Ah, Nintendo. One of the oldest videogame companies in the world. Most are unaware that their roots originate in the card game business. Nintendo’s history spans over a millennia of cards games and “love hotels.” So how does a multi-billion dollar company go from “producing” (or aiding thereof) babies to producing some of the most successful videogame franchises of all time?
I’m afraid I can’t answer that question with a straight answer, but I do know that Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Kirby, Metroid, as well as the fact that Nintendo was quite influential for rebounding popularity after the industry crash of ’85. Fast-forward to 2017, and they’re still going strong. In spite of a rocky start to the eighth videogame generation, the company released their (tiny) juggernaut, the Nintendo Switch, earlier this year to overwhelming commercial success. Most pundits place them at the number one spot in hardware and software sales, and Nintendo has corroborated their claims already.
Last week, I covered how Nintendo led sales in September, and how they have been leading since the Switch was released back in March. How could they not lead when their new console-handheld hybrid was released with extremely high expectations? Moreover, Nintendo had an ace up their sleeve that they excellently played alongside its new product. That “wild” card literally was The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – one of the highest rated games of all time, and arguably the best Zelda game ever – we awarded it a perfect score, and truthfully, it deserves no less.
But Breath of the Wild is not the subject of this piece. Neither are Nintendo’s achievements (as much as I would like to focus on them). The subject of scrutiny is what’s in store for the company in the coming months or years, and the uncertainty following certain decisions that have or haven’t been made by Nintendo. One of the latter is the Switch’s poor – or for a better phrase, “lack of” – online functionality. Nintendo has announced the company’s commitment for a better online service following the terrible reception on their previous consoles’ online functionality. There is no argument to be had if we were to closely inspect the piteous effort on Nintendo’s part for the Wii and Wii U’s lack of essential online amenities (i.e. no “party” support), no chat (or terrible use of it on the Wii U), no online matchmaking for most games (or poor support of it on Super Smash Bros Brawl and Wii U), no friend invites (and the nagging persistence of the “friend-code” system)…the list goes on and on.
In light of all this, the videogame giant had already set a fortuitous date for their [now] highly anticipated – and subscription based – online service that was scheduled for launch later this year. Switch owners will now have to wait until further notice, as Nintendo has delayed the online service until sometime in 2018. The service has been verified to cost around $19.99 per year, and will offer goods and services available from their competitors: game downloads, online gaming and matchmaking, and more. There is currently a trial for this service being offered now. This online service is meant to turn things around for Nintendo and its audience. Will fans finally get to pit Link and Cloud in a smooth online match with no lag in the forthcoming Smash Bros port? Will these same fans finally get the chance to hurl expletives at the top of their lungs to one another over chat service? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are a gigantic question mark as of this date.
Nintendo seems to be reliving history with the Switch. The new console-handheld supports some of these features, but in such a retroactive manner that you wish you could summon Unella from Game of Thrones with her trusty bell to do some shaming. The veteran company should bow its head at their consumer base, but they’re too busy counting their yens to care. Why am I so salty? Simple: the online service offers no proper two-way communication between players online, no proper headset chat, and no proper matchmaking services (yes, you literally can invite your friends to play Splatoon 2 through the Switch’s online app, but there are other steps required). Although, as of the latest update, people have “discovered” that the Switch supports even GameCube controllers. You can view a video for this down below.
WHOA! GameCube Adapter Works on Nintendo Switch! – We Show it Off!
The fact that Nintendo omitted this last (of two) features from the patch notes spells uncertainty for the company and alienates their consumer base. Why hide the fact that you can use your old GameCube controller on your Switch? This solidifies the Smash Bros rumors that have been swirling in the web. Moreover, Nintendo hasn’t released a functional update for gaming and chatting online… at least not for anything other than Splatoon 2. Let me try to reiterate the mental gymnastics involved: you can use a headset, but it serves no purpose since no proper function outside of the online app has been announced. What’s even more confusing is that you can actually use a third-party headset for first-party games like Splatoon 2; yet, you need the app, a three-way splitter, a cellphone, oh, and only Splatoon 2 works (as of this editorial) and– again, Nintendo didn’t even bother to let everyone else know about the third-party headset function. What a mouthful. If you’re utterly confused at this point, I don’t blame you.
The lack of clarity in these decisions are definitely spelling something not so positive – at least for me. Nintendo’s lackadaisical support for the Wii and Wii U has alienated everybody. Even the core fanbase can agree that they have dropped the ball twice in a row and are in desperate need of a comeback. The Nintendo Switch – with its preposterous commercial and critical success thus far – is the company’s way of turning things around in the right direction. Some will argue that the Switch’s lack of online and Nintendo’s reticence on revealing more details is a brilliant marketing strategy that will keep the console in the minds (and pockets) of many. I daresay, I can see it in that light… However, two wrongs don’t make a right, and Nintendo has missed the bulls-eye twice. As one not-so-wise man said once, “Fool me once… shame on you– you fooled me, I can’t get fooled again!” – George W. Bush.
The way I see it, the Switch will appeal to three buyers: the curious uninitiated, the Nintendo fanboys, and the hardcore gamers. What will Nintendo do to keep all of them happy? We can look towards the Switch library and make some conclusions from that. Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a huge success on all fronts, and that was out in March. Even the Mario Kart 8 port, which was out in April was quite successful. The new Nintendo IP Arms was released in June. Splatoon 2 has been out since July. August marked the Ubisoft/Nintendo collaboration Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. A Switch-port of the Pokémon fighting game Pokken Tournament was released in September. Super Mario Odyssey is coming tomorrow. November will introduce the third-party support from Bethesda in the form of Doom and Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (I know, again). And finally, Nintendo will finish off strong with Xenoblade Chronicles 2, the highly anticipated sequel to 2010’s hit. The only month missing is May; and while there may not have been a huge first or third party [re]release, there was support in the form of Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance (in North America – it was out in Japan during launch) and Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers. Not to mention the slew of independent titles available via the Nintendo eShop. I won’t get too much into this, but I will say that some titles have worked for the console-handheld and others haven’t.
That is all 2017 material. What’s coming in 2018 and beyond? At this past E3, Nintendo revealed a new Kirby, Yoshi, and Metroid. A new Fire Emblem and a new Pokémon game have also been announced. The latter is supposed to be a new title in the flagship series.
That all sounds fantastic and wonderful. And with the phenomenal sales numbers, is the Nintendo Switch going to be the machine to revive the company’s mojo? Or is the Switch the Final-Fantasy Odyssey to put an end to their long-lasting legacy? Whatever the case may be, Nintendo needs to figure out a way to keep the momentum going. But should they keep up their sorry management (or lack thereof) of the Switch’s online functions, everyone will eventually be disinterested. Some developers are already furious enough with Nintendo, and more will follow should they choose not act accordingly. As a result, the third-party support might start to wobble, as it did with the Wii and Wii U. Alas, let’s hope that’s not the case.
With the PlayStation 4 (and Pro) still leading (but currently in second place in monthly sales), and Xbox fans impatiently waiting for the Xbox One X, all eyes are focused on Nintendo. What will they do to respond to all this attention? As I asked before, will the Switch be their Final Fantasy swan song? The love story that will always be and the system that never was? We just have to wait and see…
PS. I am aware that only the first six Final Fantasy games were on Nintendo systems.