We went and got our Nintendo Switch first thing Friday morning—Gamestop held a midnight launch party. Other than the not-so-subtle scalper trying to buy up any remaining games and accessories, everyone was excited and friendly. The Nintendo love was strong. After the dullness of the Wii U years, it felt like the excitement was back. But was it justified?
Now that I've had my Switch for a few days, I can honestly say that I love it. Most of my gaming time has been spent getting lost in Hyrule in Breath of the Wild, but my boyfriend and I have sampled Super Bomberman R and we are planning to play Snipperclips soon. I have played the new Zelda game in both docked and handheld mode, with the Pro Controller and with the JoyCon controllers. The game runs wonderfully, and thankfully I haven't had any of the syncing issues that others are reporting. At least, not yet. The Switch is slick and intuitive, and it looks great both in handheld mode and on the TV. The controllers are easy to snap on and off of both the Switch itself and the various accessories (although you should watch out for the wrist straps). The battery life also seems pretty good. I had to go to the car dealership over the weekend and played for a good two hours while waiting for my car. I still had 50% battery left on the console when I got home.
I'll say more about Breath of the Wild once I've had some more time with it, but unlike any other game I have played in the past few years, it has a remarkable ability to inspire conversations. Because the game is so open and leaves so much room for innovation, everyone has learned something different on their Hyrule journeys. It's fun to swap word-of-mouth tips and tricks with other people who are exploring just like you are.
I have one serious complaint at this moment: The Switch has very weak wi-fi connection. When I'm downloading an update, the signal in my living room is so pathetic that I have to carry the tablet into my office and update it right by the router. No other device in my house—including the 3DS, Vita, PS3, and PS4—has this problem. Weak wi-fi gives me concerns about future online play once titles like Splatoon 2 start coming out.
I also have a minor complaint, although I think this one will naturally resolve itself. It's very clear that the Switch was released just a little bit early—it feels unfinished. This is particularly apparent in the eShop, which offers Switch games but no games from previous Nintendo generations. When will the shop be fully functional? The Switch's lack of an internet browser is also highly problematic given that it's a device that should be usable on the go. I don't see how I could connect to, say, Starbucks internet with my Switch given that I can't go into a browser window to accept the terms and conditions. Hopefully this is the sort of thing that can be easily fixed with an update.
Overall, I have great faith in the Switch, despite its issues. Nintendo has had its share of problems and continues to make weird marketing decisions. But Breath of the Wild is a remarkable game that has me looking forward to the next big Nintendo release, and the Switch itself is a pretty magical piece of hardware. Nintendo is so far delivering on the promise that keeps me a Nintendo fan through thick and thin: It has brought fun and joy to my gaming life, and thus to life in general.
My boyfriend and I have a complicated emotional relationship with Nintendo. Over the past couple of years, Nintendo has favored limited print runs of a lot of its products (as I discussed here), and it often feels like the company is both dishonest and out of touch with its consumers.
Nintendo reps are as slippery as politicians when speaking about the company's future plans. For example, in March, Nintendo denied rumors that it was planning to stop production of the Wii U. By November, Nintendo confirmed that production of the Wii U is indeed coming to a close. Nintendo also suggested for a long time that the NX would not be a replacement for the Wii U, although that's clearly what the Switch is intended to be.
That said, we still went out and preordered the Nintendo Switch this week. And I'm really excited about it for two major reasons.
1) Nintendo is willing to experiment.
I like that Nintendo consoles have a totally different vibe from other gaming devices. Although I am not an XBox or PC gamer, I own and love a PS3, PS4, and Vita. I feel like people who play on any of these platforms are able to have some common gaming experiences. When it comes to XBox or PlayStation, choosing a console is mostly a matter of personal taste and possibly a preference for exclusives like Fable (XBox) or Uncharted (PlayStation). PC gamers have a wider range of options, but a lot of games are released for both console and PC.
Nintendo, on the other hand, is never afraid to offer something completely different. The Switch is unlike any console out there. Not only are the detachable controllers going to lead to games with interesting mechanics, but Nintendo is never afraid to release weird games in general. (Game & Wario, anyone?) One of the mini-games in 1-2-Switch, one of the launch titles, is going to involve milking cows, and another will allow for living room sword fights that allow you to focus on your opponent instead of the screen. (Alas, I might be waiting until it comes down in price.) I'm also excited about Arms, a fighting game in which you and your opponent wail on each other with weird, stretchy appendages. This is too wonky and fun-looking NOT to play:
2) Nintendo first-party games are excellent, period.
Even Wii U haters will admit at this point that the console's failures were not a result of bad games. The Wii U has had some incredible releases, including entries into established franchises such as Super Mario 3D World and new IPs like Splatoon. The Wii U's gaming tablet also allowed for interesting and creative games like Mario Maker. Although the Switch has a weak initial lineup, I expect to be occupied with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for quite some time. And I have no doubt that Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 will be excellent—and here relatively soon. If you judge Nintendo by the quality of the first-party games it produces, you cannot help but have faith in Nintendo consoles, even when the business end of things is clumsy.
Nintendo has been stumbling in the last few years. It's not clear that they have learned their lesson with the Switch. The company has also picked up a lot of haters—even some Gamestop employees have openly pooh-poohed our Nintendo purchases over the past few years, and I have to wonder if that attitude has impacted sales to undecided consumers. But without Nintendo, something would be irrevocably lost from the world of video games, and I don't want to see that happen. So we're getting a Switch, and I have faith in it. Nintendo can always be trusted to do one thing: produce excellent games that will be fun and different. Also, by early March, Epona and I will be riding off into the sunset, and I can't wait.
After a long dry spell, I've found time to play a video game. (Thanks, Winter Break!) I've busted out my PS Vita and finally, finally gotten around to playing Persona 4 Golden. It's one of the PS Vita's most beloved games, and I can see why: I'm a little over halfway through the game, and I'm still deeply engrossed in the story. I love games that are heavy on story, so a good JRPG can hold my interest for quite a while.
Persona 4 Golden is about more than grinding through battle after battle and leveling up enough to face a big boss. To maximize your potential within the game, you need to develop certain personal traits, such as courage, understanding, expression, and knowledge. You also need to strengthen your social bonds with the people around you, especially your friends and family members. Every part of every day in Persona 4 Golden can and should be used in a productive way, whether you choose to study in the library, go on a scooter ride, or chill out with your adorable little cousin.
Trying to maximize the benefits I get out of my "free time" in Persona 4 Golden is fun, but it's also interesting to think about in the context of my actual life. Trying to make sure that I'm using my time in a way that actually benefits me is easy to do in a video game, but shockingly difficult to do in reality. How many hours have I allowed to slip by because I started clicking links on Facebook? How many times have I come home and intended to read or play a board game, but ended up staring off into space instead?
Persona 4 Golden also keeps track of your relationships in a concrete way, which really makes you think about friendships. There are characters in the game that I forget to hang out with because I "see" them all the time, but I later realize that I've done nothing to actually deepen the relationship. How many friends do I see every day at work without bothering to really get to know them? I live with my boyfriend, so I see him all the time, but am I really investing enough in quality couple time?
Obviously, life isn't a video game. Sometimes you just need to veg, and relationships/me-time can't be quantified in real life. (Too bad: Think of all the knowledge points I'd get for all of the reading I do!) But maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the social mechanics of Persona 4 Golden. I love the idea that time spent reading, studying, or bonding with other people has intrinsic value. How differently would we live our lives if we felt that way outside of video games?
Although I vastly prefer board games to video games these days, I am dying to try out Dishonored 2. I loved the first Dishonored, and I also adore any game that allows you to surveil an area, learn the guards' positions, and sneakly disable your opponents before they even realize you're there. My Skyrim character is a Khajiit assassin, and my favorite weapon in Far Cry 3 was obviously a sniper rifle. Reviewers panned it, but I love playing Thief because I enjoy creeping around the levels and feeling invisible.
That is the one feeling that I can't truly get from board games. There are, of course, hidden movement games or social deduction games that require a certain amount of sneakiness and misdirection. Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space looks like it might scratch my stealth itch. But when you play a board game that involves those mechanics, both players are already hyper aware of each other and in a state of conflict. You can't get that feeling of sneaking in while no one expects you and then slipping away before anyone realizes you were there. The increasingly impressive AI in a video game can create that feeling.
But I wonder—now that we have board games such as Mansions of Madness or Descent that can be run using an app, would a stealth board game of that nature be possible? I would be very interested to see it.
Sometimes I avoid playing heavier games because of the long setup and takedown time, especially if the games have complicated rules that will require a refresher. (I'm looking at you, Mage Knight.) But I've been in the mood to play video games again lately, and when I put Dying Light into my PS4 to give it a try, I was in for a nasty surprise: The installation and updates were going to take hours before I could even start to play my game! And that was after another lengthy system update.
The experience provided me a serious reminder of why I don't play video games as much as I used to. If you're in the mood to play one, but haven't been indulging regularly, you will probably get slammed with a long waiting time before you can actually scratch that itch. Sometimes, if the updates are egregiously long or require me to go in and delete other stuff from my PS4 hard drive, I will just forget about it and go get out a board game or try something on my 3DS. (Nintendo, for all its flaws, is very good about making it possible to pick up and play video games.)
It can take a little while to set up a board game, especially if it's heavy or unfamiliar. But I'd rather be engaged with the setup process than helplessly watching the load bar and wishing I had the money for a better internet connection. I feel bad for all of the kids who will get a Playstation for Christmas this year, but their parents didn't know to set it up the night before!
As for my video game craving, I guess I'll always have my handheld consoles... and we teachers are almost halfway to summer.