Nintendo have a reputation for doing things their own way, obdurately ignoring what the competition is doing and finding success in the most unusual of places. The DS was laughed off as a gimmick for having two screens, the Wii was similarly mocked for its motion controllers and underwhelming power, but both were staggering successes. Admittedly, they’re successes that are now distant memories, but the Nintendo Switch is proof that the company aren’t simply going to fall in line with Sony and Microsoft.
Another way to describe their more recent track record is of being behind the curve, whether it’s the sheer power available in their consoles or things like internet gaming and digital rights management. Yet there are signs that Nintendo are changing. Much like we wrote for Nintendo’s two main competitors, here’s what we feel they need to be doing and trying to achieve in the next twelve months.
The first few steps are pretty obvious; with a lot of question marks still hanging over the Switch after the presentation and hands on showcase nearly two weeks ago, Nintendo need to keep following up with a steady stream of information, which will be best delivered by their trademark Direct streams. They already held a little supplementary Direct for Fire Emblem last week, announcing a new 3DS game, a 2018 Switch game and going into detail about the imminent smartphone game, and we need more of these.
There’s still some real questions about what, for example, their new online subscription service really entails. Since they generally last around 30 minutes, an entire Direct could easily clear up such lingering issues as whether or not the console has built in voice chat (perhaps supporting bluetooth for audio), how the smartphone app will tie into the service and what it will offer, and the kinds of games that will be offered under the month long rentals you get. With multiplayer locked behind a subscription, they’re in danger of cordoning off online successes like Mario Kart and Splatoon unless the pricing and service is compelling enough.
We know that as part of this overhaul, features like StreetPass and Miiverse are being left behind in favour of third party social networks. I’d hope that’s also a sign that they can overhaul their eShop and online multiplayer, adopting the unified accounts and nicknames approach of other platforms, instead of the frankly archaic and fragmented systems currently in place.
From there, I know an awful lot of people want to know how broad the Switch’s Virtual Console support will be – it will be fascinating to see them talk about how SNES games can have online multiplayer added to them for one things. Will it be the same old drip feed of VC releases each month? Will there be discounts or even free upgrades for purchases on previous systems? Will the rumoured Gamecube Virtual Console support happen, somehow, despite the lack of analogue triggers on any controllers?o
Speaking of hardware, Nintendo have made some very open and inviting decisions with the console’s design. In particular using USB-C for charging means that they’re using an up and coming standard connector for charging and data transfer, and there’s similar standard adoption with microSDXC support for storage expansion. That’s nice and all, but how fast can the console charge? What power rating would an external battery pack need to be to keep it topped up? And can we get a list of recommended microSDXC cards and speed ratings, because that’s a whole other minefield for consumers to navigate!
But above all else, Nintendo need to announce more games and the fruits of third party partnerships need to be shown. Although the launch line up looks tiny and lacklustre, I’m very much in favour of Nintendo giving us a steady drip feed of games throughout the year – I still remember the endless complaining from you lot during the first half of 2014 about how there weren’t enough big games for PS4 and Xbox One – but they need to keep that ball rolling. The most obvious flashpoint for announcements is E3, and you can absolutely expect Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 to feature heavily there, but they can’t stand in isolation.
Nintendo are already off to a good start showing that the Nintendo 3DS has not been forgotten. There was last week’s Fire Emblem announcements, the early release of Dragon Quest VIII and Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World, and they’re sticking to their pledge to keep the handheld supported for the foreseeable future.
The same can be said of Nintendo’s push into mobile. Though only tangentially related, Pokémon Go was and still is a pretty big deal for them, and the early signs for Super Mario Run were similarly huge, but sales for that game have noticeably tailed off, and it shows that there’s still some learning for Nintendo to do in terms of capturing an audience, getting them invested and then keeping them engaged.
2017 is a big year for Nintendo, and one that they need to get right. Despite hand wringing over price and game selection, I think the Switch is an impressive piece of kit, and if Nintendo can manage to capture the general public’s imagination once again, it could be huge.