Six Months with the Nintendo Switch, and Where It’s Headed Next
Six months into its release, we're taking a look back at the Nintendo Switch's debut, its titles released this year, and what lies ahead for the system.
Long past the days since we knew it as the “NX” and heard whispers of it being a “handheld/console hybrid,” the Nintendo Switch has now passed six months since the system came rushing into stores…and was quickly snatched up from the shelves soon after.
Leading up to its launch, lots of uncertainty surrounded the Nintendo Switch and what it would do not only as a console, but for Nintendo’s bottom-line and reputation. Coming off the Wii U, which exited production earlier this year as Nintendo’s worst-selling home console yet, it was more than reasonable to expect that the Nintendo Switch might have a similar fate and that Nintendo wouldn’t be able to strike lightning twice since the Wii became a global phenomenon.
Today marks six months out from the Nintendo Switch’s launch, and in many ways I feel that the console’s debut has shown that Nintendo’s gamble on its newest flagship system (so far) seems to have paid off. In that time, the Switch is now in an environment that has (largely) course-corrected from the problems that hindered the Wii U; namely, gathering an audience, establishing a clear identity, and releasing a steady stream of new games.
That isn’t to say that the Nintendo Switch is completely without its problems, as our own Lou Contaldi noted many of the Switch’s shortcomings (both conceptually and technically) in our review of the system, saying it was a console with “potential hidden under problems.” As much as the system’s portability and versatility are worth celebrating, it deserves just as much criticism for its shortcomings, such as the continued lack of media streaming from services like Netflix and YouTube, antiquated online functionality, and overly-expensive accessories and peripherals. The less said about Nintendo’s long-term solution for voice chat on the system, the better.
However, the bigger takeaway is that compared to the flagging third-party support and struggles of its previous system, the Nintendo Switch has shown a Nintendo that’s willing to take a few more risks, even if it’s on the basis of “two steps forward, one step back.” While Nintendo is still operating in very “Nintendo” ways when it comes to the Switch and some of its baffling design decisions, the Switch has (I think) largely reinvigorated Nintendo in ways that we haven’t seen in quite some time: take it from someone that hasn’t owned a home console from Nintendo since the GameCube era.
That starts with the hard numbers, as the Nintendo Switch has reached over 4.7 million units shipped (as of June 30th, 2017) worldwide. Compared to the Wii U’s 3.61 million units reached at this point in its life cycle, the system is already tracking over a million units ahead of its predecessor and nearing where it was at a year into release (5.86 at December 31st, 2013). — a sign that’s definitely encouraging given the Wii U’s final tally of around 13.5 million worldwide sales.
The Switch hasn’t rivaled the numbers of the Wii just yet, as the Wii reached a colossal 9.27 million worldwide six months out from its release in November 2006, and ended its run with 101.63 million units shipped. The fact is, the Switch likely will never reach the heights of the Wii for quite some time (if at all), mainly due to Nintendo’s continued trouble in providing more supply to meet the system’s high demand, which has been a constant factor throughout the year. Consumer demand for the system has been rabid, yet Nintendo has only provided Switch supply to retailers in drips and drabs that (hopefully) will be more streamlined in time for the upcoming holiday season.
While the Switch isn’t quite reaching the extraordinary heights of the Wii in terms of system sales/shipment numbers, on the software end the Switch is already showing signs of improvement when it comes to delivering a more consistent stream of games. Certainly a good amount of the Switch’s initial success can be traced to the remarkable praise and success of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That title alone lead to (virtually) a 1:1 attach rate with Switch purchases, with sales of the game even outselling those of the system itself during its early few weeks, and deservedly so, as the game’s critical reception proved (which we scored in our review as an incredibly rare 10.0).
To date, four of Nintendo’s own titles on the system have crossed the one million sales marker worldwide since release: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (3.92 million), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (3.54 million), 1-2-Switch (1.22 million), and ARMS (1.18 million). While more specific sales data for the system’s array of digital-only/eShop titles hasn’t quite been made available yet, many of the system’s smaller titles like Snipperclips and indie hits like Minecraft have regularly found themselves towards the top of the system’s best-selling charts on the eShop.
That’s in addition to the nearly week-to-week new indie titles that have proliferated on the eShop, and the (roughly) one or two big exclusive titles that have come from Nintendo every month. After Breath of the Wild debuted in March, Switch owners haven’t been left without big exclusive titles throughout the year with the subsequent releases of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, Splatoon 2, and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle help to ensure that the Switch doesn’t suffer the drought of new releases that plagued the Wii U, with indie games and smaller releases helping to fill in the gaps.
Stepping away from the sales numbers and looking at the bigger picture though, it’s easy to see that the Nintendo Switch is a system that has won over a lot of hearts and minds. While the system is far from capable of competing on a technical level against its competitors, the PS4 and Xbox One, the Switch shows Nintendo’s willingness to be okay as “everyone’s second console.” As Lou pointed out in our review, the system’s lack of technical prowess will make it highly unlikely that we’ll ever see the next Call of Duty, Assassin’s Creed, or other big AAA titles on the system any time soon, if ever. As a companion system though to your console or PC of choice, the Switch provides an excellent outlet for yes, Nintendo games, but also a variety of indie titles that have the advantage of portability over their console ports, like the recent release of Sonic Mania or the upcoming Switch version of Stardew Valley.
By and large, the system’s initial promise of being the “console that goes with you” has been fulfilled. In lieu of bringing larger-than-life cinematic experiences to the screen like we see on consoles and PC, I find that the Switch’s greatest, most fulfilling accomplishment is “convenience” in the six months since owning a Switch.
