This weekend has marked the first anniversary of the Nintendo Switch, and by all counts it’s been a huge success for a company that looked for a long time to be on the way out. With one year done and dusted, we’re looking back at the Switch’s various ups and downs – they’re mainly ups, to be fair – as well as what 2018 entails.
A lack of launch games
When the Switch launched, there was an surprising lack of games for the new console, which was one of the biggest criticisms that people had. There was really just a single must have game in the form of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but as it racked an overwhelming number of 10/10 and 9/10 scores, it proved to be a major factor in the console’s initial success. In fact, with the Switch selling out and Nintendo unable to keep up with demand, Breath of the Wild had an attach rate of over 100% for quite some time after the console’s release.
However, even Breath of the Wild had stock issues, with many people struggling to find physical copies to go with their fortunate purchases of a Switch, either resorting to a digital purchase or buying the pricier special edition to get the game early on. We can’t stress how there really wasn’t much else to play at this point and that owning Zelda was almost a necessity for the first three months.
The infamous left Joy-Con problem
During these first few months of the Switch’s life, consumers started reporting technical issues with the left Joy-Con, resulting in severe input lag and disconnections when playing games thanks to a weaker antenna layout being unable to pass a signal through objects. At this point, it mainly affected games like Breath of the Wild, and the very newly released Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.
Nintendo acknowledged this teething issue and asked affected consumers to have their faulty controllers repaired by the technicians at Nintendo Support, while revised Joy-Con models have made their ways to store shelves.
Nintendo’s focus in quality AAA titles
Though the console was still selling very well into the summer, it continued to have its small library of games being brought up as a criticism. Indie developers were already backing the system with games like Snake Pass and Nintendo’s own SnipperClips helping to keep its library interesting, but there was still a lack of diversity.
Nintendo knew exactly what they were doing, though, with a steady stream of major first party games. After Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS and Splatoon 2 showed Nintendo’s faith in newer and younger IPs. Both were preceded free beta tests to spur on interest, and it paid off with both becoming million sellers – Splatoon has since passed the 4 million mark – and for the first time in ages Nintendo fans rejoined at the sight of top-quality first-party multiplayer titles.
As we headed into E3, this felt like a different Nintendo to the one we’d seen for the last half decade, as they were filled with a real passion to innovate within their core franchises. Super Mario Odyssey looked superb, there was the surprisingly good looking Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle in collaboration with Ubisoft, a release of Pokkén Tournament DX on the horizon and the fan pleasing announcement of Metroid Prime 4. Suddenly the second half of 2017 was looking absolutely jam packed with major exclusive releases.
Nintendo also managed to confirm the rumour that they were working on a fully-fledged Pokémon RPG for the Nintendo Switch which got many people excited for the Switch’s future.
Nintendo Switch Online goes into hiding
Even a year after release, we’re still none the wiser as to how the Nintendo Switch Online subscription will really pan out. The app is out there for you to download and use, but its support is limited to Splatoon 2, with a little hub area for the game and paper thin support for voice chat parties. It’s woeful and pales in comparison to simply using something more general purpose like Discord.
It’s really no surprise that Nintendo delayed the roll out until 2018, and now until late 2018. With the Switch enjoying a great deal of interest from people in the run up to Christmas, the last thing is needed was for a caveat of “Oh, but you’ll have to pay to play Mario Kart or Splatoon online.”
Into this year, and we really hope that Nintendo are reconsidering some aspects of their online service. They’ve already pivoted toward having a PlayStation Plus or Games with Gold library of free games, and the price point has been revealed to be around £20 (when converted from Yen), but there’s more to do if this is to be something people want to sign up to.
Maintaining that momentum
With Pokkén, Mario + Rabbids, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and Super Mario Odyssey there as the headline acts, late 2017 also saw an explosion of quality indie game releases that have only picked up pace into 2018.
Indie games like Furi, Blossom Tales: The Sleeping King, Brawlout, Teslagrad and Yooka-Laylee are all quality titles that literally feel right at home on the Switch, and developers are seemingly capitalising on the Switch’s portability and consumer interest. There were also releases for AAA games added into the mix such as Skyrim and LA Noire, which were very impressive to see given the Switch’s basis on mobile hardware, if not the kinds of original development that the system will need in the long run.
At the close of the year, Nintendo announced it would have a Nintendo Direct live stream outlining that it had some announcements to make in the new year regarding indie games and new announcements.
The Joy-Con difference
One of the standout features of the Switch is just how flexible it is. Some people will play the console exclusively docked to the TV, others have found that its great to take games on the go or get some time in when the TV is in use, and then there’s the Joy-Con.
They’re such a key part to the console’s adaptability, and while a combined pair are conceptually the same as a single controller – this is why many balk at the price – they can also work independently. There are so many games out there where you really just need on analogue stick and a few buttons, and being able to pass a Joy-Con over to a friend or relative and share a co-op game with them right there and then is fantastic. Couch gaming seemed to be becoming an archaic niche concept, but Nintendo have used it as a core pillar of their portable console’s design.
Nintendo’s Plan for 2018
At the beginning of January we saw Nintendo announced a selection of new indies and ports of forgotten Wii U gems such as Bayonetta 1 and 2 and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, giving players another chance to play those. While many could argue that remasters are happening too frequently, Nintendo’s back catalogue for the Wii U was excellent and was under-appreciated due to poor Wii U sales. re-releases are a great opportunity for Nintendo to repackage those games and add portability and Joy-Con functionality into the mix.
Nintendo know all too well that the Wii U didn’t sell particularly well, and tapping into its catalogue is a great way to recoup some of the losses and also flesh out the Switch’s release line up. This isn’t a bad thing at all for the time being, but there is still room for newer games at this point. This month we’ll see a Kirby game released – and you can try the demo out now – and there’s also a Yoshi game on its way, but little details are known about it at this point.
There’s also something weird and wonderful on the way…
Continuing to innovate
Take a cardboard box, slap a Nintendo sticker on it and some dumb fanboys are going to buy it, right? Right!
Nintendo Labo might just be cardboard, string and stickers, but it looks quite incredible in its own right, tapping into a childlike wonder at all the imaginative possibilities it offers, and using all the capabilities of the Joy-Con. Just take the keyboard, for example, which uses the IR sensor on the Joy-Con to track which key is being depressed and play that back on the console, or the little “car” that drives thanks to HD Rumble, and then there’s the full robot exoskeleton. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it’s an extension of the peripheral-itis that plagues consoles of the past, but there’s something special here.
Designed with kids in mind – though that won’t stop adults buying it – these aren’t just throwaway and very easily recycled toys, but also provide the tools to create with the Labo software, letting you tie different inputs to trigger different things on the console. It’s another example of video games reaching out and getting children more engaged and learning, in a similar fashion to how LittleBigPlanet lets you create levels or how LEGO Dimensions blended real world LEGO building with platforming.
Nintendo is off to one hell of a start with the Nintendo Switch, with first year sales that have outstripped the Wii’s own monumental first year and already surpassed the lifetime sales of the Wii U. Once again Nintendo have shown that, despite their competitors making the leap to 4K, power isn’t everything. Great games are much more important than flashy graphics, and the Switch excels in letting you enjoy these on the go or within the comforts of your own home, whether it’s a blissful indie game or a spectacular AAA title.