I had always been a Nintendo kid. I don’t think I even heard of such a thing as a “SEGA” until well after the Dreamcast’s relevance in pop culture ended. The Super Nintendo (SNES) was my first ever console, and to date it still probably is my favourite system to go back and play. But with the advent of the brilliant Playstation 2, and the dust-gathering nature of both the GameCube and the Wii, Nintendo quickly lost its place of pride in my living room.
Part of this change in taste is down to the nature of the consoles themselves – the Wii in particular, with its at-times gimmicky focus on motion controls, often precluded itself from both pick-up-and-play fun and serious AAA titles – but it’s also down to the simple passage of time. Nintendo wormed its way into my heart when I was a kid – and that’s who they were aiming for at the time. As I grew, and my interests expanded, simple things like the PS3’s ability as a Netflix/Youtube machine, as well as more complex single-player experiences, made life impossible for the Wii to charm its way into my day-to-day routine, as it still maintained a focus on family-friendly software. But even the multi-function nature of the more recent Playstations couldn’t fight the inexorable march of time, and with it changing tastes.
Outside of stand-outs like Yakuza 0 and…erm… Yakuza Kiwami, I’ve only really played games like RBI Baseball, Fifa, the WWE games, etc. etc…. I’m sure we’ve all gone through this as our lives move on: when you’re a kid, games are the end-goal, you get through your school day to play games; when you’re working, or in college, however, you might relegate games mainly to a ‘blowing-off steam’ role in your life. I found myself just not having the energy nor time to sink into a narrative or ‘proper’ game for too long. Being a poor student too, and not being able to afford the latest AAA releases, didn’t help the matter. So I’ve found myself sinking time into sports sim games the most, primarily as a way to de-stress at the end of the day.
The difference between 2006 and now is that every other game on my smartphone can and does accomplish the same task. Sure, fooling around with Rory McIlroy PGA Tour Golf is neat, but the minimalist Desert Golf scratches that itch in a much simpler & more accessible way. Hell, mobile ports of old games like the first few Ace Attorney games have commanded more of my attention than God of War, Detroit: Become Human, or whatever Sony pushes in my face whenever I open the Playstation Store. I honestly think I’ve spent more time watching people play games on the YouTube app than I have spent playing major games myself. Which brings me to my longtime unrequited love of the Switch.
I really wanted the WiiU. As poor as the marketing was (I mean seriously, who thought that name was a good idea?), the titles looked fun, inventive and interesting; its immediate predecessor, the Wii, certainly had this spirit too, but was bogged down by copious amounts of shovelware and poorly made licensed titles. But the WiiU’s lack of success, and a lack of support from first, second and third party developers meant that it was essentially a failure at launch. So when the NX became the Switch, well I was at least intrigued, especially at the prospect of having access to ports of those WiiU games that showed great promise. But when the Let’s Plays of games like Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey dropped…oh my…I was in love. I needed it.
I needed it.
Yes, I had to have it…but I was still a poor student. If I ever found myself with the requisite funds to splash on a Switch, I always ended up needing that money for something else, something that I would begrudgingly accept was more important. Like food. Ugh. I had to change bus stops at one point because an ad in a shop window for the Switch, more specifically an ad for a €30 discount for the Switch, and I felt it was a personal attack – downright targeted harassment – aimed at my inability to buy the damned thing. Call it over-dramatic, but that’s how strong my desire for Nintendo’s latest product was.
One day, divine providence and fate decided I had gone through enough torture, and a Switch came into my possession… wait, I phrased that much more malevolently than I needed to… I got it as a gift, okay? Anyway, I’ve only had a Switch for about a month now, and it is everything I thought it would be… and more. I knew games like Odyssey, would captivate me, but I didn’t predict how much the Switch’s portability would breathe new life into titles I had previously ignored.
In the introduction of this article I purposefully omitted the shadow Nintendo’s handhelds have cast over the gaming industry. Many other companies have tried to come for their mobile crown they’ve held since the launch of the Gameboy in 1989 but, aside from the mobile phone gaming boom brought in by modern Androids & iPhones, no one has come anywhere near close to dethroning the house that Mario built when it comes to on-the-go gaming.
