For a few years now, I have promoted and evangelized Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. To the point where I think even people at Nintendo are like, “hey, send this guy the Captain Toad review code first.”
I love the game. I love the character. It’s a great little puzzle game. It was one of those things that was released on the Wii U — which didn’t have a ton of great games, but this was a real standout in my opinion — and not a lot of people owned the Wii U. [Captain Toad] was something that was overlooked by a lot of people. It’s a fun little package. Now that it’s out on Nintendo Switch and Nintendo 3DS, people have no excuse not to go play Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.
In 2013, Nintendo released Super Mario 3D World, and excellent platformer for the Wii U. In that game, there were a handful of levels featuring Captain Toad. You gave up control of Mario, Peach, Luigi, etc., and you played as Captain Toad in these tiny little diorama-style levels where Toad would walk around with a headlamp and a heavy backpack.
He couldn’t run and jump. He could basically just walk around levels. He could fall down things. There were switches you could pull to raise him up on platforms. But each one was just this cute, clever little puzzle level that felt like Nintendo experimenting within the Mario Universe.
Mike and I share similar feelings about Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. The game itself is a charming, clever, puzzle game. But beyond that, it’s a wonderful expansion on a more realized Mushroom Kingdom. And it was great to see the character return in Super Mario Odyssey.
The question marks and judgement loomed with the 2016 announcement of Nintendo’s new console, the Switch. A console poised to bring the worlds of mobile and set-top gaming together. The dream. But could a company founded on family friendly, under-powered hardware make a dent against the HD twins (PS4 and Xbox One) and a world where seemingly everyone above age 12 carries around a mobile supercomputer?
Questions. Questions. Questions.
In 2017, Nintendo answered.
The Switch is a literal game changer and its portable/set-top hybrid gimmick is working.
Released world-wide on March 3, 2017, the Switch has sold 7.63 million units as of September 30, 2017, according to Nintendo’s six months financial results briefing for Fiscal Year Ending March 2018. To offer some context, Wii U shipped 3.61 million units in its first 7 months, PS4 sold 7.0 million in its first 5 months; 10 million in 10 months. Microsoft has kept much of the Xbox One’s numbers quiet, but the console sold 3.9 million units in the first 2 months, almost 10 million in 12 months. For the long-game, the PS2 sold 155 million units. The anomalous Wii had lifetime sales of 101.63 million. Xbox 360 sold 84 million units. PS3 sold 80 million.
In the same briefing, Nintendo revealed that over 50% of owners play in both portable and TV modes, 30% play exclusively portable mode, and the remaining 20% play exclusively TV mode.
Compromises notwithstanding, there also seems to be a growing yearning for all games to be brought to the Switch. I’ve unhooked my PS4 and Xbox One. I’ve moved my Switch dock to my nightstand. I’ve gone full handheld. Nintendo has successfully untethered the console gaming experience from the TV, and it’s difficult to go back. The divided worlds of handheld and set-top gaming have coalesced and it’s everything we’d ever dreamed it would be. Without a doubt, this is a future Nintendo has been envisioning since the wildly successful Game Boy.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Launched alongside the Switch in March, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild came out of the gates a scorcher.
To set the stage, the initial teaser for the Wii U (prior to the announcement of the Switch) gave a glimpse of an open-world Hyrule, an art style blending The Wind Waker’s cell-shaded cartoon aesthetic and The Twilight Princess’s realism, and an action-packed cinematic:
But it was still yet to be determined if Nintendo was truly offering the open-world 3D Zelda adventure fans had been dreaming of since the original?
Could Nintendo actually deliver an open-world game on par with the likes of Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto and Bethesda’s Skyrim? If so, how would it innovate? How could it innovative? Would Nintendo’s beloved IP be a fit for an experience of that magnitude? Could Nintendo deliver something of that size and scale?
Nintendo’s 2016 E3 trailer would set imaginations ablaze:
Nintendo seemed to be offering up answers to every question.
Lo and behold, they delivered one of the greatest, most innovative gaming experiences of all time. It not only checked every box and crossed off every worry, it set new standards for open-world games.
From the onset, the player is cast out into the world. There is little in the way of tutorials and much in the way of freedom. Players can roam anywhere and climb anything. The world is a sandbox that encourages invention by utilizing elemental chemistry. Damn near anything is possible. There is no standard way to play the game. Gating is thrown away in lieu of trusting the player to the creation of the designers. Both player and designer are treated with equal importance. In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, respect is a two-way street.
