Nintendo Switch Early Impressions

nintendoswitch_hardware-0-0

Gus and I have already registered our opinions of the Switch on our podcast, but it’s time to break things down in print.

Now, obviously, Nintendo needed to reveal the Switch in a way that didn’t echo the unveiling of the Wii-U.  I mean, let’s be honest… they didn’t do anything to help that console.  They didn’t convey what it was, nor did they market the damn thing.  But the Switch reveal was quite different.  After all was said and done, we had a great understanding of what the console is, why it has the potential to benefit everyone, and most important of all, how it’s actually supposed to work.  It was the necessary ‘un-Nintendo like move’ they so desperately needed, but unfortunately, the company left their stink all over the rest of their presentation.

At least they started strong.  Right out of the gate, they told us what the Switch’s price point was and what its release date would be.  Everyone was surprised to learn the console would be out on March 3rd, sooner than expected – media outlets a plenty had reported March 17th – but the price point, $299.99, was a little confusing.  Without any context, I think $300 is reasonable, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is that Nintendo probably aren’t selling the Switch at a loss, and they really should be.

You see, Nintendo like to pretend they’re not competing with Sony and Microsoft, but that’s poppycock.  If you’re a gamer that has yet to enter this generation, and someone gives you $300 to spend on a new machine, you’re probably not buying a Switch.  As of right now, Target’s website offers the Uncharted 4 PS4 bundle and the Battlefield 1 Xbox One S bundle for only $299.  All of a sudden, the Switch’s ‘reasonable’ price point doesn’t seem so reasonable, especially since it doesn’t even come with a game.  So yes, Nintendo, you ARE competing with Sony and Microsoft.  To pretend otherwise is… well, pretty much what I expect out of you, you daft, clueless bastards.  And let’s not forget, this holiday, the Switch will also be going head-to-head with the Xbox Scorpio.

So, there’s two things Nintendo should have done for the Switch, and keep in mind these are minimal moves.

First, they really should have included a pack-in game.  2 + 1 Switch seems to be a simple a tech demo; a smattering of mini-games which show off the system’s distance measuring IR sensor as well as the HD rumble feature.  If this title was included with the Switch, people would have something fun to play with their friends right out of the box… which would have been a brilliant strategy if Nintendo had employed it.  People would have been compelled to call their friends over to try 2 +1 Switch on the hybrid machine.  This would have put the console in people’s hands in optimal settings, possibly causing these people to want a Switch of their own… but that’s a future not set to pass.  Instead, Nintendo are charging $50 for their slate of demo experiences… and NOBODY is going to buy it.  No, instead, everyone is going to buy Zelda and play the shit out of it for months… alone.  Now, if anyone wants to get hands on with the Switch, they’ll probably have to try it at a Gamestop, which is probably the LEAST optimal setting I can think of.

OR…

Nintendo could have reduced the Switch’s price to $249.99.  Would that put them at a loss per unit sold?  Maybe, but consoles are often sold at a loss.  Hardware distributors understand that selling at a loss usually leads to a faster growing install base.  One day, their console will be easier and cheaper to produce, and that’s when they’ll be able to turn a healthy profit.  In the meantime, they’ll make a little off software sales and accessories… or in Nintendo’s case, severely overpriced accessories.  Cover the ears on your wallet, because this rundown is going to make it cry:

A Pro controller is $70.  An additional dock – which is basically just a plastic case with HDMI passthrough – costs $80.  A single Joycon controller – that’s just one SIDE – is $50… or, you can get a ‘discount’ if you buy two for $80.  The Joycon straps are $8 a pop.  The controller cradle for the Joycons – that is, a hunk of plastic with a tiny USB charge port – is $30.

