After months of speculation prior to the Nintendo Switch being officially revealed in October 2016, it's fair to say that the initial reaction was largely very positive. This early enthusiasm from the gaming community has been backed up by decent software support from Nintendo and a ever-growing install base; the Switch is the must-have system of 2017 and continues to sell briskly all over the world, putting to rest the troubling memory of the commercially disastrous Wii U.
Of course, one of the greatest benefits of the Switch is its enviable portability. Being able to play full-blown home console experiences such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe while on the move has been a something of a revelation for many players. However, if you are a bit of an old fart like your humble scribe here, you'll also find yourself playing just as many (if not more) retro classics on the Switch, too. There is an ever-growing library of Neo Geo games to enjoy on the eShop, along with recent releases such as Namco Museum which allow you to enjoy arcade classics such as Rolling Thunder and Splatterhouse on your travels. Then there are faux-retro style games such as Sonic Mania and Shovel Knight, not to mention the revamped Ultra Street Fighter II: The Final Challengers.
Enough rambling; unless you're a fan of opening web pages without reading their titles, you know exactly where this is going. It's high time for Nintendo to release new Joy-Con which at the very least replaces the 4 button cluster on the left Joy-Con with a proper D-pad.
Personally speaking, the lack of a D-pad didn't bother me too much until I went on vacation for two weeks recently. At home I tend to play the Switch docked on the TV using a Pro Controller, or in tabletop mode, again mostly using a Pro Controller. I also enjoy using 8bitdo controllers for playing retro games too. In a rush to pack for my holiday I simply took my Switch with Joy-Con attached. Surely I wouldn't need to worry about taking additional controllers; the Joy-Con will do the job nicely, right? Wrong. Playing many of the games in Namco Museum with left Joy-Con buttons or the analog stick was a very disappointing experience. Brawlers on the Neo Geo and Ultra Street Fighter II just don't work very well without a D-pad, either. While I didn't find it to be too much of a deal-breaker for my enjoyment of Sonic Mania, my partner in crime and Nintendo Life Editorial Overlord™ Damien McFerran said he wasn't overwhelmed with the experience; it's not just me who longs for a good, old-fashioned directional pad.
The Joy-Con Concept Is Great, But It Needs To Grow
Of course, we totally get where Nintendo is coming from with the design of the Joy-Con. There are countless examples of games which massively benefit from the use of having two mini controllers both with a analog stick and 4 action buttons, such as Snipperclips. Other games such as ARMS make great use of the Joy-Con motion controls which is a way better experience than holding a Wii Remote in one hand and a Wii Nunchuk in the other, getting whipped by the cable connecting them together when things get too frantic.
But as good as the Joy-Con design is, it has been designed as a modular system from day one. But now almost 6 months after the release of the Switch, we are yet to see any alternative controllers which can be slotted on to the Switch tablet for easy portable play. We could have one with an D-pad, or one which offers a six-button arrangement which would suit brawlers like Street Fighter II down to the ground; while these would understandably be largely ineffective when detached from the console and used on their own, they have the potential to make the Switch even more versatile, catering for a wider selection of control possibilities.
Virtual Console Needs A D-Pad
While details are still sketchy regarding Nintendo's plans to offer a Virtual Console service on the Switch, we're sure it's coming one way or another. Nintendo's Online Service app is still in it's infancy, only really existing to support Splatoon 2. At some point next year however, this will become a paid service with a yearly subscription of $19.99 USD.
One of the bonuses is that subscribers will have ongoing access to 'a compilation of classic titles' that they can download and hang onto for as long as they're paying into the service. Three NES games were confirmed initially - Super Mario Bros. 3, Balloon Fight and Dr. Mario - but the collection will surely grow. Perhaps in time this will become something of a Netflix style buffet of retro delight for subscribers.
And then there are the ongoing rumours of GameCube games being one of the new things which a future Nintendo Switch Virtual Console might offer. This would almost certainly demand a new controller layout of some description.
Nintendo Is Listening?
Nintendo really hit on something when they shipped the NES (Famicom) with a D-pad instead of the Atari style joysticks which had gone before. This changed the industry and before long any serious competitor included their own version of a D-pad on their controller offerings. However, the Switch is the first Nintendo console (home console or portable) to not include this beloved interface out of the box.
If Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima is to be believed, I won't have to wait long to get my hands on a proper Joy-Con D-Pad. Kimishima said last year that he expects the Switch to be home to a "wider array" of accessories moving forward, and that could mean alternative Joy-Con controllers and much more besides. We can but hope.
Do you think it's really necessary to have a D-pad today, given that most games use analogue input? Let us know if you see the need for a D-pad equipped Joy-Con with a comment below.