That’s not to say that I think the game is perfect. I have my gripes. I feel the music is lacking. Aesthetically, it is not a world I’m keen to revisit. The sword delicacy is maligned. Characters — NPCs and enemies — become repetitive. There is a lack of character present in previous Zelda entries — namely A Link Between Worlds. While this list seems like it would break a game, these faults are surprisingly easy to look past. The game is just that good.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the best selling Switch title to date, now exceeding 4.7 million units. During its launch month, Zelda sold at an unprecedented 100% attach rate for the Swtich. The game maintains a 97 Metacritic score and boasts a 170 hour “completionist” play time on HowLongToBeat.com.
Regardless of your standard of measuring a game, one thing can be said — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a special experience. Nintendo stripped one of their most beloved franchises down to its core and rebuilt it in a way that sets the standard for open-world games going forward.It is a triumph for a myriad of reasons; but most of all, like the Switch, it was reliving on a dream.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Wii U’s abysmal sales are no indication of the quality of games produced for the console. Arguably, it’s home to some of the greatest Nintendo titles ever — Mario Kart 8, New Super Mario Bros. U, Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Splatoon, Super Mario Maker, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. The Wii U’s hit to miss ratio is sure to be one of the lowest of any console, yet most potential players missed out on surefire classics. Thankfully, Nintendo bolstered the Switch’s launch year line-up with one of the best.
Mario Kart is a household favorite franchise, and Mario Kart 8 is the best of it’s form. Selling 4.42 million units, porting the greatest Mario Kart game to the Switch so early in its lifecycle was a brilliant move. It allowed Wii U owners to share the experience with the uninitiated and show off the Switch’s built in local multiplayer gimmick. Playing Mario Kart is like riding a bike. With the Switch’s ever-present multiplayer, players can crack off the Joy-Cons and immediately share and experience. Maybe even an office tournament:
On Mario Kart 8 Deluxe‘srelease day, I brought my Switch to work. It was the perfect venue to test the Switch’s out-of-the-box local multi-player experience. In fact, it was the first time I’d attempted any multi-player on the device in any of its various forms. As far as I know, I’m the only one in the office with a Switch. Gasps filled the room when I removed the Joy-Con from the display. I handed one over to a colleague, showed him around the tiny controller, and away we went.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe wasn’t much more than Mario Kart 8 + the DLC with a new Battle Mode. Whereit falls short is it’s insistence to unlock everything the original game had to offer. It’s certainly a great value to provide new players with everything there is to offer, but nothing is left for anyone to pursue. I’d have loved to re-race for the cups I’d previously unlocked for the Wii U version. It was truly surprising how demotivating it was to play one of my favorite games when everything had been achieved for me.
However, while I still believe retailing for $60 is a bit high for the title, it can’t be understated how great it is to have the highest-fidelity, local multiplayer ready, greatest Mario Kart game with you at all times.
In the vain of Wii U ports, Splatoon 2, the sequel to the Wii U’s Splatoon, sold nearly 75% of the original within 2 months (3.61 compared to 4.87 million units).
Splatoon takes the shooter genre and turns it into a kid-friendly paintball frenzy. Splatoon 2 added tot he experience by offering a single-player campaign. But the addictive core of the game is its short, territory-hording Turf Wars. Two teams do their best to ink as much of a stage’s territory in their color while warding off the opposing team. The bouts are short and weigh-in much like a Mario Kart race. It’s always anybody’s game. Players can feel just as important in supporting roles as they can on offense.
Splatoon 2 was the first game to support Nintendo’s Switch Online iOS and Android app. Though, much ire was drawn by the app’s poor online chat service. (Players are forced to route communications through their smartphone as opposed to the Switch.) I have not had an opportunity to use the app, so I will not comment.
In addition to a problematic smartphone app, my main gripes with Splatoon 2 are the inability to back out of lobbies while waiting for players as well as the near impossible task of playing with folks on your friends list. It’s infuriating.
However, the core game is still a delight and shows off the prowess of the Switch’s online multiplayer — at least once a match is underway. Splatoon 2’s stylistically original and serves as an inviting experience for all next to its gritty wartime counterparts.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
In August, Ubisoft delivered the first Mario experience on the Switch. Yes. Ubisoft. Not Nintendo. Ubisoft. Trusted with Nintendo’s icon and core franchise, Ubisoft delivered not only a charming title on par with other Mario entries, but a tight, satisfying, and unique strategy game to boot.
