Did Nintendo Lose their Vision for the Switch with the Joy-Cons?

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The Switch was supposed to be a fresh start for Nintendo, but their reveal conference showed otherwise.

From its initial announcement, the Switch seemed to be the most logical step forward for Nintendo. Evolving from the Wii U’s unfortunately underutilized tablet controller, the Switch promised a merging of Nintendo’s console and handheld divisions. Whether it could be seen as a portable console or a handheld you could play on your TV, Nintendo had finally developed a console that core gamers could get behind.

That is, until the further revealing of the console’s features muddled the entire perceived concept of what the Switch was. While many of us assumed the Switch would finally be a departure from the gimmicky Wii-branding that’s tied Nintendo down for a decade, it seems these ties aren’t entirely severed after all with their new Joy-Con controllers.

I recently wrote about my worries that Wii games would not be playable on future Nintendo consoles. And while I had hope that this problem would be solved, gyro controls are not only possible on the Switch, but a much larger component of the system than imagined.

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Half the size and buttons of a regular controller, for the same price.

In fact, oddly enough, after Nintendo’s recent presentation on the Switch, I came away with a distinct feeling that portability was no longer the main selling point of the console. And even more worrying, as they revealed more and more technology implemented in the Joy-Con controllers, the Switch looked less like a successor to the Wii U, and more like a sequel to the original Wii.

With accelerometers, gyro sensors, NFC chips, motion-IR cameras, and “HD rumble”, the Switch’s controllers are absolutely packed to the brim with extra features (no doubt leading to their outrageous price point). It’s also very telling that the first revealed Nintendo-developed, Switch-exclusive games, 1-2-Switch and Arms, serve as showcases of their Joy-Con technology. Throughout the conference, the portability of the Switch was drastically played down in comparison to their initial reveal video, in favour of demonstrating importance of the Joy-Cons.

So, what is Nintendo’s goal with the Switch now? The system’s ease of portability and pension for co-op seemed like more than enough to set the system apart from both its competitors and previous Nintendo generations, so why the need for a return to motion controls? Is Nintendo still chasing the casual market that skyrocketed the Wii into success? A game like 1-2-Switch certainly makes this seem the case.

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Nintendo’s dying legacy?

Have they lost faith in the initial idea of a portable console? After the successful launch of Pokémon Sun and Moon, as well as the continued release of series like Fire Emblem, the 3DS still seems to be going strong, possibly making for some cold feet in completely abandoning the DS line of handhelds for a hybrid system that may ultimately fail in the long-run.

What could motion controls mean for the Switch’s success? After the Wii U, Nintendo is in a tough spot and may not be able to afford another large commercial console failure, which may also account for a last-ditch effort to throw in as many features as possible into the Switch, hoping for a run-away success in one of them. But if the initial vision of the Switch seemed like a unifying of the company behind one ideal, the implementation of motion controls confuses the identity of the system.

I’ve already mentioned the absurd price points for the Joy-Con controllers (which also translate to the pro controller), but their hindrances may go beyond. Could this affect the capabilities of its portability? With battery life stated to be as low as 2.5 hours for more largescale games, it begs the question if less powerful controllers would have better served this aspect of the console.

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Breath of the Wild only runs for 3 hours in portable mode, and that’s a Wii U port.

I’m no technological expert but this does leave me with questions. Did Nintendo focus too much development on the controllers rather than better optimizing the Switch’s portability? Do these powerful controllers take more energy than necessary from the device?  Would Nintendo be able to implement more expensive hardware and batteries into the Switch if not already bogged down by these expensive controllers?

And of course, that’s not to mention what third-party support will look like. Both third-party and even many Nintendo-developed games themselves failed to truly showcase unique and interesting ways of using the Wii U tablet. Will history repeat itself again as companies like EA and Ubisoft fail to find compelling use of the Joy-Cons? From the sparse Switch game line-up throughout 2017, it’s a strong worry. But will even Nintendo themselves provide games that answer why these controllers were necessary?

We’ll have to wait to see the answers to these questions come to fruition, but after the Wii U’s track record, I can’t help feeling concern over what may turn out to be Nintendo’s last console if it doesn’t stick. With the initial reveal of the Switch, Nintendo had a lot to prove, and seemed to be making great strides in uniting their different divisions into one powerful and hardcore-friendly company. But with the news of the Joy-Cons, this message feels lost. With only a month and a half before release I’m still left wondering what kind of system the Switch is supposed to be. And that’s terrifying.


Words by Nicholas Schaus @NicSchaus

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