"Nintendo is doomed." That's what the conventional wisdom should tell us, right?
I mean, they're about to release a console that has only a small handful games available at launch. Two of those games are party games, one of them is a toys-to-life game for kids, one of them is an indie Zelda clone, one of them is a retro revival— the only truly colossal game coming on Day One is the one and only The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
That's pretty bad, right? Xbox One launched with 22 games, and PlayStation 4 with 24, and their lineups included several heavy hitting multi-platform AAA titles like Assassin's Creed, Battlefield, Call of Duty, and EA's sports lineup, as well as exclusives like Forza and Dead Rising on Xbox One and Knack and Killzone on PlayStation 4. Even Wii U managed to scrape together more than 30 games, with a surprising number of multi-platform ports.
Switch doesn't really have any of that, either in its launch lineup or even in its long-term roadmap.
The Western industry has shown no signs of giving Switch the type or quantity of software support that they lend to other platforms. It'll get Skyrim and Minecraft and a few token ports, a smattering of indie games, and that's it. Japanese devs are lending it more support, but we aren't really seeing their key big-budget titles show up — no Resident Evil VII from Capcom, no Final Fantasy XV from Square-Enix, no Metal Gear Solid V from Konami. Instead we're getting games with smaller budgets . Case in point: a remix of SNES's Street Fighter II as opposed to the much newer Street Fighter V.
By all accounts, Switch is not one of the headline platforms for the Industry (that's Industry with a capital I)—or for hardcore gamers , the players whose demands drive the products put out by the Industry. There's no denying that. The must-have games that are at the center of their universe are far away from Switch.
But if Switch isn't built for them, who is it for? Just look at the games.
Breath of the Wild, Switch's headline launch game, is ostensibly out to recapture all the values the Zelda series had gradually abandoned since the NES days: chiefly, open-ended exploration, challenging action, and RPG-like game mechanics. It's for people who feel that recent Zelda games haven't been for them. It's also for people who feel modern RPGs and action-adventure games are too complex in the wrong ways.
Super Mario Odyssey returns to the sandbox structure introduced by Super Mario 64 and Sunshine. At the same time, it literally takes the franchise to new places — to worlds we've never seen or imagined in a Mario game. It's Mario for people who are looking for a big, ambitious, open-ended world featuring fresh content that isn't drawn largely from past Mario games.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is, on its face, a port of the Wii U installment with all its content. Nothing to see here but a great game, right? But look at what's been added:
- Arena-style Battle Mode and classic Battle Mode courses, a much-requested feature that was popularized in the original games on SNES and N64
- Boo, a power-up absent since the GameCube era
- Feather, another returning power-up from the SNES days
- A steering assist feature that reduces reliance on prowess with manual drift
This is still Mario Kart 8, but it's been tweaked for the audiences that loved past Mario Kart games and weren't convinced to buy a Wii U.
Arms looks and feels like a deliberate fusion between Punch-Out!!, Wii Sports Boxing, and the creative energy that Nintendo puts into new IP like Splatoon. Past Nintendo consoles, particularly NES and SNES, were full of sports games — especially ones that carried that trademark Nintendo charm. Arms is a continuation of that tradition, in the context of their modern motion controllers. It's a fighting/boxing/sports game for people who love Nintendo's unique focus on fun.
Starting to notice a pattern yet? Switch's lineup is tailor-made for gamers who haven't been adequately served in today's market , neither by the Industry nor by Nintendo. Specifically, it's targeting gamers from distinct eras: the NES era, with open-world adventures like Zelda and Minecraft, retro side-scrolling platformers like Shovel Knight, and 2D dungeon crawlers like The Binding of Isaac; the SNES era, with battle arenas in Mario Kart, a classic-style Sonic game in Sonic Mania, futuristic racers like Fast RMX and Redout, a farming sim in Stardew Valley, a freaking Bomberman revival, and of course all the JRPGs; and the Nintendo 64 era, with sandbox-style 3D platformers like Super Mario Odyssey and Yooka-Laylee.
We haven't seen a console's core lineup focus on these kinds of games — and, consequently, target these kinds of players — since DS and Wii. That's not to say Switch is a console for casual players or non-gamers. Instead, it's a console that gives top priority to the content and players that the Industry and Nintendo had generally left behind.
So, yeah, Switch doesn't have a huge lineup. It doesn't have big AAA multiplats from Western publishers. It's focused on rebuilding bridges with lost games and lapsed gamers. And it's doing that by assembling a solid lineup of modern takes on older ways to play. If there's truly an untapped hunger for those games, they'll do well — and more will come.
We can still measure Switch against PS4 and Xbox One, of course. It's still wrestling with them over mindshare among publishers and players. But the real test Switch faces is to be competitive among the games and consoles it's actually trying to follow up: NES, SNES, Turbografx, Genesis, Nintendo 64, and the like. In that regard, I think Switch has a killer lineup with a lot to offer to its most important customer: the left-behind gamer.
Nintendo's not doomed. And they don't need to chase after hardcore gamers to find success. They just need to carve out their own profitable niche, and they (and their third-party partners) seem to have a pretty coherent strategy for doing that on Switch.