In the vain of XCOM, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle plays like cartoon chess. The player selects a team of three (Mario + two other characters, so long as one is a Rabbid) to battle a slew of Rabbid baddies in a series of turn-based bouts across 4 worlds. As players progress, weapons are upgraded and skills are gained. There are plenty of collectibles to keep completionists active. Difficulty spikes are educational rather than infuriating. And the Mushroom Kingdom is more gorgeous than ever.
VGChartz puts the game at 0.51 million units sold, which doesn’t seem like a huge disappointment, but for a game that I thoroughly enjoyed, I’d like to see it bump up a bit this holiday season. Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is an absolute delight.
Say nothing of big third-party titles like Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle, Skyrim, or Doom, the growing selection of top-notch indie — or “Nindie” — titles is nothing to scoff at.
One of the biggest concerns of Nintendo is their seeming inability to attract third-parties to their consoles since the SNES. The Switch is no different. It is the “second console”. But, boy has it attracted grade-A titles. The current #Nindie Hits roster looks a little something like this:
Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
Retro City Rampage DX
SteamWold Dig 2
While Nintendo has been quiet on first-party titles for 2018, the plethora of indies (and major third-parties) porting to the console provides Switch owners a stable of great games for months, nay, years to come.
Boy howdy, get the nostalgia intoxicated ready. On the heels of Nintendo’s wildly… successful(?) NES Classic came the SNES Classic. With a library of 21 classic — arguably essential — games, the SNES Classic was/is the hot item of 2017.
Launching on September 29, 2017, retail lines and online pre-orders were a mess. I’d imagined Nintendo had learned from the missteps of the NES Classic, but seemingly, no. Initially, it may have been easier to stumble across one, but it has again turned into a frenzy for the little throwback.
Whatever the issue, be it awful channel supply or manufacturing woes, the Classic series is another fortune in Nintendo’s pocket — if not monetarily, for the press coverage.
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario. The pinnacle of Nintendo’s franchises.
A new Mario title is something special. The best video game maker does not squander its resources on Mario. Nintendo uses Mario to define console generations, gameplay innovation, artistic direction, and design standards. Mario is as much an icon as he is a vision.
Super Mario Odyssey launched on October 27, 2017 — 7+ months into the Switch’s lifecycle. It is a reimagining of the Mario series, with a series of worlds outside of the Mushroom Kingdom in a play-style similar to arguably the most important Super Mario game of all time — Super Mario 64. (If that last sentence gives you pause, just wait until you beat the game.)
Like Zelda, I have my qualms with Super Mario Odyssey. The world design is too disjointed without a cohesive story. The move-set is over-the-top. The inability to distinguish what Cappy (Mario’s new hat-companion) can and can’t possess is frustrating. The music sides cinematic over thematic. The main storyline is… odd, if not gross. Overall, little outside of New Donk City is memorable.
My misgivings aside, numbers speak for themselves. Like Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey boasts a 97 Metacritic score. “Within three days of its release, the game had sold over two million copies worldwide.” (Wikipedia) Nintendo of Europe claimed that Super Mario “Odyssey is both the fastest-selling Mario game and Switch game ever in the region.”
Super Mario Odyssey is without a doubt a change of pace for the franchise. While I do wish the execution was a bit tighter, I am likely in the minority. Through and through, it is a quintessential Mario game. It is undoubtedly fun and innovative; charming and warm. It is the perfect nightcap to Nintendo’s fantastic year.
Game of the Year
From the launches of the Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in March, the announcement of a Nintendo theme park, frenzied and flawed retailing of the SNES Classic in September, to the heralded Super Mario Odyssey in October and stable 3DS sales throughout, 2017 was Nintendo’s year.
Nintendo has established that great gaming experiences should not be limited to TVs. It’s hard to imagine the Switch wasn’t always the company’s vision. The Game Boy sold 118.69 million units. The DS: 154.02 million. The 3DS: 68.98 million and remaining stable. The Wii U, while a flop, put the writing on the wall. Porting gameplay to the GamePad was a now obvious sneak peek at the future we’d all been dreaming of.
The company is projecting nearly double operating profit from the previous fiscal year, forecasting 960 billion yen ($8.6 billion), up from 489 billion ($4.39 billion). While it seems obvious that the 3DS line will eventually spin down, they’ve just released the new 2DS XL line as well as decent stream of games. Meanwhile, the Switch is just getting started on what appears to be a very bright future.
Shortly after this piece was published Brendon Bigley, formerly of Anchor.fm, interviewed me to discuss the state of Nintendo. The interview was later added to the Ported Podcast feed.
