And as if that wasn’t bad enough, Nintendo announced that, starting this fall, online gaming will require a paid subscription on Switch.
Let that sink in for a moment. All those online races in Mario Kart, trading and battling Pokémon, throwing down ink in Splatoon – all of that will be locked behind a paywall on Switch. Sure, Sony and Microsoft both do it, but those companies actually have competent, fleshed-out online systems. Nintendo has not yet proven itself capable of providing an online experience beyond the most basic of functionality, and unless they’ve suddenly had a revelation and created a robust online architecture for Switch, I haven’t seen anything to convince me that it’s worth paying for.
At least they’re including party chat and online lobbies, right? That’s a huge step in the right direction. However, from what they’re saying, it seems as if that functionality will be offered through a smart device app rather than the system itself, which seems like an unnecessary hassle. Of course, we’ve seen hardly anything of the Switch’s interface, so those features could very well be on the system itself. But it seems needlessly counter-intuitive to have to juggle two devices when you want to play online with a group of friends.
Even their answer to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Games with Gold seems half-assed. Whereas those services give you free games which are yours to keep for as long as you maintain your subscription (thereby giving you an incentive to keep renewing as well), Nintendo’s online service promises one free NES or SNES game per month…and only for that month. If you want to play it beyond that month, you have to purchase it.
I guess there’s an argument in favor of that. After all, they are adding online functionality to SNES games, which comes as a big surprise, and by limiting free access to a month at a time it encourages an active online community for that period of time. However, it still pales in comparison to Microsoft and Sony’s offerings, where I know that if I can’t get around to playing a free game it’s there waiting for me as long as I have a subscription – and if I let my subscription lapse for a period of time, it’s still there waiting as soon as I renew.
Nintendo has also confirmed that StreetPass and Miiverse have been removed from Switch. While I never really used either service – my area isn’t conducive to StreetPassing and Miiverse simply never grabbed me – both were innovative features that no one else had, and they helped build a community. It was always fascinating to see what kind of artwork came from Miiverse sketching, and it seems like somewhat of a loss to abandon it rather than expanding upon the service.
Hopefully Nintendo has made massive improvements to their online infrastructure so that they can justify charging for online play, but I don’t have much faith that they still won’t lag behind their competitors in this regard.
And here’s another area where Switch both shines and yet somehow manages to disappoint.
First off, the positive: if everything that’s lined up for the first year materializes and doesn’t get delayed, Switch will have one of the strongest first years of any system in memory. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Arms, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Fire Emblem Warriors, and quite a few other games are planned for release within the Switch’s first year on the market. Compare that to Wii U’s first year, which only really saw Pikmin 3 and Lego City Undercover for major releases (Super Mario 3D World came out around a year after the Wii U’s launch), and there’s no question that Switch has a stellar first-party lineup of steady releases.
But at launch, I struggle to find a reason to purchase the system. Breath of the Wild will be available on the same day for Wii U, and while better performance and portability would be nice, is it worth a $300 system purchase? Of course, we buy systems for more than just one game, and there are no less than four or five games coming in just the first year that I plan to jump into on Switch. However, with only five launch titles – one of which is a $50 tech demo that should have been included with the console – it’s hard to find a reason to jump in at launch, especially when the hallmark release between launch and summer is an upgraded port of Mario Kart 8 almost two months after launch.
Even more concerning is the absolute lack of major third-party support at launch. Nintendo consoles have never been a bastion of third-party efforts, to say the least, but Switch hasn’t even gotten the token launch ports that even Wii U got (much less any exclusives). How great would it be to play, say, Overwatch on a portable system? Or Titanfall 2, or even Assassin’s Creed? Even indie games are non-existent, though we have been promised over 80 games are in development by third parties, with several reveals coming over the next few weeks. I don’t expect Nintendo to ever get the third-party support that the other two systems get, but I can only hope they do a lot better than the anemic showing so far.
However, besides a lack of raw power, there’s one thing that I think will make a difference and prevent Switch from ever getting many ports of PS4/Xbox One games, and that’s Nintendo’s decision to only include 32GB of built-in storage. While I’m still a staunch purchaser of physical media, many gamers have jumped into an all-digital world. With modern games taking 50+ GB of storage, it wouldn’t really be feasible to even get those games to fit on Switch, and the use of game cards, while necessary for a portable system, would preclude Switch from getting any games that large. Yeah, sure, you can expand it with a 256GB microSD, but it’d cost nearly as much as the system itself to do so, and even then it’s just a fraction of the storage PS4 and Xbox One offer.
Let’s be real, the #1 reason anyone buys Nintendo systems is to play Nintendo games. And Nintendo seems to have a steady stream of those ready for release during the first year. But the market for Nintendo exclusives isn’t nearly as big as it used to be, and people aren’t as willing to shell out for an extra system just to play those games. If they can’t find some way to encourage third-party support, preferably with unique exclusives rather than half-assed ports, I fear that Switch will have limited appeal – especially at a $300 price point.
Nintendo’s Switch seems very much like a “two steps forward, one step back” situation. Yes, it’s a drastic improvement over the Wii U, but it’s also saddled with so many outright baffling decisions and that seeming lack of awareness of the current gaming landscape that has permeated Nintendo for years now.
Yet, for all my griping and complaining, I know that I’ll own one – possibly even at launch. I’ve already got a pre-order just in case, and there’s a good chance that I won’t cancel it despite wrestling with that decision from here to kingdom come until March 3. I’m truly excited for the future of Switch…if it all works out. I just hope Nintendo can do what’s necessary to make it a success, since I’m not sure they could survive another abject failure like the Wii U.