Worst of all, Nintendo have finally joined the multiplayer paywall club.  And that… that’s just terrible.  But damn it, if you want to play Splatoon or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online, they’ve got you by the cajones, don’t they?  Now to be fair, I think everyone expected Nintendo would burrow down this rabbit hole one day… ‘because’, but that doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment.  I mean, this was the only consumer friendly thing Nintendo had left… yet they just cast it into the wind like they couldn’t give less of a shit.  And for those of you thinking there’s some other way they can justify their ‘service’, think again.  They’re going to give you either an NES or SNES rom each month, and some of the latter will have multiplayer enabled.

“A rom?  A bloody ROM?!”, you might ask.

Oh yes, a rom.

That’s what their ‘free game’ offerings will be… and at the end of each month, they’ll take them back… unless you want to buy them, of course.  Know what that means?  Nintendo doesn’t give a squatting shit how many times you’ve purchased games through their Virtual Consoles; they STILL want you to buy them again.  The only positive thing I can say about this, at least for the time being, is that we have no idea how much Nintendo are planning to charge for their ‘service’.  If they were smart, they’d make it way less than what Sony and Microsoft are charging… but nah.  Still, the price of this thing is a big question, and they left it hanging in the air.

There were other questions they neglected to answer too, such as, “What’s the launch line-up going to be?”  It wasn’t until the next day we had confirmation of five titles… and boy, did a lot of people express concern about that.  I’ve lived through numerous console launches that had been worse, so I’m not going to complain.  Besides, can you think of a better launch title than Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

“But it’s going to be on the Wii-U!”

So?  Nintendo have only sold between 13 and 14 million units, so for the many that never bought a Wii-U, they won’t care about Zelda being cross-platform.  The people who own a Wii-U won’t care either… you know, since they’re still getting the game.

Despite everything I’ve just shared, I know this may be hard to believe, but, Nintendo know EXACTLY what they’re doing.  We may not like their approach, but every decision they’ve made has been steeped in money.

While casual consumers may look at this thing now and say, “There’s not enough that interests me,” Nintendo doesn’t care.  They know there’s enough demand from fans to keep this thing selling throughout the entirety of 2017, and why?  Because Zelda, Mario Kart, Splatoon and Super Mario Odyssey.  You can argue nobody will care about a port (Mario Kart 8), nor a sequel that hasn’t differentiated itself enough from the original (Splatoon 2), but again, they have a large ‘didn’t previously own a Wii-U’ market to tap into as well.

But will the Switch sell as well as Nintendo and certain analysts believe?

Well, Nintendo apparently plan to have 10 million of these things produced by the end of 2017.  Considering where the Wii-U is sitting, that’s an ambitious goal.  However, there’s a lot of positivity buzzing around what this console can do, so I do expect this thing to outpace its predecessor every step of way.  Certain analysts have guessed that after all is said and done, the Switch will have sold 40 million units.

To that, I say, “Not so fast.”  I don’t think it’s impossible, but Nintendo need to stop being so wishy-washy.

What’s with all the ‘we’re going to continue to support the 3DS’ bullcrap?  They come up with the brilliant idea to market a console that’s suitable for home AND on-the-go usage, and they want to keep its primary competitor on the shelf?  I get that third parties love this machine because there’s 60 million units out there, but not putting the kibosh on the Nintendo 3DS in early 2017 is a mistake, and Nintendo will have to rectify that by this time next year if they hope to bring over the portable crowd.

And this ties directly into that whole ‘third party support’ thing.

Most Nintendo fans will say, “Nobody buys Nintendo hardware to play anything but Nintendo software!”  But a 3DS fan has to be pretty short-sighted to actually believe such baloney.  That system wouldn’t have moved 60 million units if not for third party support.  If you believe otherwise, think of all the people that would recommend Monster Hunter, Ace Attorney, Dragon Quest, Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei, Bravely Default, and so-on and so-forth.  Beyond that, history shows there simply hasn’t been a successful console without a fair amount of third party support.

