On the evening of 2nd March 2017, the world was aflutter with a special kind of excitement; the sort you may feel in the air on the night before Christmas. We weren’t gathering outside leaving carrots for reindeer however. Worldwide, people were gathering in game stores well beyond normal closing for an occasion that happens only once every few years: a brand new console launch.
Nintendo had fallen on hard times with the Wii U, their last home console that just couldn’t crack the market. It had some of the best games of its generation, but the audiences that once flocked to the phenomenon of the Wii had long since dispersed. The Nintendo Switch however, was set to be something different. A hybrid acting as a successor to both Nintendo’s ailing Wii U and the more successful handheld Nintendo 3DS, many saw this as the Japanese company’s chance to strike back – but despite that initial excitement as we unboxed our systems and took our first dive into the vast world of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one question lingered. How will the world react to the Switch?
A year after we first asked that question, we may be closer to an answer: very well. Nintendo took every opportunity in 2017 to parade the system’s performance and to be fair, becoming the fastest-selling video game system in the U.S. and other countries are certainly accolades worthy of trumpets! With 14.86 million consoles sold by the end of January, Nintendo’s new system has also already beat the 5-year lifetime record of its predecessor.
Its flagship launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is now considered one of the greatest games of all time, currently holding a record for the most perfect scores on Metacritic and winning a heap of Game of the Year awards (in fact, we jokingly refer to our own 2017 awards as “The Zelda Awards”). Other games that followed in the year, like Super Mario Odyssey and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 attracted celebration and acclaim on their own merits too. So if you’re putting together a pretty press release, there’s certainly a lot to be happy about – but how do we feel, as people who have had our hands on the Nintendo Switch, about not just the system’s first year, but it’s future outlook as well?
What We Expected:
Josh Stevens: If I’m honest, I spent far more time last generation playing the 3DS over the Wii U. A portable device was just easier to fit into my routine and while I loved the Wii U GamePad’s concept, I think even Nintendo themselves struggled to find a must-have game that really justified it. With games like Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze even disregarding the GamePad entirely, how could we be confident with the second screen if Nintendo themselves weren’t?
My early anticipation towards the Switch largely centred around the potential momentum of Nintendo only having to develop for a single console. Both the more successful 3DS and the struggling Wii U’s lifespans struggled with periods where one’s first party slate flourished while the other struggled, so the Switch being a hybrid seemed like a safe and logical business decision.
What concerned me however, was whether Nintendo could strike a balance of power between not only a handheld and a console, but their competitors on the market. The pessimist in me was starting to expect a slightly better PlayStation Vita, which sounds pretty stupid when I put it into words now.
Demelza Ward: It has to be said that when the Switch was revealed, my expectations weren’t that high. In fact, I was mostly hyped for it because I’d be able to play The Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild on the go. The console looked good but I was also treating it as an upgrade to my 3DS, rather than a successor to both it and the Wii U, so the loss of 3D and the clamshell design was something I wasn’t looking forward to.
There is also something to be said for expectations vs reality when it came to the Wii U, because what looked like a neat tablet design ended up being a fairly clunky reality with a poor panel for the screen, at least compared to the modern day phone/tablet screens we all had ready access too. While Playstation’s handheld days weren’t going great with the Vita, the handheld was well built and had a much better screen than what Nintendo had previously used for 3DS and Wii U – so I was definitely worried that the panel for the Switch just wouldn’t be great.
Perhaps the biggest concern for me though, was the console’s proposed battery life. Very quickly it was revealed that the Switch would only be able to hold enough charge for 2 hours play (3 at most) if you were playing a demanding game. For something I was expecting to play undocked the majority of the time I just didn’t think those numbers were good enough when my 3DS still regularly lasts 4+ hours.
William Robinson: The way Nintendo rolled out the Switch had positives and negatives; that first teaser in late 2016 was a brilliant way to showcase the fundamental appeal of the Switch, but come on, that January presentation was a mess. Focusing on smaller names like 1-2-Switch and ARMS didn’t inspire much hope as I sat there watching in the early hours of the morning (it was my university deadline, too, so I really shouldn’t have been). The whole thing felt very Wii U-era, with tentative support from EA and quirky videos about HD Rumble.