This review covers the core game, which — arguably — may not be considered the “core” game.
Everyone loves a Mario game. Polish, charm, fun. Mario games are a barometer of execution for each of Nintendo’s console generations. Where they don’t push boundaries of graphical fidelity or online community, they shape design language, innovation, and soul within the confines of a familiar world.
For the Switch, the promise of a high-fidelity, 3D, sandbox Mario game akin to Super Mario 64 has whetted the appetite for many a fan since its reveal in January 2017. It’s big. It’s beautiful. It’s Mario. It’s everywhere.
But is it familiar?
I had the opportunity to preview Super Mario Odyssey at E3 — an excerpt from my E3 experience below:
Odyssey feels like the perfect amalgam of all 3D Mario adventures: The playground of Super Mario 64‘s introductory courtyard, Super Mario Sunshine‘s NPCs, Super Mario Galaxy‘s inventiveness, and Super Mario 3D World‘s fidelity. Above all, there is a “weird” factor that has been generating buzz. The various worlds Mario can travel to feature a variety of art styles: the playable New Donk City feels like a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater / Sims hybrid while the Sand Kingdom felt like a traditional 3D Mario world with a new classic 2D side-scrolling mechanic added to the mix. (Think The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.) The game played as great as you can imagine, but the real allure is looking forward to the variety and trying to figure out just what the hell is going on!
It’s this last (emphasized) phrase that I’m struggling with. At E3, I thought I was playing a sample of the complete game. I was sure there was something in the game that would tie the experience and aesthetic of the kingdoms together. Unfortunately, the worlds feel as disconnected as my preview experience.
Even for a franchise about an (ex-)plumber in a fantasy land inhabited by mushrooms and turtles, the story is bonkers. A captured Princess Peach is being forcibly wed to Bowser. Bowser is on a quest to find wedding hallmarks (a ring, a cake, etc.) while his wedding-planning henchmen, the Broodals, stave off Mario. The player is thrown into this storyline via an opening cinematic: Mario plunges to his doom from Bowser’s airship, his iconic hat shredded to bits in the blades of the airship’s motor. Wake to find Mario in a strange, noir themed world and introduced to his new sidekick Cappy. Then, the player is off on an adventure to stop Bowser.
From the start, something feels off. It’s disorienting not to kick off in Mushroom Kingdom, solely as a frame of reference. As Mario progresses from kingdom to kingdom, it’s not clear how these aesthetically diverse worlds fit into the once familiar Mario universe. While that’s likely the point, they never quite feel like “Mario”.
To progress from world to world, the player is expected to collect a certain number of Power Moons to power Mario’s airship. While there is a clear target of power moons to collect, it’s never clear if the player should collect as many as possible now or if there will be an opportunity to collect later.
I’m not a completionist. If anything, I’ll blaze through a game as quickly as I can to relate to the zeitgeist. The idea that Super Mario Odyssey rests on the principle of collection is — dare I say — infuriating. Sure, collection is a core tenant of Super Mario 64. However, its hook comes from a limited but achievable set of 120 Power Stars as rewards for solving puzzles and riddles within the game’s 15 stages. However, Super Mario Odyssey falls “short” due to abundance — 999 Power Moons spread across a like 15 stages.
It quickly becomes apparent that collecting is the name of this game. Beyond power moons, there are outfits and airship decor to purchase with two types of coin — gold coins as generic, globally accepted currency; purple coins as world specific currency. Purchasable items match the flavor of coin. Outfits purchasable with gold coins are easier to obtain and can be purchased anywhere in the game, while those only purchasable with purple coins require the player to search each world high and low for every specialty coin. Outfits and decorations provide no value outside of aesthetic, but the idea of collecting them sinks its hooks in nonetheless. As for the airship decor, I was not clear what it was initially. In fact, I hadn’t purchased my first one until New Donk City.
Ah, New Donk City — Mario’s foray into a world populated by actual humans(?) It’s as wild as it sounds, but somehow, it is the most comfortable of the kingdoms the player visits. As mentioned above, the Tony Hawk / Sims vibe makes this concrete jungle surprisingly welcoming. So much so that I found myself trying to complete every little task in the world before moving on — something I hadn’t tried in worlds previous and quickly dropped afterward.