Thankfully, Nintendo has told us they’d like all third party games to appear on the Switch, but they shouldn’t hold their breath.  They’ll continue to see remasters of popular games, but that’s about it.  However, as long as the Switch keeps its momentum at retail, it shouldn’t be hard for Nintendo to convince third parties already on board with the 3DS to switch to… well, you know.  But again, Nintendo can’t wait years for this transition to happen.  It needs to be a year, tops, and then they have to commit to the Switch 100%.  No ifs, ands or buts.

I’ve let Nintendo have it pretty good in this article, but it’s so you, the consumer, will be aware of what the current value of the system is for the average consumer (not great), how the first year and beyond is likely to pan out (better than the Wii-U… slow at first, perhaps hot afterwards), and what things Nintendo could have done if they were truly ‘in it to win it’.  That said, I think the Switch is a pretty remarkable piece of hardware, and we could see a healthy balance of first party Nintendo games, as well as third party titles once those publishers are convinced to make their 3DS games for the Switch as well, or perhaps even exclusively, leaving the old portable behind.

Of course, success really is in the hands of Nintendo at this point.  They need to deliver on games.  No more of this ‘Metroid Space Ball Horseshit’.  Nintendo always say they listen to their fans, and now is the time for them to deliver.

Advertisements

Greatness Delayed Podcast – Mobile Mario and Sony Meeting 2016

ByteSizePodLogoBlack

Mike and Gus discuss the Super Mario Run announcement, Playstation Meeting 2016, and a few pieces of news.

Download (Right Click, Save As)

Opinion-Bytes: Nintendon’t

NintenDONT2

In the early light of 2014, Nintendo reported a net-income loss of 10.2 billion yen.  As a result, the company implemented some drastic pay cuts and offered to buy stock back from anyone who wanted to relinquish their shares.  Basically, this was their way of taking blame, admitting shame and performing seppuku. except instead of a sword, they used pens and documents to commit the act.  Of course, gamers everywhere unleashed their torrent of ire, with virtually every post or article being some iteration of ‘this is what Nintendo must do to survive.’  The most popular suggestion?  That Nintendo should drop hardware and become a third party game developer.  I’m not sure Nintendo needs to be THAT extreme, but I can see where people are coming from.  After all, Nintendo have steadily lost third party support since the N64, once believed that nobody cared about multiplayer, and have (mostly) failed to diversify their library with mature content.

But, their public shaming seems to have lead them to an epiphany.  That is, the once branded ‘savior of video games’ came to the realization that they needed to modernize their business for long-term success.  How did they propose to do this?  Well, to start, they expressed interest in a new operating system that would work on each of their platforms, similar to what Apple has done with iOS.  Couple this with President Iwata’s promise to expand Virtual Console support – partially by bringing Nintendo DS games to the eShop – and fans should have plenty to look forward to.  Other highlights include leveraging smart devices to gain new customers, improving upon lackluster marketing, and game character rights being licensed to new partners.  A promising start, for sure, but the very moment Nintendo seemed to convey they understood their missteps, Iwata said this:

“We haven’t been targeting children enough.”

Wuh-oh.  There’s that ire again.  Forcing the monetization of user generated videos on Youtube wasn’t great for their image, either.

Regardless of the things that can be said about Nintendo, though, I think they’ve always deserved at least SOME respect for staying true to the art of video games.  When they release a game, it works.  There’s no day one patch, no DRM laced into the code, nothing.  No, what you grab off the shelf is a game in its final state, which is almost impossible to come by in this industry nowadays.  I was actually talking to Pete Dodd about this earlier in the year, and we more or less agreed that Nintendo was the last bastion for old-school gaming (business practices, at least).  Irony is a cruel mistress however, so as an answer to our naivety, Mario Golf World Tour was released on the 3DS a couple of weeks later.  Flash forward a few weeks more, and Mario Kart 8 power slides into retailers, also with DLC on the horizon.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I was extremely disenchanted seeing Nintendo dip into digital add-ons.  Nintendo may have gained some good will with their gravity defying kart game, not to mention a unique digital presentation at E3 2014, but certainly not with me.  I wish I could have been amongst the smiling faces that were gleefully showered with hype, but instead, I was painfully reminded of something that Reggie Fil-Aime said in November of 2011:

