The Nintendo Switch has been on the market now for three months, representing a quarter year on the market. So far, without much doubt, it's been a successful launch for Nintendo, with the company having to work hard to simply meet demand at present. The Switch is still consistently sold out in multiple territories, with restocks often disappearing rapidly once they hit store shelves.
As it's a mini landmark for the console, we thought we'd outline some of the positives, downsides and areas for Nintendo to address with the Switch now that it's settling into a number of living rooms.
A Great Start Brings Welcome Positives for Nintendo
After an extended period in 2016 during which Nintendo was continually on the back foot, this year's Switch arrival has generated far more positives. Not only does Nintendo have a desirable new product on the market, but that's converted into enthusiastic headlines and consumer word of mouth.
The system's sales have been strong, of course, perhaps only held back by limited availability. Brief (and frequently overblown) early issues at launch were quickly forgotten, or likely not even noticed by many that don't frequent dedicated games media websites. A lot of broader media coverage has accentuated the good things around the system, and early momentum has undoubtedly been excellent. There's a sense that the concept - flexibility in where to play and a tablet-like design - has appealed to a broad range of gamers and consumers.
A lot of its early success has been helped by critically acclaimed tentpole releases, in both cases games that have their origins (and their own versions) on Wii U. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a significant driving force at launch, critically acclaimed and lauded and similarly generating further buzz when in the hands of early adopters. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe then picked up momentum when it arrived in late April. There have been some early download-only successes, with Snipperclips - Cut it out, together! a standout in terms of sales, while recent arrivals like Minecraft: Nintendo Switch Edition have evidently done well.
The eShop has certainly contributed to a solid initial slate of games for early adopters, even if the initial curation - which seems likely to become less of a factor later in the year - has led to a few quiet weeks with limited new releases. Nevertheless there have been some top-notch early releases to flesh out the games library. On top of that Nintendo has served up online testfire / testpunch sessions for Splatoon 2 and ARMS respectively, highlighting two titles that'll be major drivers for hardware sales.
These early positives will have certainly helped boost confidence among some third-parties looking at the long-term picture, and the Switch has also played a notable role for investor confidence, with Nintendo's share value currently at its highest point in a number of years.
From a personal perspective this writer has certainly fallen for the charms of the hardware over the course of three months, and a number of others seem to feel the same way.
The Early Slip-Ups of the Nintendo Switch
This section will be the shortest, simply because we look at areas of potential improvement further below.
The biggest initial issue for Switch was some of the negativity that followed the hardware design. Some problems were greatly exaggerated by the megaphone of social media (such as docks 'scratching' screens), but others were and remain valid issues. The data management on the Switch is oddly restrictive and isn't fit for purpose, and that should not be the case. Other genuine shortcomings have been the absence of consistent support for Bluetooth headphones, and more importantly there have been issues with connectivity of the left Joy-Con controllers. Nintendo does fix the latter for those affected, but it certainly seems to impact a number of units. Another strange design oversight is that the positioning of the charging port means you can't actually charge the system when propped up in its desktop configuration.
It also seems fair to highlight some prime examples of Switchonomics that target early adopters and their wallets. Not necessarily a slip-up but an inevitable part of a system launch, from retail games at higher-than-justified prices to the $80 standalone dock, some have felt disgruntled by early offerings, accessories and the price they bring.
The retail game line-up has also, arguably, been lacking. Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe have saved the day, but outside of those releases success stories have been modest. Super Bomberman R has done well enough to encourage updates and DLC support from publisher Konami, while Disgaea 5 Complete is excellent but rather niche. Sales success has been limited mainly to Nintendo's own games, with third-parties being very much secondary to date. Overall Nintendo can point to a strong start for the software line-up on the system, but the store shelves are still extremely limited in terms of variety of boxed Switch games.
There's a Lot of Room for Expansion and Improvement of the Switch
As much as we like the Switch, at its young age it has plenty of improvements to make beyond addressing a handful of the issues above. When the system landed it did feel a little like a barebones gaming console pushed out to market to hit the last financial year, and in three months not a huge amount has changed. There have been a few 'stability' updates and some small improvements to the eShop user interface, but that's it so far.
In terms of simple aesthetics there could be more optional personality for fans to use. For those that like the simple look and minimal sounds that's fine, but we'd like to see HOME Themes emerge relatively soon to add more immediate charm and to also tie-in to various major releases on the way. Optional additional sounds and music could also add to this. The same principles apply to the eShop, which is 'clean' but still rather limited in both its look and functionality. The Wii U eShop (and to an extent the 3DS equivalent) does a nice job of highlighting categories of games and promoting themes, something the Switch can do as the downloadable library expands.
Another area that could have gone in the 'slip-ups' section is the ongoing absence of a web browser or any streaming apps. We know that video can look pretty good on the hardware through the 'news' section that has trailers and more, plus the fact that the same or similar Tegra X1 GPU drives the NVIDIA Shield TV, which puts video streaming (even at 4K) at the core of its offering. The Switch, and its flexibility as a TV-based system and as a tablet, would benefit greatly from streaming apps like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime and Crunchyroll. These have featured in various ways across Wii U and 3DS, so it's a little disappointing that three months into the Switch's life there's been no visible progress in delivering these apps (beyond some soundbites from NOA's Reggie Fils-Aime).
The eShop will likely see a rapid expansion in releases once initial curation makes way for a more open-door policy, and the current line-up could benefit from more games catering to less experienced gamers, perhaps more touchscreen-focused puzzle titles as an example. We're also still waiting, of course, to see what the Virtual Console will look like on Switch. Will we need to wait for the full Online Service and its retro compilations in 2018, or will a more conventional VC with GameCube games be a treat before then?
Finally, it'll be interesting to see how the initial free version of the voice chat / online gaming app will shape up in the Summer, which will likely tie-in with Splatoon 2 (assuming it won't be ready for ARMS). Will Nintendo's app-based approach to these features pay off?
Some of these areas may be addressed, of course, at E3 next week.
2017 Promises a Lot for the Nintendo Switch
We've no doubt missed some areas, but all told it's been an encouraging start for Switch. There's plenty to come this year, of course, with games like Super Mario Odyssey, Fire Emblem Warriors and third-party titles like NBA 2K18 to name just a few. We also hope to see localisation of Monster Hunter XX, while we're excited to see if this week's Pokémon Direct has Switch goodies to offer. With E3 2017 also right around the corner, there's a lot of room for announcements and improvements for the Switch, even if some are unveiled for updates due later in the year.
It should be an exciting year for Switch owners.