We're now nearly two months into the lifespan of the Nintendo Switch, and those that have jumped into the system will have their own buying habits. The eShop offers the usual full-priced retail downloads, though for some it'll be a virtual location for focusing on download-only games. As always, then, we have three camps of Nintendo gamers - those that always go 'physical' with retail games, those that mix carts and downloads with those games, and those that are all in on downloads.
There's no 'right' side of course, as everyone has their own needs and preferences. Paying a little extra on the eShop earns more My Nintendo points (ok, not a huge incentive at the moment) and more importantly provides convenience. Downloading means you only need to worry about the size of your micro SD card and there's no swapping around of media; your games are waiting for you at all times in their virtual windows.
Yet I feel the Nintendo Switch is proof that the appeal and charm of physical media is far from dead. We're not in a post-cartridge world yet, even as we stream all our music and TV and download a lot of games. By giving a measly amount of internal memory on the console and making the physical media of the Switch so darn appealing, Nintendo's ensured that the old-school habit of neatly stacking game boxes is still worthwhile.
Let's consider the boxes, first of all. With Wii U and Wii we saw fairly conventional efforts, standard disc cases sometimes salvaged by limited edition touches - the Wii U had discs with smooth edges, which was better than nothing. The DS and 3DS, meanwhile, went their own way with neat little cases that could also house cute manuals of their own; the key generational difference was that 3DS cases were a lot slimmer. With the Nintendo Switch and its cartridges, however, Nintendo took its focus on creating a fresh brand seriously and came up with new cases - they're reminiscent of those we see with the PS Vita, in a sense.
The cartridges themselves seem like chunky bespoke SD cards, a bit like those from 3DS and DS but taller and slimmer, like the boxes. In fact that's a nice design continuation, with the form factor of the cases essentially matching that of the media. Let's not also forget that Nintendo made the quirky but smart move of making the cartridges taste awful, to put off kids from eating $60 worth of plastic.
In any case I find myself slowly falling for the new boxes, and it's all down to their dinky form and the sleeve art - and the deep red end label colour scheme, because we all know red is the best colour. In addition to various retail titles having rocking box art, the real treat is when you open the case. No, there isn't often a manual (and oddly, Nintendo doesn't even do digital manuals at the moment) but there's more to look at. It can be educational, like the controls diagram in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (above), promotional like the icons for the minigames in 1-2-Switch, or it can just be a lovely bit of art like we see with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I find myself looking enviously at boxes for games I don't have yet that also look rather charming, such as Super Bomberman R or the first-run copies of The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+.
That last example is an interesting case, as it points to a continuation of the cottage industry (of sorts) that is likely to grow over the coming months. Independent or small to medium-sized publishers are producing limited-run physical copies to delight die-hard fans. The initial run for Afterbirth+ in North America (it's being published in Europe soon) included stickers and a cute retro-style manual. Nintendo has included clips for small booklets as standard in the cases, and Afterbirth+ is a rare example of it being used. It opens the door for special and limited editions, which is no bad thing (as long as there are decent stock numbers).
Here's something else pleasingly old-school as we go into the Nintendo Switch generation - the cartridges mean you keep your memory free, with modest amounts used for save data and occasionally patches/updates. On consoles like PS4 the discs dump huge amounts of data - the full game, basically - onto your system anyway, with the disc then being little more than a security check that you own the title. That means you still have to manage the fridge even with disc games, something I've found rather annoying with the PS4. On Switch I have a lot of space left on my additional memory because the biggest games I own are on cartridge, saving that Micro SD for modestly-sized Shop games.
When all is said and done, Nintendo is at least catering to all sides. Those that want to buy a big Micro SD card and download everything can do so, but there's still a desirability to cartridges. The boxes and art are often fabulous - the Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers case looks amazing - and they're small enough to neatly stack in plain sight. Sure, the cartridges are mostly living in my Switch portable case, and occasionally I forget to swap one out and need to fiddle around for 10 seconds, but I just like having the physical media and some nice boxes.
Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I'm glad Nintendo hasn't entirely closed the door on the simple pleasure of collecting games.