Yet, that same presentation ended with a phenomenal trailer for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. A sprawling, majestic trailer, showcasing the varied and magical nature of the game. Story was hinted at, the world was shown with beautiful viewpoints, and wow, was that music good (somehow, it wasn’t used in the final game) – and as that trailer ended with the launch date of March 3rd – day and date with the Switch – a lot of my negativity slipped away. Sure, the Switch software line-up wouldn’t be packed with much else for a while, but if I can play this groundbreaking Zelda game on the go and in my living room, maybe things will be OK.
Our First Year:
Josh: Fortunately, my fears of a PS Vita 2.0 were completely dispelled – both in terms of console power and people actually wanting to buy it. I bought my Switch on launch day and started my library with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which was an incredible experience. With a level of freedom I’ve never experienced in a game before and an end-game infiltration of Hyrule Castle that was truly exhilarating, I don’t think I’ve loved a Zelda game more.
Unlike the Wii U’s GamePad, I was quickly convinced that the Switch’s raison d’etre is not just a gimmick, but a necessary feature. The convenience of choosing to play handheld or on a TV can’t be overstated. My 2017 was very busy with work, so being able to play console level games like Zelda on a train, a cheeky bedside session of Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in the passenger seat of a car has been simply remarkable. The optional portability is now more of a selling for me than the higher power multi-platform games may see on say, the PlayStation 4 or XBox One.
With 12 games currently in my collection, I can happily say that I’ve bought more games during the Switch’s first year than any other console or handheld (I haven’t had a chance to finish them mind you – see the earlier comment about work!). I’ve had so much with my Nintendo Switch and its diverse library of games and there’s no doubt in my mind that 2017 was the best year Nintendo’s had in a long time.
Demelza: My first year with the Switch has been fantastic. In a single year I have purchased 19 games for it (including digital content) and that’s something I definitely didn’t do for the Wii U or 3DS; there just wasn’t that kind of support both from Nintendo and third party developers. There is always something new just around the corner and the quality of these titles easily competes against what the PS4 and Xbox One offers, even if graphically things aren’t quite as slick, because the Switch isn’t as powerful. With strong sales for the console and its games there is no sign of support slowing down, so I wouldn’t be surprised if my collection has grown by another 20 games when we hit year 3.
As far as the console itself stands – all of my worries were unfounded. The build quality of the Switch is really good, the panel for the screen gives a clear and crisp image as well as being wonderfully colourful. The console is slim and fairly lightweight for the size and certainly isn’t the clunky monster the Wii U’s tablet turned out to be. The battery life also hasn’t been a huge problem for me either. I do find myself putting the console down to charge sooner than I would my 3DS on a given weekend, but it doesn’t feel like an issue that ruins the experience for me.
The other interesting thing, is that I treat the Switch as a true handheld. Due to both me and my partner owning a Switch, we have two docks in the household, but I’ve only docked my console a handful of times in the whole year. Even sitting on the sofa in front of my TV, I just don’t feel inclined to play the games in TV mode; the Switch’s screen is so nice that I never feel like I’m missing out. Some of this is due to the fact I vastly prefer handheld gaming to home consoles, but it also speaks to how good a job Nintendo have done at creating a console that is fit for everyone no matter how they want to play.
William: It’s very difficult to overestimate the quality of the Switch hardware. One of the first things I noticed was how utterly sleek it was – other than my joyously colourful Joy-Cons, it doesn’t look out of place alongside my MacBook Pro. Crucially, the transition from handheld to TV is so smooth, so quick, that it is like you’re in a commercial each time you do it.
Then you start playing Breath of the Wild. This is one of the most important games Nintendo has ever made, and just because of the freedom, the progression, the world design – but because without it, the Switch would have been stranded. Think about it; without Zelda taking up our attention, you just know more people would have been talking about the early hardware teething issues (I personally had an issue with docking, which Nintendo were great at fixing), the lack of staple system features like voice chat, and, well, the mixed bag of supporting software.
