Launch day is a huge event for hardware platforms and the Nintendo Switch will be no exception to the rule, so should fans and third-parties be nervous this March?
Third-party support for Nintendo has been flagging these past years when it comes to their home consoles - long gone are the days of the SNES - so can Nintendo Switch finally turn things around and get other studios giddy with excitement?
The introduction of the Wii console and its heavy reliance on motion control was a double-edged weapon in Nintendo's arsenal when it emerged on the market. It had the massive advantage of this quirky and admittedly fun concept of interacting more with a video game. The problem was it also turned off a number of others who saw it as all about motion control and nothing else. The Nintendo Wii introduced their biggest problem: under-powered hardware.
The idea that you'd get to capitalise off a video game platform that couldn't match the other big boys in terms of raw power - Xbox and PlayStation - was something Nintendo gambled on. Thanks to their name and many a beloved memory of past glories it actually paid off for the Wii - for a time.
It was fresh and exciting for the market and it tapped a resource the bigger boys Microsoft and Sony couldn't quite get to but have been Nintendo's traditional audience; the family. It was played up as a 'fun for the whole family' console with emphasis on party-styled games and activities. As the sales figures showed it all paid off but soon the troubles began and suddenly the Wii's greatest strength for Nintendo would also start poising the well with shovelware.
With the Wii's hardware far less capable than an Xbox or PlayStation many studios instead focused on gameplay mechanics and gimmicky uses of the motion controllers. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing as Nintendo prizes gameplay over shiny visuals - which is to their credit. The real trouble was not many share Nintendo's zeal for quality and soon quantity became the mantra for the Wii's third-party market.
New games were simply being 'shovelled' onto the Wii market. This helped fuel the negativity surrounding the 'casual gamer' label that Nintendo has been able to court - mainly as it also includes young children and usually busy adults and parents. The Nintendo Wii had managed to wrestle open their wallets and explode in a sales frenzy of must-have hype.
As more and more of this shovelware began to appear it would confirm the notion that the Wii wasn't quite the platform to make a big noise about anymore when it came to major third-party releases. Not to mention few were happy accepting that a Wii version would have to be inferior because of hardware limitations.
Nintendo sought to recapture the success of the Wii with the improved Nintendo Wii U. This was a gamble that would not pay off for the beloved game company, mainly due to either confusion over what the Wii U was to the original or simply because it just never picked up the same word-of-mouth fever. The big drive of motion control gaming had lost its appeal and the inclusion of the second screen for Wii U was confusing and many found off-putting. Not even a hardware gimmick was able to save the Wii U. Nintendo's own internal figures show the Wii U managed just a tenth of the unit sales the Wii accomplished - a staggering 101 million hardware units, with software over 911 million compared to the Wii U's painfully more modest 10.7 million in hardware and 69 million in software.
The excitement wasn't there for Nintendo Wii U and that's largely due to the curse of the Wii. While the original Wii may have attracted excitement and literally tens of millions in 'new gamers' to the market - the under-powered hardware eventually proved to great a hill to overcome for the larger third-party studios who'd prefer to stick with the bleeding-edge and more reliable and hungry fans. When the WIi U came around many simply shook their head and kept away or threw only a handful of IPs to it. The numbers simply weren't there for developers or Nintendo.
Is Nintendo Switch going to lead a revitalisation?
It's a new day and a new console is now imminently poised to launch with the Nintendo Switch. There's certainly been a shake-up with what it's offering and Nintendo have once again defined themselves from the pack with its features.
Unveiling a console that's also a handheld on-the-go experience with detachable and motion-enabled controllers is also an eye-brow-raising announcement. You can alternate between playing on a big TV in the living room or bedroom, but then just detach the Switch itself from its docking station and continue the game while travelling somewhere. This is definitely going to get people's attention but this all comes at a cost once again - power.
At a time when Microsoft is working toward their Project Scorpio improvement to the Xbox One and Sony have their PlayStation 4 Pro - both significant hardware revisions to support 4K gaming - Nintendo has once again come along offering a weaker platform with motion control and emphasis on party-style multiplayer.
Is this a case of Nintendo having learnt their lesson and applying wisdom with Switch, or disastrously repeating the same mistakes but under a different guise?
Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aimé believes it's the former and their initial third-party line-up doesn't disprove his confidence. Securing the likes of EA Sports' FIFA franchise is a major prize for Switch especially with its big show of multiplayer gaming and playing where you want. There's around 50 companies tinkering away on about 80ish titles for Nintendo Switch. They seem to have stoked interest but will it hold?
"This business is pretty simple. What third parties want are: a large, growing install base, a development environment that's easy for them to work in, they want the ability to monetize their content—whether on the initial sale or downloadable content. That's what they want. And we were not able to deliver that fully on the Wii U. We are going to be able to deliver that fully with Nintendo Switch," stated Reggie Fils-Aimé.
"Certainly, we've seen tremendous excitement, as we've now revealed launch date and launch price. We've announced Unity Engine and Unreal Engine. Obviously, the long list of developers highlights that people are excited to develop for the platform. With our launch, with our own first party games, we'll sustain momentum and create that opportunity for third parties."
Momentum: This is the key driver to success or failure with third-parties. It never amounted too much with the Nintendo Wii U with the far smaller install base making it a rather doomed investment from developers unless they had something really specific and catchy. Will Switch keep this momentum humming away with its on-the-go handheld appeal or will that sacrifice of power once again lead to a rapid decline in interest once the launch hype has fizzled away?
The install base will be the deciding factor but Nintendo aren't left with meagre pickings as they have managed to secure some serious firepower; Monster Hunter in Japan for example. As long as third-parties are optimistic then they can ride out a few rough patches along the way. Increasing support for more game engines likes Unreal and Unity is also a huge attraction especially if they can quickly adapt it for other platforms later.
Nintendo Switch's launch titles on March 3rd include the anticipated first-party goodness of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but also third-party offerings like Skylanders Imaginators and Super Bomberman R. In April the Switch will get Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and much later in 2017 there's Super Mario Odyssey. These sound nice but outside of The Legend of Zelda there isn't much of a big bang come launch day.
Nintendo Switch launches worldwide March 3rd, 2017.