In the hour following the Nintendo Switch announcement, Kotaku UK's new Acting Editor Richard Stanton and I got together to discuss how we felt about it. We're both long-time Nintendo fans, so we've been there for the best and the worst of the company's history - and it looks like we'll have an eventful 2017.
Keza MacDonald: Okay. Not gonna lie, I am all about this.
Richard Stanton: It's hard to call the Switch a surprise, because everyone expected something vaguely in this mould - a hybrid portable/home console that will unify Nintendo's software output and hopefully - hopefully! - be able to compete on its own terms. Nintendo has been squeezed at home by Microsoft and Sony, while in the portable space mobile has simply dwarved the old portable market. So this is a third way, and in that can't help but remind me of Iwata's approach - this, of course, is almost his parting gift to the company.
Keza: First off, the design: what do you think?
Richard: With the chin-scratching about market positioning out of the way, perhaps the most important thing is that it looks absolutely gorgeous - sleek, light, yet with that robust round-edged quality Nintendo is so good at. Is it a desirable object? For me, absolutely. For the wider market? Who knows.
Keza: It looks more like an iPad than your usual chunky, shiny, plasticky Nintendo console - this is no bad thing. It's all matte metal, black and dark grey. As you say, it's become obvious to everyone that the handheld market has been changed gigantically by tablets and phones, which makes me wonder if the NX will incorporate any of the other functionality that you might want from a tablet.
It's worth saying, although this isn't a surprise, that there's nothing else out there like this: a home console that you can take with you.
Richard: The control scheme is ingenious - so it's a standalone screen, with handle-like controls, which splits into two separate controllers [called Joy-Cons] for multiplayer, and possibly incorporates the wiimote featureset too. Was there anything in the video to show the last point?
Keza: Well - we see people playing two-player Mario Kart using the detachable controllers sideways, which presumably means they include motion control, a la the Wii Remote. We also saw four-player basketball with two NX consoles (so, four controllers).
Richard I think the tablet functionality is part of the pitch - the standalone screen has supports so it can be stood up for viewing.
Keza: I want to know if I'll be able to stream Netflix on it. If I can switch from Netflix to Breath of the Wild, shit, I'll never need my tablet again. Interesting to see Splatoon and Mario Kart on there. One of my more far-fetched hopes for the NX was that it would offer access to Nintendo's back catalogue, at home and on the move - perhaps through a streaming subscription. Does the Splatoon nod mean that might actually happen? Or is it a new Splatoon?
Richard: I think you're bang-on. Nintendo's archive is golden, and I think it has finally woken up to this. I expect to see a very wide range of Nintendo classics available at launch, and I wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of Nintendo Plus-type subscription service.
Richard: It's offering a social gaming experience that no-one else does. One you can carry around with you, one that clearly values local multiplayer. The question is, and this is really the big question for Switch, whether the wider market - the people who bought Wiis - want a dedicated gaming platform with this functionality; whether there is space between the mobiles and tablets and PCs. I think this explains one important feature of Switch - Nintendo's software now has one target platform. For most of its videogame history the company has spread its resources across multiple platforms. Now it's focusing everything on one, and hoping quality still matters.
Keza: The social aspect has been at the centre of Nintendo's philosophy for a long time, I feel. For Nintendo, games are about family. I love the idea of bring able to bring my NX with me to friends' houses - or just out to the pub.
Keza: Battery life will be a big consideration, however. Will it last me a long-haul flight or are we looking at Game Gear levels of battery? Surely Nintendo would not neglect that concern.
Richard: No indication on battery life other than Nintendo's engineers are always admirably practical about such things.
Keza: I would love a PlayStation Now-style service. Is streaming tech able to deliver that for Nintendo at this point, do you think?
Richard: Streaming I think might be a bridge too far for Nintendo. A library of download games, on the other hand, very probable. But perhaps we're focusing too much on the nostalgia angle - which obviously matters for Nintendo nerds like us.
Keza: Also, holy shit, was that Skyrim on a Nintendo console? I mean, I know it's a game from 2011, but still! Skyrim on a Nintendo console!
Richard: It's curious to me that Skyrim was in there, only inasmuch as it's a game from 2011 - and obviously wildly popular and very great etc etc - but that kind of AAA experience doesn't seem to me to be what Switch is about.
Keza: In a way, ports of old games might be a good idea for the NX, because portable versions of most of those games simply don't exist. A console that had a big library of games from the past 5 years - not just Nintendo's games, but other popular ones - at a cheap price, and portable, could prove very attractive as a second console for mega-nerds like us. And it could broaden the Switch's appeal beyond the Nintendo hardcore.
Richard: Yes exactly, it's not trying to attract Playstation or Xbox owners. And as you said earlier, it's worth pointing out that Switch delivers something of a long-term dream for the first time, the console that really is in the palm of your hands, and it may be that this is attractive to older gamers - people in their late 20s, 30s, 40s, who love games but have jobs, families, responsibilities, and don't always have 3 hours a night to game. The idea of taking a title like Zelda, being able to fiddle with sidequests and crafting etc on the train, then load it up on your telly in the evening to do a dungeon, is wonderful.