It wasn’t until New Donk City — 8 kingdoms in — that I felt like I understood the game on an objective level. While it’s difficult to put my finger on what felt different, I understood objectively what needed to be done, how to do it, and what to look for. New Donk City feels as welcoming as Super Mario 64‘s courtyard. It provides the opportunity, aesthetic, and space to mess around; to get comfortable. I can’t help but feel New Donk City should have been the first full world in which Mario travels. By wholehearted breaking the art style of Mario games past, it communicates that Mario isn’t in Kansas any more — things are going to get weird. But, it’s a safe space. The platforming opportunities abound go a long way to bridge Mario games of yore into Odyssey and get the player comfortable with the mechanics and core controls. It is the prize of Super Mario Odyssey.
Until New Donk City, I felt like I was tip-toeing throughout the game, afraid to miss something important. Something wasn’t clicking, which is a sour experience for a Mario game. At it’s core, Super Mario Odyssey is awful about communication. It does not communicate what’s necessary, what’s optional, and of the optional, what is what.
After a week away from the game, New Donk City is what I keep coming back to. I only wish New Donk City was larger. It’s a wonderful playground and an iconic area players will remember. My only hope is that Super Mario Odyssey — like Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker — is an expansion of what we know of the Mushroom Kingdom, or at least the universe in which it inhabits. I hope this is a taste of what’s to come for the Mario franchise — the characters and worlds introduced — or else what’s the point?
While playing, I strayed away from many reviews and opinions. Afterward, I needed validation that I wasn’t crazy — that Super Mario Odyssey is very, very good, but not great. That something was off. I found solace from Justin McElroy on Polygon’s Quality Control podcast:
It is hard to find — these days — a game where “progression” is not a large aspect of it. At least in the games that I find myself playing a lot. Almost every game has some sort of in-built role-playing system where you’re getting better, you’re getting more powerful, you’re collecting more items, you’re collecting more Pokémon — you’re building a stable of those — you know. There’s a sense of progression.
For me, I weirdly felt myself not incentivized to play more Mario. Like, I enjoy my time with it, but I don’t find myself… hooked. And I think it is because of that — because you can hunt down a bunch of moons in an individual level. But in the end, I don’t feel stronger or that I’ve accomplished more, necessarily.
Super Mario Odyssey is beautiful, charming, and expertly crafted — possibly the most polished and well designed game I’ve ever played. But the desire to jump back in never took hold. Beyond New Donk City, I wasn’t particularly enchanted by any of the other worlds and found myself rushing through the game. That said, mid-way through, I’d begun hearing whispers of something amazing waiting at the end of the game.
Truth be told, the end delivered. All of the charm and soul I had been waiting for came to a head. A smile spread across my face — the same smile I imbued upon booting up this new Mario adventure for the first time. I only wish that smile had maintained throughout my experience with Super Mario Odyssey.
A traditional game is a challenge in which a player’s skill comes up again a rigid set of rules. Turn-based strategy, multiplayer death match, platformers—these are traditional. The modern, high-end, blockbuster AAA game is not a skill challenge. If it were, the player might fail and be disappointed, and then we wouldn’t sell as many copies. The rules are fluid. We change them to create tension, surprise, or excitement. Saying yes to the player only goes so far, and that distance is the exact length required to make you feel in control.
Last week, a colleague of mine asked how far I was into Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I told him that I was in the middle of the fourth (and possibly last) stage — Lava Pit. (For what it’s worth, I had recommended the game to him.) I also told him that playing Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the most fun I’d had with a video game in a long time. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was great, but the aesthetic doesn’t draw me back. Likewise, Splatoon 2 is lots of fun, but only in casual, Mario Kart-style doses. Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battlle has me not only progressing through the main campaign, but backtracking to achieve better, cleaner results in previous battles and optional challenges.
Right now, it seems the “traditional” game is where I find fulfillment. When life feels like a maze, solving simple, zero-stakes problems — in a world you adore — is unbelievably gratifying.
If platformers fit into this bucket, then boy, oh boy am I looking forward to Super Mario Odyssey.
The game’s zones are numbered similarly to Super Mario Bros.’ in that there are worlds sectioned by levels—1-1, 1-2, and so on. Each area has its own Pixar-esque landscape, all themed in the most video-gamey way possible. Fire and ice world! Lava world! Obligatory starting-area-basic-forest world! It all seems crafted from clay. I don’t think I saw a sharp edge throughout my adventures; that cartoon aesthetic, combined with the top-down camera, made me feel like a kid mashing together dolls from different sets.
