The Nintendo Switch, and Nintendo’s Recent Launch History

When the Switch was first announced, I was ecstatic. The proof-of-concept type trailer that they used to show the functionality of the Switch was a frequently watched video for the next few weeks, and the possibilities – mainly, portable Skyrim – were enticing. It’s the most excited I’ve ever been for a Nintendo home console, as somebody who only really paid attention to the company’s non-handhelds around the launch of the Wii. And for the most part, my excitement remains unchanged. But there’s one big reason (besides the price) that I’m not going to grab the console any time soon, and it’s the same reason why I’ve never been all that fussed about rushing for a brand new Nintendo console.

Launch titles. Nintendo has a history of launching their consoles with very little in the way of actual games, and the Switch is no exception. Typically, there will be one big, triple-A title, followed by a smattering of third party games that are swiftly forgotten in the following months, and a game or two which promotes the main gimmick of the console. For instance, with the launch of the DS, the US saw the release of Super Mario 64 DS – a remake of an older game – alongside Asphalt Urban GT, The Urbz: Sims in the City, Feel the Magic: XY/XX, Spider-Man 2 and Madden NFL 2005. The Wii’s launch was somewhat more respectable, with The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Wii Sports (their proof of concept style title), and a handful of larger titles found on other consoles. The 3DS launch was particularly barren, with not a single standout title and a smattering of potential interests depending on your niche franchise preferences. The ill-faring Wii U launched with a dramatic number of title ports that ultimately failed to pull audiences away from rival consoles which did a better job of running the games.

The Switch, then, follows this pattern to a tee. You have the large triple-A title that everyone wants to play, namely The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And you have their gimmicky demo, 1-2 Switch, which I’ve seen reported as being fun for a few hours but far from a full title. (Hello again, Wii Sports. I see they gave you a hefty price tag this time.) You have an attempt to revitalise a dead franchise (here’s to you, Bomberman) and a few niche or unique titles. In all fairness, I’ve not played them. They could be fantastic. But I’ve not heard much besides “meh”.

I was going to dedicate a portion of this blog post to what I thought was a less-than-wise decision to launch your new console with its main title being available on the previous platform. From what I’ve seen and heard, Breath of the Wild is only slightly less impressive on the Wii U – almost negligibly so. I’d just like to point out that on this front, though, I was dead wrong, as Breath of the Wild is apparently outselling Super Mario 64 as a launch title so far. I felt that was worth mentioning, considering how this blog post has criticised Nintendo’s console launches so far. I’m not a big Zelda fan myself, and even I want to get my hands on this one.

Despite all of this, I’m still pretty damn excited for the Switch. I’ve seen the list of games which are coming to the console, and I’m absolutely planning on buying titles such as Skyrim, Terraria, and Stardew Valley for a second (or third) time, as well as investing in some other indies that I’ve not gotten around to yet like Shovel Knight, The Binding of Isaac and Unbox. Plus, the 3DS gamer in me is eager to delve into the Virtual Console library again, and to own some of Nintendo’s older games that previously didn’t make it onto the 3DS shop. Plus, as somebody who skipped the Wii U as deftly as Neo from The Matrix dodges bullets, I’m looking forward to owning a Nintendo home console again and playing some larger titles.

But that’ll all come in a year or two. Because, once again, Nintendo has given us a console with hardly any decent games attached. I’m just hoping that Breath of the Wild’s success will carry the Switch past Nintendo’s recent early day console failings. The 3DS caught up, but the Wii U never did quite manage to recover from so many devs pulling their support.

I’ve also found Nintendo to focus somewhat too much on giving their consoles some crazy functionality, to the point where it can hinder gameplay. I can only assume that after the Gamecube’s failure to compete against the Xbox and the PS2, Nintendo decided to stop competing altogether and take things in a whole different direction. It worked for the DS. Theoretically speaking, it worked for the Wii, but in a manner that made it more of a family party console than the Nintendo gaming console that many people wanted. I can’t count the number of times I got sick of playing Animal Crossing because of the Wii’s motion controls. The 3DS had a dismissable gimmick, so much so that Nintendo capitalised on it and sold a non-3D variant of the console. The Wii U was a weird mess of motion control and dual screens combined into a home console with an identity crisis. The Switch, however, has functionality which actually makes it more convenient to play, like Nintendo’s handhelds, as opposed to being less convenient, such as its home-based predecessors.

So, that’s about the sum of my thoughts regarding the Switch. I’m sure they mirror many others. I’ll be excited to own it when it has a decent library a year or two from now, so that it can be the companion console to my gaming PC. As much as I frown upon Nintendo’s functionality-driven approach to consoles, it works out for them in the somewhat niche market of PC gamers looking for a console that isn’t simply a less-powerful version of what they can already accomplish. Making it semi-portable is what mostly solidified my interest in it.

