With all the struggles we face as we go about our daily lives, not to mention the larger challenges facing the world right now, it’s easy to look at an ugly icon on your Switch’s home screen and brush it off as totally inconsequential. After all, it’s the game itself that’s important, no? Would an ugly icon trivialise the brilliance of a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild or Celeste? Of course not. We can all sit here and rationally say it has precisely zero impact on our enjoyment of the game. Super Mario Odyssey could have the poo emoji for an icon and the game would still be an absolute belter.
Many of us gamers have compulsive tendencies, though. For every person who couldn't care less about the accoutrement surrounding the core game experience, there’s another who rigorously catalogues and arranges their collection with pride and meticulous precision. A pile of loose carts on the floor collecting dust and grime? Perish the thought! While there are many subtle levels between these mindsets, any collector will probably recognise some version of compulsive behaviour.
So, while we can smile at the ferocity of online feeling when an ‘awful’ icon appears on menu screens, a great many of us have had a similar feeling at one time or another. ResetEra has a long and ongoing thread dedicated to the subject of Switch icons and we sympathise with the passion behind it. One part of us completely understands – the part which makes us consider going on eBay to hunt down a non-Player’s Choice version 007: Everything or Nothing simply to eradicate the erroneous silver spine on our treasured GameCube shelf. It's that same obsessive-compulsive part of us which bought all the James Bond movies on DVD and lined them up so the spines showed the ‘007’ gun logo. And yes, the same part which cursed the Daniel Craig films and Blu-Rays for coming along and ruining the display.
Guidelines from back when Switch was still codenamed NX popped up online and show Nintendo’s advice to developers when creating icons. While a great many conform to these guidelines (or have been subsequently altered following a backlash from players), there are still games released every week which don’t follow the 'rules'. A cynic might surmise it’s a calculated marketing ploy to get the game trending on social media, and it certainly triggers powerful reactions in some people. Take, for example, these tweets in response to Snake Pass' initial icon change:
How does a tiny square menu icon fire up such fervent emotions, though? Well, we suppose it's for the same reason we got so antsy and envious of overseas box art back in the day. Who would want to look at a botched, rubbish Mega Man every time they fire up their console? This is essentially the digital equivalent of an age-old video gaming debate around box art, except this time you’re stuck with just one digital variant, and unfortunately it's not the super sexy one they got in Japan.
It seems to us that there are a variety of reasons why some gamers get hot under the collar for menu icons. Pure aesthetics play their part. Does the icon look good in terms of colour palette, composition, font (if it has one), etc? Many developers might argue that the minimalism of a classy, logo-less icon is far more attractive than some key art with the game title pasted in.
More importantly, is the icon easy to pick out in the swathe of games on the menu screen? This is a user interface issue and something we’ve encountered a lot, especially as time has worn on and our library has grown. With all the games sitting on our Switch menu after two years, scrolling through to find the precise game we're after can be challenging at the best of times. With the release of the firmware update Nintendo finally enabled us to order the icons by title, but some of them still don’t stand out well enough.
Of course, some gamers simply want uniformity in the way the icons line up on screen. If we’re honest, we’re a little torn here. Yes, Nintendo’s guidelines make sense, and many of the icons which follow them to the letter are beautiful. But does that mean that every developer should adhere to the rules?
That would be a little bland, no? There's beauty in variety and the homogenisation of the Switch menu isn’t necessarily a good thing. Sure, those guidelines might combat usability issues, but making all icons fully compliant won’t necessarily make the menu screen less ‘ugly’ and there are plenty of games which follow the rules with uninspiring results.
Some games simply don’t need a logo to show what they are, either. The first LEGO Worlds icon was infinitely classier than its generic replacement, and was anybody in doubt as to what the game was? Short of having a LEGO globe in the pic, it was pretty on-the-nose for a game called ‘LEGO Worlds’, no? We’ve got a soft spot for the simplicity and elegance of the original icon, especially compared to the generic one the game ended up with.
