The Nintendo Switch has been out for about a week now and early reports are that sales are solid. It’s not as remarkable as the Wii’s instant-hit success, but it’s not as dead in the water as the WiiU was, either. Nintendo of course won’t say what their goal is for the system, sales-wise, but from some of the things said to investors it seems they’re hoping for fifty million units sold. That would be half what the Wii brought in, but other than the Wii (which was more of a cultural fad than anything), it would be on par with the Super Nintendo, as the company’s second-best selling system (again, not counting the Wii). So fifty million would be great.
Can it reach fifty million? Time will tell. Nintendo and third party developers are saying all the right things, but right now we only have the launch games to go by. It’s here where many of the Switch’s critics will argue that the limited number of games released at launch make the system not worth buying (just yet). And if you only go by what you see in the stores, that might be a fair criticism, but the Switch’s secret weapon—not only for the launch but seemingly going forward—is its emphasis on download-only “indie” games. When you factor those in, the launch-line up for the system, as well as what’s on the near horizon, looks a lot better.
But let’s back up for a bit. What constitutes a great launch line-up?
There have been a lot of console releases over the years, with some memorably good and others…not so much. And, interestingly, the quality of the launch line-up does not always correspond to the success of the system. The PS2 was a mega-hit from the word go, but initially it shipped with a pretty pedestrian collection of games. Madden NFL 2001, Ridge Racer and Tekken Tag Tournament were probably the best, but the system lacked a real killer-app beyond the built-in DVD player. The Dreamcast on the other hand launched with games such as Sonic Adventure, Soul Caliber and NFL2K. Those are similar games to the PS2 launch’s titles only better across the board. Yet the Dreamcast never caught on and died after only a couple years on the market.
For Nintendo, launch-lineups have varied. Some have put an emphasis on a variety of titles, while others put the spotlight on one killer app. If we were to grade them…
The NES‘ launch would score a 10/10. Of course, the NES received a staggered release over the course of several months, but most consider the pack-in of Super Mario Bros (not packed-in in every market, or even region) the official launch title/killer app. In addition you had games like Donkey Kong, Wild Gunman, Ice Climber, Kung Fu and Baseball. More triple-A titles would follow throughout the first year, meaning gamers never ran out of things to play.
The SNES launch probably would score a 9/10. It was a more modest debut than its older brother. It launched with one definitive killer app along with a couple games designed to show off the mode-7 gimmick. Super Mario World was packed-in, but that only made it that much harder to pass up on store isles…which is why Nintendo packed it in. They were worried about moms who might resist buying “a new Nintendo” when “the old one” still worked. Including a game was meant to sweeten the pot. Apart from Mario World, there was Pilotwings and F-Zero: One was casual and gently-paced, the other was hardcore and in your face. Konami contributed Gradius III to the North American launch, and Nintendo even released a port of Sim-City if you were just dying to play that on your TV. Gradius III, F-Zero and Mario World alone are enough to score this as an almost-perfect launch.
The N64 gets an 8/10. It only shipped with two games, after all, and few ever bothered with Pilotwings 64. For its first couple months that little black system was a “Mario 64 machine.” At the time the game was rated with numerous perfect scores, and though it hasn’t aged as gracefully as some, it’s easy to understand why the hype for it was so tremendous. But still, as great as Mario was, from time to time you wanted a change of pace, and again…no one bothered with Pilotwings. Once Shadows of the Empire and Wave Race came out the system picked up steam, but in those early days you were either hunting for stars or you weren’t doing anything.
How can you score the Gamecube launch any less than a perfect 10/10? If there was any serious knock on it at all, it’d have to be the fact that Nintendo didn’t ship with a proper Mario game or any real solo-adventure game akin to Mario 64 or Super Mario World. Luigi’s Mansion was great for what it was, however and Wave Race Blue Storm is an underrated gem. And beyond those you had a bevy of third party games: Tony Hawk 3, Crazy Taxi, Madden NFL 2002, Super Monkey Ball, and of course, Rogue Squadron II. The launch’s greatest sin is what it did to your wallet. Other than a cheap Disney-produced Tarzan game, there wasn’t a bad title in the bunch. Like the Gamecube itself, it might (quietly) be pound-for-pound the best in the company’s history.
The Wii deserves a 9/10 although some might put it a notch below that. Today the system is largely dismissed these days as a gimmick console that rode its short term success into the ground. Nevertheless, on launch day there was no hotter item on the market and that’s thanks to two games: WiiSports appealed to casual-buyers (having it packed-in was a brilliant move) and Twilight Princess appealed to hardcore players. Together those games were the perfect 1-2 punch: Bring your friends over for a round of WiiSports then, when they leave, pop in Zelda and play till sunrise. The rest of the launch-lineup consisted of games made by developers with more ambition than skill in adapting motion control, or developers with little interest in adapting motion control at all. Red Steel was a good idea sloppily executed. Madden NFL 07 wasn’t much more than a PS2 port. Call of Duty was underrated (and underpowered). Still, the games that mattered propelled the system to the great success it had early on. Overall there was good variety and a couple killer apps.
WiiU on the other hand had a less-than-good—7/10—launch befitting the failed system. Nintendo packed in a theme-park game (NintendoLand), designed to show off all the tricks and gimmicks of the pad, but it lacked the simple and pure fun found in WiiSports. New Super Mario Bros U was the best in the “New” series, but by 2012 the series was tired and, ironically, “old.” ZombiU was the other exclusive game and tried to bring the second screen format to a hardcore game…to mixed results. Third Party publishers overwhelmed the market with ports new and old, giving the system the biggest launch thus far. Assassins Creed III, Sonic Racing, Ninja Gaiden 3, and Arkham City were among the bigger titles to launch, but there were better versions of each on other systems. Nothing really became the “must have title” either, and the system’s struggles began on day one.
