Sunday, May 13, 2018

Nintendo Switch A Year Later

Nintendo's greatest hits album.

By Patrick "The Law" Morris

            Prior to its March 6th2017 launch everyone but the most diehard Nintendo fans were skeptical of the Nintendo Switch and whether or not Nintendo still had a place in the hardware development industry. Almost a year later all those people have eaten mountains of crow and Nintendo is rapidly closing the gap on Microsoft to become the second biggest dog in the fight. After only 10 months the Switch had already outsold its predecessor the Wii U that filled the role of Nintendo’s home console offering for four and a half years and what was once the little console that could has become an unstoppable juggernaut. So how did we get to this point? How did Nintendo develop a console that is now poised to overtake the Wii as Nintendo’s top selling home console and will be setting its sights on the likes of the Nintendo DS and the PlayStation 2 next? 
            The strategy is simple yet incredible, when opening Spotify and searching for an artist one is almost always immediately greeted with that particular artists greatest hits album because that’s what gets listened to by other Spotify users more than any of their other albums. To be reductionist and simplify to its most basic level the Nintendo Switch is the greatest hits album of Nintendo’s console history borrowing a feature from almost each console past to make one little tablet that hits all those beats. 
            The Super NES was home to some of the most beautiful and artistic games ever made that were a direct result of the limitations of the hardware available to developers at the time. Games like Super Mario World, Donkey Kong Country, Yoshi’s Island, Earthbound, and Battletoads created some of the most memorable and polished experiences in video games to date. Short of spending a small fortune on a Silicon Graphics Workstation pixelart was the best way for a developer to illustrate their game in the early nineties and as a result those games have held up remarkably well. 
Switch was designed from the ground up to be a console to be played on the go in 15 minute bursts during a morning commute or for hours on end while on your couch in front of a 60” TV.  Because of the multitude of ways the machine is meant to be played there is a huge variety of games available on the console from massive epics like Breath of the Wild and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 to much smaller more contained experiences like Celeste and Owlboy. The latter games are the ones that harken back to the beauty of the 16 bit era and drive that nostalgia for the days of the super Nintendo. When remembering video games from the early nineties everyone’s mind immediately envisions gorgeous pixel art that evokes memories of waking up on a snowy Friday morning to hearing on the radio that schools are closed and realizing that the entire day that was supposed to be a school day would now be a day spent hunting down powerups in Super Metroid or collecting pendants in a link to the past. The Switch tugs at our heartstrings and takes us back to those glory days of the Super Nintendo with games like Owlboy that look and play as well as our rose-colored lenses have preserved those super Nintendo classics in our memories.
In late 1996 Nintendo completely changed the entire industry again with the release of the Nintendo 64. While there were so many features that made that hideous curvy dark gray box revolutionary the most glaring new addition that at first seemed so incredibly unnecessary was the hallmark third and fourth controller ports on the front of the console. To this point games had had very limited multiplayer functionality but by slapping two extra controller ports on the front of their 64-bit offering Nintendo was sending the message that you were going to buy four controllers and you were going to play video games next to your friends on the couch damn it! Four controller ports completely changed the landscape for multiplayer games and as games have evolved multiplayer has evolved with them for better or for worse. 
In 2018 the idea of four player local multiplayer is one that died years ago for the likes of Sony and Microsoft but not Nintendo. Building a handheld console typically means building a very intimate personal experience to be had by one person, Nintendo managed to buck this trend by creating a multiplayer experience that can be had anywhere with a controller that functions incredibly well split in two to provide that oh so sweet multiplayer throw down. Friend says they’re the best at Mario kart? Settle it right here right now. Bully on the bus won’t move their bag off the seat next to them until you beat them at street fighter 2? Well that won’t be a problem for long. In a world built around the online multiplayer experience Nintendo still focuses on those diehards that prefer the local multiplayer experience…there aren’t a whole lot of people that have fucked my mom in local multiplayer.
While Nintendo is beyond a shadow of a doubt the best first party developer, the last time they had any relevant third party support at least in the form of multiplat titles was in the early 2000’s with their little purple box called the GameCube. During the tenure of the sixth generation of consoles Nintendo wasn’t the weakest kid on the block from a hardware perspective and as a result they weren’t automatically ruled out when it came to the multiplat titles like they would be in the ensuing generations. The GameCube attracted a lot of third party support and was able to provide a parallel experience when it came to local play from third party games. The argument could be made that the GameCube was the last time Nintendo was a direct competitor with Sony and Microsoft and it resulted in what is truly the golden age of video games.
For the first time since the GameCube third parties are taking a serious look at Nintendo but not for the same reasons as before. Nintendo has always been the king of handhelds and as a result third parties have pumped out watered down versions of their big budget titles to create the illusion of a similar experience on the go. Games like Max Payne on the GBA, Call of Duty Modern Warfare Mobilized on the DS, and Monster Hunter 4 on the 3DS have all been developed to provide a compromised version of the larger experience in order to make it portable. Now third parties are seeing a handheld console that requires minimal compromises and everyone but EA seems to be tripping over themselves to bring their big budget titles to a handheld experience. Nintendo is welcoming third parties back into the fold with open arms and we should all be thrilled about that.
At the launch of the Wii the world was enthralled with motion controls and for good reason; while the PS3 and Xbox 360 were leaning into a more hardcore crowd Nintendo began to forge their own path and make games accessible to the masses. While 12 year olds were 360 no scoping each other Nintendo fans were enjoying games like Super Mario Galaxy, Donkey Kong Country Returns, and The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess that utilized motion controls in truly fantastic ways. Everyone that was in high school at the time had an Xbox 360 but all those people’s parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents had a Wii because the Wii was the first to do motion controls right.
In 2017 when it looked like motion controls had run their course the big N came crashing through the walls like the Kool-Aid with two very small and very brightly colored controllers that once again showed the world that when done right motion controls are still really fuckin cool. The Switch isn’t built around the motion controls in the same way that the Wii was they have taken a backseat and play more of a supporting role and when used sparingly they truly do enhance the overall experience. Motion controls on the Switch get a 5/7.
The Switch is the sum of everything that has made Nintendo so great in the past all rolled into one; it introduces almost nothing new it simply takes the elements that have made past consoles a success and polishes those features to near perfection. It has been a long time coming but Nintendo is finally out of the home console market and has embraced the fact that in the handheld market no one can touch them. I will almost certainly be wrong about this because Nintendo is about as predictable as lactose intolerant stress eater on a dairy farm, but I will be very surprised if Nintendo ever moves back into the home console market in the traditional sense. They wrapped up everything they have ever done that we loved and put it in one neat little neon package but at the end of the day there are still no cloud saves and it has an incredibly delicate usb-c port, so we definitely know that it’s still Nintendo, they’re just not as drunk at the wheel as usual.

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