- New console's price and hardware specs not revealed
- Focus shifts from casual audience to traditional gamers
IT is small, boxy and portable. But will it succeed where Wii U failed?
After a long period of almost complete silence, Nintendo has given a preview of its newest console dubbed the Nintendo Switch, scheduled to ship in March 2017.
You can see the preview trailer below.
As the internet rumours suggested, the device is a console-handheld hybrid packed with detachable 'Joy-Con' controllers, which clip onto either side of the Switch's tablet-like screen so that it can be used as a handheld.
The 'tablet' portion of the console can also be slotted into the Nintendo Switch Dock and connected to a TV. This turns the system into a dedicated home console.
Removing the system from the dock will change it into the portable mode, allowing players to take the unit wherever they go. You can also bring multiple units together for a local multiplayer match.
The Switch's Joy-Con gamepads can be clipped to either side of the device, used individually or slipped onto a grip accessory to create a more traditional controller.
If you do not like the Joy-Con option, a Nintendo Switch Pro Controller will also be available, but probably not as part of the original package.
We currently have no details on the console's pricing and full technical specifications. But thanks to a Nvidia blog posting, we do know that the Shift uses a custom version of the company's Tegra processor.
Nvidia says the Switch is supported by fully custom software, including a revamped physics engine, new libraries and advanced game tools. The GPU manufacturer claims to have created new gaming APIs to fully harness this performance.
This probably means that the Switch will support Nvidia's PhysX software as well as Gameworks SDK.
The Switch will launch in March 2017 along with The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo also released a new trailer of the game which you can see below.
So what can we deduce from the Switch about Nintendo's long-term strategy?
To begin with, unlike what many had speculated on the net, Nintendo is not going to go after the casual/mainstream audience it had successfully courted with the Wii. The strategy to re-engage with the same audience had failed miserably with the Wii U. In other words, at least partially, the Switch is going into the same market dominated by Sony's PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's Xbox One.
From the Switch trailer, it is clear that Nintendo has jettisoned the casual target audience and gone for traditional Nintendo fans and Generation Y. Strangely, for a Nintendo console, there is not a single child in sight in the trailer!
The other question that arises from the Switch launch video is the future of Nintendo handheld consoles like the 3DS. If you have a home console that can transform into a 3DS-style handheld, is there a need for a successor? The 3DS has so far sold over 70 million units. But the sales are falling sharply and if the Switch does well, the 3DS could very well be the final Nintendo handheld.
The real problem for Nintendo is the rise of the smartphone as a gaming platform. With the hybrid design of the Switch, it looks like Nintendo is preparing to say sayonara to its highly successful handheld business. The company is also probably hoping to entice some of its lapsed handheld fans to 'switch' to the Switch from their smartphones.
How successful will the Switch be?
Compared to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the Switch is seriously underpowered. Therefore, it is not going to convince any 'graphics junkies' or even many core gamers to buy the device. It is also unlikely to get anywhere near 100 million units sold.
As mentioned before, Nintendo's best hopes rest on traditional Nintendo fans. And to put it bluntly, Nintendo can claim success if the Switch sells even one unit more than the abysmal Wii U.
There are still lots of unanswered questions about the Switch. In addition to the actual hardware specifications, there is rampant speculation about the price. If the internet consensus is to be believed, it will be likely around US$299.
Secondly, there is the question of third party publisher support for the Switch. The big AAA publishers like EA and Ubisoft are already working on games optimised for the much more powerful Sony and Microsoft consoles. Are they going to port those games to the comparatively underpowered Switch?
Finally, there is the traditional question of Nintendo's attitude to indie developers. Historically, of the three major console manufacturers, Nintendo has always had the least appealing and the most condescending attitude to indie developers.
Is that going to change now?
Nintendo is a venerable century-old beast steeped in Japan's insular traditions and mindset. Expecting the company to suddenly transform into a Microsoft or Sony would be the equivalent of asking Nigeria to become the least corrupt nation on earth. Therefore, do not expect the next set of indie hits like Angry Birds or Clash of Clans to appear first on the Switch.
If the Switch fails to deliver, will this doom Nintendo?
Nintendo has over US$10 billion in the bank. If necessary, it can go back into the stock market and raise more money. Therefore, the company can easily afford yet another financial failure like the Wii U. But the real damage may not be to its finances. It could be to the company's image as a true titan of the games industry.
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