The Love-Hate Relationship That Follows the Nintendo Switch
The Nintendo Switch is a wonderful, and awful, little bit of kit. It’s a uniquely advertised piece of gaming hardware with a unique position in the current market that has saw its fair share of hyperbolic coverage in both the positive and the negative. But when you step aside from the extremes of the conversation, what you’re left with is an audience that loves the Switch despite its shortcomings, be they subjective or otherwise. In this feature-length complaint / love letter to the Switch we’re going to have a look at what went right, what went wrong, what needs to be fixed, and where things seem to be going in the future.
I work from home, and have done for the past 11 years or so actually. If you know anyone who works from home, then they’ve likely told you that avoiding hobbies and distractions is a learned skill, something you beat into yourself so that your workflow doesn’t slow to a halt. Working from a powerful PC, entertainment is never more than a few keystrokes and clicks away, so I would always make sure that once I had gotten some work done, I would get away from my desk for a little bit. This helped ensure that I didn’t accidentally get sucked into a game or YouTube rabbit-hole.
Well, that got quite a bit harder thanks to Nintendo releasing their newest piece of hardware, the Nintendo Switch. The days of getting up from my desk to go for a stretch and some coffee very quickly turned into days of getting up from my desk and actively avoiding eye contact with my Switch because if I see it, I’m gonna lift it. A stretch and some coffee does wonders for me, but a stretch, some coffee and a few 150CC Cups in Mario Kart 8 as I pace the kitchen is an entirely different matter–an entirely different, workflow-shattering matter. And I suppose, from a certain perspective, that’s actually a good thing.
What has went right.
The reveal, marketing, fan reception, the gimmick.
The Switch occupies such a tremendously interesting space in the video game market that I’ll freely admit that the marketing campaign instantly won me over, and I’m almost certain that there are a handful of tweets knocking about of me saying something to the effect of “Oh my god, I can’t wait to play Zelda on the bus!”
The “First Look at Nintendo Switch” trailer essentially lit my brain on fire with childish notions of playing the Switch practically everywhere, and to be fair, I have done that to the best of my abilities. Hospital stays, sitting at the beach, in my coffee house of choice, and on the train, the Switch has consistently delivered on its promise of making legitimate gaming on the go a reality. It left a tremendous impression on viewers and lit a fire inside the gaming community, with discussion ranging from predictions of success or woe, all the way to some hardcore Nintendo fans decrying the console as a betrayal of everything they had come to love. The latter making little sense and being disregarded almost immediately by most.
Through sheer luck, Nintendo managed to spawn a meme with the their “First Look at Nintendo Switch” trailer which, at the 2:09 point, shows a woman gleefully enjoying Mario Odyssey before being invited to a roof party with her friends. She lifts her Switch from the dock and joins her pals; upon arrival she hands a Joy-Con to one of her friends while the others awkwardly huddle around and watch them play on the tiny screen. She became known as Nintendo Switch Karen, or Antisocial Karen. She quickly became the butt of many a joke and is still referenced from time to time in Switch comment sections, but all this did was spread the awareness of the Switch’s unique get-up-and-go feature.
Following the first look trailer, we got the “Nintendo Switch Hardware Overview” video which doubled down on explaining that the Switch was still a console, but that it was also portable. This put to bed some concerns that the dock housed some hardware that would result in a loss in performance when the Switch was undocked. The opening statement was, “Nintendo’s Switch is a home video game console, you connect it to your television to play games, but what sets it apart is when you want to play away from your TV, you can remove it from the dock, get up and go. Attach the Joy-Con controllers and you can play anywhere.”
Without needing to try very hard at all, Nintendo perfectly positioned the Switch as a must-have piece of gaming hardware. After inviting some of the in-crowd to a series of hardware demonstrations, the internet was buzzing with excitement, fans and enthusiasts were on tenterhooks while scraping up every small bit of information that could be found. Everyone and their grandmother were dishing out the coverage, with “5 Reasons to buy a Nintendo Switch” being a particularly popular talking point in the lead up to release–with the odd outlier, of course.
