The major game releases are all finally out, Black Friday has come and gone, and the holidays are practically upon us, but what console would you most like to find under the tree to get you in the festive spirit? I’m going to break impartiality and say it can only be the Switch.
Sure, it’s easy to look back at 2018 and say it’s been a weaker year for Nintendo compared to 2017 – but then let’s face it, both a new mainline Zelda and Mario launching in the same year only happens once in a lifetime. In any case, with Switch sales dominating Black Friday, and the huge record-breaking sales of both Pokemon: Let’s Go and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s clear that the big N is laughing all the way to the bank.
More than that, seeing Nintendo back on top form is a reminder of the tactile magic of gaming, and when we’re so overloaded with devices and screens cluttering our lives, here is a dedicated games console to just pick up and have fun with.
Because while digital sales are becoming more of the norm and leading industry voices are all pointing towards gaming’s future in the cloud, Nintendo’s philosophy of making games is still about making toys. Their products are playful things you can touch and hold in your hands, whether you’re a kid or just a big kid at heart.
While perhaps not lighting the world on fire, Labo was nonetheless a truly left field and bonkers Nintendo showing innovation no one was expecting. It’s not just the ingenuity of building your own peripherals out of cardboard (a pretty environmentally friendly product too), it also finally harnessed the wizardry that the right Joy-Con’s infrared camera is actually capable of, while its Garage feature is a fun way to teach kids the basics of programming to make their own games or Toy-Con.
At its simplest, the Toy-Con themselves, from fishing rods and motorbike handles to a robot backpack to vehicles for land, sea and air, also wonderfully takes me back to the golden age of the arcades when game experiences were all about getting hands on with bizarre new hardware and controls. It even takes me back to the Dreamcast’s brief time of bringing so many of those arcade experiences home, with its light guns, fishing rods and maracas that came with its most memorable titles.
Away from the cardboard to more recognisable plastic tech, we’ve also seen other peripherals enhancing the game experience. Japanese rhythm-drumming curio Taiko no Tatsujin, arriving in the UK for the first time, can be played with the Joy-Con’s motion controls, but it’s at its best when you’re actually bashing away with drumsticks on the drum controller that’s also available.
Similarly, Pokémon Let’s Go, while positioned as a reimagining of the original Pokémon for a new and younger generation, is an experience enhanced with the excellent Poké Ball Plus. It might feel like a pricey gimmick, but once you throw that Poké Ball, nothing has ever made you feel more like a real Pokémon trainer. All the clever little ways it uses HD rumble, light and audio to communicate make it feel like you’ve actually caught a Pokémon.
Taking Switch out of the equation for just a moment, Nintendo’s classic mini versions of the NES and SNES also make great stocking material, and selling by the boatload, to the point that the NES was named the best-selling console in the US for June. While nostalgia is the main draw alongside rarity as Nintendo plan to end production, just look at these wonderful miniature replicas compared to the big black bland boxes you have under your TV and you’re reminded of when consoles were designed with a toy-like personality. The main disappointment is that the mini SNES doesn’t come with a real clackety eject button.
Of course, Christmas is also a time for gatherings with family and friends, when it’s all the more important to be able to play with each other and sharing your gaming experiences, not just hide in your room and stick on a headset. Local multiplayer may exist on other platforms, but they’ve never been more perfectly fitted than on Switch, which offers multiplayer right out of the box with the split Joy-Con, while syncing in extra controllers is also a great deal quicker.
The Switch Online service, launched this autumn, may not be living up to the expectations of a paid service, but at least Nintendo is still on top when it comes to providing fun multiplayer experiences in the same room. Its own first party offerings have been great emphasis on this, from the board game antics of Super Mario Party to all the absolutely stuffed offerings in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which if you’ve got a lot of guests, can even accommodate for in-game tournaments or the mayhem of 8-player Smash. Can it get any more festive?
While there’s still probably going to be kids out there who prefer a gift card of V-bucks (which sounds only slightly less worse than asking for cold hard cash), if you’re actually looking for gaming experiences this holiday that can rekindle festive spirit and a childlike wonder of what games can be – you know, without shooting people in the face – it just feels like finding a Labo kit or the Starlink Star Fox set under the tree is the way to go this year. And Nintendo couldn’t be happier playing Santa.