Wait… This Isn’t Tamriel! (Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning)

Kingdoms of Amalur is to Skyrim what Torchlight 2 is to Diablo 3. It was developed by one / some of the developers of its predecessor, it’s similar yet different in that it uses more traditional gameplay in place of the popular brand’s newer take on things, and the graphics and general aesthetic is more colourful, and less… gritty. Oh, and it’s also exactly what you’ve been looking for when searching for alternatives to the more mainstream franchise.

Now, as far as I can tell, I’ve just spoken heresy. Some of the user reviews for Kingdoms of Amalur beg you not to compare it to Skyrim, stating that it’s a very different game. And whilst partially, I agree, given its third person driven point of view and its more hack-and-slash combat, I also disagree. Now, to be fair, I’m only ten hours into the game as of now, but I can already see many similarities pop up between the two franchises, such as how stealth, lockpicking and pickpocketing works, how it has persuasion and crime, different guilds (sorry… houses) with their own questlines, and a myriad of other things. I’m not saying this is a bad thing; nor am I saying that this was unexpected, given that one of the lead game designers was prominent in Oblivion’s creation. In fact, this pleases me. There’s enough similarity here to feel right at home whilst still being a completely different and brilliant game.

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Here is my character, fresh out of the intro to the game. It’s… somewhat greener than Skyrim.

Take abilities, for example. Not to bash Skyrim’s exemplary collection of spells (see: fire hands, fire bolts, bigger fire bolts, fire floor), but I’ve always felt that something was… lacking. It is primarily, I think, due to the fact that spells are bought, not earned by levelling up. Not only do you learn them in Kingdoms of Amalur, but you can also put more points into them to make them more powerful. This is, like I mentioned in the introduction, a more traditional take on the game mechanisms of an RPG. It is also, however, better, removing simplicity and allowing far more customisation of your character’s ability to function in combat situations.

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It would seem that my penchant for accidental murder has carried over to Kingdoms of Amalur.

Now can we talk about scenery? I applaud Bethesda’s dedication to make an RPG that doesn’t think it necessary to include every biome, and this fits in with their apparent ideology that fantasy can be gritty and real instead of constantly airy-fairy. It attempts to immerse its players solely in one continent at a time, thereby building a more fleshed-out and believable environment instead of a handful of half-realised lands. And I respect them for that. But, man, sometimes I want to stop shivering when playing Skyrim and find somewhere warm to go bandit killing. And whilst, admittedly, I’ve not yet made it off the first continent in Amalur, I have visited Webwood, an area with an entirely different atmosphere to the surrounding lands. It’s full of, erm, big pink fluffy bunnies.

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These books… they’re not physics based! (They are readable, though.)

Finally, whilst I can’t exactly comment on it’s value as a whole yet, I can say that I’m enjoying the main storyline more than Skyrim, as well as many of the side-quests. The characters have more… character to them. When I arrived at the town of Gorheart, and I went through one of the merchant’s personal possessions and found a diary detailing the loss of her husband and her grief, and then found out more by talking to her about it. I then found notes by her husband’s graveside from his brother who promised to look out for the merchant and, well, I won’t spoil things. But as far as I can tell, there’s no accompanying quest. It’s just story for the sake of story, and it’s more interesting than half of Skyrim’s main questlines. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that they have more than three voice actors per gender. You know, soft spoken, rough spoken, and that one voice which says, “I’m going to betray you later in the questline because I’ve got that shifty voice.”

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It’s good to get away from Skyrim’s physics… oh goddamnit.

It’s a shame there won’t be a Kingdoms of Amalur 2, really. This was a game world unconnected to any other franchise who’s story wasn’t afraid to do things differently, who’s graphics weren’t afraid to look a little fantasy, and who’s game design wasn’t afraid to use tradition. And it does it really, really well. Hell, they even made me like gnomes.

Pocket Monsters! (Pokemon)

People say (or used to say) that Pokemon is for kids. You like Pikachu? Estimates indicate you’re probably five. Know all the Pokemon off by heart? Well, that’s simply unfathomable, and in no way similar at all to the banks of information others have in their minds regarding footballers or whatever.

Pokemon games are, of course, far less childish than the stigma would have you assume. It’s about strategy, and when you get into the metagame, it’s about natures, effort values, and individual values. When you pick your Bulbasaur, for example, in Pokemon Fire Red or Leaf Green (for the first generation lacked many of these in-depth features), you’re not just choosing Bulbsaur. Your Bulbasaur may be naughty, and proud of its power; it may be jolly and somewhat of a clown; perhaps it is simply docile, and takes plenty of siestas. These three different Bulbasaurs excel in attack, speed, and nothing much other than HP, respectively.

