How The Switch Saved Christmas (And My Love Of Gaming)
At this point last year, the Switch seemed like another one of Nintendo's crazy ideas that was destined to crash and burn. That might sound cynical, but beneath the promising premise, there were so many factors that could go wrong. The battery life could be abysmal. The JoyCons could be flimsy garbage. The touch screen could be easily damaged. Upscaling an undocked game to a docked one could be a nightmare. The lack of horsepower might mean that poo-bahs like EA and Activision stayed away, although, really, that would be a plus for me.
And of course, this was hot off the heels of the Wii U. Now, that was a system that I loved, without a doubt. I still contend that a few of the best games ever made came out on it (Bayonetta 2, Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze) along with some underrated gems like Captain Toad, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, ZombiU, Wonderful 101, and Devil's Third (don't @ me, I dug it.) But it was undoubtedly a mess. The storefront wasn't great, even if it was brimming with personality. The GamePad being tied to a console was a nightmare. The Virtual Console was a major step back from the halcyon days of the Wii. Backwards compatibility being its own Wii console inside of the Wii U was dumb. Everything about it felt cumbersome, clunky, at odds with itself - a proof-of-concept masquerading as a consumer good.
Which is why I was concerned about the Switch. I think a lot of people were, really. While I was hotter on the Wii U than most, my laundry list of complaints is a testament to how much I enjoyed that system despite of things, instead of because of them. The Switch, I was afraid, would fall into the same pitfalls. A platform with some truly amazing games that were held back by the platform they were on. This was what being a Nintendo fan was destined to be, I assumed.
Nevertheless, after the big reveal night in early 2017, I preordered one right away. Mario and Zelda in the same year? A new Splatoon? Some weird thing called Arms, and the promise of an eventual Shin Megami Tensei not tied to the stagnant Persona brand? Even if the rest of the system was a bust, those titles would be more than enough for me to justify the purchase. My girlfriend, who typically isn't one to buy games very often and had never bought a console for herself, even snapped one up when preorders went live. It was a big investment, but we were confident that at the very least, those games would be worth it.
This is all crazy to think back on now. It's crazy because in less than a year, the Nintendo Switch has handily become my favorite platform to date. I've been playing video games for... Christ, since my mom bought a PSOne so she could play MediEvil. So, like, 1997, 1998... which means about twenty years, give or take. Since I was a tiny baby, basically. And yet nothing else has given me the indescribable joy the Switch has.
Or, more accurately, the Switch has managed to perfectly encapsulate the joy of my three favorite Nintendo systems - the GameCube, the Wii, and the DS. Those were three deeply formative systems for me, systems that I have arguably my best gaming memories on. I remember my mom and dad playing Double Dash with me, and mom helping me through Ocarina of Time. All the house parties where guests gathered around the Wii, or the late nights playing Twilight Princess or Super Mario Galaxy - not to mention all the cool, weird third-party games. Or all the road trips playing Pokemon or Final Fantasy, and the daybreaks after a ten-plus hour nighttime binge of Phantom Hourglass and The World Ends With You.
These were all experiences, personal and shared, that were built around Nintendo platforms. However, the three systems couldn't be more different. The GameCube was very much a competitor with the PS2 and Xbox. The Wii was its own weird little thing. The DS was a handheld. I loved all three for different reasons, and in theory, the idea of a synthesis of that trio is absurd. In theory. In execution, Nintendo has accomplished it, and so much more.
With the Switch, I've logged more hours than my PS4 and PC combined this year. Whether it was the 25-30 hours of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe alone, online, or with friends, the 40 hours of Splatoon 2 online, the 30-40, 65-70 and 55-60 hours respectively with Mario + Rabbids, Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey. But it goes beyond the marquee titles. Sonic Mania and Forces, Fate/Extella, Nights of Azure 2, Binding of Isaac, Wonder Boy, Puyo Puyo Tetris, Superbeat Xonic, Resident Evil Revelations, Fire Emblem Warriors, fucking Skyrim... third-party games games that I nevertheless had a blast with. I'm probably forgetting some, too.
