Slowly and surely, in the build-up to its launch on 3rd March, we're working through some 'countdown' articles around the Nintendo Switch. This time we're going to consider 1-2-Switch, and a similar angle to our first impressions article from back in January. In that piece we said it was an ideal pack-in game, so in this case we're going to think about that a bit more but, also, consider an option that could have suited everyone concerned.
1-2-Switch is a strange game - as far as Nintendo is concerned it's a key first-party launch release alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It is important to a degree, as it's the only game on launch day that'll truly put the Joy-Con controllers through their paces, with minigames that showcase HD Rumble, motion controls and the IR sensor. There are other launch (and 'March') games that will emphasize other strengths of the controllers and system, such as the 'play anywhere' flexibility and the fact each console supports two players right out of the box. Yet as a technical showcase of the Joy-Con concept, 1-2-Switch is the main game.
A problem, though, is that gamers putting down $300+ on a system and probably a copy of Breath of the Wild then think very carefully about purchases, and there are some download-only titles due on day one or shortly after that also demand attention. Even though its price is a little lower than 'full retail', 1-2-Switch feels like a pricey addition against the context that it's conceivably an ideal pack-in. Perhaps Nintendo gamers have just been spoiled in recent generations, with both the Wii and Wii U (well, the 'Deluxe / Premium' version) having bundled games on day one that showcased the concept of each console. The 3DS didn't but, as Nintendo keeps trying to remind us, the Switch is a 'home gaming system' that happens to also work as a portable.
It's a trend, especially as more go hands on with a broader range of the 28 minigames in 1-2-Switch, for individuals to warm to the title after experiencing it; after all, it's quite charming and shows how magical those little Joy-Con controllers can be. The problem for Nintendo, of course, is that not everyone will be swayed by 'influencers', and not everyone will get hands on with it before making a purchasing decision. As a result the appeal of the game is debatable - by that we mean its appeal as a retail purchase, of course.
This writer pre-ordered the game about as grudgingly as is possible, simply because no other title - so far - is better for showing off what helps to make the Switch and its controllers so special. Some others will have done the same, while some may genuinely be putting down money with nothing but excitement in their hearts. To those people in the latter category, all we can say is that we're happy for you.
Nintendo's argument against bundling 1-2-Switch with the system has consistently come down to cost. It's looked at the development budget, the manufacturing costs of the hardware itself, and come to its own conclusions on the value of the game and hardware. That's fair enough, that's Nintendo's prerogative.
Yet there could have been another way - we'll warn you now that we're going to use an unpopular phrase here, a term so heinous that some reader's blood will come to the boil.
The concept would have been simple - each Switch would come with a small sample of 1-2-Switch pre-installed (or free to download from the eShop) that contains about half a dozen minigames. These games could showcase each of the key functions of the Joy-Con controllers, giving everyone something neat to show curious onlookers. The rest of the experience - over 20 extra minigames, play options and modes - could have been wrapped up as paid extras, either in small chunks or one bigger unlock price. Those that fancy the full collection for some minigame shenanigans with others could simply buy the upgrade via the eShop; Nintendo could have even released a retail version as an option for people, too.
It's not as if Nintendo is 'above' this idea, either. It's been dabbling with free-to-play / free-to-start on Wii U and 3DS, has gone so far as to employ Gacha-style gameplay in Fire Emblem Heroes and is bringing an Expansion Pass to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The company isn't entirely bound by tradition, which plenty will argue is a good thing.
As it stands, the Switch out of the box has little to showcase its concept. We can only hope that some surprises are still to come that will ensure this isn't the case - perhaps the eShop will have some demos or a piece of software to emphasize the strengths of the system and the Joy-Con controllers. Nintendo's been so darn secretive - so far - about the eShop that it's not out of the question that a treat will be offered to day one adopters to give a little extra spice to the hardware.
Time will tell. We can't help but wonder, though, about the positive impact 1-2-Switch could have if available to all in a demo / sample form. Its value as a retail title is in the eye of the beholder and certainly debatable, but as a demonstration of the Joy-Con controllers it's currently top of the class. As a potential pitch for the Switch it has real value to Nintendo and prospective system owners, and the option to experience some of its clever minigames without putting down a decent chunk of change would certainly help with word of mouth around features like the brilliant HD Rumble.
Here's hoping that early adopters of the Nintendo Switch have more than a basic user interface and a copy of Breath of the Wild with which to showcase what their new console can really do.