Combining their home and handheld consoles into one unit was a risky move: if the Switch would just be seen as a handheld console that could be played on the big screen at launch, it could cannibalise the lucrative DS & 3DS product line Nintendo have been cultivating for almost a decade-and-a-half; if it was seen as just another home console, its line-up of ports from the last generation could see it being labelled as another gimmick with games “we’ve all already played,” so why would people want to bother with it? And while I’m sure plenty of people hold both of those opinions, Nintendo clearly performed the perfect balancing act when developing the Switch, capturing the best of both worlds.
When I got the Switch I bought four games: Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Golf Story and Stardew Valley. Each of those games represented four cornerstones Nintendo would need to secure to guarantee a successful long-term console life: a unique experience to the Switch (Odyssey), a quality WiiU port (Mario Kart), a drop-in-drop-out iPhone-esque title (Golf Story), and a port of a well-renowned indie darling (Stardew). I wish I purposefully set out to do this, but honestly these were just the games within my budget that I had been the most hyped for – and Stardew. I had played bits of it on the PC, but the Harvest Moon-clone just never clicked with me.
Anyway, I looked at the games on my plate as a nice meal: Golf Story would provide a nice, easygoing starter for the system, acclimatising me to how the Switch controls. Mario Kart would act as the basket of bread you snack on through throughout the whole meal, with some classic fun & uncomplicated gameplay. Stardew would be the just about satisfying main course, and Odyssey would be the delicious cheesecake dessert that’s the real reason you went to that restaurant in the first place. Golf Story ended up being pretty good, if not a bit short for my liking – it just kind-of ended when I really felt like it was getting going. Mario Kart gave me that juicy Waluigi goodness I needed on my morning bus commute, or whenever I had a spare 10-20 minutes to burn. But Stardew Valley really threw a spanner in the works of my planned Switch crash-course.
Despite how much I wanted to dive into Super Mario Odyssey, despite the long months of desperately wanting it- no, needing it in my life, I ended up devoting all of my spare time to Stardew Valley, leaving Odyssey in the shrink-wrap it came in. Nothing had changed about Stardew since I tried it on the PC several times over the years – it was the same game it always was – but something about the Switch fundamentally changed the experience for me. I’ve sunk over 60 hours into that game over just the last week or so, and it’s become almost an obsession for me – an obsession to the point that, on more than one occasion, I’ve confused what day it actually is with what day it is in-game. Last night, before writing this article, I finally ended up booting up Mario Odyssey. And it’s a great game, for sure, I had some fun, but I just really felt frustrated with it. I was enjoying myself, but part of me knew there were some eggplants that really needed watering in the next game over. This is truly the Switch’s greatest success: Nintendo has found a way to share its inherent fun-factor with other games on its system.
Nintendo games aren’t always the best in the world, but they’re almost always the most fun. I loved the Mass Effect series (yes, even Andromeda), but I have more fond memories of a basic party game like Wii Sports than I do of any of those big-budget games. And it’s why you can never really bet against Nintendo, even when they come up with a dud like the WiiU. But they’ve never been able to turn their inherent x-factor into a transferable property for games on their systems like they have with the Switch. I hate to rag on the WiiU again, but it was a flop – a massive failure – and instead of being conservative following that failure Nintendo backed themselves, believed in their hardware, and gambled big…
And it’s paying off.
Sales for the system have been selling well, shifting nearly 18 million units in its first year; indie developers and AAA studios alike are looking to the Switch as a key part of their business strategies moving forward, and first-party titles like Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are acclaimed by critics and fans alike, topping many ‘game of the year’ lists. The Switch mightn’t totally replace the Playstation 4 or the XBox-One in your gaming life, but Nintendo have completely changed the game again, just like they did with the Gameboy and the Wii before it.
Now if you’ll excuse me, those eggplants won’t water themselves…