By: Chris Hodges, editor in chief and Steve MacDougall, guest contributor
This week, I’m teaming up with one of Chi-Scroller’s most frequent guest writers to discuss whether people expected entirely too much from the Switch presentation and the information revealed in the days that have followed. First, I will be taking the side that people haven’t had realistic expectations for a new console’s unveiling and its first real week in the public eye. Then Steve will offer a counterpoint that people’s high expectations–and ensuing disappointment–were entirely justified.
Chris: Yes, they were unrealistic.
It’s been a week since the Nintendo Switch presentation, which was the first major unveiling of the system since the initial teaser last fall. And of course, opinions are rampant, with people already deciding the system’s fate based on an hour-long press conference and various bits of info released since. Much of the buzz is positive, but there is also plenty that is exceedingly negative as well. Even the people who are optimistic—and have already dropped hundreds of dollars in pre-ordering the system and various games and accessories—have voiced a fair share of complaints, though. Certainly there is plenty to be legitimately concerned about—no pack-in game (as has been the tradition for Nintendo’s last two consoles), paid online, pricey peripherals, a lack of processing power compared to the competition, the big marquee launch game also being available for Wii U, nothing mentioned about Virtual Console, etc—people have also hit the announced lineup of games pretty hard.
Again, some of that is justified—Breath of the Wild looks phenomenal but is essentially a Wii U port, 1 2 Switch should be a pack-in game and not a standalone title, and no other major first-party Nintendo releases until Splatoon 2 hits in the summer is disappointing. But overall, I think people just expected way too much out of the Switch presentation. Yes, I want there to be a new Metroid just as badly as anyone. I also want to see footage of a new Mario Kart. I also want to know Animal Crossing is making its console return on the Switch. I also want to see what Nintendo has in store for the next Mario Party. I’m also curious which direction the next Paper Mario is going to take (my vote is Super Paper Mario 2, personally). I’d also like my girlfriend to rest assured that a new multiplayer (and preferably 2D) Mario is eventually coming to Switch. I’d also like to see the WarioWare series make a return using the Switch’s unique capabilities. I also want to know what shape the next Kirby and Yoshi platform games take. I also want to know if Donkey Kong Country is going to re-return. I’d also love to know whether long-dormant franchises like F-Zero and Wave Race are finally going to make a comeback. I want to know all of that and more.
But guess what? I didn’t expect to see all—or even half—of those games shown, or even mentioned, the very first day the Switch was unveiled! Since when does a company have to lay out its entire lineup for the next three years during its very first press conference? Did Sony talk about Grand Theft Auto III and Metal Gear Solid 2 when the PlayStation 2 was unveiled? They did not—and those games only took a year after the console’s launch to come out. Since when did we absolutely need to be told about every single game that a company is making, the very moment they start making it? Beyond that, we seem to all have forgotten that game development has changed significantly in recent years. The days when Nintendo could have Luigi’s Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee, Wave Race: Blue Storm, Pikmin, and Animal Crossing all ready to go within the first year of a new console are over. AAA games simply take a lot more time, effort, and money to develop than they used to. To expect Nintendo to have more than two or three major first-party titles ready within the first calendar year of the Switch’s launch, taking into account the time and budget of a modern HD game, isn’t realistic.
There’s also a major element of the Switch launch that people are overlooking, and that’s the worldwide March launch. Most launches of consoles from Japanese companies are in March in Japan, and them North America that following holiday season. That head-start has typically worked in our favor, giving us, for instance, 12 GameCube launch day titles to Japan’s three. Of course, with the Wii, the North American and Japanese launches were both late in the year, but that resulted in large launch libraries for both regions. Launching a console in March simply isn’t going to result in as many games, as companies like to release the bulk of their big titles towards the end of the year—system launch or not. Nintendo could’ve just waited until the fall, and then had The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, 1 2 Switch, and ARMS all ready to go for launch, making for a pretty solid–and impressively large–lineup of first-party titles available on day one (plus the dozens of third-party titles that will be released between March and November). But then that is also another eight months we all would’ve had to wait to get a Switch at all, plus having to wait eight months for the Switch version of BotW, three or four more months for Splatoon 2, and so on.
If you’d rather have all of those games ready to bring home the day you bring your Switch home, then just wait until the fall to buy one. I personally think it’s cool that Nintendo is giving people a head-start to grab a Switch even before a lot of its major games are available. Not only does it let people start playing the superior version of Breath of the Wild right away, but it also gives more people a chance to actually get their hands on one. Unless you actually think it’s better to just wait and launch it at Christmas, and then it’s the typical battle to get one and half the people can’t—without paying crazy scalper prices—until the following spring.
Also, keep in mind that we still have an E3 ahead of us. Nintendo hasn’t said that the game lineup for the rest of 2017 is already set in stone. Maybe just try being a little damn patient and give Nintendo time to announce some more games, gradually. I know it goes against the instant-gratification, know-everything-three-years-out culture of the internet, but waiting more than a whole week to hear what Nintendo has planned for their next console over the next few years might not be the worst thing in the world. Just a thought.
Steve: No, expectations were not unrealistic.
I am one of those people who has a Switch pre-ordered and will be picking the system up on March 3rd. Yet I left that press event far less enthused than I was heading into it. You’re right that expecting even half of Metroid, Animal Crossing, Mario Kart, Mario Party, Paper Mario, NSMB, Wario Ware, F-Zero, Donkey Kong Country, Wave Race, Kirby and Yoshi was unrealistic. But we got none of these. Forget half…we didn’t even get one. Nintendo was super-secretive for months leading up to the event, so much that they wouldn’t even allow Bethesda to confirm the existence of a game that Nintendo showed in the Switch’s debut trailer (Skyrim)!
