This Week in Games - The Switch Is Upon Us!

by Dustin Bailey,

The rumors are done! Nintendo held a presentation officially unveiling the Switch, the details of its launch, and a big chunk of its first year of software. There's a lot to cover, so let's just get right into it.

Opinion: Nintendo Switch

The Switch launches on March 3rd for $299. Inside the box is the tablet (which does feature a touch screen), the joy-con controllers (which have motion controls and what Nintendo's calling HD rumble), the joy-con grip for using those controllers on the TV, and the dock which connects the console to the TV. You've also got an AC adapter, an HDMI cable, and wrist straps. There are two bundles, one including gray joy-cons, the other featuring red and blue. These are the only differences. Preorders for the system were done for the day after the announcement—be prepared for long overnight lines or scalper prices if you want one of these at launch.

My order's locked in and I'm excited to get my hands on the system, but let's be clear—that presentation was bad. After years of enjoying Nintendo's dismissal of motion controls, that show opened with a half-hour of joy-cons being used as glorified Wii remotes. That's not exactly the new Nintendo any of us wanted to see, and the mainstream audience eventually dismissed motion controls themselves with the Kinect and PlayStation Move. Touch interfaces are the “in” thing, but while they announced that the tablet's display is touch sensitive Nintendo didn't show a single use case for it.

With all that being said? 1-2-Switch looks cool. It's a very modern party game that has a lot aesthetically in common with multiplayer darlings like Sportsfriends and the Jackbox Party Pack. Though I guess aesthetics don't matter since you're not supposed to be looking at the screen—maybe the more appropriate comparison is Johann Sebastian Joust. Based on Wii Sports and Nintendo Land before it, 1-2-Switch seems like an obvious pack-in minigame collection—but it's not included with the system. Beyond the obvious cost-cutting measures, that also indicates that Nintendo doesn't see this primarily as a party system, the way the Wii and (to a lesser extent) the Wii U certainly were.

The launch lineup includes 1-2-Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild—the Wii U counterpart of which launches the same day—and Super Bomberman R, which is an action title by some pachinko company that used to be in the game business. A new edition of Binding of Isaac is hitting the system, along with Ubisoft's requisite Just Dance title, and Skylanders: Imaginators. The Skylanders announcement is actually an interesting one, as it'll be the first game not to require a separate portal accessory, instead using the joy-con's built-in NFC reader and giving you access to a “digital library” of toys.

There's no denying that this is a weak launch lineup, especially for existing Nintendo fans who already have a Wii U to play Zelda on. (The only differences between the two versions are a slightly higher resolution and sound quality on the Switch.) The story changes a bit when you extend that to cover the system's first year.

March offers a few neat-looking smaller games, but as you look through the rest of the year, Nintendo's first-party titles start to make a very strong argument for the Switch. Zelda, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, and (potentially) Arms make a solid lineup, but that list of games is downright incredible if you didn't own a Wii U and don't have access to other versions of half that list.

The list of first-year third-party games tells an even more interesting story. The Wii U launched with a failed attempt to court hardcore players with ports of late 360 and PS3 games like Assassin's Creed, Call of Duty, and Batman. The Switch has Skyrim and Minecraft, and while those games are very old in the grand scheme of things, they're titles with a lot of lasting appeal. The Wii was made for people who'd never played games before, while it seems that the Switch is made for people who haven't played in a long time. Having versions of those huge games available—along with Nintendo titles and seriously nostalgic bits like Sonic Mania and the latest Street Fighter II remaster—makes a compelling argument for this to be the system to welcome former gamers back into gaming.

The other part of the launch story is, of course, Nintendo's now-famed product shortages. You'll need to be very dedicated to get one of these consoles in March. Presumably, the plan here is to gauge demand over the course of the year and then ensure there are enough systems manufactured to adequately cover the holiday shopping season at the end of the year. I've heard people sarcastically refer to the March 3rd release as an “early access launch,” but that's not actually a bad thing. If you look at the end of the year as the Switch's “real” release date, that means you've got a pretty fantastic lineup of games and enough systems out there that you can actually walk into a store and buy one.

