by Edwin Tran, Gamer News Daily Contributing Author
The most recent Nintendo Direct was placed in a background of gaming buzzwords. Hype, anticipation, and a mix between worry and optimism seemed to have hung in the air as many around the world waited for Nintendo’s announcements, specifically regarding the next generation console, the Nintendo Switch. Yet, what unfolded was in many ways, a divisive conference. Beyond petty complaints of poor translation, deeper issues surfaced. News regarding game release dates and the lack of region locking did little to stem anger over points like paid online, high controller cost, and a $300 price point (which puts it slightly more expensive than some current Xbox 1 and Playstation 4s). Further points of contention included a host of criticisms surrounding some of the practices Nintendo announced regarding their paid online service.
What emerged out of the Nintendo Direct however was more than just timid concern over Nintendo’s practices. The conference and the presentation of the Switch held a more significant meaning and can be viewed as metaphoric indicators as to the route Nintendo is going in for the upcoming years. To understand this, a close look at Nintendo’s recent history must be put in consideration. The Wii U emerged in a fiercely competitive generation, yet held the benefits of being released a year earlier and boasting a price tag lower than either the Xbox 1 or Playstation 4. Nintendo’s competitors did markedly better despite their disadvantages. A combination of bad marketing, a lack of defining games, and a missing sense of identity all plagued the sales of the Wii U. A common question that would emerge is simply “why should I buy the Wii U?” Although Super Smash Bros. 4, Splatoon, and/or Super Mario Maker seemed to be some peoples’ answers, it simply was not enough to entice gamers towards purchasing the system.
There is a marked difference in two of these areas between the Wii U and the Nintendo Switch. Where the Wii U failed in marketing, the Nintendo Switch has done leagues better. The sole fact that Nintendo has decided to remove the “Wii” aspect in its console name has already given the Switch a clear sense of differentiation. Media presence has been given and long gone are the questions of bewilderment that were so common during the Wii U era.
In terms of defining characteristics, the Wii U was considered by many to be gimmicky. The tablet was large and unwieldy, though the idea being presented was interesting and unique. The design of the Switch on the other hand, is in many ways indicative of the changing ways in which Nintendo has adapted to the current generation of gaming, while at the same time cementing the niche in which the company has sought to occupy. Consider the emphasis placed on the console’s portability and local multiplayer. Unlike the Wii U, Nintendo has unabashedly cemented its console’s defining role as a console where “you can now play… with others where you like” (9:10). Where Sony and Microsoft have abandoned traditional forms of multiplayer in favor of online, with cornerstone franchises like Halo abandoning split screen multiplayer altogether, Nintendo has decided to take this aspect on its own, allowing the Switch the opportunity to champion the offline multiplayer mantle. Where the Wii U lacked defining games, the Switch has pushed fervently on the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and has just recently announced Super Mario Odyssey.
However, in Nintendo’s attempt to rectify the failures of the Wii U and establish itself firmly in the gaming world, Nintendo has perhaps pushed itself into a corner. While games like Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 will most likely continue the sense of quality and enjoyment typical of Nintendo first party games, it becomes increasingly clear that Nintendo will place emphasis on these types of entertainment. The trend of casualization, for better or worse, seems to be continuing forward into the Nintendo Switch. Games like Just Dance 2017 and 1, 2, Switch do little to elicit hardcore enthusiasm. Indeed, it must be noted that the Switch’s design and game selection are also metaphoric to the often times confusing nature of Nintendo, one simultaneously sure and yet unsure in who its audience is. It is perhaps for this very reason that the Switch has chosen to encompass a myriad of titles that carry little sense of connectivity, from the highly anticipated flagship Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, to the now age-old Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim.
The Switch stands currently as a paradox. It attempts to define itself on specific characteristics while at the same time pandering to many types of individuals. The Switch has placed a huge emphasis on multiplayer, but at the same time has placed rather high barriers of entry for those wanting online multiplayer capabilities. The Switch has attempted to use nostalgia in order to retain older gamers through its NES/SNES game program, but has limited this to essentially one month rentals. Yet the alarming aspect of all of this is that Nintendo’s choice to root itself on identities like casualization and portability mean that all games in the near future will have to adhere to these mantras. Where Sony and Microsoft have given their consoles a proliferation of different genres and games, from whimsical journeys like Abzu, to gritty horrors like Until Dawn, there is a slight fear that Nintendo may not be able to boast this type of diversity. This has yet to even factor performance limitations from the Switch’s rather weak processor and the need to be handheld compatible. All of these factors combined provide a starting image as to what a gamer might receive out of an investment in the Switch.
While this is not to say that it is impossible for Nintendo to develop some kind of catalog diversity, as noted by games like Bayonetta and Splatoon, it is becoming increasingly clear that in the company’s search for inclusiveness, it has placed itself on the path of exclusiveness. The console’s technological specifications, handheld capability, and Nintendo-based identity all point towards a limitation as to what Nintendo can do with its console. As the Nintendo Switch heralds the rise in Nintendo’s niche, Nintendo must be cautious in cementing itself, and must have the means to do so effectively. As Nintendo Direct ends, there is little doubt that people will be eyeing news on the console warily, and many await for March 3rd, 2016 to see if the console can place itself on a proper foothold and rectify the failures of the Wii U.