be more than 32GBs. But I don’t think it’s safe to assume anything. Will online still be a mess? Still going to have to re-buy your virtual console games? Yeah, probably.

Regardless, this is a genuinely great idea for a “Nintendo Platform”, the one place to get all Nintendo games, third party partnerships and all, and if that wasn’t the reason you were going to buy Nintendo hardware… Well then where have you been for the last 15 years?

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Author: Alex O'Neill View all posts by
Alex is the Editor-in-Chief, overlord, and overall master of Irrational Passions. He loves Zelda, Persona 4 Golden is his favorite game ever, and he is going to write for IGN.com some day.

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