Online features add into that “early access” theory. Nintendo's switching to the now-industry-standard paid online model, but they won't be charging until the fall. It's tough to get worked up about something that's standard on other consoles, but given Nintendo's shaky history with online play it's easy to be skeptical of how worthwhile this service will be. Especially when you hear things like a smartphone app being required for voice chat. Yes, folks—Nintendo's solution for voice chat is literally having you call your friends. Everyone uses Skype or Discord by now anyway, so it's kind of a moot point, but it bodes ill for the future of Nintendo's online infrastructure.

I'm far less cynical, however, about the much-maligned “monthly game download,” where an NES or Super NES game will be made available for free once a month, updated with online play. You can buy that game and keep it, but once the month is up it's no longer free. What everyone seems to want is a Netflix-style subscription to the Virtual Console, but let's be real—if you want that, the zip file giving you access to every Nintendo game ever made is already sitting on your computer. You aren't playing those games now, and you still wouldn't be if you were paying for them. It would be the same story if it were a PlayStation Plus model where the games stayed in your library. I know I've spent far more time downloading Plus games than I ever have playing them. By maintaining a curated game every month, Nintendo can focus the community's attention on a single title, making that online play actually worthwhile and fostering a game club mentality where people might actually play the games they're getting for free.

Will the Switch be a home console to replace the PS4 or Xbox One? Nah, probably not. The only certainty is that it'll be a great place to play the games Nintendo makes—but then, so was the Wii U. The real question is whether it will be a proper successor in the portable market to both the 3DS and Vita. That question is especially pertinent to fans of Japanese and niche games, as portable systems have proven to be the ideal home for those titles.

With Xenoblade Chronicles 2 as well ports of Disgaea 5 and I Am Setsuna, Nintendo's certainly making strides toward ensuring Switch is a home for RPGs. We're also finally—FINALLY—getting a localized edition of the greatest puzzle game package ever devised in Puyo Puyo Tetris, though that's also coming to PS4. The presentation—broadcast from Tokyo—placed huge emphasis on Japanese developers, confirming a new Fire Emblem based Warriors title and something in the Shin Megami Tensei franchise. Dragon Quest X and XI ports are already in the works, as are fresh Tales and Taiko Drum Master titles from Bandai Namco. And, of course, there's whatever bizarre No More Heroes derivative Suda51 is working on.

That's a strong list, but without a second of footage from most of those titles it's tough to say whether they're going to satisfy—or even come to fruition. It's a level of enthusiasm that we didn't see with the Wii U, however, and with both the 3DS and the Vita fading away, the Switch has no competition in the portable market that fosters these sorts of titles. If all the promised titles make it to market, then the Switch is poised to carve out a massive niche for itself as the perfect home for Japanese games, and that would be an exciting thing, indeed.

NEWS

NINTENDO IS MAKING MORE FIRE EMBLEM, AND A LOT OF IT

Don't think that everything Nintendo had to announce this week was about the Switch. They also had a Fire Emblem-themed Nintendo direct that was filled with news on the tactical RPG series. The quick announcements are that Fire Emblem Warriors will also be coming to the New Nintendo 3DS, and that a new, Switch-exclusive traditional game in the series will launch sometime in 2018.

But don't think the 3DS is abandoned—yet, anyway. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a remake of the previously Japan-exclusive NES game, Fire Emblem Gaiden. This title features more emphasis on explorations, and even appears to have a serious focus on third-person dungeon crawling on top of your traditional tactical action. There's also a story that opens with some kids making pinky promises never to fight each other, and I'm sure that'll be super sad. Those kids—Alm and Celica—grow up to be your playable characters, and they've even got a pair of Amiibo launching alongside the 3DS game on May 19th.

Before that, however, Fire Emblem Heroes hits mobile devices. It, too, is a tactical RPG, but one that casts you as a “summoner” able to call new characters and series favorites into battle. The maps are all 8x6 grids with various terrain types that require you to defeat all enemies to win. It seems there's no perma-death, but the traditional rock-paper-scissors weapon system is in place and individual characters level up as they defeat enemies. So it's practically Fire Emblem, right? You summon new characters by spending orbs, which you can earn in-game or buy with real money.

In an utterly bizarre inversion of mobile game standards, Fire Emblem Heroes seems to be launching first on Android, February 2nd. iOS versions are “coming soon.”

