Nintendo Switch - One Year On
By Phil Myth
It's now been one year since Nintendo dropped the Switch on us and we started playing Zelda on the toilet. Needless to say, with an impressive 14 million units sold so far - already eclipsing the Wii U's lifetime sales - it's been somewhat of a success. So we thought it would be a good idea to look back at just what Nintendo did right in the system's first 12 months, as well as casting a critical eye over some of the not-so-hot aspects.
A games console ultimately lives or dies on it's software and oh boy did Nintendo knock it out of the park in 2017. After the massive drought that the Wii U saw in the first year of it's life, Nintendo were obviously keen not to repeat the same mistakes again. In fact, back in February of last year, Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima was pretty explicit in the company's goal of regular, big software releases.
In an earnings report he stated "our thinking in arranging the 2017 software lineup is that it is important to continue to provide new titles regularly without long gaps. This encourages consumers to continue actively playing the system, maintains buzz, and spurs continued sales momentum for Nintendo Switch."
Right on all three counts! We got a big title every month of the year, starting with Breath of the Wild and finishing with Xenoblade Chronicles 2. In between those games we were playing Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, Splatoon 2, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, Pokken Tournament DX, Fire Emblem Warriors, and Super Mario Odyssey. It's difficult to think of any company in the industry ever having a year as strong as that.
Compare that to the ill-fated Wii U, which had a New Super Mario Bros. game at launch and then nothing until Pikmin 3 and Wind Waker HD about 9 months later, and it's no wonder that the new hybrid system has already surpassed it.
(Third) Party Hard
Not that it's just Nintendo that's been doing the heavy lifting. Whilst there was some initial trepidation about the lack of third party software around launch, the sheer sales numbers that Nintendo's own games have driven means that more companies are coming on board with Switch. Bethesda especially have grabbed the bull by the horns and released not only Skyrim for the system, but dropped the double whammy of Doom and the promise of Wolfenstein II to boot.
Thankfully, after some hesitation in the beginning, we're also starting to hear more positive things from the likes of Square Enix and Capcom. This bodes well for the Switch's sophomore year. As Nintendo's first party titles inevitably start to dry up a little, third parties can pick up the slack. Sure, it's unlikely we'll be getting the likes of Assassin's Creed, but with a bit of luck, those bigger third party publishers will look at the success of things like Mario + Rabbids and come to the conclusion that the Switch is a place to make money, provided you do it right.
Perhaps the Switch's biggest ace in the hole though has been the plethora of killer indie titles available. From day 1 Nintendo has been pretty strong with pushing indie games for the system, even going so far as to give them their own dedicated Nintendo Direct. This is incredibly welcome, and has undoubtedly contributed to the success those games have had on the big N's hybrid device.
The year has been peppered with stories of indie games selling more on Switch than on the other systems combined. It's clearly the place to be for smaller developers, and with the promotion and support Nintendo are giving these games, as well as the relatively low cost of Switch dev kits, it's a trend that's likely to continue.
In many ways, the Switch has been replicating the PS Vita on this front, but unlike the Vita, it has spectacular first party IP like Zelda and Mario to get people through the door. From the likes of Snake Pass and Graceful Explosion Machine at launch, to must-buy titles like Steamworld Dig 2 and Celeste, Nintendo have done an excellent job of curating superb smaller titles to complement their own big hitters.
Hardware Home Run
Of course, the hardware itself is to be commended too. Sure it's not a powerhouse, and with the likes of the PS4 and Xbox One X now on the market, one wonders just how viable Nintendo's 10 year life cycle plan is. But the key thing for Switch is it works exactly as advertised.
When the launch trailer for the system aired back in October 2016, the seamlessness of moving from docked to handheld seemed too good to be true. Plenty of people suspected some clever editing to make transition so smooth. Fortunately, the cynics couldn't have been more wrong. It was crucial that the hybrid nature of the system was as natural and instantaneous as Nintendo promised, and it didn't disappoint.
Plus, the portability of it really helped drive word of mouth. We all laughed at Karen taking her Switch to a party in that reveal trailer, but goddamit, with the likes of Mario Kart 8 and even 1, 2 Switch, it's the perfect console for busting out at friend's house for some couch multiplayer and a few beers.
There's even two controllers in the box. It's a system that effectively markets itself, and just anecdotally, the interest I've garnered just from playing on a train, in the office or sat in McDonald's speaks volumes about how well the concept works.
Not all Rosy
Not that it's all been plain sailing. There were of course some teething issues, as any console has. Luckily the hysteria surrounding dodgy left JoyCon and warped docks seemed to be rather blown out of proportion and soon died down. However, there's no denying that the system is still coming up short in some areas even a year into it's life.
The big one of course is the online services. From the get-go, the lack of native voice chat has felt somewhat of an odd decision. This is compounded by the fact that the Nintendo Switch Online app is, frankly, somewhat of a shambles.
Launched alongside Splatoon 2 it doesn't even let you invite friends to matches, or talk to each other outside of a game. The incredibly convoluted matchmaking solution stands in stark contrast to the effortless and intuitive approach of both the Switch's UI and Nintendo games in general. Nintendo pushing the launch of their paid online service to September of this year - not to mention the fact that the likes of Mario Kart 8 haven't been added to the app - hints at a suggestion they could be rethinking their approach.
We'll have to wait and see, but we could be cautiously optimistic that once we have to start paying for online, we'll be getting our money's worth. Hopefully cloud saves will be included too, as at the moment, if your Switch goes in for repairs there's every chance you'll lose everything. In 2018, this just isn't acceptable, and Nintendo have a lot of work to do to get these sorts of services up to scratch.
They've earned a pass thus far, with how well the console works and the volume of great games available for it. But once they attach a monetary value to these things, they're going to have to up their game.
Onwards and Upwards
All in all though, the Switch has a hell of a lot to celebrate on it's first birthday. Nintendo can be rightly proud of the machine they've produced, and the software has been out of this world. Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey would be in game of the year discussions any year. To have released within 7 months of each other is extraordinary. We've been spoilt on the indie front too, and long may it continue.
There's still some work to be done if Nintendo are to continue this momentum throughout 2018 and beyond, and they really need to bring their online up to speed if the system is to reach it's full potential. Still, there's no getting around it, the last 12 months have potentially been the most impressive in Nintendo's history. Long may it continue!
Phil is the co-founder and editor of Nintendo Village, and also writes, hosts and produces P Myth Gaming. He has been a Nintendo fanboy for as long as he can remember and owns every home console bar the Virtual Boy (one day... one day...). His favourite game is The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.