About a year and a half ago a YouTube link went up in the group chat I have with my friends.
Nintendo was giving us our first look at the Switch. After watching the video we had a brief discussion. One friend was pretty enthusiastic about it. I was not. All I saw was another gimmick.
“Oh, you can pick it up and play it on the move? Thanks, I already have a 3DS.”
I reduced the newly announced console to a footnote in the back of my mind with a couple of sentences.
I didn’t think about it again until almost exactly a year later. While on a trip to the UK, one of my friends over there pulled out her Switch and showed us Breath of the Wild. It blew me away with how vibrant the game looked. The graphical fidelity wasn’t going to blow PS4 or XBox One out of the water, but that wasn’t its intention. As Nintendo has shown in the past, they aren’t here to go toe-to-toe with the other juggernauts in the console space, they want to bring something unique to the game.
With the Switch they managed it. I found myself watching over my friend’s shoulder as she played Mario Kart while we were on our way to Hadrian’s Wall. It was slick and you didn’t feel like you were missing a whole lot going from the television to the handheld.
The Switch has the typical Nintendo line-up, bringing you back to your childhood of racing against your friends, or collecting coins and stars, or exploring the expanse of Hyrule. They also brought some new blood in to the game with titles like Snipperclips and Arms. Snipperclips being a bit of a cutesy co-op puzzle game and Arms feeling like a rock’em sock’em robots arena fighter.
That said, I have to say I feel like Nintendo made a rather large misstep.
Just like their previous generation of consoles, the Wii and the Wii U, Nintendo almost completely forsook the social and online aspect. Sure, you can ask your buddy for their friend code and pop that in to your Switch menu, you can then see what games they’ve played and what they’re currently playing but beyond that you get next to no interaction.
You can’t message your friend, let alone voice chat. You can’t send them a screenshot of something cool you did in game, let alone stream for them. You cannot natively party up with friends, let alone jump in games with them.
Nintendo released an app for Android and iOS called ‘Nintendo Switch Online’ as the toe-in-the-water of their native social-hub-in-the-making of the same name. The Washington Post’s review of the mobile app was less than stellar. The app currently sits at a 3.3 rating on the Android store and 3.1 on iOS. Far from being the worst thing to ever grace the storefronts but reviews on each call out the app for doing something that should be native to the console itself.
From the Nintendo Switch Online app you can start a voice chat with friends. You can also initiate the process for playing online multiplayer with them. In Splatoon 2. Currently the only game supported by the app.
The full release of Nintendo Switch Online to the console itself is scheduled for September 2018, a release that was originally slated for 2017.
I know that Nintendo maneuvered itself in to a on-the-move, play with your friends out in the world type of console but that doesn’t excuse them from making this kind of blunder. If you aren’t out on the roof playing Mario Kart with your friends, if you’re on your couch alone, optionally covered in Dorito dust and surrounded by empty cans of Mountain Dew, you are completely alone.
Nintendo may blow us away with their new social experience in September and I would be the happiest person in the room to see that. But the fact of the matter is they released a console without the tools that the competition had at launch last generation and actively worked on the generation before.
Nintendo, I want you to do better. Playing Breath of the Wild has put a smile on my face like no other, bringing me back to my early years sitting on the floor in front of our CRT television and beating up chickens until a swarm of them came to hand me my butt. But we’re not back in 1991. We’re in 2018 where you’re not competing with Microsoft and Sony to provide an experience that I can share and enjoy with others unless they’re sat right beside me.