Leave it to Nintendo to deliver the final epitaph of the Wii U all by itself, with a console that is everything that the Wii U should have been.
Get ready for the Nintendo Switch, another special console that could only come from the minds of Nintendo, and a machine that, for better or worse, continues Nintendo’s unique approach to console gaming. For at least one more console generation, the minds behind Mario will think for themselves and duplicate no one, shying away from the conventions of other machines to deliver something that’s simultaneously unique and quirky and perhaps a little bit baffling.
The Nintendo Switch will release worldwide on March 3 and retail for $299.99, with additional controllers (called JoyCons) available for $79.99. Games prices will match the industry standard, clocking in around $59.
And it’s all coming with an approach that continues to be different from other consoles. Nintendo’s Switch is arriving just five years after the release of the Wii U (actually, a few months short of five years), at a time when Sony and Microsoft are just releasing their mid-cycle console generation updates.
It’s an action that also seems an admission, that the Wii U never quite hit its mark, that for the first time in a long time, a Nintendo innovation didn’t own the console landscape. Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 have pushed gaming in a different direction, driven largely by pure processing and graphics power.
Nintendo isn’t interested in any of that arms race. The Switch is more powerful under the hood than the Wii U, according to Nintendo’s David Young, but the company isn’t pushing that. Instead, Nintendo touts the Switch’s crossover appeal, the way the machine can play on a TV, but be quickly removed and transformed into a machine with on-the-go capabilities.
Nintendo also showed off the endless potential of the JoyCon controllers, which easy slide on and off the Switch’s large portable screen, and could see a plethora of accessories in the coming days and years.
“Nintendo Switch is our latest generation, and it is more powerful than Wii U,” Young told the News. “Sure we can put up numbers and a bigger number is more impressive than a smaller number. But we want people to play. That’s the real secret sauce.”
That’s what the Wii U couldn’t consistently get gamers to do, though, which is why that investment is on the way out after only a half-decade. But the Switch is proof that Nintendo believes in many of the Wii U’s experiences and lessons and isn’t ready to abandon those ideas.
In many ways, the Switch is what the Wii U should have been. The Wii U GamePad, for all its coolness, was thick and plastic and clunky, not the least bit sleek, with a level of portability limited by its proximity to the main console, which played games that ran off standard discs.
The Switch, meanwhile, is sleek, with a 720p screen that’s 6.2 inches diagonally and looks sharp and bright. It loses the restraints of the Wii U and can be taken anywhere, offering swift and free portability.
This is a thinner, more agile version of the Wii U, with added horsepower an imagination. The JoyCon controller can split in two, includes robust motion functions, and includes a rumble function that’s so nuanced that Nintendo says it can let a gamer feel a glass filling with ice. But unlike the minimally buttoned Wii controller, or the clunky Wii U GamePad, it offers all the control functions that third parties need to develop third-party titles.
Not that Nintendo plans to rely heavily on third-party software. As is usual with these console launches, Nintendo touted strong third-party support, pointed to Bethesda releasing Skyrim and 2K’s upcoming NBA 2K release on the Wii U as evidence. And there were some quirky, fun titles at the Switch showcase in Manhattan, including a Disgaea 5 that looked and played beautifully on both big and small screens.
But the lifeblood of the Switch, once again, will come from Nintendo. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will release alongside the console, and the year will end with Super Mario Odyssey at Christmas. It was a desire to spread out game releases and have a “good cadence of software,” Young said, that helped motivate Nintendo to release the Switch early in the year, instead of around the holidays, when most consoles hit the market.
“Third parties are going to make their own decisions on what systems they support, what software they put out,” Young said. “From Nintendo’s perspective, our job is to put out a good solid platform and deliver compelling experiences of our own. We’re excited to have so many third parties already. A lot of folks are making games.”
What remains to be seen is how many of those third parties keep making games on the quirky Switch, whether they’ll support the console long-term or gradually bow out of action, as they did on the Wii U. But the Switch could compensate because of its unique versatility: While billed as a home console, it has a highly portable quality that could make it appealing to a variety of tablet games, perhaps even experiences that were once the sole property of the 3DS, Nintendo’s current portable.
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Not that Nintendo is looking to do any of that at this moment. Young stressed that the 3DS will remain a key slice of Nintendo’s portfolio, and that the portable isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
“The Nintendo 3DS is incredibly strong. We’re really not going to discontinue that line because it offers people a different entry into the Nintendo world,” he said. “The Nintendo 3DS is not going away.”
And neither is Nintendo or the Nintendo way. No, the Wii U didn’t work out as planned. But Nintendo hasn’t quit yet.
The first blockbuster release of 2017, Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, arrives Tuesday. Get ready to game in 2017, folks . . . Tekken 7 at long last has a launch date. The latest edition of the Namco fighter will drop June 2. The downside of that release is the game could get buried in a flood of pre-E3 and E3 hype. But don’t sleep on a great (and venerable) fighting game . . . If you weren’t amped for Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands, which is due out in March (just days after the Switch), the newest trailer, featuring rapper T.I., just may do the trick: