This Week in Games - Seven Months With Nintendo Switch

by Dustin Bailey,
The focus of this column is definitely not the SNES Mini. That's both because Todd already did an excellent write-up, and because the past week has seen me playing games on the Switch pretty obsessively—so much so that exploring the classics has been left on the backburner. It's been lovely, and it's left me thinking about how Nintendo's platform has been doing since release.

Seven Months With Nintendo Switch

It's been little over half a year since Nintendo released their console slash handheld hybrid, and buoyed by one of the best games of, well, ever, the Switch's launch proved a darn successful one. Now, of course, we're few weeks away from the release of Super Mario Odyssey, likely to be the platform's second defining title. But how've things been in the meantime? Is Nintendo's new platform living up to all its infinite potential?

It's certainly been a stronger start than that of the Wii U. Yet the previous platform's library has formed the backbone of the Switch's first year lineup. Breath of the Wild was a dual-platform game. Mario Kart 8 and Pokken Tournament are great multiplayer picks that are better on Switch. Despite various improvements Splatoon 2 is a whole lot like Splatoon, even if that's a pretty good thing. If you didn't already have a Wii U, the strength of that list of games is close to inarguable, and even if you did, the Switch ports of so many multiplayer-focused titles on an already more popular platform mean that it's way easier to find a community to enjoy those games with.

In one way, the Switch feels like the fulfilled promise of the Wii U's gamepad, since it makes “off-TV play” actually viable. With the console as part of the gamepad, it's now actually possible to make it portable—and you'll remember the Wii U could scarcely transmit a signal more than 25 feet away. Yeah, the Switch's for really real portability is cool, and while the short battery life means it's less than ideal for plane rides and the like, the other applications from letting a partner use the TV to grabbing a couple more Zelda shrines before bed make the Switch's “switch” factor downright magical.

But the changes from the Wii U have had their own negative effects, and the fact that developers can't count on you having a dedicated touch screen no matter how you're playing mean that the touch screen has been effectively useless. Breath of the Wild would have been a better game if it were a Wii U exclusive, since Nintendo's original plan of handling inventory management on the gamepad would've eliminated the game's one relevant complaint. Mario Maker seems ripe for a Switch port, but how's it gonna work? Portable only level creation? That's less than ideal, and the one compromise that we've endured in the transition to an otherwise far better-conceived platform has still caused some issues.

Yet those are issues largely tied to a small handful of Nintendo-made titles that use the touch screen and TV in tandem. The games Nintendo has ported from the Wii U have been very smart transitions, mostly focused around solid multiplayer games that deserve a chance with a wider audience. Plus, third-party support has been pretty solid after the straight “nah” a lot of developers said toward the Wii U. FIFA, NBA 2K, and WWE 2K either have released or will release on the Switch, and while none of those are quite the titles to get the hardcore audience a-goin', the fact that they exist—and that the ports have been competent—bodes well for further support on the platform.

And things are lining up to suggest that the Switch is going to be the platform of interest for mid-tier Japanese games in the future, much as cross-platform PS4 and Vita titles had been through the past several years. Nights of Azure 2, the most usual of usual suspects in that “mid-budget RPG” range, is coming out on Switch right alongside its counterparts, and licensed titles like Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 and One Piece: Unlimited World Red have seen very competent ports. (Certainly far better than the heavily compromised versions of PS4 games that too-often get shoehorned onto the Vita.) And more major games, from Square Enix's Octopath Traveler to Suda51's next No More Heroes have seen enough promise in the platform to be greenlit as exclusives.

The real star of the Switch's library, however, has been the indies. For the most part, you can play them on other platforms, but the low technical demands of these games mean that there are no compromises on the Switch, and the portability option is a feature you can't get anywhere else. Stardew Valley has utterly consumed my house since its Switch release, and there's just an unfathomably good list of indies, particularly within the last month. Axiom Verge, Thimbleweed Park, and SteamWorld Dig 2. Nintendo's support of independent developers has been so strong that some games, like the delightful RPG Golf Story, have even gone exclusive for the system.

So within seven months, the Switch has gotten an array of excellent ports of first-party Nintendo titles, along with a great Splatoon sequel and a very solid first effort in Arms, plus of course, one of the best Zelda games ever. Plus they've got a great deal of third-party interest including major exclusives from Japanese developers, simultaneous ports of mid-tier titles, and even a (really terrific!) franchise crossover with Ubisoft. Add to that an utterly terrific list of indie games, and I think the Switch has more than fulfilled its promise even before the awaited release of Super Mario Odyssey. Oh, yeah, we're like two weeks away from a massive new Mario game, too.

NEWS

GOD EATER 3 WILL, PRESUMABLY, ALLOW YOU TO EAT MORE THAN THREE GODS

There are many entries in the “competent Monster Hunter clone” genre, and God Eater might just be the most competent of them all. After all, the series has its own spin, with a little bit more high-flyin' action its combat and a little bit more anime sprinkled throughout. After a lengthy wait (in Japan, anyway) following the release of the last game in the series, Bandai Namco has finally announced God Eater 3 after teasing the title at TGS last year.

Based on the trailer and official description, all I can really say is “yep, that's totally God Eater.” Still an apocalyptic story about humans fighting back against the Aragami monsters, but that's not to say it doesn't look stylish. The environments are way more detailed, for one thing. But we got a few more details via Famitsu (translated by Siliconera) about what to expect. Renewed focus on fast-paced combat, nonspecifically evolved multiplayer, and larger fields with seamless transitions. Details are still pretty light, but pedigree plus promise equals a game worth watching.

It's doubly worth watching in light of a fundamentally evolved Monster Hunter in our near future, whose success of failure will cast whatever God Eater does in an entirely different light. Shift is also working on a Dark Souls derivative in Code Vein, making them specialists in knocking off more popular Japanese fantasy franchises, I guess. (Not that it's a bad thing, mind.)

A GAME BOY MINI MAY OR MAY BE COMING

So, Nintendo has filed a trademark involving an image of the original Game Boy, applying to clothing, key chains, and other bits of memorabilia. It's possible that this is all the trademark is for, but the filing also includes provisions for “household video games.” So naturally, the speculation is running rampant about a possible Game Boy Mini.

A SNES Mini seemed inevitable after the success of the tiny NES, but successive Nintendo platforms have felt progressively less likely. The problem with a Game Boy Mini is, of course, the screen. A display sufficient for Game Boy games wouldn't be that expensive, but it would be a cost above the stock innards of the previous two microconsoles. And how small could it possibly be if that screen is to remain readable?

People wanna talk some mess these days about the original Game Boy's library in light of the advances of the Advance, but that's some nonsense. Games like Donkey Kong '94, Super Mario Land 2, and Kirby's Pinball Land are all classics I'd fire up any day of the week, and there are days when I'd be willing to argue that Link's Awakening is the best 2D Zelda of all. (And hey, Tetris.)

The reason the Game Boy Mini seems so wild is the possibilities it opens up. Link cable support? The idea of a tiny, sub-$100 device you could play and trade original-generation Pokémon on would make for a holiday rush the likes of which the world is not prepared for. As wonderful as the SNES library might be, and as terrific as a potential GBA console would be, the mainstream appeal of a tiny Game Boy would be incalculably huge.

THE YS VIII LOCALIZATION WASN'T GOOD, AND NIS IS VERY SORRY

The resurgence of Stardew Valley has gotten me reminiscing about Harvest Moon 64 (a far better game than Back to Nature and you know it), which in turn has me waxing nostalgic for mediocre localizations. Remember when Natsume misspelled their own name on the title screen?

Of course, standards for translations have increased significantly in the last 20 years, and what was charming back then comes across a little more shoddy and unprofessional today. While Ys VIII has been mostly well-received, the translation—along with typos and grammar issues—has had its share of critics. I can't say too much for fear of throwing stones in my glass writer's house, but people expected better.

And apparently they're getting better. NIS America president CEO Takuro Yamashita has issued a formal apology for the localization, promising a fresh rework with new voice recording to come in a free patch. That patch will come along with the PC release, which after similarly awkward issues and apologies will be releasing mid-December. The examples of bad dialog that've been circulated aren't that bad, but they are reminiscent of the slightly awkward wording we were once accustomed to. It's a bizarre issue, given that so much translation these days is good to the point of being invisible, but we've gone and gotten spoiled by quality localization. (How dare we, right?)

UPCOMING RELEASES

THE EVIL WITHIN 2
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: PlayStation 4 / Xbox One / PC
Release Date: October 13
MSRP: $59.99

The latest from Shinji Mikami has an altogether appropriate Friday the 13th release date, and it's looking like Evil Within 2 will correct the flaws of its predecessor for a bigger, better branch of survival horror. It'd be lovely to see both the Resident Evil franchise and Mikami himself manage to make successful fresh starts in the same year.

GRAN TURISMO SPORT
Developer: Polyphony Digital
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 17
MSRP: $59.99

Yes, it's time to stop joking about an ever-in-the-future release date, because Gran Turismo Sport is actually coming out. It's supposed to mark a new generation in the series, which is hopefully more than just marketing talk—Forza has, after all, been eating GT's lunch for most of the past generation.

ALSO AVAILABLE:
If you still have a taste for tasteless humor, South Park: The Fractured but Whole is a follow-up to a pretty excellent RPG that I really don't have any interest in revisiting. Also, WWE 2K18 is out, but I've made the all-important transition of playing Fire Pro and watching NJPW so, you know, whatever.


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