I’m still not sure what to think about the Nintendo Switch.
It’s a fantastic piece of hardware – merging the best of Nintendo’s handhelds and consoles into a sleek, beautifully designed unit that (finally!) doesn’t look like a Fisher Price toy. It’s the most powerful dedicated portable gaming system ever, and when you’re sick of playing those console-quality experiences on the go you can plug it into your TV and get a true console experience.
And Nintendo seems to have finally gotten rid of some of its worst habits. Gone are the days of low-quality screens, friend codes, and archaic region locking, replaced by a beautiful 720p capacitive touchscreen, an online system using Nintendo Network IDs, and region-free gaming. And real dual analog sticks on a portable!
I’m not even really fussed about the battery life, since 2.5-6 hours is respectable considering the demands of the games this system will be running, and USB-C chargers and power banks are standard and readily available. My New 3DS XL lasts about 4-6 hours on a charge playing Pokémon Moon and Fire Emblem Fates, so 3-4 hours while playing Breath of the Wild is more than acceptable.
Yet I can’t help but facepalm at so much of what came out of the big unveiling Thursday night, or the information trickling out in the couple of days since. In so many ways, it seems that Nintendo has learned very little from the disastrous 3DS launch or the even more dire everything-about-the-Wii-U. And in some ways, the company has even shown an appalling arrogance that they are in absolutely no position to display after the last few years of being dragged through the mud.
Let’s start with the price. Yes, $299 is expensive, making Switch the priciest portable that Nintendo has ever released. It puts it at the same price point as Xbox One and PS4; but the problem is, those systems are quite a bit more powerful than the Switch and they already have impressive game libraries in addition to including a pack-in game. As a portable, Switch is an impressive piece of hardware. As a console, it lags behind its competitors, and will only fall even more behind as PS4 Pro hits its stride and Scorpio lands on the scene later this year.
I said all along that Nintendo needed to aim for a $249 price point at max, so I was disappointed and a bit concerned that they shot above that. And I have an idea where to place the blame.
Switch had a fantastic selling point from the beginning, as a hybrid system that could play console-quality Nintendo games on the go when not hooked up to the TV. And you could still get a taste of that console experience on the go, complete with local multiplayer, with the detachable Joy-Cons (and even more so by sliding them into the Grip and effectively making them a traditional controller). At a $200-250 price point, such a system would be a no-brainer and, for many people, impulse purchase territory.
However, Nintendo decided that wasn’t enough, so they loaded up the Joy-Cons with a ton of extra features such as “HD Rumble,” gyro sensors for Wii-like motion controls, and infrared cameras. In traditional Nintendo fashion, they decided that their system must have an expensive gimmick that will likely barely be utilized outside of a few tech demo titles. It’s the same thing that helped sink the Wii U (the Gamepad added an astronomical production cost to a system that otherwise used practically ancient technology), and it no doubt contributed to making the Switch $50 higher than it should have been.
Nintendo could have produced an affordable system that offered the best of both worlds from its handhelds and consoles. They could have also packed in a game: 1 2 Switch would have been a fine tech demo to justify the added features to the Joy-Con, rather than selling it separately as a ($50!) retail title. Instead, by adding extraneous features that no one will likely utilize or would really miss if they weren’t there, they lost the “affordable” selling point, and then you still have to buy a game.
But in the end, $50 isn’t too much of a premium. $299 isn’t an astronomical amount for a system – after all, it’s cheaper than the Wii U was at launch, and I’d still gladly pay $299 for a system that gives me as much enjoyment as I’ve gotten from my 3DS and Wii U, all in one package.
However, the actual price of the system pales in comparison to the extortion Nintendo is pulling with the Switch’s accessories. The pricing of extra controllers is absolutely ludicrous. $49.99 for one single Joy-Con, or $79.99 for a set of two makes local multiplayer an expensive proposition. And even the Pro Controller is $69.99. Nintendo’s controller pricing is exorbitant, and a $20-30 premium over what competitors charge for an extra controller is a really tough sell.
To add insult to injury, although not yet confirmed, the Joy-Con Grip included with the Switch seemingly doesn’t even have a USB port to charge the controllers. If you want that, you’ll have to spend another $29.99. And heaven forbid you want another Dock, because that will cost you $89.99 – an insane amount for what amounts to an HDMI pass-through and USB hub.
The $299 price wouldn’t bother me so much if Nintendo didn’t turn around and price-gouge on accessories, but for those who need anything more than what’s included in the box, the Switch becomes an even more expensive proposition. It’s almost as if Nintendo is trying to emulate Apple – charge a premium for hardware and then, on top of that, throw a bunch of accessories in that are exponentially higher than they should be.
Apple does it, of course, because they’re Apple, and they know they can get away with it. Yes, it’s incredibly arrogant (and wrong), but they are in a position to be that way. Nintendo is not Apple, nor are they in a position to be so arrogant when they’re at their arguably weakest point of relevance in their entire history as a game company.