So it was reasonable to expect we were getting some new game announcements of games in the launch window of the console. What we got was 1 2 Switch, an extremely underwhelming-looking minigame compilation. We also got ARMS, which could be a nice title for $20, or as one game of a five or six game showpiece collection a la Wii Sports, but not as a standalone $60 title (nor is it even a launch title–it has a cryptic ‘spring’ launch date). And that’s it? That plus an enhanced port of Mario Kart 8 (which will actually be nearly two months after launch) are all Nintendo announced for the launch window along with the Wii U Zelda game they (allegedly) held back so it could help sell their brand new system? That’s not good enough by half. The few established franchises they did announce: Fire Emblem Musou and Xenoblade 2 look good, but who knows when we will see them in the US. Because they decided to just do a Japanese presentation and stick the rest of the world with a really poorly-done translation rather than a specifically catered conference to their biggest audience, we don’t know which of those games we will for sure see (not Dragon Quest X, I can promise you that) or when we will see them. Awesome decision, Nintendo.
Which brings me to Splatoon 2. I loved the first Splatoon, I thought the game was awesome, and I’m excited for a sequel. But what Nintendo has shown so far looks much more like an upgraded port (like Mario Kart 8) than it does an actual sequel. Just one new weapon, we don’t know how many new maps, we don’t even know if it has a campaign mode or not? And it looks just like the first game. Maybe it really is a sequel, but if it is, it looks like one of the most half-assed sequels I can remember Nintendo ever coming out with. This is the company that typically doesn’t milk its franchises with cookie cutter remakes and no real changes every other year. They wait until they have a unique concept and then fit the IP around it.
Chris brought up PlayStation 2 and what Sony did and didn’t announce. But the fact is, Sony was coming off a huge success in the PS1. They had earned some trust and goodwill from their customers based on that. Nintendo is coming off the biggest console flop in their history. And rather than learning from their mistakes, they appear to be doubling down on them. It’s true that games take longer to develop than ever before, but your point that Nintendo couldn’t be expected to release much on the Switch in March since they were just coming off the holiday season would have more weight to it if Nintendo had bothered to show up for the 2016 holiday season. We got one game: Paper Mario Color Splash, a game that felt underwhelming, cheap, and rushed. In fact, most of Nintendo’s first party console offerings since Splatoon have felt that way: Animal Crossing Happy Home Designer, Star Fox Zero, Mario Tennis, Mario Party 10, etc have felt exactly like that. A series of rushed, low-effort, low-cost projects designed to fill out the end of their underachieving console’s life while they moved on in preparation for the new system.
So where are the more complex games that they didn’t’ want to give us on the Wii U because sales didn’t justify it? What exactly have their studios been making all this time? What is Retro doing? It’s been three years since Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. We can’t even get a trailer of their next game? Three years should be enough time that their next game should be nearly ready and at least close enough to show. And let’s not forget that they don’t have the same excuse they had when they transitioned from Wii to Wii U. That was a large leap and required them to create all new HD assets for everything and presumably had a steep learning curve. But the jump from Wii U to Switch isn’t as dramatic and that excuse doesn’t fly this time. Also, the thinking has been that by offering a console that is also a portable, and with the 3DS even older than the Wii U, the Switch, if it’s successful, will replace both systems, allowing Nintendo’s handheld and console divisions to both develop switch games. All of that should have led to a strong first party launch offering, nothing like what we actually got.
Nintendo has promised us that they have learned from their mistakes. But from their conference, the only thing they seem to have learned is that they can charge their customers for online play, and over-inflate accessory prices. They needed to come out with their absolute A-game. What if Mario Odyssey had been a launch title (as was rumored)? That’s the one thing we haven’t seen Nintendo try. They have never launched a console with a Mario and a Zelda. Imagine the buzz that would create! In fact, they haven’t launched a console with a core Mario since the N64! No, New Super Mario Brothers U doesn’t count. They needed at best a stellar launch lineup with two or three AAA-exclusive experiences. Most of the people buying Switches on day one are Nintendo enthusiasts, meaning they already have Wii Us, also meaning they can already play Breath of the Wild. All Nintendo is offering those people at launch is 1 2 Switch. And that simply isn’t acceptable.
Third-party offerings are another major development everyone was watching Nintendo for. When the Wii U was announced, gamers rolled their eyes at the number of late ports the Wii U was getting: Mass Effect 3, Batman: Arkham City, Deus Ex, Need for Speed, etc, with Rayman Legends and ZombiU as the only significant third-party games. This lineup was considered horrendous at the time, yet somehow, amazingly, bafflingly, Nintendo did worse this time around. The only major third-party games we were shown were FIFA and the Bravely Default follow-up from Square (that I think will be awesome) and that’s basically it. Somehow that same four year old Rayman Legends that has been ported to every console under the sun was significant enough to make the “third-party montage” video shown at the conference. How did Nintendo get worse at getting third-party titles!?
Being patient and waiting for Nintendo to release more titles is fine, and smart advice. But that means Chris is more or less telling people not to buy a Switch until Nintendo gets around to releasing compelling software for it, and that’s where they failed. They needed to hit the ground running, they needed to inspire people to buy the console from day one. Yes, you can turn a console around and rally, as Sony did with PS3 and Microsoft did with Xbox one after slow starts, but neither console ever met their company’s initial expectations. It’s incredibly hard to overcome a slow launch, and Nintendo seems to be doing everything they can to ensure that that’s exactly what they will have.