You can poke and prod some stuff around the overworld—there are some light environmental puzzles, and coins to collect—but just looking around is a joy. The haunted world, for example, is dotted with Boos, pipes stuffed with candles, and turbulent waters squeaking with rubber duckies. You move through these worlds controlling a party of three characters. I would run through everything and watch in awe as Mario stuck his arms out at top speed, Rabbids trailing behind him maniacally. The characters’ animations oozed so much personality that, dozens of hours in, I still stopped to appreciate them.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is the game I’m most looking forward to. It’s gorgeous and surprisingly deep. I can’t recall ever seeing the Mushroom Kingdom in such detail.
I waited two hours to play 16 minutes of Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle at E3. Madness. But as crazy it was, the immaculate detail of the game’s Mushroom Kingdom saved me from feeling it was a complete waste of time. Simply stunning.
Ben Silverman: I think the problem wasn’t that there were fans there, I just think that no one was prepared for this. The management of the [Los Angeles Convention Center] didn’t route people in ways that made sense. It was just like everyone go and charge through these gigantic halls. The booths weren’t set up to handle that crush of fans.
On the first night — Tuesday night — Nintendo furiously reorganized their booth so that Wednesday and Thursday it would make more sense.
Jeff Cannata: And kudos to them because they did a great job. Tuesday it was literally just a sea of people at the Nintendo booth. It was unmanageable, completely. And kudos to them for staying up late that night and figuring it out. They had structure that really worked for the rest of the show. I mean, it was a six hour line — I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy — but it still at least allowed movement through their booth.
My friend and I took note of Nintendo’s queue management restructure on Wednesday as well. It was very cool to see. However, the lines for Super Mario Odyssey remained completely insane, but at least there were lines.
I mentioned that my friend and I lucked out in playing Super Mario Odyssey. Wednesday morning, after being let into the LACC, we beelined it for Super Mario Odyssey, but were discouraged to find that the line was already three hours long. A Nintendo booth actor/temp — dressed in a New Donk City themed suit and fedora no less — whispered “a secret” that the attendees sitting on a bench behind us with Switches in handheld mode were actually partaking in the demo. To a passerby, they looked like attendees playing on their own consoles. We were none the wiser until the fedora-clad “Donkian” gave us the coat full of contraband treatment. (I don’t think he was in character, but it fit the bill.) We immediately formed a line next to the bench, sparking another lengthy queue.
In all fairness, the actor/temp should have informed those waiting in the longer line that the Switches on the bench were demo units as well, long before my friend and I arrived. On the flip side, the lengthy Super Mario Odyssey line was a for a docked Switch with headphones — the full console experience. The bench Switches were portable mode only and did not feature audio, one of my favorite elements of Mario games.
On Friday, January 13 at 1 PM Japan Standard Time, Nintendo unveiled new details about their Switch “home” console. While hard tech specs didn’t make an appearance — I thought for sure Nvidia would have been showcased — deeper insight to the Joy-Con, play styles, and 2017 library were provided. Above all, what the keynote will be remembered for is an awkward Squid Researcher.
Nintendo Switch will launch in “Japan, US, Canada, major European countries, Hong Kong, and other territories” on March 3rd. It will retail in Japan for ¥29,980, the US for $299.99, and varying prices in the European territories.Software will not be region locked, which is an incredibly big move for Nintendo.
Pre-orders for the Switch went up after the event and appear too have quickly depleted.
As a whole, the presentation felt backwards and tonally awkward. Without building any hype, Nintendo opened with launch dates and pricing. The Joy-Con demonstration as well as the trailers for first-party titles 1-2-Switch and Arms felt long-in-the-tooth. At least two of the presenters garnered “WTF” moments that also seemed to throw off one of the translators. And then there was Hisashi Nogami’s Splatoon 2 appearance as a “Squid Researcher”.
Nintendo makes cute games and they’ve done cute things during presentations, but they’ve never struck me as outlandishly awkward. The Splatoon 2 portion sapped the presentation of its professionalism, which feels odd to say as it’s a game about squid children shooting paint at one another. At it’s core, Switch is a toy. But it’s audience doesn’t treat it that way. Nintendo is a global company. It has been since the Wii, and certainly before that to its core, 30-somethings audience.
Even for the crazy toymaker, there has been something professional about their presentations, marketing, and — since the Wii — industrial design. The latter of which is present in the Switch. The system’s design is as plain as ever and comes in stark contrast to a squirt-gun wielding executive taking the stage.
Note the quotes around “home” in my intro. Early in the presentation, Nintendo stated that the Switch is a “home” console:
7:45: “Nintendo Switch is a video game system for the home.”
8:14: “Nintendo Switch has been designed to be a home console gaming system that gives you the freedom to change your play style.”