“I’ve had this conversation with a number of our key developers, and their mentality is, ‘Reggie, when we sell a game, we want the consumer to feel that they’ve had a complete experience,” he said.  “Now, in addition, if we want to make other things available, great, and we’ll look at that.  But we’re unwilling to sell a piece of a game upfront and, if you will, force a consumer to buy more later.  That’s what they don’t want to do, and I completely agree.  I think the consumer wants to get, for their money, a complete experience, and then we have opportunities to provide more on top of that.”

In short, Nintendo was not interested in the prospect of DLC.  There’s nothing ambiguous in his statement that implies otherwise.  To further cement Nintendo’s position on DLC, Mr. Iwata echoed this sentiment a short time later:

“In terms of that priority, we cannot, and should not, ask our consumers to embrace the situation where they are required to make excessive payments.  Doing such things might be good for short-term profit, but it will not server our mid-term and long-term business developments.”

Eventually, I came to grips with my disenchantment.  “Okay, Mike, it’s as you always say.  Video games are a business first and foremost, and Nintendo?  They see no point in denying themselves the fruits their competitors have been enjoying for years.”  The industry is ALWAYS going to evolve in ways that make us ‘better customers’, so I guess I should have expected Nintendo to buckle at SOME point.  That doesn’t make it right, mind you, but I should have seen it coming.

new_nintendo_3ds_console_buttons

Another thing I didn’t see coming?  The astonishing display of consumer complacency.  I mean, just a year before, the Xbox One was rebranded the Xbox One-Eighty despite a slew of POSITIVE changes, so I expected everyone to take Nintendo to task over this.  Consumers are an unpredictable bunch, though, so what did they have to say when Nintendo did an about-face and tossed their most consumer friendly policy in the garbage?  Bupkiss.  In fact, some folks were all too happy to give Nintendo more cash.

Here’s a few random comments I found on Reddit in regards to Mario Kart 8 DLC:

“Fine by me.  The current game as is is great.  Adding more to it would just be awesome.  I mean, if Mario Golf got DLC, why couldn’t this?”

“Any DLC would be awesome!  Let’s have more tracks, more battle arenas, karts/bikes, and customizations.”

Bringing additional content to the table is fine, but was I the only one who felt that Mario Kart was a little… light?  Wasn’t the roster something of a letdown?  Does half the game really have to be remakes of old tracks?  And where did the old school battle arenas go?  To me, Mario Kart doesn’t feel like a ‘complete experience’ without them.  If they make a return in the form of DLC, are people going to praise Nintendo once again, or feel cheated and revolt?

“I’ve already tried shoving money and cards into the Wii U.  Yes, I absolutely want DLC.  Damn the cost.  It’s an investment.”

That… that doesn’t even make sense.  Forgetting the absurd ‘investment’ part, doesn’t this mentality set a dangerous precedent?  Nintendo are just beginning to test DLC modeling and pricing, so why give them the impression that you’re willing to fork over a blank check?

Anyway, Nintendo’s willingness to embrace DLC comes with a ‘good news, bad news’ scenario.  The good news, is that some of their DLC will be free, while the rest seems to be reasonably priced.  The bad news?  Let’s just say it brings us back to Iwata’s comment about not targeting children enough.

group

The Amiibos, also unveiled during digi-E3, are coming to retail by the end of the year.  Similar to Skylanders and Disney Infinity, the idea is to buy your favorite Nintendo character figurines (Amiibos), and import them into various games by placing them on an NFC (near field communication) platform.  The Wii-U gamepad has one built in – it’s the rectangle on the left side just below the joystick – so as far as compatibility is concerned, there’s nothing else for stationary console fans to buy.  Of course, Nintendo has only shipped 6.68 million Wii-U’s (as of June), and while that’s a decent number, is it really enough to justify launching an ambitious toy line?

