Will Nintendo Hit or Miss With January's Switch Livestream Event?

The First Look at Nintendo Switch, released in October 2016

On January 12th, at 11PM Eastern, Nintendo will hold a livestream event providing all of the vital information regarding their next hardware release, the console-handheld hybrid known as the Switch. Back in October, we were shown an uncharacteristically hip video from the House of Mario, succinctly teasing the adaptable nature of the device as well as potential new entries in the Super Mario and Splatoon franchises. As part of the Podcasting With Power team at Secret Stage, I expect a full explanation of what the device can do, a release date, and a handful of launch games, among other things. But as Nintendo lays it all on the table tomorrow, will we remember this event as a hit or a miss?

The Hardware

We know that Nintendo's latest device functions as a portable device with detachable controllers on either side called Joy-Cons, and the central hardware can be docked to be displayed on your crisp, high-definition television. The device reads proprietary cartridges, features a 3.5mm headphone jack (because not everyone can be as brave as Apple), and even has a kickstand for use wherever you go. We don't know a whole lot about the power of the device, input methods, storage, resolution, and battery life.

The Way to Hit

The Switch is powered by a custom NVIDIA chip, which at best is probably a little behind the Xbox One in terms of power. Not a huge gap (think the PS2 in comparison to the Gamecube and original Xbox), but enough to keep the price point low. Expect some reduction in performance when undocked, but hopefully not dipping below anything the Wii U does at its best. I'd like to see Nintendo hit 1080p when docked with first-party games, but third-parties probably won't get beyond 900p very often in the first year. Ideally, Nintendo will have thought ahead and included support for 4K video streaming from services like Netflix and YouTube. The built-in screen, as heavily rumored, will be a 720p LCD with capacitive touch rather than restrictive (think the difference between your iPad and a Nintendo DS). The battery life, under maximum portable performance and brightness, shouldn't fall below 3 hours. Hopefully we get super-fast charging with the inclusion of USB-C. Storage is dependent on the size and scope of the games, but hopefully won't repeat mistakes of the 3DS and feature some onboard flash AS WELL as SD card support that doesn't require a fucking screwdriver to get to. 

The Way to Miss

A significant gap in power can be a beneficial risk, as it was with the Wii in 2006, but that requires a significant amount of success that make third-parties willing to splinter development on their AAA-games. However, the public was not as smitten with the Wii U, and Nintendo keeping the device underpowered will not bode well for preorders (limiting support from both retailers and third-party publishers). If the console performs at the same level as the Wii U when docked, and the 3DS when undocked, the Switch is dead in the water. I'd hate to see the device cap out at 1080p playback for video, requiring a PS4 Pro or Xbox One S style upgrade down the road for what should be standard fare. I really don't see the screen dipping below 720p, but Nintendo could leave the touchscreen out to cut costs, and in a world where nearly every screen you interact with has some sort of touch feature, that wouldn't look great to the mainstream media. The major concern since the initial reveal has always been battery life, and if the device can't hit even 3 hours on low-power out in the wild, that could kill the device before it even has a chance. Worse, not announcing battery-life ahead of time will not instill confidence in potential early adopters.

The Controller

The Joy-Cons may function attached to the device, but that that's not the full story for controlling the Switch. In the announcement video, we actually first see the Joy-Cons slid into a frame that sort of resembles a puppy's face, for use while the Switch is docked and displaying on the television. We've also seen a Pro Controller, but beyond that is a mystery!

The Way to Hit

People already seem to be on board with the Joy-Con concept. They look intuitive and versatile. Ideally, they'd house large batteries and charge along with the device. That said, the standard controller dock needs to be included with the device, or with the television dock if that's sold separately. The Pro Controller should come in at a reasonable price, maybe $25 USD. Motion control, in some capacity should return, as should the rumored IR-pointer. Real, analog shoulder buttons are also a must. As an added bonus, as Share button similar to the Dualshock 4 will really hammer home that the Switch is a social device. Any extra Joy-Cons (and boy, there should be special-edition Joy-Cons) shouldn't be outrageously prices, maybe $25-$30 USD for the set. Nintendo has pioneered the D-Pad, the Analog Stick, Vibration, and Motion. Here's hoping this is the next step.

The Way to Miss

If Nintendo is gets greedy with accessories, it can really turn off a lot of gamers who might be interested in the Pro Controller or extra Joy-Cons. A convoluted charging solution might too steer customers away. Beyond that, if the basic configuration (Tablet with Joy-Cons attached) can't achieve feature parity in terms of buttons and sticks with the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, Nintendo might be in trouble. Nintendo has made a name for itself with weird controllers (the Gamecube and Wii), but has also been hurt by the same token (the N64 and Wii U). Another failed attempt to reinvent the wheel could spell disaster for the fledgling device.

