A few months ago we did 'The Switch Report' for the system's first three months on the market, in which we went through aspects of the console's first quarter and looked at positives and negatives. Well, time has flown, and it's now over six months old and well settled into millions of homes, with plenty of gamers still eager to pick one up.
So, once again, let's have a look at the good, the bad and the potential improvements after six months of the Nintendo Switch.
Demand is High, and the Switch Keeps Bringing Great Games
The most important metrics for any gaming system, above all else, are having quality games to entertain owners and to also drive demand for the hardware. On both fronts it can be argued that Nintendo has continued its strong form, even if the retail scene has been more about quality rather than quantity to date.
The Summer months are typically relatively quiet in the retail scene, but Nintendo's strategy of a major release in each month has helped tide it over ahead of what will be a busy Autumn / Fall period. First up was ARMS, the colourful new IP that aims to do something different with the fighting genre, and a bit of a blast from the Wii past in terms of its focus on motion controls (though they're optional). Ultimately, our sense is that ARMS hasn't taken off in the same manner as the original Splatoon on Wii U - another bright new IP that tackled a popular genre in a very 'Nintendo' way - but it's not been a flop either. Sales seem to have been decent for the Switch fighter, and the company continues to support it with content and balancing updates. Only Nintendo knows whether it's met expectations in terms of sales and online playing numbers, but popular showings at the likes of E3 have at least got it on the map.
The other two major retail releases were Splatoon 2 and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle. The former seems to have picked up pretty much where the original left off, and drove big demand for the hardware in Japan that was seemingly only partly met. The IP is hot business in Nintendo's homeland, but it appears to have continued its positive run in the West as well; the fact it's a fantastic sequel has helped secure the brand's status as a key part of the Nintendo picture. Ubisoft's Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a more recent arrival, so its success or otherwise is tough to judge; nevertheless it's been receiving plenty of praise and seems to have been picked up by a solid number of Switch owners (though more data is needed on that). Both games, we think it's fair to say, have enhanced and added variety and quality to the Switch library.
Outside of the retail scene, which also had a handful of smaller releases over the last few months, we've seen the eShop pick up steam. Not too long ago we shared an opinion that the Switch eShop is looking like the real deal, and that view has only been enhanced in recent times. The last few months have brought a number of excellent download games, making it harder to pin down our 'eShop Selects' awards, and the recent Nindie Showcase only highlighted how rapidly the store's library is set to improve. The Switch eShop is gradually receiving more varied games to suit all tastes through a mix of multi-platform ports, enhanced editions and the occasional exclusive.
All of this, importantly, looks to be achieving two things - demand for the console remains high, with stock still selling out quickly in territories like Japan and the US. In addition more developers and publishers, of various sizes, are eager to jump on board. We've seen a rapid acceleration in the past couple of months of Indie companies confirming games, with almost daily news on that front. Ubisoft also announced a couple more games during E3, while the likes of Bethesda and EA still have titles on the way. Unlike an equivalent period in the Wii U's history, when previously confirmed titles from big players sunk out of the limelight, there's the sense that - at the very least - there's growing intrigue around titles like FIFA 18 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim being around the corner on Switch.
Basically, the Switch is still doing rather well in its core goal of delivering varied, quality games, and that's only going to ramp up through the rest of 2017.
Mis-steps, Supply and Surprise Storage Demands
While our three month report naturally covered off launch issues, some that were notable and others overblown online, the past three months have been arguably much smoother. Nintendo's made occasional updates to the system and even introduced the early hints at 'SpotPass' of sorts for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and the system has essentially ticked along.
One release over the past months that drew some criticism and mockery, though, was the Nintendo Switch Online app. SplatNet 2.0, to be fair, is rather good - it allows you to buy gear online, track your stats, check upcoming stage rotations and more. While that's rather cool, the app's voice chat solution is not; in fact this writer thinks it's rubbish. It's functional, just about, but falls short in various ways as it's hard to actually communicate with friends and figure out if they're open to a voice chat invite. It's lacking fundamental, must-have features at present, and as a result has played into the not-always-fair accusation that Nintendo's "can't do online". Hopefully it will be improved in the next few months.
An ongoing sticking point is hardware availability in stores; while plenty of countries in Europe - for example - now have frequent restocks and availability, units can still be quite tough to find in the likes of the US and Japan. In Japan hundreds still queue at stores to enter ballots for the chance to buy one, and the story in North America varies from pictures of multiple units nestling behind counters to the system being particularly hard to acquire. While it's not been ideal, it's also fair to say that there have been visible efforts to improve supply. Officially Nintendo is still aiming to ship ten million units up to the end of March 2018, but a number of reports suggest the real number could eventually be higher as Nintendo aims to meet demand.
Arguably the biggest slip-up of the last three months came recently, with the somewhat baffling news that some boxed retail games will require downloads and a microSD card to access the full game. Switch is the only system that'll make expanded memory compulsory for some retail games, with NBA 2K18 being the first to fall into the category. For many reading these pages that bought a microSD long ago it won't likely be much of an issue, but it's an odd scenario that a cartridge game will require a download and extra storage just to access all the content. It's perhaps similar to how systems like PS4 and Xbox One operate as they dump disc content to install, or the way in which they let you play a small part of a download retail game while the rest installs. The difference with Switch, however, is that the system's on-board storage doesn't cover that requirement, potentially pushing some into buying a microSD card just to play a retail game.
It's an oddity, and hopefully it'll only affect a very small number of retail games in the years to come.
There's Still a Lot That Can Improve With the Switch
Perhaps this counts as something for the mis-steps category, or arguably patience is the key, but most of our thoughts from the 'room for expansion and improvement' section in the three month report are still the same. One response is to complain and question what Nintendo is doing with its time, but it's also fair to say that a little patience may bring the increased functions and personality we desire in the hardware.
So, to keep things succinct, below are bullet-point reminders from our last 'Switch report' on improvements that could boost the system in the near-to-mid term.
- HOME Themes and optional User Interface adjustments, such as music, alternate sounds etc. For those that love the clean look that's fine, but the ability to add more personality like we saw on the 3DS would be welcome.
- Improvements to the eShop layout. At the moment there are no clear sections for demos or discounts, and it lacks the useful 'categories' and similar areas that showcase older content on the Wii U and 3DS eShop. Product visibility, in other words, is pretty disappointing unless a game is either relatively new or in the charts.
- Streaming apps. We're yet to see Amazon Prime, Netflix, YouTube or any of the big hitters; so far we've just had niconico in Japan. More streaming apps are surely on the way, the question is when.
- Cloud saves. Because it's 2017.
Something we'd also like to see is new Joy-Con options to put the modular design to work; yes, we mean a left Joy-Con with a proper D-Pad.
Beyond those points, improvements can be made on the mis-steps. Data Management on the system could be far better, and the Nintendo Switch Online app's voice chat functionality needs to be greatly improved. The way it's going, we may also need to wait until 2018 and the proper launch of the Nintendo Online Service before we find out what sort of Virtual Console the Switch will have. Yep, the Virtual Console remains pretty high on the system's to-do list.
Overall, We Have Some Great Games to Play, With More On the Way
We'd suggest that, above all of that, the Switch is still in a rather good spot after six months. It seems to be in demand and it garners plenty of positive press and word of mouth, while there are varied games of all sizes and prices that are intriguing and worth a go. The next few months will be exciting, too, with the likes of Super Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Fire Emblem Warriors, Breath of the Wild story DLC (assuming it's not delayed) and much more being joined by an ever-expanded eShop library.
Basically, the rest of this year should bring some awesome gaming on the Switch.