With lists having been written, PR emails dispatched, and the early adopter fanbase whipped into a frenzy, the launch date (March 3rd, 2017) came and went. The little console that could was off to a great start and quickly found itself flying off the shelves, and even now it continues to boast very impressive sales numbers.
What’s more, Nintendo’s desire to get a games console into the market that can be played at home and on the go seems to have been a success. Speaking to Ars Technica, Nintendo’s Senior Vice President for Sales and Marketing turned President and COO of Nintendo America gave us a look at how the Switch was being used.
Roughly 20% of gamers were playing the Switch primarily in its docked mode, whereas 30% were playing it primarily in handheld mode. This left about 50% of gamers using both modes, actively switching between docked and undocked mode. This meant the console’s “on the go or at home” gimmick landed solidly and was found to be functional and useable.
Bowser also slipped in a not-so-humble humble brag. “What we said when we launched Nintendo Switch was that we wanted to have a gaming-first platform and that’s what we’ve created. And that’s what enabled us in the first 12 months in the United States to be the best-selling home console in the history of video games.”
There were odd detractors, like CNET Senior Editor Sean Hollister, who decided the Switch’s kickstand was a failure because it couldn’t stand up to them shoving it about. The kickstand could be better, there’s no doubt about that, but nobody actually expects it to stand up to abuse and intentional over exertion like this.
The video was later updated to include this back-peddle in the description box, “I’ve heard from a lot of readers that the video I used to try to illustrate the problems with the Switch kickstand just didn’t work. My intention was to try to reenact real problems I had, but I see now that the video comes across as forced or cheeky — like a bad ’90s infomercial! While I love the comparison, that wasn’t my intention. I’ve heard you guys loud and clear and in the future, I’ll be illustrating this type of opinion with tests instead of recreations”
Evidently, the 43,000 people who disliked the video don’t agree with the “recreation” or apology.
What went wrong?
The online and subscription service, the docks, the 3rd party accessories, the Joy Cons.
While all the above sounds great, the Switch did have problems, and in some cases it still does have problems.
Nobody likes to go out and buy a new piece of hardware, simply to bring it home and have it die. Well, as is the trend with video game hardware, that’s exactly what happened to quite a lot of people. Myself? My Switch wouldn’t hold a charge at all, and I had to have it replaced, so my first impressions were marred by that. It should also be noted that people still have battery issues to this day and that Nintendo will offer to replace your battery at a cost.
The issues of batteries in general is a topic of much discussion for the Switch. Some folks think there were better options, and the tech-savvy types have spent a couple of years tinkering around with the Swich’s insides, replacing the battery or just opting into using power banks.
More problems ensued when the Joy-Cons weren’t properly operating. In particular, the left Joy-Con was causing problems for a lot of people due to a factory level hardware issue wherein a piece of conductive foam wasn’t inserted into the left unit. This, in turn, led to interference with the antenna used for wirelessly connecting to the Switch that rendered the left Joy-Con unusable for some, whereas a lucky few were able to get use out of it by getting closer to the Switch unit itself and ensuring that there were no obstructions. Some even went so far as to crack it open and see what was going on for themselves.
Speaking to Polygon, Nintendo issued a statement that reads, in part, “There is no design issue with the Joy-Con controllers, and no widespread proactive repair or replacement effort is underway. A manufacturing variation has resulted in wireless interference with a small number of the left Joy-Con. Moving forward this will not be an issue, as the manufacturing variation has been addressed and corrected at the factory level.”
This was compounded by an issue that continues to cause different levels of concern. The dock for the Switch is a fairly simple affair; it’s a hollow plastic shell with a folding tray at the back which serves as an opening flap and rudimentary cable management unit.
