One year ago this week Nintendo launched their highly anticipated new portable/home console, the Switch. They were coming off of an embarrassing few years with their previous console, the Wii U, failing spectacularly and were looking to do something radical to reclaim their position as the number one name in video games. The promise of a machine which would offer the same experience whether you were playing in your living room or on the bus was revolutionary, but there were doubts. Could it live up to the excitement shown in the announcement trailer (for the record, I haven’t had a single rooftop Switch party)? Or was it going to be just another gimmick that would lose its novelty after the initial hype? Let’s look at the highs and the lows from the Nintendo Switch’s first year.
The first thing that I can say after owning the Switch for 12 months is that the console absolutely works as advertised. Aside from a few manufacturing hiccups in the early days, the Switch has proven to be a well designed, comfortable and durable machine. The transferring in and out of the dock is seamless, the joy cons feel great whether you’re holding them independently or in the grip, and the pro controller is probably one of the nicest controllers I’ve ever held. It truly is a game changer to be able to bring your games with you wherever you go. But there are also plenty of concerns with regards to both design and features on the Switch.
My first issue is with the dashboard. I know some people praise the simplicity of it’s design, but I think it borders on the primitive. It’s visually unattractive and there’s just not much going on. I know it’s a little thing, but when you look at the last few generations of Nintendo consoles and they had so many little extras to play with such as the Mii Contests Channel, the Everybody Votes Channel, the Weather Channel, and even the weird little panorama view app on the Wii U. They were neat bonuses that gave you something to goof around with in between game and I miss them.
The eShop is also a concern as it’s desperately in need of a visual redesign and much better filtering options. It’s tough to search for anything beyond just the newest or best selling games and that’s a huge oversight considering the large number of titles in the store. We also know very little about how their premium online service (coming this fall) is going to work and whether or not we’ll ever get a proper Virtual Console. It’s mind boggling that we still can’t buy from the huge catalog of Nintendo classics to play on the go. It’s a real shame that the Switch struggles with it’s UI and features set because almost every other aspect of the system shines so bright.
Nintendo lives and dies by its first party lineup. This is the way it has been for the past few generations and I don’t see it changing anytime soon. That’s not to say that they haven’t had some great 3rd party games as well, but when people purchase a Nintendo console, they’re primarily coming to play games like Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Smash Bros. When it comes to the first 12 months of the Switch, it’s hard to imagine a better lineup of big games.
They started out with a launch title that turned out to be one of the greatest games of all time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a complete masterpiece and redefined a series that had been struggling recently with a couple of underwhelming installments. I’ve never put more hours into a single player game than this one and I’m still going back to it a year later. If that wasn’t enough they also released what is arguably one of the best 3D Mario games ever with Super Mario Odyssey. It would be impressive to release both of these games in one console’s lifetime, but releasing them both in the first year is incredible.
They didn’t just rely on those two heavy hitters though, they also released a sequel to one of the best Wii U games (Splatoon 2), a definitive edition to the best Mario Kart game ever (Mario Kart 8 Deluxe) and a brand new IP which may have been a bit disappointing for some, but has a great style and plenty of promise for future installments (ARMs). Finally, while it may not have been technically a 1st party game, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was an exclusive game and possibly the most surprising hit of 2017. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that this was the best lineup of games for any console launch…. ever.
One of the biggest (and best) surprises about the Switch is how quickly it is becoming the go to platform for indie games. The list of games available right now is staggering. Night in the Woods, Axiom Verge, Oxenfree, Inside, Stardew Valley, Celeste, Thimbleweed Park, and the list goes on and on. Developers are finding huge success porting their games over to the Switch, even if some of the games have been out for months (or years) already.
While that’s an amazing list of games for players who only play games on Nintendo platforms to discover, for those of us who play on a variety of platforms most of those games have already been played. One of my big hopes is that we’ll see more indie developers bringing their games to the Switch on day one so that I’ll be more inclined to play them there. Also, there is a bit of a concern about the sheer number of titles available. When I looked earlier this week there were almost 500 games on the eShop. While some might argue that more is good, it makes it tougher to find quality games when you’re swimming through dozens of shovelware titles.
One other minor gripe is that it feels like many of the indie games on the Switch feature the same “8-Bit” retro art style and it’s beginning to feel a little dated…. again. I love Shovel Knight as much as the next guy but I’d love to see more games featuring unique and interesting styles.
With one of most exciting console launches in memory, the Switch is off to a roaring start, and 2018 is looking very promising as well. Developers are swarming to the system now that it has proven to be a hit and there are some exciting games on the horizon. New titles like Yoshi, Kirby: Star Allies & Mario Tennis Aces all look like loads of fun and we’re getting ports of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze & Hyrule Warriors as well. The real wildcard though is Nintendo Labo which combines video games and papercraft and is another “out of left field” Nintendo idea that could prove to be a big hit.
It would be nearly impossible for the second year of the Switch to live up to the astronomical success of it’s freshman year, but this seems in many ways to be whole new Nintendo and I wouldn’t put it past them to have plenty of big surprises left up their sleeve. They have a lot of work to do with regards to fixing their UI issues and creating an online system to justify the monthly fees, but they’ve started off strong and I’m excited to continue to watch it evolve over the next year. I’ve little reason to doubt that the Nintendo Switch will continue to be the jewel of the gaming world for the foreseeable future.
…now about those friend codes.