Within 30 seconds, Nintendo hammered on the idea that Switch is built for the home. It felted pointed and explicit. It’s an important point. The Switch is intended to be the dream: a home console you can take with you.
Modes of play include:
TV Mode: “Typical video game style.”
Tabletop Mode: “Play video games in front of a screen with others, wherever you like, even away from the TV.”
Handheld Mode: “Take it with you and play indoors, outdoors, or anywhere you like.”
On the point of battery life, Nintendo claims that the Switch will have two-and-a-half to six hours of battery life when in a portable mode. Nintendo.com gives the example “The Legend of Zelda™: Breath of the Wild can be played for roughly three hours on a single charge.” After October’s initial announcement and industry chatter after, I crossed my fingers that the Switch’s portable play would average three hours. At it’s minimum, two-and-a-half hours is a sweet spot. It may not get you through a flight from San Francisco to New York, but it shouldn’t need to. Studies show that 3 or more hours of gaming can being to have negative psychosocial effects.
The Switch will also offer 8-person local multiplayer in portable mode. Depending on adoption, this could be a killer feature. The capability alone screams that Nintendo is gunning for a new generation of portable gaming.
Last but not least, it was great to see Nintendo adopting USB-C. Color me shocked that Nintendo, the company that passed up HDMI on the 2006 Wii and was still using resistive touchscreens on the 2011 3DS and 2012 Wii U, would ship a device with the latest standard in USB technology.1
These are impressive little gizmos with a funny name. From what I could count, they include:
7 gameplay inputs (buttons) on each controller
NFC (shown on right, but presumably both)
Home button (right)
Camera button (left)
Accelerometer and gyro sensors
“-” (left) and “+” (right) buttons
Motion IR camera (right only)
The HD Rumble demonstration claimed that the sensation of a glass with one, two, or three ice cubes rattling as well as the glass filling up with water could be felt in a single Joy-Con. The best I could figure was that HD rumble include three independent rumble motors, allowing for altered effects.
It’s worth noting that when the Joy-Con are separated from the Switch itself, the right Joy-Con features a joystick in its center. I can’t imagine this feels great. I guess I’ll leave it up to a company that shipped a controller with an analog joystick in its center to make that call.
We’ve known about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since 2013. And the October 2016 announcement of Nintendo Switch teased a new 3D Mario game. Two staples we, without a doubt, knew we were getting. Even Skyrim was a fairly sure certainty for the platform.
The equivalent of Wii Sports for Wii and and Nintendo Land for Wii U, 1-2-Switch is Switch’s tutorial game. It looks extremely awkward, but I’ll blame that on the all to lengthy Mexican standoff demonstration. For better or worse, it was a solid reminder that Nintendo is a toy company.
Interestingly, Nintendo introduced a first-party fighter. But not just any fighter. In true Nintendo fashion, Arms is also a shooter of sorts. A fighter-shooter hybrid labeled as a “Fighting sports game.” It looks like it might even be fun without motion controls. Like other Nintendo franchises before it, it appears to feature a cast of (possibly) memorable characters such as Spring Man and Ribbon Girl. Will Arms be the next Wii boxing or Splatoon? What do you think of the name?
While Wii Remotes (how did they not go with “Wiimotes”?!) were available for Wii U, Switch seems like a much more natural fit for Splatoon. As far as motion control shooters go, I loved the feel of Metroid Prime 3 on Wii. It’s also nice to see Nintendo doubling-down on this new franchise.
Mario is out of the Mushroom Kingdom, and seeming into the real-world. At least for some portion of the game. Super Mario Odyssey is meant to evoke “the excitement when visiting unknown countries for the very first time.” The visuals look incredible, relying heavily on shadows and environmental physics. This is in contrast to another visually impressive Mario game — Super Mario Galaxy, which used an opposite lighting effect on Mario, providing a white shine around his model. While the visuals and openness of Super Mario Odyssey look sunning, there is something discomforting about seeing the cartoonish Mario next to Sim-ish humanoids. I’m most looking forward to this game.
I’ve always wanted to dive into the Xenoblade series, and this might be the title that does it. The art design is imaginative and the scale looks impressive. The blue armor and prominence of a helmet on one of the characters kept screaming “Mega Man” and had me scraping credits in search of any possible crossover. The one thing I couldn’t shake from this trailer was the scene of a character riding a lion-like creature. The frame-rate seemed very low and jittery. A similar jarring moment occurred during the Xenoblade Chronicles trailer in the Nintendo Direct 1.14.2015. (See my note mid-way down the page.)
