Last night, Nintendo rolled out more information about the Nintendo Switch. There was a lot to process from the event, and even more information was revealed afterwards. So, to make sense of it all, here’s what you need to know about Nintendo’s upcoming tablet/console.
The Switch is arriving March 3rd, for $299, and you can preorder from Best Buy and Wal-Mart, and Amazon will likely have preorders up soon. For your $300, you get the tablet, the dock that connects to your TV and charges your Switch, the two Joycon controllers that click into the sides, wrist straps for the Joycons, and a grip. Notice that doesn’t include a pack-in game, at least that Nintendo has announced, so budget accordingly if you plan to buy day-of.
As for how the Switch works, when it’s docked, it’s charging its batteries, and you can play it like a standard console, sitting on the couch. If you need to go outside, you can just lift it off the dock and click the Joycons into the side. The Joycons can also work independently of each other as their own little controllers so that you can play two-player games with friends on the go. The console comes with a kickstand built into the back, so you can sit it up and game on it, and it can be plugged into an outlet to be recharged. Good thing, too, as Nintendo’s estimates of battery life are between two and a half and six and a half hours, depending on the games you’re playing. At least it comes with WiFi, which can be used to network to other Switches. And yes, it works with Amiibo.
Right now, at launch there will be at least two games: The Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and Nintendo’s experimental game 1 2 Switch, which is a reaction time game where you look at the other player and the Switch is mostly an intermediary. Five other games are also coming in March so far, the most notable being the RPG I Am Setsuna and Ubisoft’s highly popular Just Dance franchise. Beyond that, the only hard release date we have is in April, when Mario Kart 8 Deluxe drops for the Switch. That said, several games are scheduled for Q2 2017, including the oddball boxing game Arms and Splatoon 2.
For 2017, it looks like 32 games are currently on the schedule, although there will almost certainly be more titles announced as the Switch gets closer. Probably the most important point to note about the games is that Nintendo has the support of some fairly heavy hitters in some unexpected areas. Skyrim is coming to the Switch, NBA 2K18 will arrive on it in September, and EA has announced a FIFA game for the console. As far as online multiplayer goes, the Switch supports it and Nintendo will have a paid subscription service, although it hasn’t explained the pricing structure just yet.
The big question remains, though: What about retro games? The Switch almost certainly will support the Virtual Console, but Nintendo is tight-lipped about how that support will work. Nintendo has noted subscribers to their online service will get free Nintendo and Super Nintendo games, reconfigured to be played with online multiplayer.
What We Don’t Know
That said, especially for a console that’s less than two months from hitting the shelves, there is a lot about the Switch that’s still unknown. For example, it’s not clear whether it supports downloadable games, and if it does, how much onboard memory the Switch has to store them. Nor is it clear whether you can use a memory card to store games on Switch, and if you can, whether you can use cards between Switches or not.
Also, a giant blank is Virtual Console support and what games will be coming to it. Nintendo is almost certainly going to dig into the vast library of Wii and Wii U games; the Joycons can be used as Wiimotes, which all but confirms that. We don’t know how much Nintendo’s online service will cost, nor do we really know just what we’re going to get for our money. Another area that desperately needs clarity is non-game app support. Can the Switch stream Netflix and Amazon? Will there be a Spotify app? Nintendo may simply not have an answer to these questions yet, but it needs one, and fast.
Another blank spot is what the touchscreen is for. Nintendo said, up front, the Switch had a touchscreen, but it was the one aspect of the console during the presentation that nobody used or even talked about. The elephant in the room is whether tablet games can be imported to the Switch, and if they can, whether Nintendo is allowing that and what the company’s standards will be. Nintendo has had two enormously successful experiments with touchscreen games, Pokemon Go and Super Mario Run, of course, but if Nintendo is setting up an “app store” of sorts to bring tablet games over, that’s not just more game support, but more or less declaring open war on Apple, Google, and Amazon.
The biggest question mark, though, remains third-party support. Nintendo has undeniably done a far better job, already, of securing third-party support for the Switch than it did for the Wii or the Wii U. And Nintendo has clearly made the Switch easier to support than its past consoles. But we haven’t yet seen whether Nintendo is far enough back in the good graces of publishers to be part of the usual multiplatform release schedule. Will we see games like Call of Duty and Madden on the Switch? Will Bethesda follow up their Skyrim port by porting other games, and releasing future games like Prey on the Switch? We don’t know yet, and won’t know for a while. But for now, the Switch has earned a lot of goodwill and is a promising look at Nintendo’s future.