By just about any metric, the Nintendo Switch is off to a good start. But what might be down the line for Nintendo’s new flagship console? We talked it through on this week’s episode of Kotaku Splitscreen.
Jason and I start off talking about a few games we’ve been playing including Cuphead, Danganronpa V3, Golf Story, Hob and Divinity: Original Sin 2. After that we pivot to the news of the week (29:30) including the mostly smooth SNES classic launch, more Breath of the Wild design secrets, and a story of Sega certification trickery. After the news we answer some listener mail (48:00), featuring questions about playing Destiny 2 solo, binging TV, working at Kotaku, and disliking a game everyone told you you’d like.
We also answered a question from listener John, who asked what we thought would be next for Nintendo. Will they stick with what works and just make more and more powerful Switches, or is it in their DNA to try new consoles with new gimmicks?
Here’s a lightly edited transcript of that conversation:
Jason: That’s such a good question, because I’m sure that Nintendo’s top minds are in rooms right now, brainstorming and thinking about the answer as we speak. Because these companies are always planning three, four, five years ahead. To me, just as a fan, I feel like the Switch is the future. They basically just have to stick with this thing for the next five, ten years, and just do different iterations of this hardware because it’s so brilliant and people love it. And it will just keep selling well if they keep filling it with good games. If we get more Marios, more Zeldas, more Metroids, plus all the third-party stuff that’s gradually accumulating because more and more indies and third party AAA publishers are seeing that this thing is a huge success. I mean, this system could be a greatest-of-all-time-level system in a couple years, if it keeps up at this momentum.
So, what do they do after that? I don’t know. I almost hope that this is their final console [laughs] and they just keep building on this for the next 10, 15, 20 years, with different versions of the Switch coming out. Like maybe we’ll get the Switch 2, that’s compatible with all Switch games, and is basically the same thing but more powerful. Something like that, almost like the PS4 Pro approach, would be really effective for them. But that’s so not in Nintendo’s DNA. I dunno, what do you think?
Kirk: I think it’s about that tension between the question of what will Nintendo do—which, who the hell knows, I’m no Nintendo expert—and what I hope Nintendo will do. Which, yeah, is something along the lines of what you’re saying. Looking at the DS to the 3DS—the 3DS plays all DS games. The 3DS is a lot like a DS, it’s like a DS 2, basically. That means the DS family has been around for freakin’ ever, since the first DS [in 2006], and that line is still going.
Given how successful the Switch is, I feel like the smart move is absolutely to keep making [it]. To make that the baseline hardware, and go from there. Make a Switch Pro, a Switch Plus, and then a Switch 2 eventually, and just keep going. Where Nintendo’s thing becomes, “our console is the one that you can dock and then play on the go.” And then if [they] want to do the thing Nintendo does, if they want to keep coming up with weird shit, come up with weird accessories, come up with games that use the Joy-Con in weird ways, or other things like that.
Kirk: Yeah, or AR or whatever. The toymaker DNA that Nintendo seems to be unable to avoid can manifest itself in ways other than, “Oh, we’re gonna just totally throw all this out the window and make a new GameCube.” I hope that they don’t do that, because I like the Switch so much.
Jason: Something to consider, if you look back at Nintendo’s history, is that the gimmicks didn’t start until the Wii. I guess you could say the DS was a gimmick before that, but that to me is not really [a gimmick]. The concept of two screens was their gimmick there, and a clamshell system where the bottom screen is a touch screen and the top is just a regular screen. That idea is kinda gimmicky, but the console gimmick didn’t really start until the Wii. And that was kind of Nintendo on their back legs being like, okay, the GameCube was a flop, the N64 wasn’t as hot as it could’ve been, Sony and Microsoft are really getting in on our territory, what can we do?
So they came up with this idea, and it was codenamed the Revolution, because the idea was to do something completely revolutionary. They come out with the Wiimote and it blows people away, and sells a billion [consoles]. And the Wii U, it felt like they… it feels like the Wii U just wanted to be what the Switch is, but they couldn’t quite get it yet. So the Wii U kind of feels like a Switch beta, more than a gimmick. And then the Switch is obviously its own gimmick. But before the Wii was the GameCube, and the N64, which are both pretty traditional consoles in most ways. What was gimmicky about the GameCube was the disc format, which were these proprietary MiniDiscs.
Kirk: In terms of the question of a gimmick: if there’s a central gimmick for a console, that’s one question. Though Nintendo’s desire to make toys and peripherals goes back farther than that. Didn’t they have a robot dog that you could get for the original Nintendo [ed: it was just a regular robot], and a ring that was supposed to detect [your movements], and the Power Glove... they’ve been doing that kind of stuff for a long time.
Jason: For sure. My thinking is that, we think of Nintendo as doing a new gimmick with every console, but that wasn’t traditionally their approach.
Kirk: It’s interesting because Wii itself had a central gimmick, with the motion controls. It also became the host to a ton of gimmicks, right, with the balance board, and whatever else…
Jason: …the gun, yeah…
Kirk: …all the different things you could plug into the Wii. And part of that I think was born of its success. They knew [they had] a jillion of these things sold, and people have them, so what’s some other crap [they] can come up with to sell to people to use with it. And given that the Switch seems to be a massive hit, and will probably just continue to be one as other good games like a certain Mario game that’s coming out in a couple weeks come out for it, more and more people are gonna want to get it.
Something that has struck me about the Switch in terms of just its sales success, and this is kind of tangential to the question, but: I’ve seen so many people talk about getting one. My hairdresser the other day, I was talking to him, and he was saying that he’s gotten one, and he’s convinced all his friends to get them. And he plays video games a lot, but a lot of his friends don’t. I’ve seen political pundits who I follow on Twitter saying they’re considering getting a Switch, and that they haven’t gotten a game console in ten years. It seems to me that the widespread mainstream impact of this thing is just beginning, at least in America. And I feel like that’s the likely thing, I guess. That it continues to sell, and it becomes this cottage industry, and Nintendo themselves begin making gimmicks for the Switch.
Jason: The interesting thing about that is that the same thing happened to the Wii. And a lot of people bought the Wii, and a lot of people who didn’t normally buy consoles bought a Wii because it was this giant fad. Also [it benefitted from] artificially constrained supply to increase demand, which was Nintendo’s approach back then. Sort of similar to another console we were just talking about [the SNES classic]. That happened with the Wii, and then everybody’s Wii just sat unused, because it didn’t have…
Kirk: Well, they played some Wii Sports, right?
Jason: Right, they played Wii Sports, but in the years following. So I’m saying that during the height of the Wii era, everybody thought it was this sensation that would never end, and then it died. So, something similar could easily happen with the Switch if Nintendo doesn’t support it.
Kirk: But there’s a very important distinction, and that’s that the Switch’s central gimmick is a fantastic gimmick that just makes good games better. It just enhances the fact that Zelda is a brilliant game, and Mario Kart is a brilliant game, and Splatoon 2 is a brilliant game, and Mario, we presume, is gonna be great. It’s not a gimmick like motion controls, which were more along the lines of, you know, everybody bought Rock Band [around the same time] and had that set up, and then didn’t really use it after a certain period of time.
Jason: Yes, 100%. And that changes things. But my point is that this same time next year, in October 2018, we could be saying wow, I wish Nintendo would release some games on this thing. My Switch is sitting there unused, because there hasn’t been a new game in months.
Jason: They still have a lot to prove before we talk about this console as a greatest of all time, as I was saying before.
Kirk: They do, but man, I think there’s way more room for optimism at this point than there ever has been, at least as long as I’ve owned Nintendo things.
Jason: Oh yeah.