For the time being, Nintendo has taken the gaming world by storm with the Nintendo Switch. I would go so far as to say the Switch is now the PS4 line’s biggest console competitor. Sure there’s the Scorpio, but there’s nothing indicating that the Scorpio will turn the tide in Microsoft’s favor, as there are no games that will be designed around the Scorpio’s extra power. The Switch is the sexy new console in town, and it has several factors playing to its favor.
The visual appeal is strong, really strong. The Switch is a sleek piece of tech on it’s own, but in much the same way a person looks better next to their ugly friend, the Wii U and 3DS make the Switch look even better in comparison. The entire system, joy-cons included, is smaller than the Wii U’s controller, while the handheld mode’s display offers a massive increase in pixels and pixel density over the 3DS. It’s a hybrid that can go everywhere, play online anywhere you have a smartphone or WiFi connection, and it’s still more powerful than any Nintendo home console ever made.On top of that, there are no intrusive, forced gimmicks. Are there optional gimmicks? Yes, but who complains about more options? Sure, it has motion controls, which have been greatly improved since the Wiimote Plus, and there are gyro controls, which are amazing for shooters by the way, but they’re not required to beat any game and can be turned off. There’s no second screen to split your attention between separate displays, like in Star Fox Zero or Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. The only “gimmick” it has is that I can take it wherever I want, and even that’s completely optional.
Nintendo did an excellent job of marketing the Switch. The Wii U failed marvelously in this department, with many thinking it was just a new add-on for the Wii, but Nintendo learned from their mistakes. The Switch reveal and first presentation relentlessly hammered home the selling point of its hybrid nature. It’s purpose was clear, and its name perfectly accentuates this point while establishing the Switch as its own standalone product, unlike the Wii U.
That’s all great for Nintendo, but how does that put them into direct competition with Sony? The answer lies in the Japanese gaming market.
Home consoles are dead or dying in Japan, it’s all about portable gaming there. The 3DS has sold 22M units, and is still outselling the PS4, which is sitting just shy of 4.7M units sold. The Switch is now selling more than every other console and handheld in Japan combined, and it would be selling more if not for the fact that each shipment has sold out within the hour. Once production catches up to demand, and the 3DS is phased out, the Nintendo Switch will be the only relevant handheld on the Japanese market, and shortly after that, the only relevant system in Japan.The Switch’s popularity in Japan, paired with the ease and lower cost of development, will lead to Japanese developers supporting the platform, securing a good source of third party games to pump up its library. It also steals a lot of steam from Sony’s sails. By next year I fully expect every Japanese multi-platform release to have a Switch version, and for many smaller releases to go Switch only. PS4 software does terribly in Japan, and if the Switch finds success in the West to the tune of PS3-Wii sales numbers, then it will stand as the best platform for Japanese games by far.
Square Enix has already stated they want to support the Switch more, and we know Unreal Engine 4 does an amazing job of scaling down to run on the Switch. What UE4 games does Square Enix have in development? Kingdom Hearts 3 and Final Fantasy VII Remake, two huge releases that many thought would be big deals for Sony. After seeing Snake Pass on Switch, and experiencing the appeal of console quality gaming on the go, I would take a similar sacrifice of lower resolution and visual effects for portability, and I’m sure that goes for many others as well. If those games do come to Switch in serviceable form, it will cut deep into their software sales on the PS4, and reduce the “hardware bump” they offer to Sony’s platform.
Now people might point out that those are just Japanese third parties, but Western third parties will not sit back and leave money on the table if non-Nintendo games start selling well on the Switch. The Switch may not be very powerful, but developers managed to get versions of their products running on the Wii and early Wii U; the gap between the Switch and the XB1 is not as large as that. However, the biggest issues holding games back on the Wii U weren’t power, as games can be scaled down to run on weaker hardware.
The real problems were sales and the hassle of working with Nintendo’s previous console: It was a pain to port games to the Wii U, and there was no money to be made in it. Nintendo went out of its way to ensure that porting games to the Switch would be a simple task, and the Switch is on pace to sell PS3-like numbers, at least, so the barriers have been lowered: Everyone’s just waiting for someone besides Nintendo to sell well on the Switch, and with the Japanese developers moving towards it, Western developers will get to see firsthand whether or not it’s worth their time.Finally, the West is starting to warm up to Japanese games again. During the PS1 and PS2 eras, the Japanese ruled console gaming, and that eventually led to lethargy and games that almost refused to evolve. Just look at the PS2’s massive library: There were over 2,000 retail releases, and a significant portion of those were JRPGs, shmups, and arcade games that ranged from sub-par to mediocre . Furthermore, Japanese developers had growing pains at the start of the HD era of gaming. (See: Square Enix) The time between great Japanese releases grew larger, while Western developers streamlined development, inflated budgets, mastered the art of marketing, and began cranking out HD releases yearly.
Western developers are now in the same position as their Japanese counterparts were before. They’re on top and refusing to expand, with every new release seeming like the same nutritionally sufficient, scientifically developed grey paste, only differentiated by the seasoning sprinkled on top. There’s the third person open world RPG, the third person action game with RPG elements, the third/first person shooter with RPG elements, or the racing/sports sim with more RPG elements.
Today, Japanese developers are getting better with their marketing (See: Nintendo, Bandai Namco), and are starting to push out more quality games. In just this year alone, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2, Resident Evil 7, Nioh, Nier: Automata, Breath of the Wild, Persona, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe have all been highly praised, great games, and most of them sold well or better than expected. Are they going to unseat CoD, GTA, Assassin’s Creed, or EA sports titles from the top of the sales charts? No, not any time soon, but they are starting to level that playing field.We’ve just seen a wave of greatness from Japan that we haven’t seen in over a decade, and Nintendo stumbled bass ackwards into great position. Right when Japanese games start trending upwards in the West, Nintendo is about to secure the region. The Switch is selling worldwide, their first party games are on point, the Japanese market is theirs to rule, and they’re in position to secure the most third party support they’ve had for a home console since the SNES.
The improved form factor, better marketing, dominance of the Japanese market, and the upward trend of Japanese games are all reasons why I believe the Switch will be Sony’s biggest competitor going forward. Sure, I could be incredibly wrong about the Scorpio, it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been wrong about a console’s performance, but the Microsoft platform is 100% dead in Japan, is getting its butt handed to it in the NA and EU regions, will have no Scorpio exclusives, and is limited by the ailing XB1. The whole affair reeks of Steam Machine v2.0.
What do you think? Has Switch finally returned Nintendo to the fight? Will the Scorpio prove me wrong? Leave a comment and tell me why or why not.
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