BECAUSE WE HAVEN'T DISCUSSED NINTENDO ENOUGH JUST YET, HERE'S MORE BREATH OF THE WILD INFO

On top of all the Switch-specific info, Nintendo also dropped some fresh details on the Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Notably, the Wii U version is coming out the same day as the Switch on March 3rd, busting those (already busted) Zelda delay rumors. What you won't get on the Wii U version, though, is a fancy collector's edition featuring a nifty map, Sheikah Slate-shaped Switch carrying case, and soundtrack—or even a cool Master Sword replica if you want to spend yet more money. But hey, you won't get that anyway, as this package was sold out everywhere minutes after pre-orders launched.

There's also this dope new trailer which shows off villages and exploding arrows and sand walruses and Gorons and Zoras and Gerudo and I think my poor Ocarina-loving heart might not be able to handle it in the end.

YOU'VE GOT ONE MORE LAST CHANCE TO PLAY A NIOH DEMO

Nioh seems pretty cool! It also seems hard. Not just hard in the Dark Souls way—though it is a lot like Dark Souls—but hard in a character-action, high-level Devil May Cry kind of a way. Is that cool? Scary? I'm not sure just yet based on time with previous demos, but I am intrigued.

Luckily, you've got one more chance to play Nioh before its February 9th release date with a new demo running this weekend. It appears to be an “expanded” version of what was shown at the PlayStation Experience, and beating the demo will get you extra gear in the final game. So if you're into Nioh, or at least the idea of Nioh, check it out.

NEXT WEEK'S RELEASES

DRAGON QUEST VIII: JOURNEY OF THE CURSED KING
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: January 20
MSRP: $39.99

The PS2 classic returns in modern, portable form for the 3DS. This time around there are new dungeons, bosses, items, quests, story moments, a new ending, and two new party members—Red the bandit and Morrie, owner of the Monster Arena. The hundred hour adventure is one of the undisputed classics of JRPG gaming, and one well worth revisiting.

GRAVITY RUSH 2
Developer: SIE Japan Studio / Project Siren
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: January 20
MSRP: $59.99

The sequel to the Vita's almost-forgotten almost-classic, Gravity Rush 2 brings a new story, a new setting, and three new types of gravity to, uh, rush with. Early reviews suggest that this title capitalizes on the original's untapped potential, and with the addition of brilliant, colorful visuals it seems like it's going to be a treat. There's a demo out on PSN, so check it out if you're on the fence.

KINGDOM HEARTS HD 2.8 FINAL CHAPTER PROLOGUE
Developer: Square Enix
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: January 24
MSRP: $59.99

I'm not going to lie—I have long since lost track of the Kingdom Hearts universe, so I'm going to keep this as basic and factual as possible. This package includes an HD remaster of the 3DS game, Dream Drop Distance, as well as two pieces of original content. The first is a cinematic called Kingdom Hearts χ Back Cover, which details and expands on events from a game made for browsers and mobile devices. The other is Kingdom Hearts 0.2: Birth by Sleep – A Fragmentary Passage, which is an original game taking place after the events of the PSP title, Birth by Sleep. If you're as out of touch as I am, a PS4 edition of the original Kingdom Hearts I and II remasters will be out in March, giving us plenty of time to catch up before Kingdom Hearts III comes out in, like, 2020 or something.

RESIDENT EVIL VII: BIOHAZARD
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: January 24
MSRP: $59.99

After the series first dove into action gameplay with one of the best games ever made, Resident Evil has slowly seen diminishing—and by some accounts disastrous—returns on its heavy combat focus. Resident Evil VII: Biohazard returns the series to its horror roots, taking heavy inspiration from P.T. and indie horror games along the way. Will the change in course pay off for the venerable series? We'll soon find out.

TALES OF BERSERIA
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namvo
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: January 24
MSRP: $59.99

The latest in the long-running Tales franchise, Tales of Berseria is set in the distant past of Zestiria but takes place in the same game world. You play as a woman named Velvet, who joins a group of pirates as they sail the seas in search of adventure. A demo is up on PSN to tell you whether this is the JRPG you're looking for.

YAKUZA 0
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: January 24
MSRP: $59.99

This prequel shows the origins of series protagonist Kazuma Kiryu in the seedy world of 1988 Japan, alongside his buddy and fan-favorite jerk, Goro Majima. It's the start of a big wave of long-awaited Yakuza localizations that will soon include Kiwami—a remake of the original—and the brand-new Yakuza 6. By all accounts, Yakuza 0 is the perfect place to start in your journey down the wonderful path of Japanese crime melodrama.

That's all for this week, folks! Don't lose yourself among the massive stack of new releases!


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