It houses the HDMI input, a USB port, and the AC Adapter port which are used to power and connect the device to your screen–fairly normal stuff. The issue comes from the actual dock area, however, and surprisingly has nothing to do with malfunctioning ports or cheap plastic.
The problem stems from the pieces of guiding plastic inside the dock that hold the system in place once it’s in place. Users from all corners of the world were understandably upset when they discovered that these pieces of plastic were actively damaging their screens.
This is an issue that still hasn’t been corrected, and it’s not wholly uncommon to see a Switch that’s all scratched up along the sides if it sees frequent use. Many folks, myself included, think that this is unacceptable. The problem is very easily fixed and Nintendo could do it. They’ve just elected not to do it.
All you need to to is apply any sort of thin, self-adhering, and soft material to to the pieces of guiding plastic and there you go, problem solved. Seriously, get on this, Nintendo.
The next issue to roll around was that of third party accessories bricking consoles. The official Nintendo Switch Dock isn’t the prettiest thing on earth. It’s by no means ugly, but it lacks any real sense of style or grace.
This is where the “Portable Docking Kit for Nintendo Switch” comes into play. A sleek flat base with a mount for the Switch makes for a decidedly more fancy docked version of the system, displaying the Switch itself for a futuristic pick-up-and-go style of console. While looking fancier, it also removes the issue of screen scratching.
Problem is, it killed your system.
Naturally, Nintendo issued a statement wherein they leaned heavily on the “buy the expensive official merchandise please” side of the situation.
“Nintendo (recommends) that Switch owners only buy officially licensed Switch products . . . Unlicensed products and accessories do not undergo Nintendo’s testing and evaluation process. They might not work at all with our game systems, and they could have compatibility problems with certain games, the Nintendo Switch system itself, and other licensed accessories and peripherals.”
To which Nyko responded, “Nyko is aware of the issue some Portable Docking Kit owners are facing after updating the firmware on their Nintendo Switch to version 5.0. Though further testing is still required to determine the exact root cause of the problem, we believe it is related to the way the Switch handles AV output for an external TV/monitor while the console is docked on the Portable Docking Kit.” Which in short meant, don’t use our dock right now.
Moving past hardware and onto something more recent, let’s have a look at the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service.
So to say something positive about the Switch Online subscription service, I’ll admit that it’s cheap. For only $19.99 you get a full years coverage, which is markedly cheaper than the competition. You also get the option of one month’s service for $3.99 and three months service for $7.99. But you don’t get much service out of this online service.
First of all, you only get access to Cloud saves if you pay for the service; that’s a bit gross, given that we can’t yet properly transfer saves from Switch to Switch manually. The Virtual Console is dead, instead being replaced by an occasionally expanded collection of NES games that, once again, require the subscription to access. There are server issues all the time and lag is frequent in many games; this is salt in the wound because the online service is the first time that Nintendo is asking players to pay for online play. Not that I’m against that, I just expect good service if I’m putting down cash.
Voice chat, an issue that was solved more than a gaming generation ago, requires the subscription service, a smart phone, the Nintendo Switch Online app, and a three part connection with the headset attached.
I WISH I WERE KIDDING.
Suffice it to say that the Nintendo Switch Online subscription service is a bit naff and that people have voiced their displeasure about it many a time.
The aforementioned “occasionally expanded collection of NES games” is a sore spot for many. As part of your subscription, you get access to the following list of games.
- Mighty Bomb Jack
- Donkey Kong™
- Mario Bros.™
- Super Mario Bros.™
- Balloon Fight™
- Ice Climber™
- Dr. Mario™
- The Legend of Zelda™
- Super Mario Bros.™ 3
- Double Dragon
- River City Ransom
- Ghosts’n Goblins™
- Tecmo Bowl
- Pro Wrestling
- Ice Hockey
- Solomon’s Key
- NES™ Open Tournament Golf
- Super Dodge Ball
- Wario’s Woods™
- Ninja Gaiden
- ADVENTURES OF LOLO
- Blaster Master
- Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
- Super Mario Bros™ 2
- Kirby’s Adventure™
- Kid Icarus™
- Super Mario Bros.™: The Lost Levels
- Punch-Out!!™ Featuring Mr. Dream
- Star Soldier
The kicker here is that you only get access to them for 7 days if you’re offline. Meaning if you don’t have your Switch connected to a internet source at least once a week, you temporarily lose access to games you’ve installed in your system and have paid for. Don’t forget, because the virtual console is dead, you can no longer permanently buy these games for yourself on Switch.