Which would have been a great shame, as the Switch fully deserves the praise and popularity it has seen in the year that has passed. From Zelda to Super Mario Odyssey and the many, many quality releases in between, it’s so great to see a healthy Nintendo ecosystem. The Wii U era was a tough one for Nintendo fans, as we suffered through release droughts, a lack of third-party support, and some bizarre design choices; but I like to think that the whole period made us, and Nintendo, stronger. The only shame is that the man who oversaw so much of this turnaround, Satoru Iwata, couldn’t be here to see what Nintendo has achieved.
Josh: As we enter the Switch’s second calendar year on the market, my biggest concern is whether Nintendo can maintain the momentum of its blockbuster first year.
Their early 2018 slate containing a high number of Wii U ports was expected given development times and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has triumphantly demonstrated that being a port isn’t always a barrier to success. I’m cautiously optimistic about Mario Tennis Aces, but it, Kirby Star Allies and the untested ground of Labo being their leading original content for 2018 makes me hope for a stellar second half, which will hopefully have something big like the previously announced Fire Emblem game or something like Animal Crossing (and no, I’m not convinced it’ll have the Pokémon game the internet is currently so thirsty for).
Speaking of Labo, that certainly was a strange reveal, wasn’t it? I didn’t even think half of that trailer was possible with the Switch hardware, but here we are. While it’s clearly not targeted at the demographics who read these kind of articles, it’s not like anything Nintendo’s done before and may be bonkers enough to work and I’d love such a unique idea to, but I think the jury’s still very much out at this stage.
Demelza: As Josh said above, my biggest concern going into 2018 is seeing if Nintendo can keep up a year of quality releases. While we did have a Direct recently, a great deal of it were ports or the new Mario Tennis game and so, it feels as though we’re completely in the dark in regards to what’s coming. The lack of commitment to Yoshi, Fire Emblem and more for the rest of the year is not great and I really hope those games get dated. I am also someone who doesn’t truly believe we’ll see a Pokémon game this year and expect it to be 2019.
It’s not that I’m unhappy with the amount of titles being ported though, in fact I welcome them. A lot of games that were on the Wii U originally deserve a second chance on the Switch, especially titles like Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (which I really hope is coming to Switch), but there definitely needs to be enough new titles to balance it out.
What I really want to see this year though, is the virtual console finally launched. I’m in no rush to be paying a monthly subscription for the online playability, but frankly I’m intrigued by the idea of what they’re going to do in terms of monthly games and such. Plus anything that was promised at launch really shouldn’t be pushed back repeatedly like this. Also can we please have backgrounds that aren’t just black and white? I poured a lot of money into those on the 3DS, so please carry the idea over. Also badges, badges sound like a good idea (but not for my wallet…).
William: A concern raised by both Josh and Demelza is whether Nintendo can match an initial year that saw major Zelda and Mario titles that reinvented, to different degrees, what we expect from each of those series. The answer is simple: no, of course not. That is not necessarily a bad thing, however.
Pokémon, perhaps the only franchise Nintendo has available that matches up to those two in terms of mainstream appeal, is on the horizon – and may even make 2018 yet. The first ever mainline Pokémon game on a home console (even if it is portable too) is going to be a landmark game that sells a stratospheric amount, and pushes a lot of people into purchasing a Switch. Also in 2018, we have a Fire Emblem game scheduled, Yoshi and Kirby games, inevitably more third-party games, and other big announcements we have yet to see.
The Switch era is firmly here. The console is a success, and established in the market, but it must be said that there is room for improvement. Nintendo’s online service is a big question mark, and could make or break the image of the Switch depending on how it all plays out. If the new paid online service has a neat solution to Virtual Console, maybe makes voice chat not-awful, and overall starts catching up to rival systems, that could be the final building block; because, make no mistake, the Switch is on track to sit in the midst of the greatest consoles we’ve ever had.
So, a year in, that’s what some of our writers think about the Nintendo Switch – but how has your first year been?