Nintendo’s shiny new console will launch on March 3rd…or wait, no…Nintendo’s shiny new handheld will launch on March 3rd…Wait…hold on a second…what exactly do you call it?
The Nintendo Switch is something new and fresh that is really just an iteration on something we’ve already seen before.
In 2012, The Wii U, widely regarded as a commercial flop, operated on the concept that you could play video games at home with two screens rather than one. The controller was a glorified tablet that you couldn’t use as a portable system. At most, if your grandparents wanted to use the television to watch Deal or No Deal, you could take the tablet into the other room and stream the gameplay to its display.
Two months later, Nvidia took this concept further with the Nvidia Shield Portable. The system was essentially a bulky Xbox 360 controller with a screen you could stream your games to from your gaming PC. The system also allowed you to download light games from the Google Play store, so while it wasn’t meant to be treated as a handheld, it could be used as one if you really wanted to.
Then, a full year after the release of the Wii U, Sony came out with the PlayStation 4. Now, if you owned a PlayStation Vita from 2011, you could stream your games from your console to your Vita. Not only would this work locally, but you could also do it over Wi-Fi. So, what you had was a handheld that could also play your PS4 library from anywhere that had a strong internet connection. This became an ultimately unused feature as Sony gave up trying to compete with the 3DS. As of right now, Sony is trying to implement this ability to stream over Wi-Fi to other devices, such as phones and tablets.
And now we have the Nintendo Switch. Rather than make a system that can stream to a handheld, Nintendo decided to just create a system that can be both. Being both a handheld and a console might seem like a new direction when in reality I’d like to think it’s more akin to moving in two directions at once. The Wii U was a dedicated console with an optional function to allow family to take the TV from you, the Nvidia Shield Portable was an accessory that allowed you to play your PC around the house, and the PlayStation Vita was a handheld that had the ability to connect to a console to let you play games anywhere you want. None of these devices were both a console and a handheld at once, and by trying to be both, I think Nintendo might be setting themselves up for problems down the road.
Remember the Wii? In 2006, the Wii was that hot new item that every family needed to have. I still remember playing Wii bowling with my sisters and parents every day for a solid month after we got it for Christmas. It was a family entertainment system, and while you could buy some single player games for it, the only time I ever see the Wii getting used anymore is with the latest Just Dance at my Aunt’s house during family get-togethers. Nobody really played single player games on it, and while that might have a lot to do with the lack of stellar “hardcore” titles, I think it has more to do with Nintendo’s mindset at the time. Nintendo is a family friendly company, and gearing their system towards inclusive party games makes sense.
Nintendo also has their line of 3DS portable systems. The 3DS isn’t a family system; everyone is meant to have their own individual devices. It’s very personal in this sense; rather than having everyone gather around a single 3DS to play party games on, everyone brings their own. Are you starting to see what I’m getting at here?
Nintendo is trying to appeal to both the whole family and create a portable experience for a single member of the family. I remember unboxing the Wii for Christmas with my sisters. The Wii wasn’t a gift from my parents to me; it was a gift for the whole family. I also remember getting my 3DS for Christmas, and that gift had my name on it and my name alone. Now, imagine playing Monster Hunter on your 3DS when suddenly your sisters ask you to hand it over so they can play Just Dance. Imagine having a long, loud fight with your brother over who gets to bring the 3DS to school today because you both have friends you want to play with at lunch. Just substitute 3DS with Nintendo Switch, and you’ll understand why I think the Switch has some trouble on the horizon.
You might argue that if you’re a college student who doesn’t have your family around to steal the switch away, this shouldn’t be a problem. While that might be true, remember that Nintendo’s target demographic is and has always been the family. Unless they suddenly decide to target the hardcore demographic, which it doesn’t look like they’re planning on doing, Nintendo’s shiny new console/handheld will probably tear the family apart more than it will bring them together. When you’re moving in two directions at once, you’re bound to split in half.