Boy, oh boy, does this game look great! Next-level Paper Mario meets Retro Final Fantasy? It’s titles like this that make me excited for the portability of the Switch. Something about retro stylings screams “personal” and “portable” to me.
I’ve been itching for a portable version of Skyrim since I tried playing on Xbox 360. Skyrim is a game to get lost in; to spend hours with. But to spend hours taking over the TV in our house would be unconscionable. Needless to say, I never got more than three hours into this game on Xbox 360. I’m very much looking forward finally working through this game on my own portable screen.
There was a brief clip of a Street Fighter game during the final Switch video. Like others, I immediately thought we’d seen a glimpse of the Virtual Console on Switch. Alas, it appears to be a standalone version of Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers.
I don’t have much to say about Super Bomberman R. I was never a huge fan of the Bomberman series. I do recall playing a ton of Blaster Master Jr. on Game Boy. I mainly wanted call out my nostalgia and affection for Bomberman 64.
Breath of the Wild is a Switch launch title. Nintendo presented this as huge news, but it comes off more as a confirmation to quell fan fears. Beyond that, not too many additional details were given. The new, extended trailer showed off the breadth of the open Hyrule as well as new and familiar characters. And while cartoony, the tone of the narrative seemed fairly adult.
At the very beginning of the keynote, Shinya Takahashi gave a quick run-through of Nintendo’s past consoles. It had a nice Apple-y touch, focusing on the innovation and lessons of the past to brought Nintendo to the Switch:
Famicom (NES): Shipped with two controllers
Game Boy: Pioneered portable video games as we know them today
Super Famicom (SNES): Added X & Y and L & R shoulder buttons
Nintendo 64: Introduced the first analog joystick and rumble (Rumble Pak) to a controller
GameCube: Included a handle with the intention to be a home console could move from location to location
Nintendo DS: Touchscreen portable gaming
Wii: Brought motion controls to the mass market
Wii U: Enabled console gaming off the TV
Without question, Switch is another unique and possibly industry changing device. Like Apple, Nintendo often skates to where the puck is headed, defining industry trends. And without question, the biggest dream of all is being able to take your home console on the go.
1I am so thrilled that USB-C seems to be taking off like it is. Within months of Apple going whole hog on their MacBook and MacBook Pro lines, I’ve purchased a Drobo 5C and ROLI Lightpad Block that are also equipped with USB-C. Now I’ll be able to add Nintendo Switch to the mix.
Perhaps most notably, this was the last console on which Nintendo could rehash its older characters and series without fielding non-stop complaints about “sequelitis.” The console’s best first-party games were mostly sequels—Super Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Mario Kart 64, Star Fox 64, F-Zero X, even Wave Race 64 and Excitebike 64—and yet all of them felt incredibly new thanks to their steps up to fully 3D engines. Nintendo had been a purely 2D game-making company for nearly a decade, yet it somehow pulled off the transition to 3D gaming in pretty much every way that Sega flubbed its own total overhaul.
If the doomsayers are correct and Nintendo’s failure is eminent, redesigns are going to be required to prevent it. So far, the majority of first-party titles on Wii U are iterative: Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Super Mario 3D World, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze. While not every redesign has worked in Nintendo’s favor (I’m looking at you, Star Fox Adventures…), they are at the very least refreshing. This is another reason why I think Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is genius; while it’s not a new take on a old classic (because there is no old classic!), it’s a new perspective from the Mushroom Kingdom. Until then, it’s back to smashing and karting.
Pokémon Go was the most recent example of a redesigned rather than iterative experience. Real-world Pokémon is an experience many fans have yearned for since the days of Red and Blue (or Green). Nintendo’s decision to make Niantic, Inc.’s Ingress a venue for real-world Pokémon was not only brilliant, but for a company that’s built their namesake on changing our perspectives, hidden-in-plain-sight.
With surprise experiences like Pokémon Go and Nintendo’s further foray into the new terrian of smartphone hardware, we are sure to see at least a handful of redesigned experiences on mobile. With the NX, my hopes are not so high. But if anyone can reimagine the console experience, it’s Nintendo.
I’ve been playing a lot more Mario Kart 8 lately and recently played through Moo Moo Meadows. My wife loves this course. It is simple and old, recently made beautiful. Maybe it’s the lighting, but I get a similar vibe from Moo Moo Meadows as I do Wild Woods. Call me crazy, but I’m doubling down on the direction of the next 3D Mario.