Not since 2006 has Nintendo, whose Wii gaming system forced players off couches and set off a mini fitness craze, enjoyed a big living room hit. The Wii sold more than 101 million units in its lifetime, making it the best selling home console system in Nintendo’s history. That was followed with the Wii U in 2012, a universal flop.
At Nintendo’s launch event for its new Switch gaming system last week in New York, I was surprised by just how much I liked it. The signature feature, the ability to switch from a docked home console to an undocked portable handheld, works seamlessly and the games I played were unique and covered a variety of genres.
But even before it hits store shelves on March 3, critics are betting against the new console and mobile gaming machine. First, there’s the price. At $300, the Switch does not include a game, which adds another $60 to the price tag. The Wii cost $250 and included the wildly popular Wii Sports game.
Nintendo is also entering a battlefield against rivals Sony and Microsoft, which are selling more powerful consoles at lower prices and with large lineups of titles. Those concerns drove Nintendo shares lower after the price of the Switch was leaked shortly before the January 12 presentation.
Only five games are confirmed for the Switch launch date: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, 1-2-Switch, Just Dance 2017, Super Bomberman R and Skylanders Imaginators. By comparison, the Nintendo Wii launched with 21 titles and the much-maligned Wii U had a hefty selection of 35 games. Breath of the Wild alone is a compelling reason to be excited for the console, but outside of that the list of games is way too short.
Over time, the Nintendo Switch games lineup will be strong. Nintendo-published titles including Mario Kart 8, Splatoon 2 and Super Mario Odyssey will do well. Third-party titles like Skyrim, FIFA and NBA 2K18 will also help bolster the Switch library in its first year.
The slow rollout is deliberate. Nintendo is aiming to not repeat the mistakes of its last generation console. Although the Wii U launched with 35 games, there were not enough must-have titles available on a consistent basis. It took Nintendo almost three years to develop a solid roster of titles that included Mario Kart 8, Splatoon and Super Smash Bros. in 2015. By then, it was too late. Gamers moved on.
This time, Nintendo plans to release games more consistently after the launch, instead of unloading everything at once. Major Nintendo-produced titles are scheduled for release throughout the year, with Mario Kart 8: Deluxe dropping in April, Splatoon 2 coming sometime in the summer and Mario during the holidays.
Pre-orders for the Nintendo Switch are predictably sold out in almost all of the major game retailers in North America. But the real measure of Nintendo Switch’s success will come down to how consistently it delivers first-rate games on what looks like a promising new beginning for the beleaguered game maker.