So this week Nintendo announced their new Switch console. Previously codenamed the NX and subject to numerous leaks before the official announcement, it’s now officially revealed as a modular console. It’s able to switch between a TV connected home console and a portable “tablet” of sorts, making use of a pair of modular controllers that can be combined into a single piece.
Now a gimmick is not a surprise coming from Nintendo. Ever since the DS they’ve been using their flagship consoles to focus on experimentation over a simple specs update. While this has certainly made them the more interesting hardware manufacturer, it also results in bemoaning from core gaming audiences asking for a more straightforward console. However I believe now the Switch has hit a sweet spot, where the gimmick can exist without the usual compromises that come with experimentation. This is down to one simple reason that the Wii, WiiU and even the DS didn’t follow with.
It brings something new to the table while asking nothing of developers and players
For developers, the Wii, WiiU and DS all required them to work with unorthodox control schemes, and it simply isn’t worth it anymore. Sure, the Wii was an incredibly successful console, but for every creative use of motion controls there were a dozen games that failed to include it well at all. This is because forcing developers to work around these unorthodox control schemes puts a wall behind development for the console. It’s difficult enough to simply develop a good game, and to layer on top of that the special requirement of incorporating a secondary touch screen or a motion controller makes all that work harder. Above that, it can result in potentially good games being held back considerably because they had to work on a platform that the developers were uncomfortable with.
Basically what I’m saying is Star Fox Zero needs to not happen again.
Switch addresses this by having a gimmick that still lets developers work within a standard control scheme. Sure, there are two screens counting the TV, but only one is actually used to play the game and as such there’s no DS/WiiU problem. Yes there is a touch screen, but with games also having to be TV compatible they’re not expected to have it be a major feature in every game. Instead, the focus is squarely on designing with traditional buttons and analogue sticks. The closest exception to this is splitting the controller in two, which halves the buttons for a simple two player mode. However this will mostly relate to the party game genre that generally designs their games to be simple anyway. All of this culminates in a system where the developers can focus squarely on making a good game.
In summary: Let’s just not do Star Fox Zero again
Now developers are only one half of the story here. While the Wii averted this problem by motion controls emulating simple real life actions, the WiiU had a major problem with explaining the function of its gimmick to its users. Whenever a console like the WiiU is made it has to get over the hump of making sure its potential customers know how to use it. “How am I supposed to hold this controller?” “How do I use this controller with this game?” And most importantly: “How does this make my games better?”.
Switch has barely anything to learn, because it defines everything around a common control scheme, and an already standardised one at that. Whether you’re out and about or playing on your own TV you’re using a universal control scheme. You know there’s gonna be 2 analogue sticks, a set of face buttons, directional buttons and some triggers. This is important, because most of the customer base already knows what these are. The only exception to this is the 2 player split mode for the controllers, which then provides you with an even simpler button & stick layout. There’s also the touch screen but again, it’s not expected to be a major feature and thus it won’t be expected to be used outside of being a bit of extra convenience for things like menu navigation.
Convenience is the real word that defines everything about Switch’s design. Unlike the WiiU, Wii and DS it’s not about changing the way you play games, it’s about making the games you already play easier to access. You want to play somewhere off from your TV? Switch makes it easier than moving your console into a different room. Want to play on transport? It’s lighter and thus easier to use than a bulky gaming laptop. Multiplayer especially is where the Switch’s features shine. Not only does it technically bundle in 2 controllers making local multiplayer simple, but being portable enough for a bag means it brings back a LAN-like system by making that type of multiplayer easier to accomplish.
Finally, I think people are underestimating what this is going to accomplish in the multi-platform scene. Yes, it’s pretty obvious the console is not going to outshine a PS4 or Xbox One in specs. However, what’s important here is that instead of compromising to let you use a gimmicky control scheme, it’s compromising by offering genuine convenience to the user. What this means to multiplats is that a Switch release is going to be in demand not because it’s the best looking version, but because people will want to access the game as easily as the Switch can provide. Do I want the top of the line visuals, or do I want to be able to take the game with me, or play locally easier? Unlike “Do I want to use a secondary screen?” this is a much more valid question that customers may ask. And sure, it’s not going to apply to every game, but it’s a much more valid question that could legitimately shake up the multiplatform games market.
Now It’s clear this is being marketed more for the core audiences rather than the family market the Wii and WiiU were targeting. And I just want to say that if they’re doing so they may want to focus their first party development towards games that target them.
I mean, it’s not like they have any IPs that can do that.
Nothing with a more mature tone and a dedicated fanbase in the core market.
Nothing that would personally please me a whole lot if they did it or anything.
…I guess they just have to make a new IP.