The UI and Networking

This is the one area in which nothing we know nothing, officially. Sure, rumors have been flying about interface and connectivity, but until Thursday, your guess is as good as mind.

The Way to Hit

A modern, but minimalist UI will suit the Switch best. If the hardware supports it, it should be easy to navigate with the analog stick, via touch, and via an IR-pointer. Maybe a fusion of the Wii Channel Menu and the current Xbox One dashboard. A revamped eShop is a must, and purchases should be tied to your Nintendo Account, rather than hardware. Maintaining a Friends List should be hassle-free, only restricted by parental controls if the user chooses to enact them. Party Chat should also be baked in, and Social features like sharing to Twitter and saving screenshots should be easy and quick to navigate to.

The Way to Miss

Obviously, an unintuitive UI won't impress. If even one input method is ignored in the design, we'll notice. Beyond that, essentially any existing pieces of Nintendo's online infrastructure could cripple the device. The eShop. Miiverse. Friend Codes. Any of it.

The Games

Besides The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, nothing in the reveal video has been officially announced. We did see new Mario Kart, Splatoon, NBA 2K, Skyrim, and a new Mario platformer, that I'm sure we'll hear about shortly. Sprinkle a few third-party games that have been confirmed, and we might have a decent launch lineup.

The Way to Hit

Zelda and a Splatoon sequel at launch. Explain how the latter, along with Mario Kart (which should come out in May-June) are more than enhanced remakes of their Wii U counterparts. Give that new Mario game a real reveal, and date it for 2017. Maybe one more first-party game; something that fills the niche Excite Truck did for the Wii. Announce that other fan-favorite franchises on the way. Formally announce that NBA 2K18 and Skyrim: Special Edition are coming to the device, along with another big third-party hit. Most importantly, confirm a slew of other titles from third-parties, including games like Yooka-Laylee, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, and other unreleased games.

The Way to Miss

Push Zelda further out than launch. That's the game most associated with the Switch at this point, and releasing rather than the hardware will leave a big gap in the launch lineup. If all Nintendo has to offer are in fact ports of Wii U games, they might be in trouble. Furthermore, repeating the Wii U's launch lineup of already-aging games might not entice players of other platforms if they've played nearly the entire catalog already. Not selling this machine as "Gamer's First" will...well, just ask Don Mattrick and his Xbox One launch.

The Virtual Console

It might not seem like much, but Nintendo has built a legacy in the video game industry across four decades, and honing in on that legacy has been a mainstay since the release of the Wii. It's also one of the areas fans are most critical of, so it's important that Nintendo gets it right.

The Way to Hit

Remember how the Wii handled the Virtual Console? I wouldn't blame you if you didn't, but it went like this: 5 consoles off the bat, several titles from each, and steady releases every week of key titles from Nintendo's past. There should be a lot to choose from Day One. Like, everything on the Wii U's Virtual Console. Throw in a few Gamecube games too. We've heard some rumors of Super Mario Sunshine, Luigi's Mansion, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Animal Crossing making their way to Switch, and Nintendo needs to make it so. Carrying over purchases from both the 3DS and Wii U will go over very well with those currently in the ecosystem. I'll admit, I've stopped buying Virtual Console games on both devices until we get a confirmation. Oh, and give us that localized Mother 3!

The Way to Miss

Obviously barring the exclusion of the Virtual Console, Nintendo would have to really ignore fans to misstep here. We're very clear about not wanting to pay for the same games yet another time, and we're vocal about the boring trickle of games releasing on the Wii U that have been out for YEARS on the Wii's service. Also, randomly excluding platforms in the way Nintendo has done in the past sends mixed messaging. Why are Gameboy and Gameboy Color games available on the 3DS and not the Wii U? Or Gameboy Advance games the other way around. Just make it make sense, Nintendo.

Price and Release Date

The Way to Hit

$249 for the console, $299 bundled with Breath of the Wild. Anytime in March.

The Way to Miss

$400, with no game. Delayed out of March.

And that's that! Expect an episode of Podcasting With Power recapping and discussing Nintendo's Switch event early Friday morning!

Zachary Davis is the host of Secret Stage's Nintendo show, Podcasting With Power. Follow @Zacterium for the latest Nintendo news and more!