It can be if you grab the attention of 3DS fans.  Nintendo have shipped over 44 million of those units worldwide.  Unfortunately, the 3DS doesn’t have the luxury of having its own NFC device, so what’s to be done?

Come on, this is Nintendo we’re talking about.  Their software may have treated us right over the years, but they’ve had a nasty habit of selling people ‘hardware 1.5’ whenever an opportunity presents itself, and if this isn’t an opportunity, then I don’t know what is.

So, without delay, Nintendo announced the New Nintendo 3DS on August 29th.  That’s not a placeholder name, either.  They actually decided to call this thing the New Nintendo 3DS.  Not the Super Nintendo 3DS or 3DS Turbo… just ‘New Nintendo 3DS’.  Has this company learned nothing from the Wii-U?

Not that it matters, the New 3DS is going to sell like hotcakes.  It has a new analog stick on the right hand side and features additional ZL and ZR shoulder buttons, making this the perfect companion for all your Smash Bros. needs.  Furthermore, it boasts an improved 3D viewing angle, and a powerful CPU which allows for improved graphics and faster download speeds.  If that wasn’t enough to get you frothing at the mouth, there’s going to be a playable port of Xenoblade Chronicles.

The rub – because there’s always a rub – is that future titles, such as Xenoblade, will only be playable on the new handheld.  If you own a 3DS, 3DS XL or the more recent 2DS, you’re out of luck.  And hey, that’s not even the best part:

The New 3DS is equipped with an Amiibo sensor.  Because, you know, the first thing gamers think of when they play is, “I want some trinkets to complete this experience.”

When Nintendo told us they’d be taking measures to adapt and revamp, who thought it would boil down to rolling out a new piece of exclusionary hardware and selling toys?

I’ll give the company one thing, though:  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Consumer friendly or not, they’ll be rolling in dough.  3DS owners will find their urge to upgrade hard to resist.  Hell, I imagine the better 3D viewing angle alone will have people reaching for their wallets.  Serious Smash Bros. competitors will accept nothing less than the New 3DS control scheme, as a flick of the right analog will make pulling off smash and aerial attacks a breeze (this is otherwise done by holding a button and flicking the left stick).  Certain others will likely buy this JUST for the port of Xenoblade.  And of course, children are susceptible to advertising, so as long as Mario, Yoshi and Kirby dance in their commercials, kids will beg for the New 3DS.  Before you know it, the system will be everywhere, children and collectors will buy a bajillion Amiibos, and Nintendo’s cash-flow will be endless.

You could argue they’ll lose business by alienating fans, but financially speaking, I think the only place they’ll go is ‘up’.  Nintendo wants to pry kiddies away from mom’s cell phone – that is, away from the likes of Angry Birds and Plants vs. Zombies – and back onto a proper handheld, and I think the Amiibo + New 3DS strategy will go a long way to that end.

That said, I’m a consumer advocate first and foremost, and while I understand and can even appreciate what Nintendo are doing from a business perspective, I’m still not on board with what they’re doing.  I hate to say it because I adore their first party offerings (I own a 3DS and Wii-U), but they’re a terrible company.  They’ve never listened to their customers, and it doesn’t look like they’re about to start.  I mean, it isn’t rocket science, is it?  Entice third parties to come back by making hardware that isn’t a chore for them to work with (ditch the gimmicky controllers, Ninty), make multiplayer an integral part of the experience (because Super Mario 3D World would have been amazing with online co-op), and stop confusing consumers with vague marketing and recycled names.  Gamers have shouted this from the mountaintops for years, and all Nintendo have said is, “Whoops, I guess we misread the market.”  I don’t buy that for a second.  Question is, are fun games enough to retain our support, or is it time to take a bow and say, “Sayonara?”