Where should the Switch go from here?
The Switch is truly in a unique place at the minute. There are no handheld competitors from Sony or Microsoft, and the closest thing to a competitor for the handheld throne is Nintendo’s own 3DS, which is aging rapidly. But this doesn’t mean that Nintendo should lean heavily into the portable aspect of their console. As the information above shows, gaming-on-the-go accounts for roughly half of the Switch’s use, which means half of the player base needs to tolerate the less than perfect online stability.
Improving online stability will be a huge boost for the Switch, and as time goes on, I can only hope and trust that Nintendo will improve it. With games like Splatoon, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and Super Smash Bros Ultimate, the latter of which has blasted past 12,000,000 units sold, being such a prominent part of the Switch’s player base, the system demands a high-end service which just isn’t there yet. If the online connectivity situation is rectified, it would be a wonderful thing.
The Switch has many competent games in its library and there are some interesting titles on the horizon that show promise, but it suffers from a bit of a reputation issue in that it’s often referenced as being a machine built upon ports. And while that’s not entirely true, we need only look at DOOM, Skyrim, Wolfenstein, Diablo III, Bayonetta, Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition and Breath of the Wild (one of its flagship games that was originally destined for the Wii U until a later-stage development decision) to see where the reputation comes from.
The Switch has big titles, Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 (another port), Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Splatoon 2 and Pokémon Let’s Go to name a few, but beyond this it’s lacking in the heavy-hitting first-party game department. It was only this year that we found out Metroid Prime 4 has been sent back to the drawing board, and that definitely hurt the system. But with games like Pokémon Sword and Shield, Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Dragon Quest 11 S (another port) and Animal Crossing Switch on the horizon, it’s clear that not everything is a port. This is what the Switch needs, more games that are designed for it, more games that aren’t generic 2D side scrollers, more games that aren’t ports.
And this doesn’t even touch the ungodly amount of indie games and niche experiences to be found on the Switch. Like…strapping cardboard to your face? Well I guess you’ve got to take the good with the bad.
Another thing that the Switch is due, is hardware revisions. At this point in time, the Switch is beginning to feel outdated, despite its ability to bring fairly impressive games into the portable gaming space.
The Joy-Cons are little technological marvels, but they don’t really make use of features that are making them overly expensive. IR Cameras and HD Rumble are two of the reasons that they still cost £65 per pair. The IR Camera and HD Rumble functions of the Switch could be useful if implemented properly into big-budget games, but they aren’t, and thus they are a useless addition to an otherwise great piece of kit.
The Switch itself could do with some internal improvements to bring its capabilities a little bit more on-par with something a little bit more current-gen. I’m not expecting 1:1 parity with the Xbox One or PS4, but come on, Breath of the Wild chugs in certain places to this day and many of the Switch ports drop frames all over the place. Beefing up the hardware a little is definitely a smart play. We’ve all seen the rumors about a Switch Mini that would presumably turn the unit into a solid piece of gaming hardware without removal Joy-Cons and the like, but more recently there have been rumors of a second new model that will bring a “modest upgrade” later this year. Fingers crossed the rumors are on point.
The Switch has a bright future ahead of it, provided Nintendo takes feedback onboard and genuinely moves to improve the Switch in a manner that reflects the desires of its consumer base. It’s a love-hate relationship that many have with the Switch, but sometimes that’s okay.
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