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Littleroot Town; Pokemon Ruby

But enough about the metagame. When I first played Pokemon, I was most excited about Pokemon Ruby’s sparkly cartridge. It looked different to most other cartridges! That was cool. I was also highly confused as to why I wasn’t playing as Ash, and after playing a little with Torchic I immediately went on to focus on Zigzagoon, or as I called him, “Spikydog”. Spikydog the, uh, raccoon Pokemon was a loyal companion and a loving friend, though I’ve no recollection of how far through the game he carried me. I recall being stuck on one of the gym battles, and never playing the game again.

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Pallet Town; Pokemon Leaf Green

I didn’t come across Pokemon again until a few years later in life when I acquired Pokemon Leaf Green. I must have been about 13, and had watched a Let’s Play on the game before trying it for myself, so I was a little less directionless this time around. It’s also worth noting that Leaf Green is just a tad more linear in its geography. To this day, I’ve still not been able to get into Ruby and Sapphire (or their remakes) as I have been most other Pokemon games. But still, after beating the Elite Four in Leaf Green, I did little more with my Pokemon life. No scouting for legendaries, no catching ’em all. I’d beaten the game already. So what?

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Twinleaf Town; Pokemon Platinum (Diamond & Pearl)

A year or two later I played Pokemon Diamond, and I think that this was the Pokemon game that really got me into the series. I was engrossed in the story, I’d named my Dialga Rassilon like every other Doctor Who fan, and what’s more, I’d resolved to complete my Pokedex, though this only entailed seeing them all now. Nevertheless, it still took me a while, and after all that work, the disappointing endgame and excruciatingly slow battle animations eventually drew me away from the game. It still holds a special place in my heart, though.

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New Bark Town; Pokemon Soul Silver

Pokemon Soul Silver was my favourite. It still might be, though it’s been ages since I’ve played it. The reason I’ve not played it in so long is due to the amount of legendaries I caught and the impressive collection I built up during my playtime. I chose Totodile for my starter, and he crunched his way through several gym leaders in quick succession. I caught every legendary available in that game except for Rayquaza (due to my lack of a Hoenn-born Kyogre) and one of the roaming dogs. I still have plans to transfer them all forwards to my current save, except…

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Nuvema Town; Pokemon Black

The fifth generation Pokemon games are by far my least favourite in the franchise. I know people like them, but Pokemon Black is just not the game for me. The general aesthetic of Unova and the UI felt too much like it was trying to be futuristic, and Team Plasma just… bored me. I’ve tried time and time again to beat the game so that I can move my 4th generation Pokemon forwards, but the closest I’ve got is the fifth gym and I just can’t bring myself to continue. I maintain hope that one day I’ll begin enjoying it so I can move my Pokemon forwards (for Soul Silver also holds my Leaf Green Pokemon), but that day is yet to come.

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Vaniville Town; Pokemon X

By the time I’d gotten round to Pokemon X and Y, my interest in Pokemon had waned. Black had demotivated me and I didn’t own a 3DS for a long time. But as I grew, I’d met more and more people who had a larger interest for Pokemon than I ever did. Eventually, towards the end of either 2013 or 2014 (I don’t remember which), I caved and bought a 3DSXL with Pokemon X. And honestly, it’s tied for my favourite non-remake alongside Pokemon Diamond. It feels like the most Pokemon game since the 4th generation, with the general aesthetic and all that jazz. It may seem like an odd compliment but I love the UI. It’s so colourful and bubbly and just, Pokemon. Another thing to thank Pokemon X for is creating official 3D renders of all Pokemon and allowing you to go full on Nintendogs with them, tickling them and feeding them treats and watching your fierce legendaries gurgle with happiness.

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Littleroot Town; Pokemon Alpha Sapphire

I must confess, though… my Pokemon X character is still shivering outside of the entrance of the eighth gym. I have an atrocious attention span, and if I’m not surrounded by other people playing Pokemon, I’m unlikely to play it myself, despite my enjoyment for the game. Similar, my character in Alpha Sapphire is yet to challenge his 7th gym leader, though I’m no great lover of the Hoenn region. I have many event Pokemon in these 2 games and have dabbled with breeding, growing my collection through Wonder Trade. But I am still yet to finish them.

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Pallet Town; Pokemon Blue

I can’t wait for Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow to be released on virtual console. For the first time, I am going to attempt to catch all 151 Pokemon, with the help of some friends with alternate versions. Nintendo certainly didn’t miss a trick by implementing WiFi trading. I just can’t help but wonder if the Mew glitch will still be available…