The best part is how different each experience was. For Mario Kart 8 and Snipperclips, I played exclusively with the people I live with, as we screamed and hollered well into dawn. Breath of the Wild and Odyssey was a shared experience - sure, I played a lot solo, but the three of us often played in the same room, taking turns on the TV, and talked about the game constantly. Nights of Azure 2? In my bedroom, on the TV. Resident Evil Revelations? Tugged under the blankets in handheld mode. Binding of Isaac? In handheld mode everywhere I went, including a co-op run on the flight to Anime Expo. Fate/Extella? Late into the night on the hotel floor at The International 2017 while drunk off my ass on vodka and whiskey. Practically every game on the Switch I played this year, I have a distinct memory of. Even games I loved on other platforms didn't carve out as many memories as the tactile satisfaction and overall versatility I've enjoyed with this system.
As you might have guessed, I love video games. Consequently, I play a lot of them, and buy a lot of them. I've bought somewhere in the ballpark of 150-200 video games this year, and that's being conservative. But truth be told? The act of gaming was growing stagnant for me. Being part of the game industry for a year or so definitely contributed to that, as my hobby turning into a job that required interaction with gaming corporations being hawkishly defensive of their products (not that that applies to any one particular company or anything...) felt pretty awful. The idea of turning on my PlayStation, parking my ass in front of the TV, going through the rigmarole of scrolling through a menu and playing a game in my living room and being forced to stay there... it was so fucking dull. It is so fucking dull. On the same token, my PC had the opposite problem - if I actually wanted to be social and play my games in a common space, I couldn't. Now, as a sidebar, I think playing on the PC is leaps and bounds better than a PS4, even with a nice-ass TV. Still. It's that picking and choosing that feels really old-fashioned.
It feels old-fashioned, I think, because Nintendo has changed the way I approach gaming for good. Say I'm playing a game in the living room, start feeling a little anti-social, and want to have it to myself. I can do that. Say I'm playing a game out and about, then want to not hold the console in my hands and put it down. I can do that. Say I want to play Skyrim anywhere. I can do that, and anybody with the "gaming laptop" argument can frankly shut the hell up. It's not the same. Stop being petty. There's so much I can do with this system, and I love it for that.
Plus, it's not only in how I can play, but the way it plays. Its UI is uncomplicated, spartan even, and it's all the better for it. There's a simplicity to it that I admire, a simplicity that hearkens back to the original DS, just with quality of life improvements like being able to easily access my library and game information. It's fast, responsive, and uncluttered, even when pulling up the menu in the middle of a game. There's no lag, unlike other consoles. Not only that, but it has personality, primarily in its "News" section, something that I wouldn't ever dream to look at on the PS4, considering its overbearing, soul-sucking corporatism coupled with the PS4's honestly dogshit UI. Aside from advertisements, there are cute little developer interviews, fun facts, or just holiday wishes. The news section even has its own fucking mascot in Amelia, for Christ's sake, who is good and cute.
"Good" and "cute" is kind of a good descriptor for the Switch. It feels like what they've been building towards since the GameCube. The GameCube's handle, silly as it was, was kind of a progenitor to the Switch. So was the DS's revolutionary Download Play. So were the Wii's motion controls. And, yes, so was the Wii U's tablet controller, cumbersome though it may have been at times. The more you look at the Switch, the more you start to see Nintendo's DNA, as a company, as a brand, ingrained in its post-N64 identity. Not only that, but you see them succeed where the Vita failed attempting similar things - a system I love more than Sony does, I'd say.
It's nice, then, that Nintendo is getting their due with their creativity. All of the weird, wacky stuff they've always attempted has actually panned out here. The system is selling like hotcakes. Its games are the toast of the gaming community. It all just works. By trying their hardest to not be like the competition, Nintendo has handily outdone them. Not only that, but they've reminded me why I fell in love with the medium to begin with, and made me actually enjoy gaming again.
I love the Nintendo Switch. I hope to continue to love it for years to come. And I hope others do too.