As a New Yorker with a full-time job and ever-decreasing amounts of free time, the Switch has managed to fit into my life in ways that continue to surprise me, and allows me to add time to play games where I simply don’t have the ability to sit in front of my consoles or PC like I used to, whether it’s been quick Mario Kart matches on the subway or long journeys with Zelda on the train or bus on weekends.
The same can be said for the system’s incredibly “social” nature and emphasis on local gameplay experiences, which grows all the rarer in the age of online multiplayer experiences. We all laughed and poked fun at the initial Nintendo Switch reveal trailer (let us never forget “Anti-Social Karen”); for better or worse, it indulged a bit too much in trying to pitch the system to Millennials that would bust out the system at hip rooftop parties. But funny enough, as time went on, I’ve certainly seen my share of that initial trailer come to life in more ways than one, and not in an ironic way at all. I played Mario Kart 8 Deluxe at a friend’s barbecue only a few months ago, and from time-to-time have indulged in a few games at bars with friends while hanging out: all of which have been a blast.
To me, these moments have captured the intangible qualities of the Switch and why it has been such as appealing system over the past few months — because it invites fun. It invites people to gather together and play in ways that I haven’t had in quite some time. I played my share of Destiny on PS4 with friends over dozens of hours, and this year alone I’ve clocked somewhere around 75 hours in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and eaten up (most) of the free time I’ve had through that. But compared to those more isolated, solitary experiences, the Switch (by its nature) has allowed me to carry it around and game as I go, and not only share that experience with others, but make it easy to do so. In a time where I’m gradually being caught up in the throws of adulthood and having less time to play games, the Switch has been the perfect answer to taking those experiences on the go and sharing them with others.
Looking past the first six months of the Switch, owners of the system still have plenty to look forward to for the rest of the year. Just last week, Nintendo unveiled a slew of indie games coming to the system through 2018, including the long-awaited third installment of the No Mores Heroes series, Travis Strikes Again. The other titles also thrown into the indie mix include Super Meat Boy Forever, the final expansion installment for Shovel Knight, the cult indie hit Kentucky Route Zero, and the impending arrival of last year’s breakout Stardew Valley that’s expected for the system later this year.
Of course, Nintendo’s own lineup of games heading into the next year (and beyond) is looking promising as well. Later this month, fighting game fans will be able to duke it out in Pokken Tournament DX, while the system’s next marquee title, Super Mario Odyssey, will arrive in late October. The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim will also make its debut on the system later this year, and while an exact release date hasn’t been revealed just yet, it seems pretty assured for a fall launch to prime it as one of the system’s holiday sellers. The long-awaited Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is also anticipated to arrive sometime later this year or early next year, while earlier this year at E3, Nintendo lifted the lid on two titles that will be way down the line for the system, but still worth getting excited for: Metroid Prime 4 and the next generation of mainline Pokemon titles.
Outside of the hardware sales and software, there are still plenty of unknowns when it comes to the capabilities and infrastructure of the Switch itself, down the line. The system’s online service will officially be live sometime next year, along with its subscription service model. Current system owners have been able to enjoy the Switch’s online services for free for the time being, though next year’s introduction of the paid model will also bring the service slightly closer to PlayStation Network and Xbox Live’s offerings, including “ongoing access to a library of classic games with added online play” that will mostly pull from the NES catalog (and SNES games are currently TBD). While a few titles for this service have been confirmed, such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight, and Dr. Mario, the extent of what Nintendo will offer to subscribers remains to be seen, other than the benefit of the Switch’s online service being drastically cheaper than Sony and Microsoft’s services.
The Virtual Console capabilities of the system are still a mystery at this point, if Nintendo even plans to implement one. Given the fervor and demand that fans have had for retro games in the past year as a result of the NES Classic Edition (and the upcoming SNES Classic Edition), the argument could be made that Nintendo may shy away from the Virtual Console altogether in favor of the micro-console craze. I’m under the assumption that (eventually) Nintendo will provide a Virtual Console platform for the Switch, but the question of whether those that purchased Virtual Console games on the previous systems will have to repurchase games again still lingers: I don’t exactly have my hopes up for that type of system, given what we saw from the Wii to the Wii U.
Much like many others that were swept up in the hype, I was fully on board and excited for the Nintendo Switch and was able to get the system on day one. With the benefit of hindsight the Nintendo Switch, I feel, has managed to provide a strong six months since release that show some good signs for the system ahead. That isn’t to say that the Switch is a perfect system at all — for every quality title like Breath of the Wild or Splatoon 2 that I’ve played this year on the Switch, there have been several from my PS4 or PC that I’ve yearned for a “Switch version” that likely will never come to pass, whether due to licensing/exclusivity or the clear lack of technical power from the Switch to make it a reality. The Switch’s limited battery life also has problems for those extended flights across the country, and there are very few times when I’m using the system’s flimsy kickstand that I’m not terrified that it will just break off entirely.
However, in the six months since its release the Switch has arguably occupied more of my time than any of my other consoles this year (aside from playing on PC), and as far as I can tell, I don’t think that will slow down any time soon. While The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ate up most of my gaming time earlier this year, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, ARMS, and Splatoon 2 have been in fairly frequent rotation at the end of the day for several months. In a lot of ways, the Switch also has me reconsidering purchasing titles that I’d normally play at home on PC (such as Sonic Mania and the upcoming ports of Stardew Valley and Rime) to instead bring them with me on the go. While I skipped out on the Wii and the Wii U previously, the Nintendo Switch during its first six months has been a system I’ve loved to bring around with me as much as I’ve loved to play it. I can’t wait for what the next weeks, months, and (hopefully) years for the system have in store.