Every few years I’m reminded that I didn’t grow up a Nintendo kid. I mean, I had an NES, loved it, and enjoyed most of my formative gaming years with it, but I tend to be unmoved when hit with the nostalgia fastball that Nintendo likes to throw every few innings. Part of that may be due to the fact that they only seem to have so many pitches and-I’m going to drop that analogy because I don’t actually know anything about baseball.
The point is, we’re all adults here and I think it’s time to acknowledge that the big N gets away with a lot because they were such an important part of our childhoods, to the point that many of us, even a full two decades since their last run as the industry leader, feel a resurgence could always be just around the corner. With every new console announcement, we tell ourselves that this is the time that Nintendo is going to throw off the kid gloves and take Sony and Microsoft to Slam Town (Slam Town being some sort of hypothetical pocket dimension where console power suddenly became a priority, Nintendo hadn’t ruined their 3rd party relations, and they suddenly understood how the internet worked). Instead, they’ve always just done their own thing, coasting on their secure dominance of the handheld market and sometimes remembering that consoles exist too.
As expected, there was a pretty big fervor leading to the Switch reveal. In fairness, after the Wii U, there was kind of only one direction for them to go, and that initial video, while really easy to make fun of, with its rooftop parties and the like, showed promise. Could this be the return to form that we’ve been waiting for? Look at all of those third parties. That’s a lot of names. If I were to guess the number of third parties, it would surely be more than zero. That’s progress, right? Maybe Nintendo is going to finally hit the ground running, pivot their company focus and go out with guns blazing.
If this is a gun then we need to repeal the second amendment.
Nintendo, as Nintendo is wont to do, doesn’t really care what you expected, and may care even less about what you actually wanted. While I often prefer to regard them as having a kindly naivety about them that often explains their utter tone-deafness, the truth is that Nintendo is a smart and conservative company that doesn’t just throw things at a wall. Well, usually. I can’t explain the cow-milking thing.
Let’s make one thing clear before we go any further – the Switch isn’t doomed because of one bad live stream.
Though it would probably help site traffic if I said it was.
That isn’t to say that the Switch isn’t doomed either, but the reasons for that stretch far beyond the events of one awkward night. It really all started 20 years ago when the Nintendo 64 launched. A lot of decisions were made that didn’t really endure Nintendo super well to the same people that supported them in previous generations. For the first time, they created a system designed around Nintendo’s games and no one else’s. It resulted in some of the most highly regarded games of all time, but at a heavy price.
The entire tone of the Switch stream seemed to revolve around the idea that it was the culmination of all of Nintendo’s design innovations, rolled up in one. Some could also read this as a declaration that this was their last Hail Mary play at the end of the game-
Sorry, I’m doing the sports thing again.
Nintendo has always been contradiction to me; a company that constantly wants to innovate and reinvent how we play games whilst also somehow being afraid to take too many risks. The only way this really makes any sense is if you assume that Nintendo is, at its core, comfortable with their place in the gaming landscape, subsisting entirely on their core fanbase that will likely never abandon them. It’s clear that they stopped having aspirations about competing a long time ago, but the real question is whether or not growth is a major priority of theirs. You’d certainly think that’s the case, as every time a console launch comes around, they put up the appearance that they want to work with third parties again. Sadly, this didn’t really bear out at the conference, devoting an uncomfortable amount of time to devs that had absolutely nothing to say outside of “yeah, this thing looks cool, maybe we’ll make something for it”.
“We’re happy to announce our Switch game. Our only one.”
Which is fine a year out, but this thing is coming out in less than two months. Surely you have something ready for launch, right?
You’ll be doing this for six months nonstop until Mario comes out.
Don’t get me wrong – Zelda looks great (and this is coming from a guy that doesn’t actually like Zelda that much), but by the time viewers learned that Nintendo was once again banking on a single game to sell the system, they’d already had their senses dullened by a snooze-fest of a presentation that appeared to show absolutely nothing was learned from the past, with an emphasis on motion control so strong that it induced flashbacks to my days as a Gamestop manager in 2006.
But again, no matter how many times you look at that gif, it’s important to remember that Nintendo isn’t stupid. They are a company that can absolutely afford to do things like this because they have a huge reserve of money and the most loyal fanbase the medium has to offer. We know how this song goes. While I don’t think the Switch is going to be the death knell for Nintendo, I also don’t see it being a return to dominance, but I’d almost argue that they don’t actually want that anyway, more content to sit on the periphery and do their own thing.
For those that needed no coercing, the Switch was a day one purchase. For people like me, happy to play good games but not really in a rush to throw down $300 for a system that will only have a dozen of them, the presentation did more harm than good. At no point did I fool myself into thinking that they were going to actually try to bring me back, but to grow from here, they need to bring someone back. Perhaps they’re banking on a whole new generation of fans to sprout from this, to hook them young. This would be consistent with their rather transparent goal of becoming the video game equivalent of Disney, though their pricing structure will certainly get in the way of that.
They’re playing at the court because their houses were foreclosed.
At the end of the day, I suppose it comes down to the same key factors that Nintendo have leaned on for years now – nostalgia and novelty. The Switch is, admittedly, a really cool piece of technology that I’d love to get my hands on and see, but how long will that last after I actually do? I’m betting not long, which is why, if it wasn’t part of my job, I wouldn’t exactly be rushing to get one. I mean, I don’t get invited to a lot of rooftop parties and, honestly, even if I did, I’d be terrified to lose one of those tiny controllers.
Does that mean the sky is falling? Not exactly, but I’m not convinced that a disappointing launch wouldn’t actually be beneficial to Nintendo in some way; that maybe it would humble them a bit and force them to reconsider their messaging. The aggressive Nintendo that many of us want really only happens when they have no other options. Do I think that actually happens? Nope. I lived through the Wii U, watched it die slowly with no support and Nintendo’s stubborn refusal to drop the price. The Switch, presumably, will have to do better, and thus, Nintendo will never stop being modern Nintendo. Selfishly, it’s a bit of a shame, but they’ll still make a lot of other people happy.
Maybe I’ll get a portable Dark Souls out of the deal. Small victories, I guess.