Nintendo‘s OLED Switch is fine.
So fine, in fact, that I’ve ordered one. As someone who primarily plays his games in handheld mode (just like most Switch users), it’s a pretty solid upgrade. My games should look and sound better on it, and when you consider I still have a launch Switch with the inferior battery, this one will last longer, too.
Pre-orders have largely sold out, so it seems that a lot of people agree. But the chatter on social media and on the forums (not that those should be used as a barometer for the whole market) is one of disappointment.
A lot of that disappointment stems from media reports that told us that this year’s hardware revision was going to deliver so much more. And not any old media, but Bloomberg, who was backed up by a plethora of other established and respected press outlets.
Whatever went wrong here, whether it was a change of plans or if the journalists were being fed wrong information, is largely irrelevant. All that matters is people’s expectations were set too high and not by Nintendo.
Switch OLED is in keeping with how Nintendo has always done its handhelds. And although we’ve had slightly better upgrades in the past with the likes of DSi and New Nintendo 3DS, in reality few developers bothered to use the extra functionality. So why bother going to the extra effort? It’s not as if a 4K Switch can compete with PS5 and Xbox Series X anyway. Might as well stick to what works.
It makes sense. But as someone who has ordered the device, I can’t help but feel a little bit underwhelmed. Nintendo has done the bare minimum to secure my patronage, and nothing more.
It reminds me of last year’s Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection. The crown jewel in Nintendo’s 35th Mario anniversary celebration, and its biggest Christmas release of last year. Nintendo knew that people would be happy paying full price to replay three of its greatest games, and it was right. It was a set of games that I knew I’d spend all Christmas playing. 65 hours of platform goodness, it was the easiest £50 I ever spent. And over nine million other gamers agreed.
Nintendo didn’t need to give me more than that to convince me to buy it, but I had still expected… something else. A boss rush mode, perhaps? A few bits of cut content? A couple of documentaries? A limited edition pin? Nope. Outside of a few soundtracks, it was the barest of packages.
This isn’t a criticism of Nintendo’s penchant for porting. Bringing back games, particularly Wii U titles, is a sensible way to plug gaps in the release schedule. And Nintendo has gone the extra yard with those. Pikmin 3 added a bunch of extra chapters, Mario Kart 8 has a new battle mode, and Super Mario 3D World now has a second, short game sitting alongside it.
“As someone who has ordered the device, I can’t help but feel a little bit underwhelmed. Nintendo has done the bare minimum to secure my patronage, and nothing more.”
But of course, Nintendo had to add to these titles, especially if they wanted to sell them all over again as if they are brand new blockbusters. The Wii U may have been a failure, but some of its games still sold in big numbers. Super Mario 3D World on Wii U managed nearly six million sales, and so a Bowser’s Fury was needed to convince some of those people to double dip.
Nintendo does know how to make its fans feel good about spending money on its products. There was nothing ‘bare minimum’ about Breath of the Wild or Mario Odyssey. In fact, my favourite moment from 2017 – Nintendo’s comeback year – was what it did with the SNES Mini.
Nintendo had struck gold with the micro-console concept, and simply making a smaller SNES and bundling a bunch of games into it is all it needed to do. But on top of that, it dusted off an unreleased Starfox game, got it ready, and made it public. It meant that the SNES Mini was more than just a nostalgic cash-in, but a part of that console’s history.
2017 was Nintendo over-delivering, not just with individual products, but across the board. Things slowed down since then, but there have been other examples.
Nintendo didn’t need to feature every Smash Bros character in Ultimate, it didn’t need to give its Online subscribers a Tetris battle royale game, it didn’t need to make Fire Emblem quite so expansive. Its fans would have bought them anyway, but Nintendo went that little bit further to make sure its core users felt good about spending the money.
Right now, Nintendo doesn’t feel like it’s giving its fans much at all beyond what it needs to. Its big release of the summer is a HD enhanced port of the 2011 Wii game – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. It’s a decent title that’s been improved, and it’s got enough gameplay in it. But it again feels like minimal effort, and it’s no surprise that fans were cross when they found out that they’d have to buy an expensive Amiibo to access one of the new features.
When Nintendo re-released Twilight Princess in HD, the full-priced version featured the Wolf Link Amiibo bundled in (alongside a soundtrack). In the past, Nintendo has given away music CDs (Skyward Sword) and even a disc with Ocarina of Time on it (Wind Waker), as added bonuses for its early adopters. It’s no wonder fans feel that this week’s remaster doesn’t go far enough to justify its price.
“Right now, Nintendo doesn’t feel like it’s giving its fans much at all beyond what it needs to. Its big release of the summer is a HD enhanced port of the 2011 Wii game – The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.”
Nintendo has always charged its fans a premium for its games, and they’ve been usually happy to pay it (there’s the old adage that Nintendo fans would buy a cardboard box with the company’s logo on it). Part of the reason for that is the company’s ability to make them feel good about their purchases. I look at that $90 Metroid Dread special edition, the Switch OLED and Skyward Sword HD, and it’s all very minimal.
We cannot ignore the backdrop to all this. COVID-19 has clearly had a big impact on game development, where even doing the bare minimum can take a mighty effort. The big games everyone is waiting for aren’t set to arrive until 2022.
But gamers are not known for their patience. A few premium-priced enhanced ports and niche releases may have been ‘just enough’ to keep core fans occupied over the past 12 months, but as PS5 continues to trundle out critically acclaimed games, and Xbox keeps making Game Pass an irresistible proposition, Nintendo Switch owners are understandably feeling under-served.
Switch is a different proposition to PS5 and Xbox Series X, of course, but to some of the more hardcore players, a slightly improved Switch with Metroid Dread isn’t going to stand up against Xbox Series X with Halo: Infinite or PS5 with Horizon: Forbidden West.
Nintendo can’t magic up a big new Mario or Zelda game out of thin air. It has to work with what it’s got. But that involves making sure that when its fans are dropping money on a new product — whether it’s a 2D Metroid game, a Pokémon remake, a remastered Zelda or an upgraded console — they feel good about doing it. Because right now, many of them are not.