The Switch operates on WiFi. Nintendo didn’t announce cellular connectivity — so no promises of multiplayer on the subway yet. If online, users can play together in the same room, or in online multiplayer matches — but online services will not be free. Nintendo will provide a free trial of its online services until the fall of 2017.
Also, there was no mention of multimedia services, such as Netflix or Hulu, coming to the Switch, so this may really be a gaming-focused tablet. We shall see.
Those are the basics. But I’ve also compiled a list of things that I found most intriguing about the Switch right off the bat.
It steals the best features from past consoles. Nintendo has a reputation for picking over its own bones, but it has smartly stolen from itself in this case. Ahead of the announcement, there was a lot of speculation over whether the new console would have motion gaming like Nintendo’s Wii. It does, as well as a souped-up version of haptic feedback (a.k.a., the buzzing in a controller or “rumble pack”), which gives you a sense of speed, distance and force as you move your hands. Nintendo has also retained the touch screen from its failed Wii U, which was one of that console’s best features.
It wants you to play in big groups. The whole idea of the Switch is that it’s portable, and there’s definitely a push from Nintendo to take it with you to parties for after-dinner (or after-drinks) play, as you might a board game or a deck of cards. When the Wii came out, playing with it became a common activity for family and friends hanging out together. Nintendo seems to want to capture that same energy of same-room multiplayer — something I think the gaming world has been slowly losing with an increased focus on online multiplayer.
Players can join up to eight Switch consoles together on a local network, meaning that Nintendo is definitely encouraging big groups to play together. There are some caveats: extra controllers are a whopping $80 per pair or $50 individually, which is quite steep. And maybe you can’t do gaming picnics in the park since the Switch requires WiFi connection.
The group-gaming aspect seems to solidify that Nintendo’s competitors in this space are not only Sony and Microsoft but also Apple and Google, which have been trying to make group gaming with smartphones a thing through their television accessories. That leaves Nintendo sort of straddling two worlds. If it follows through on the Switch’s promise and applies its gaming chops, it could win both markets.
But Nintendo doesn’t want you look at it all the time. There was a lot of talk during the presentation about being able to look into the eyes of your opponents, rather than solely at the screen. The two games that Nintendo highlighted while introducing the controllers are both multiplayer games that are meant to be played in a room with another opponent, facing that opponent. The “1-2-Switch” title, which was made just for this console, has you playing Ping-Pong and facing off in gun battles, for instance.
That could sound like a small thing, but it's essentially the opposite of what we’re seeing happen in almost every other type of gaming. Virtual reality almost always isolates you from anyone else in the room with you. Ditto for games that don’t allow a split-screen, local multiplayer experience. But Nintendo’s trying to put the social back in gaming — and not just through tweets and posts.
It seems to be aimed at adults, not kids. Games just aren’t a kids’ thing anymore — at least not solely. The average gamer in the U.S. is 35 years old and has been playing for 13 years. Judging from Nintendo’s promotional images and even the types of games on offer, this is not really a kiddie console — they’re going after young professionals.
Of course, it is very early in the Switch’s life as a product; we may see tons of kids games announced later today as Nintendo offers media the chance to play with it. But in the presentation, there was a definite focus on games that appeal to older players. “Skyrim” was one of the big rumored launch titles — now confirmed — and it’s rated “M” for Mature.
That’s not to suggest Nintendo could be abandoning its family-friendly image — there were far too many cartoon characters on show for that — but it is a subtle shift in messaging that could help it shake the image of being a company that’s not appealing to “hardcore” gamers.
Nintendo is making an effort to show it’s learned from its mistakes. In addition to the slightly older messaging, Nintendo also spent a good chunk of its presentation talking about third-party developers and partnerships — that’s a shift from past generations and an apparently sincere attempt to answer criticism that Nintendo relies too heavily on its own games and characters for its appeal.
Nintendo said it’s working with third-party developers on 80 games. And those names don’t only include the usual, largely Japanese, firms such as Square Enix.
Electronic Arts made an appearance on the presentation stage saying a Switch version of “FIFA,” its most popular game, is on its way. “Skyrim” is made by Maryland’s own Bethesda Softworks. Both companies in the past often developed games first for the PlayStation, Xbox and PC markets rather than Nintendo. That sort of attitude from big publishers essentially pushed gamers to look at the Wii U as a second console rather than primary one. If Nintendo can keep up its partnerships and follow through, that would be good for its players and the company.