To be fair, there was more emphasis on the multiplayer titles. That looked like Splatoon to me (as in, the Wii U game ported rather than Splatoon 2), and it may be that the Wii U's commercial failure is something of a blessing here - inasmuch as a game like Mario Kart 8 is *amazing* and could easily have a new life if well-optimised for Switch.
Keza: The long list of publishers confirmed for NX support is promising, but we heard the exact same thing at the time of the Wii U's announcement. And a lot of that never materialised. Can it be different this time around? I think it will partly depend on the Switch's tech and power. How easy will it be to run an iOS/PC port on it?We can't know yet, obviously.
Richard: It can be different, but third-parties and Nintendo are always uneasy bedfellows. The Wii U lineup, as you say, looked promising initially then just petered out when the console didn't sell too well. One thing I am sure of is that ports of old games like Skyrim, while very welcome, are an odd pitch for a transformative device.
Keza: I think what we CAN know is that this in no way is designed to compete with the Scorpio and PS Pro, but then Nintendo has operated outside the home console race for pretty much the last 10 years, so that should be no surprise to anyone. Nintendo appears to be aiming to create its own little sector, here: people who want fun games on a practical system. Price will be hugely important - if this thing is more than, oh, £300-350 then I'm not sure how attractive it will be.
Then again, people will pay twice that for an iPad.
Richard: I think it absolutely has to hit £250, and even that may be too expensive. £200 is where I think it would have a serious chance of success.
Keza: I'd agree with that, but I'm not sure how likely that is given Nintendo's not-exactly-realistic approach to pricing the Wii U. Perhaps lessons have been learned on that front.
Richard: That's where the PS4 and Xbone are sitting currently, if you shop around. Hmm. I think the idea of a family console goes hand-in-hand with an affordable price. It may well be, as you say, they can't afford to hit that. But this has to be part of the machine's whole concept.
Keza: I must say I enjoyed the presentation of that trailer. Much less dorky than a Nintendo Direct, not TOO lifestyle-y, and excellent music choice in White Denim. It reminded me more of the expensive live-action Pokemon 20th anniversary ads than the usual charming-but-a-bit-twee Nintendo announcement. You get the impression that there have been significant changes going on behind the scenes at the company whilst things have been quiet this year.
Richard: The only bit that was a bit too lifestyle-y for me was airport woman's very distressed jeans.
Keza: I think the idea of that many people turning up to a Splatoon tournament is also perhaps SLIGHTLY far-fetched.
Richard: I really wonder about the grunt of the machine. Nintendo made the Wii U look beautiful - for my money, games like Mario Kart 8 stand toe-to-toe with PS4 and Xbone stuff. Worth remembering that everything we saw there would have run on Wii U. I don't know if this is a powerhouse, obviously there will be some sort of progression, so much as a change in perspective with the hardware. It's actually not *that* dissimilar to the Wii U concept, it's just coming from a different angle.
Keza: Conceptually it is what the Wii U should really have been. The Wii U gamepad cried out to be shoved in a laptop bag for a long flight, but it was ludicrously tethered to the black box under the TV. There's a definite line of progression here from Nintendo's experiments with GBA and GameCube connectivity, to the Wii and DS, to the Wii U, to the Switch.
Richard: I agree completely - clearly the tablet was conceived as something that could work independently, but outside of very narrow situations it just doesn't.
Keza: Overall, I was impressed by that announcement. I honestly thought we might get a Direct-style presentation that maybe told us the name and nothing else, or a PS4-style announcement where we didn't get to see what the thing actually looked like. Instead we got a decent look at what it is and what it does, though obviously the details are still rather lacking.
It is the kind of thing I would absolutely buy. I'm a lifelong Nintendo fan, of course, but nonetheless I saw more today to interest me than I expected.
Richard: I'm cautiously optimistic. I think Nintendo has done a great job with the look of the hardware, and it seems (let's hope there's no sleight-of-hand here) like switching between the forms is a breeze. The name is fantastic. It looks like they've realised the importance of their back catalogue, and are doubling-down on the kind of family/social experiences Nintendo is so good at.
My only concern is not with Switch itself, but whether the market is - like Reggie's body - ready. I have no doubt the software will be fantastic, personally I'll be there day one for the hardware, but will this appeal outside of the gaming space? To the kind of people who didn't even know a new console was being announced today, to the kind of people who are occasional gamers, to the kind of people that Nintendo was able to reach with DS and Wii. Whatever happens, it's a big change - at a time when change is what Nintendo needed.
Catch up on our Nintendo Switch coverage:
The New Nintendo Console is Called the Switch
Every Game and Developer Confirmed for the Nintendo Switch
New 3D Mario Game Coming to Nintendo Switch
A Breakdown of the Nintendo Switch’s New Controllers