We’ve already spilled a lot of ink over last night’s Nintendo Switch reveal event, but the biggest surprise of the night for me was a simple one: I want a Nintendo Switch. I really, really want a Nintendo Switch.
Given my line of work, it’s no shock that I’m going to buy the latest video game hardware. But I try to go into every press conference with an equal measure of excitement and skepticism; since the Wii U was such a disappointment for me, my emotions heading into the Switch event were definitely balanced more on the skepticism side of that scale.
But by the time the hour-long presentation was finished, there was no doubt in my mind that I will buy a Switch, and that I am excited to do so. And there’s one all too commonly overlooked reason for that excitement: games, damn it.
It’s all about the software
Nintendo’s approach to the Switch lineup seems to be heavily focused on quality above quantity. As of right now, only a handful of games have been confirmed for release on launch, with another couple of dozen confirmed for the months following launch. It’s a thin lineup right now, and that’s certainly cause for concern.
That said, of the games that have been announced, a surprising number of them appeal to my very specific, highly niche tastes. More than the Wii U – and heck, more than any console launch in recent memory – the first games revealed for the Switch include a whole lot of deep, challenging role-playing games and obscure, promising titles of the kind usually made in Japan.
Let’s do a play-by-play of some of the most interesting stuff, in the order that it was showcased.
Splatoon 2 — It’s not a huge surprise that our #8 game of the year from 2015 is getting a sequel, but I sure didn’t expect it to already be planned for release this summer. Splatoon came out of nowhere and charmed the hell out of me, proving that Nintendo could offer a unique approach to the online, competitive shooter genre. I can’t wait to see how they build on that formula in a sequel.
Super Mario Odyssey — What if Mario, but open world? What if Mario, but extremely high-fidelity graphics? What if Mario, but featuring the same creepy realistic human characters as Sonic Adventure? Based off its initial reveal back in October 2016, all I expected from the next Mario game was a return to the full 3D style I loved in Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel. But Nintendo is doing so much more than that with Super Mario Odyssey, taking its beloved mascot into weird-as-hell territory that I never expected. I can’t wait.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 — The Wii U’s Xenoblade Chronicles X was a bit of a disappointment, but that’s all the more reason that I’m excited for Xenoblade Chronicles 2. In name, visual style and tone, it appears to be a return to the elements that made 2012’s Xenoblade Chronicles a cult classic on the Wii. Even better, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 will apparently release in 2017 (in Japan at least).
Fire Emblem Warriors — With Hyrule Warriors, Koei Tecmo proved that its ever-popular Dynasty Warriors beat-em-up formula could translate beautifully to Nintendo’s best-known fantasy property. The Fire Emblem series may not be quite as popular as Zelda, but Fire Emblem seems like an even more natural fit for what developer Omega Force does best. Slashing through hundreds of enemy soldiers as Marth? Yep, I’m ready for that.
Dragon Quest 10 and Dragon Quest 11 — Neither of these have been confirmed for North America, but I’m keeping my hopes high. Dragon Quest 10 switches up the formula of the classic Japanese role-playing game series by turning it into a massively multiplayer game. Everything I’ve heard from friends in Japan who have played it is that it’s an incredible, totally unique MMO experience.
As for Dragon Quest 11, that was the first game ever announced for Nintendo’s new hardware way back in July 2015. It’s also coming to PlayStation 4 and 3DS, but it essentially exists as a single game with three wildly different art styles depending on what platform you play it on. It’s an ambitious undertaking, both a forward-looking, gorgeous next-gen game and a retro throwback at the same time.
A Shin Megami Tensei game — Atlus hasn’t given a name yet to the latest game in its long-running franchise, and the company even seems unwilling to admit whether or not it will come to North America. Awkwardly so. But even light on details, it’s impossible for me to not be excited for a Shin Megami Tensei game. Atlus has built up a reputation for continuously pumping out some of the deepest, most challenging and most satisfying role-playing games around. With next-gen console power and running on Unreal Engine 4, I fully expect the next SMT game to raise the bar yet again.
Project Octopath Traveler — Mmmm, you see that? That’s the kind of ridiculous naming conventions you only get from Japan, and honestly, especially only from Square Enix. Our glimpses of Square’s latest role-playing game were minimal, but this one appears to mix retro and modern visuals in a pseudo-2D, almost Paper Mario-esque style. “What does it mean to play a role?” the voiceover to the trailer intones, suggesting that the game may toy with the very meaning of the RPG genre.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — Listen. Chances are I don’t need to sell you on Breath of the Wild. All I’m going to say is: that trailer. Lord, that trailer.
So will it be a success?
Hundreds of different factors are going to determine how well the Nintendo Switch does. Chances are, it won’t be until well into 2018 or even beyond before we know for sure whether this console pleases both gamers and Nintendo stockholders, or is viewed as another flop like the Wii U.
But whatever its fate, this early software lineup has me fairly confident about one aspect of the system: The Nintendo Switch will be a great choice for gamers looking for more traditionally “hardcore” experiences. Yep, there’s absolutely still more social and party-based offerings like 1-2-Switch (which looks like a lot of fun!) and Just Dance 2017 (which I couldn’t care less about!). But it appears like both Nintendo and the third-party publishers and developers it’s partnered with are working much harder to please gamers looking for more engrossing experiences.
If the Wii and the Wii U both represented Nintendo’s shift toward family devices that urged everyone to play in groups and interact with each other, the Switch seems to suggest a return to something a lot of gamers are more comfortable with — expansive, complex games that are built for us to get lost in. At the very least, the Switch exists in a kinder middle ground between those two philosophies, rather than tipping its hat almost entirely in one direction.
My point isn’t that I think this is necessarily the best business decision. I have no idea if it will be successful in the long run, and certainly I would never hesitate to call my tastes niche, as I’ve done previously in this very article. However, as a lifelong Nintendo fan who has felt fairly lukewarm about the company’s approach during the last decade or so, I couldn’t be more excited.
It’s also worth noting that of the games I listed above, only one (The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) will be available at launch. Some of them, like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 and the unnamed Shin Megami Tensei game, in all likelihood will not be released in North America before the end of the year. So even if you’re equally excited about this list of games, it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to rush out and buy a Switch right away at launch.
Hopefully by the end of 2017 or into 2018, Nintendo’s new hardware will have an impressive back catalog, so anyone picking it up will have dozens of great games to catch up on. Me, though? I’m not going to be able to wait.