Likewise, it would be very difficult to confuse the Sonic Mania logo for any other game, and it certainly stands out in the crowd. Is it ‘good’? That’s a matter of opinion, of course, but there are plenty of people on the internet who would prefer a change, and some even provide alternatives:
Enforcing rigid 'rules' seems a bit over-the-top to us, but perhaps there’s another solution. Giving Switch owners the option to display alternate icons would essentially bring ‘reversible sleeves’ to your digital shelf. You can go with the minimalist or pixel art one if you like, or switch to the orderly, guideline-conforming version if you prefer to have everything looking ship-shape and Bristol fashion.
We’ve collected below a handful of some of the most notable icon changes, in no particular order. Changes happen quite a lot and there are far too many to include them all here, but the sample selection we've pulled demonstrates why the subject continues to push some people's buttons. If you'd like to see more, we recommend checking out the comprehensive list available at Switch Icon Showdown, a site which proved most helpful while putting together this article.
One of the first recipients of Switch icon internet ire, Snake Pass launched with an image which seemed to stick to Nintendo’s guidelines, but Sumo Digital went and changed it for a headshot of Noodle the snake and arguably initiated the whole #icongate movement. The update not only jettisoned the logo, but also added a border; something of a design no-no which makes things visually messy on the menu. It got compared to a generic mobile app and Sumo, despite standing its ground for a time, changed it to something very similar to the original. Peace was restored to the internet once more. That is until the next outrage. Pitchforks at the ready!
Kingdom Two Crowns
Similar to the Lego Worlds example, Kingdom Two Crowns started out with a quite literal icon sans title. That lack of title is a big deal in some circles and eventually Two Crowns (and its predecessor New Lands) received a lovely-looking, though less literal update. There are many games on the eShop that don't bother with a logo – Sonic Mania is arguably the biggest ‘offender’.
SteamWorld Dig 2
Another game which went on an iconic journey, SteamWorld Dig 2 started out with simple stylised ‘D2’ against a white background. While it contained the title of the game – albeit, abbreviated – this ‘all-title’ approach rubbed people the wrong way, as did the bland background, and Image & Form switched it out for something much nicer. Oddly, Diablo III took a similar route before Blizzard pulled a switcheroo of its own.
SteamWorld Dig 2 would get a further alteration that removed the scroll-style border from the icon because, as we all know, borders don’t work well.
Another one that’s gone through an evolution, SMG Studio recently updated Death Squared a second time. While promoting its newest game OTTTD, it announced the intention to change all its Switch game icons to ‘align’ as one linked image on the menu screen (assuming you play them in the right order to ‘queue them up’ correctly). The resulting 'landscape' is a cute way to have fun with the icons and we’re all for it.
Not much to say here. We like pixel art as much as the next website, but we can probably all agree that the one on the right was a vast improvement over D-Pad Studios’ original offering for Owlboy on Switch. Down with white backgrounds!
You’ll find no arguments that the newer DOOM icon looks great and recalls the classic box art of the original game, but the initial icon already seemed pretty good. Each to their own.
The move from the in-game Thimbleweed Park town sign of the original icon to the more polished image is a typical one, and although a little of the adventure game’s personality is lost in the transition, this was still probably the right choice.
And icons that some people want to see changed...
There’s a fair old list of icons which fall outside Nintendo’s guidelines and which many people would like to see get an overhaul. Sonic Mania continues to be a bone of contention, although as we said above, we quite like it - Sonic's all about non-conformity and there's very little doubt as to what game it represents!
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice is a recent entry in the Switch library which is winding people up, and it’s tough to argue that the icon above in the centre isn't boring and doing a poor job of 'selling' the excellent game. Not that that is a massive issue - if it's on your menu screen, you've already bought it.
That's not the case for upcoming games, though, and it seems the icon for yet-to-be-released Resident Evil 4 on the right is already grinding some gears. The icon itself looks all right to us, but it lacks the all-important title. We can see the argument, especially considering that the icons for Resident Evil and Resident Evil Zero do carry the title. Conversely, as one of the most popular games of all time, is it really necessary to include it? I bought RE4, I can see it's RE4 - do I need to read the title on the icon? Maybe. Maybe.
So, are there any icons sitting on your menu screen that wind you up? Do you think any have changed for the worse? Are you confused by the whole debacle? Don't forget to check out Switch Icon Showdown for a more thorough list of altered icons and feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions for alternate Resident Evil 4 icons below.