Now we come to Switch. Its launch is less robust than what the Wii and WiiU received, but it offers more variety than what was found in the N64’s debut. Officially there are five launch games in stores right now (Zelda, 1-2 Switch, Just Dance, Skylanders and Bomberman), but go on the e-shop and several more are opened up to you. How do they all measure up and do they really make for a bad lineup like critics are saying?
Let’s have a look…
Just Dance 2017 is the latest edition of the dancing video game series produced by Ubisoft. If you’re a fan, no explanation is necessary. If you’re not, no explanation will suffice. I am not a fan. 5/10
Skylanders: Imaginators is the latest edition of the “toy-to-life” Skylanders series produced by Activision. The new gimmick this time around is the ability for players to create their own characters for the game. Other than that, this is the same game you’ve either been playing for years or the same game you’ve been saying “no thanks” to for years. 6/10
Super Bomberman R is the latest edition of the action-puzzle/maze game originally developed by Hudson (before the company was absorbed into Konami). Back in the day Bomberman was the posterchild for the TurboGrafx-16 system, but he has long outlasted that console. Bomberman’s core gameplay mechanics are what they’ve been for the past thirty years. It lacks the universal appeal and casual play-style of a Mario game so newcomers might be turned off by it. If you like Bomberman, this is a well-made sequel. If you don’t, this isn’t going to change your mind. If you’re agnostic to it and on the fence, pass. 7/10
1-2 Switch is the game that should have been packed-in. It still wouldn’t have reached the heights of WiiSports mania at its peak but it could have been a great showcase for the system and for HD Rumble. Instead Nintendo opted to sell it for the “almost full-price” of $50. If it was packed-in, it would have been easier to forgive the shallow nature of the games. In fact, there really aren’t any games to play in the actual “game” itself. Instead Nintendo touts the game as one where you look your opponent in the eye and not at the screen. The screen basically serves to prompt you to do…something…with the two JoyCon, and then it will tell you who did that something better. At the end of the day, this isn’t a game…it’s a referee. On the one hand, there are almost thirty different scenarios to play through, but other than a handful, you likely won’t find yourself going back for more time and again, the way you did with WiiSports Bowling or Golf. Pack it in and this is an 8/10 fun tech-demo. Ask me to pay $50 for it and it loses its goodwill: 7/10
Snipperclips is only available online, but a physical release may be coming in the next month. The game requires two players to work together, solving on screen puzzles involving little paper figures that have to be cut (snipped) into particular shapes. It’s hard to explain why the game works, but spend a few minutes with it and you’ll see. It does what 1-2 Switch wants to do much more efficiently. Like that game, it also encourages interaction between players, but not in a gimmicky “look at each other” way, but more in a practical “talk out the problem together” way. You’ll scream in anger as much as you do in joy, but that’s no different than playing Monopoly. Is it a little short? Sure, compared to traditional console games. Does it have much replay value? Not in the way a game like Mario Kart does, but you’ll come back to it time and again whenever you have a big group over. And for only $20 (not to mention tiny file size) it’s the de-facto “change of pace” game. This is the bizarro version of 1-2 Switch and needs to be in every Switch-owners library. 10/10
Fast RMX is another title available only on the eShop. If you’ve seen the videos you know the creators were going for an F-Zero feel (even bringing back the announcer from the Gamecube “GX” game) but this game is more than just a clone. It has its own futuristic style, vehicles and tracks, and in-race objectives. The controls can be a little too loose, depending on your preference, but if you spend some time with it, you’ll find it a fun, pick-up-and-play title that’s great for single or multiplayer gaming. It’s also an incredible value ($20) for how much content and replay value is packed into it. 9/10
Shovel Knight took the indie/retro scene by storm a few years ago and now developer Yacht Club Games has brought two different versions to the Switch’s eShop. If you’ve played the original and its first DLC pack “Plague of Shadows” the newest DLC pack, Specter of Torment, is available for $10. If you’re new to the series you can buy everything (the original game, all the DLC, as well as bonus content) for $25. Considering the quality, that’s a steal. The game is a perfect throwback to the days of relentlessly challenging NES platformers, with catchy and evocative music, big sprites, and beautiful artwork. Whether it’s the $10 or $25 version it’s a great buy. 10/10
I Am Setsuna is available overseas as a physical game, but in the West you can only find it on the eshop. The game was designed with the 16-bit JRPG fans of yore in mind. It’s been out for a year now, originally coming to the PS4 and PC. Battle mechanics are reminiscent of Chrono Trigger but the story is much less ambitious. Still, it’s a very good game (albeit not a great one) but for $40 it might be about $10-$15 over-priced. If you’re a fan of the RPGs of that era and you’re okay dropping forty clams on a game that’s not quite as ambitious, long or stellar as the ones you remember (Chrono Trigger, FF64, FF6), you’ll like the game (and there’s Switch-exclusive DLC coming soon). 8/10
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is the reason to own a Switch right now. There are some good, some very good and even some great games not named Zelda, but without Zelda there’s no reason to spend $300 on the Switch. A full review is coming soon, but suffice it to say, the game is every bit the generation-defining masterpiece they’re saying it is. Hard, staggeringly huge, clever, hard, familiar-yet-fresh, hard. 10/10
So how does the whole collection measure up to previous Nintendo launches? Let’s give it a 9/10. One big triple-A title and several smaller-but-stellar eshop games combine to make for one of Nintendo’s stronger debuts in its history. Coming soon are games like Arms, Yooka-Laylee and Splatoon 2, all of which will be worth your time and attention.
Overall launch-lineup score: 9/10
If you’re on the fence and you have money to spend, dive in. This is basically me and the Big N right now:
But then again, I’ve always been a sucker for Nintendo.