Bit-History: Super Mario Sunshine

‘Bit-History’ is going to be my attempt at reliving games from the past which have left an impression on me, positive or negative.  To kick things off, I want to discuss a game that I’m really not very fond of, spurred by a conversation I had just recently on a forum I frequent.  “He’s not going to bad-mouth Super Mario Sunshine, is he?”  Why yes… yes he is.

Before the Gamecube, I was a huge Nintendo fan, thinking anything they would ever do would amount to pure gold.  As far as the future of gaming was concerned, there was no question in my mind that Nintendo was going to lead the way.  Boy, was I wrong.  For me, the Gamecube was a huge disappointment.  Those tiny discs seemed like a joke, and the console itself looked more like a toy than an actual console.  But, aesthetics aside, my major gripe was the horrid controller.  I mean, what the hell were they thinking?  It’s the most awkward control scheme I’ve ever used, and it should go down in history as a prime example of what not to do.  But, I had to work with what I was given, and what was a better game to give my new crap-tastic controller a workout than Super Mario Sunshine?  I would have to run, jump and slide with surgical precision, so the controller was really going to be pushed to its limit.

Well, let me begin by running down a shortlist of some positives about this game – Compared to Mario 64, the controls were refined, and the camera wasn’t nearly as awful as it was in its N64 predecessor.  The ‘world’ that was created for this game was bright and colorful, absolutely shattering the limited color-scheme that was on display in Mario 64.  Yes, the game looked great and it controlled even better, the latter of which making for a pretty fun and at times challenging experience, two qualities which have always been at the core of the series.

That being said, the positives are ironically intertwined with the negatives.  First, let’s talk about that beautiful world which Nintendo had created for ‘Mario’s vacation adventure’ – Bottom line, is that it just didn’t feel like a Mario game.  Mario was always at the center of the screen, and most of the baddies we were familiar with ran amok in each of the paint-portal worlds, but it all felt misplaced.  Nothing felt like it fit in with the environment, but I guess this is really sort of nitpicky.

Nah, what really bothered me most of all was the convoluted ‘story’ and the new gameplay mechanic that was introduced.  Basically, Mario goes on vacation but is arrested and charged for vandalizing the island with a bunch of black gunk.  The real culprit is ‘Shadow Mario’, but the natives have made up their mind and can’t/won’t distinguish between the two.  This premise introduces us to a new accessory for Mario to utilize during his travels – the FLUDD pack, which is essentially a glorified water gun.  So instead of just platforming, you have to use this thing to spray away the dirty stuff… you know, because ‘cleaning’ sounds like fun.  Furthermore, your pack obviously can’t provide an endless supply of water, so you constantly have to find a water source and refill the damn thing.  My question, obviously, is why the hell did the developers feel the need to tack on such a useless piece to the gameplay?  I mean, yeah, Mario Galaxy had a ‘space’ thing, but it kept platforming at the core of the experience.  Not so with Mario Sunshine, which actually forced you to work around the limited abilities of your ‘FLUDD’ device.  Mario doesn’t require a gimmick… and in this case, that gimmick managed to hurt the gameplay.

Conceptually, the game feels rushed.  “How can we introduce a new environment that can show off the Gamecube’s potential?  I KNOW!  An island resort!”  “Wonderful!  But how can we improve on the gameplay, even though Mario really doesn’t need that?  A WATER HOSE!”  The funny thing is, developers have noted a concern about throwing Mario into a world that feels so un-Mario-like, yet they moved ahead in this regard anyway.  At least in Mario 64, you were accessing magical worlds through the paintings in a castle, and each of the worlds within FELT very much like something you’d expect out of a Mario game.  Mario Sunshine’s tropical locale failed to create a similar feeling.

But, I know I’m going against the grain here.  So many people defend Mario Sunshine ‘because it’s just fun’, and Nintendo fans will vehemently defend the Gamecube, despite the fact it really didn’t have THAT many great games.  Super Mario Sunshine was one of the best experiences on the console… and isn’t that saying something?