One Year Later: Nintendo Switch

One year ago, the Nintendo Switch was released worldwide. It is currently considered to be a success, breaking video game console sales records in various regions. Nintendo has already sold more Switch units in less than a year than they did the Wii U in five years, and Switch sales are likely to exceed the lifetime sales of both the Gamecube and the original Xbox. As a Nintendo fanboy and current Switch owner, I’d like to celebrate the first year anniversary of the Switch by looking back on it’s first year.

A Flawed Console…

This is no secret – the Nintendo Switch is far from being a perfect video game console. It is still not as powerful as the Playstation 4 or the Xbox One. It is missing features that other video game consoles have, such as the ability to play media. It’s still a pain to play Switch games online.

Some of the Switch’s issues at launch have been fixed now. Previously, a significant number of Switch owners had trouble keeping their left JoyCon connected – an problem caused by a production error that has been addressed, so any Switch consoles that you buy now shouldn’t have the same issue. The first couple of Pro Controllers released had D-Pad issues, but that has also been fixed.

There is a way to do voice chat on the Nintendo Switch – it requires a lot of wires and your mobile phone.

Still, the majority of what people complained about the Nintendo Switch remain unresolved or unanswered. The online experience in general leaves a lot to be desired – there’s still no straightforward approach to voice chat, the Switch still depends on friend codes, and the launch of Nintendo’s paid online service was delayed to September 2018. We still don’t have any information about Virtual Console for the Nintendo Switch. And the Nintendo Switch never really got additional apps outside of Hulu for the US. There’s no Netflix, Youtube, nor even internet browsing.

The biggest issue with the Switch in my opinion is the lack of a good way to back up save files. Right now, there is a way to transfer them from one Switch console to another, but that erases the save files from the source (it is a transfer after all) which does nothing if your Switch gets busted or starts malfunctioning. This is as close to being a dealbreaker as it gets – I held off my Switch purchase for as long as I could because of this – so I hope this gets a proper solution this year.

…But Excellent at What it Does Best

Despite all of its opportunities, the Nintendo Switch has been able to stand out because it provides something that very few has been able to offer and it is excellent at it – the ability to switch from a quality home gaming experience to a quality portable gaming experience easily. And I made sure I specifically indicated “quality” because the Switch is not the first portable gaming device that you can plug into a TV in order to play games on a bigger screen, but it is currently the device that provides this kind of experience the best. And the Switch does this as seamlessly as advertised.

Of the three “game modes” that Nintendo is marketing the Switch to have, the weakest is it’s tabletop mode – you’ll need to set the Switch up really close to be able to effectively see what’s on the screen, and the built-in kickstand only works on hard, flat surfaces. Playing solo, it’s fine but the screen is simply too small to accommodate games for two or more players.

In docked mode, the Switch performs well enough although it is definitely less powerful than the PS4 or Xbox One. This is perfectly understandable when you consider that the Switch’s tech is squeezed into a tablet that’s a little over half an inch thick, together with a battery and an LCD screen. And in handheld mode, the Switch is able to replicate the experience that you have in docked mode, displaying graphics at an acceptable 720p. Most performance issues reported seem to stem more from software/porting issues rather than a problem with the Switch hardware.

At this point, the Nintendo Switch has been proven to be different enough from the PS4 and Xbox One that it becomes a viable second console for anyone who already owns a current gen device. For anyone who has yet to own a current gen console, the Nintendo Switch is a compelling option especially for those who have limited time to spend on video games.

A Different Launch Strategy

Much has been said about the launch of the Nintendo Switch, from it launching in March instead of the holidays and it’s small launch lineup of games. But in hindsight, wasn’t Nintendo’s launch strategy brilliant?

First of all, they launched on a month wherein sales weren’t as important (compared to November and December). Second, Nintendo was able to spread out their first party releases in such a way that each one would not stop the momentum of the other. And Nintendo made sure that they had a killer app at launch – the much awaited eighth generation and eventual 2017 Game of the Year awardee The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Despite only having a small number of titles available at launch, the strength of Breath of the Wild resulted in a very strong starting sales performance. The next couple of first party Nintendo releases ensured that the sales momentum of the Switch continued up to the holiday: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe in April, Arms in June, Splatoon 2 in July, and Fire Emblem Warriors in October. This was capped with the release of Super Mario Odyssey at the end of October. The results? Record-breaking sales across different regions, despite all the reported flaws of the console and a perceived high launch price of $299.

Welcome Back Third Parties

Third party support has been a problem of Nintendo ever since the fifth generation of consoles and it was a glaring area of opportunity when the original Switch launch lineup was revealed, but as the months went by more and more third party titles were announced and released. By the end of the first year of the Switch, we now had the following AAA third party titles available to us: Doom, Skyrim, L.A. Noire, NBA 2K18, Payday 2, and Bayonetta 1/2. We had the underrated Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle and even the Switch version of Minecraft.

Sure, not everything is a victory. Capcom has been very hesitant in supporting the Switch with only two releases for the device (both ports of previous releases) but in recent months, they have been reported to have changed their perspective on the console. WWE 2K18 was a hot mess, and EA seems to remain cold on Nintendo. I’d say that third party support has been stronger for the Nintendo Switch than the Wii U and it will continue to be so, with ports of the remastered version of Dark Souls and Wolfenstein planned for release this year.

An Indie Machine

One aspect of the Switch that I think isn’t appreciated much is the level of support that it is getting from indie publishers. Right now, you have a ton of good indie titles to choose from for the Switch: Stardew Valley, Celeste, Yooka-Laylee, Rocket League, Super Meat Boy, Axiom Verge, Golf Story, Enter the Gungeon… the list goes on. Sure, most of these titles are also available on the PS4 and the Xbox One (and even on PC), but what makes the Switch stand out from the other platforms is that you can play these games at home on a big television screen or on the go. And these smaller indie titles are perfect for portable play.

One can argue that you can get a similar experience if you own a home console and a PS Vita, but I’d counter that it’s quite different to be able to play the same exact game using the same exact save file on the go or on your big screen without needing to do file transfers or synching – just take the Switch out of its dock and you’re all set! My personal experience? I’ve gotten so much mileage out of a game like Enter the Gungeon, playing it on the go whenever I find small “pockets” of free time while I’m attending to my real life responsibilities. And I appreciate how I can easily play that game at home on my HD TV whenever I want.

The combination of stronger third party support, plus a steady stream of strong first party titles, has made for a good first year software library. If you buy a Nintendo Switch now, you have a decent number of quality titles to choose from.

A Successful First Year

Just on sales numbers alone, we can already conclude that the Nintendo Switch has had a successful first year. Maybe it wasn’t a convincing enough purchase at launch, but I would highly recommend it to anyone now because it’s an excellent console that fits different lifestyles and because it’s boasts of a strong software library that offers titles across multiple genres. It still has flaws and “missing” features, but none of them are deal-breakers anyway – you’re buying the Nintendo Switch because you want to play console-quality games at home and on the go without complicated setups, and the Nintendo Switch excels at delivering exactly that.

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