As many of those who play games and happen to be in their 30s, Nintendo forms part of my earliest memories of gaming. Waiting to see my Auntie and Uncle so I could play California Games on their NES is my first memory of games (that and being convinced I would blow up a Master System if I turned it on without a cartridge in so I could play the pre-installed Alex Kidd in Miracle World) but Super Mario Brothers and Duck Hunt were certainly more notable for me. Later in my childhood, I became more of a Sega kid, owning a Mega Drive and Dreamcast at various points, and aside from sessions of Goldeneye at various friends’ houses, Nintendo passed me by.
It has come back in a big way now with the announcement of the Nintendo Switch, and primarily because of the fascinating island they inhabit of being the only console hardware platform which seem to care about both the longer-term gamer but also the next generation.
There is a sense of complacency to how Sony and Microsoft regard the younger generation. My daughter is a 3-year-old starting to show an interest in games, insisting on having her own PS4 controller despite not being able to hold it properly for instance, but the problem I’m seeing there is that there just isn’t enough being made available on these platforms for those who are too young to get into the idea of “games as a service” and spend years playing Destiny, The Division or any number of these things trying to capture the 18-34 male demographic sought after by seemingly every company in the land.
It is clear what the Switch is
With a combination of Super Mario Run and YouTube videos however, she’s pumped for the Switch. I remind you, she’s three. She reminds me every day that she wants the red controller. She tells me often that she wants to play the “Mario driving game” which with the Steering Wheel attachment for the Joy-Con and the Assist mode being included stopping her from falling off the track, means that she can play with me by doing some pretty basic stuff. You can’t find accessibility for younger players on PS4 and Xbox One like this but it’s something Nintendo seems to care about, a smart business decision which I’m happy to reward.
Additionally however, Nintendo also occuies the seemingly contradictory space of being a platform for the more hardcore gamers. The release of Zelda: Breath of the Wild on the same day as the Switch is a masterstroke here, one which also somewhat covers up the lack of titles available on release. This is a game which will take up days worth of time to fully explore, has the full backing of Nintendo’s biggest names working on it, Shigeru Miyamoto, Eijo Aonuma and Hidemaro Fujibayashi chief among them, and has an art style to die for. With new Fire Emblem, Shin Megami Tensei and Mario titles upcoming, there’s enough upcoming to please virtually every sector of gamer (aside from the 3-4 titles a year Call of Duty types) as long as you buy into Nintendo’s vision.
It is fair to say that their combination of a catalogue of iconic titles and characters along with their continuing excellence in game design only won a certain amount of gamers with the Wii U but there were systemic issues with the release and messaging surrounding that device which feels already resolved by the Switch. It is clear what the Switch is, its USP is a hell of a thing (I am very excited to play Zelda on the train to/from the day job) and the marketing itself has wisely shown that its for a wide audience without focusing on the family aspect too much.
Look at the difference between these two videos:
What a difference a failed console makes. A 30-second ad showing two of the different ways you can play the Switch with an adult playing it versus a 60 second ad showing mostly kids playing with adults looking on. One says this is for adults, one says this is for kids, it couldn’t be clearer however the kids will still have Mario among other things. It is clever, on-point marketing and if it continues on this course, the question is very much open as to how it will sell.
Is the worrying messaging around third-party support a cloud in the horizon? Sure, though it won’t be the only console in a lot of households and the Switch offers a more convenient and accessible platform for its own brand of games. Is the pricing of accessories annoying? Yes, paying £74.99 for a pair of Joy-Con (apparently that's the plural) feels excessive despite the impressive tech but then you get a pair in the box which enables two-player gaming straight away for the first Nintendo console in decades. Is the online service something which feels ill-informed with its games giveaway which they’ll take back after a month? …Yeah I don’t have an argument for that one, that’s weak compared to the competition.
In all though, I feel comfortable getting in on the ground floor with this. Playing with my daughter over the next few years will be a delight and speaking as someone who hasn’t had much Nintendo experience for the last few years, I’m looking forward to diving into an innovative platform which feels ripe for growth as long as the sins of the past are not repeated. And hey, MARIO!
• The Nintendo Switch is out in the UK on Friday March 3, priced from £279.99, and is available for order now at Amazon. I’ll be providing written and video coverage around launch and after for Screenjabber