Switch and the Glory Days

The Nintendo Entertainment System. After growing up with Atari, this beast of an electronic device came along to change and remake an industry. I was used to Pitfall Harry and fighting endless hordes of Centipedes. With Mario, there was a princess to save, hidden coins to discover, and warps to different worlds. This was gaming on an entirely new level. I played these games out. Did you pull the master sword out of the stone? Save the Princess from Bowser? Battle alien hordes in Contra or LifeForce?

I’m sure you did. Do you remember blowing into the grey cartridges or banging on the system in just the right way to get the game to load? Two taps at the front and one near the power cord. Oh, the memories. When nostalgia comes rushing back, it’s a feeling we all love.

To hold onto these memories, I’ve always supported the Big N. It’s a company that conquered the industry in its own way. And I’ve owned every Nintendo console (my parents bought one for me and I paid it forward), not all of them were great but I’ve never regretted the purchase. No, the N64 didn’t wow me (it had few games at launch) but it did have Mario 64 and eventually Ocarina of Time. These are still epic games.

When the world thinks Nintendo will fail (only Microsoft gets more articles on the upcoming implosion), it seems to rise up from the ashes like a Phoenix. The Wii took the world by storm. As much as I enjoyed the Wii for launching the Virtual Console and being home to the best Mario games in a generation, Skyward Sword didn’t grab me like the other Zelda games in the series. Sorry, Zelda, I didn’t save you this time. Hey, we all swing at miss. It’s worth noting some loved the motion controls.

I had no intention of buying the Switch near launch, but I walked into Target and there it was. No midnight launch for me. I’m too old for that. When I brought it home, I moved the WiiU to a different part of the house. You can call Wii Version 1.5 a failure; however, my XBOX One is basically a DVD player. I did use the TV-Tuner to cut the cord. Still, I’m not a fan of games where I shoot people. I turn into David Banner and get angry, not cool. Yeah, I played a little Star Wars Battlefront but that’s about it. For family games, Nintendo rules. They’re known for fun. That’s why we play. And you have to admit, the WiiU has some of the best games for any system. Two great Zelda remakes. Mario (No, it’s not Galaxy but it works). The best Mario Kart of all time. For someone who can’t dedicate hours to play (I know I’m getting old), it’s a great machine. Plus, the controls have a feel to it that I remember. I can play Mario Kart. My kid’s friends are in awe at my mad Mario Kart skills.

Looking at the WiiU now, it’s easy to see its flaws. It did have hardware challenges. Compared to its older sisters, it’s a big machine. Two power cords, one for the gamepad dock and a giant brick for the console. No, you don’t need the dock but there you go. Also, it has that bar for motion controls. All in all, it took a box to carry it down to the basement. Wires and different controller combinations were scattered about. Classic Controller. Motion Controller. Pro-Controller.

Unboxing the Switch, I noticed all of this had vanished. Technology changes so fast in five years, which is the typical console life cycle. Gaming is one of the few technology segments I feel I get my money’s worth. Phones come and go every 18 months to two years. Although I got nine years out of a MacPro (seven out of an Air), I think the refresh cycle is changing with personal computers. And it might for the Switch too, probably will. But this little thing is a technological leap over the WiiU. Basically, the entire device can fit in a small bag. Cardboard box not needed.

Now, pundits can call the system underpowered all they want. It leverages an ARM Tegra processor compared to Sony and Microsoft’s x86 architectures. There are numerous articles that tear down the device. I’m not going to give a specification comparison, but for anyone that doesn’t think these low power devices aren’t the future is kidding themselves. ARM reshaped the PC industry, not just with IPads and Android devices. These chips are coming to Windows and MacOS down the road and will change how games are played too. Nintendo has a fairly complex game in the Legend of Zelda running without a hitch. This is a technical achievement. I’m not saying short Intel stock, but the industry is fast-moving. The company needs to up its game.

For setup, you plug the small USB-C power cord into the docking station and run an HDMI cable into television. That’s it. Yes, the advertised switch between television and handheld mode works flawlessly. There is no tape delay in those commercials. It really works.

Note, I haven’t done much testing with the JoyCon controllers. I haven’t tried 1-2-3 Switch. Still, I didn’t experience the dreaded left JoyCon failure that’s making rounds on the internet. Similar to the conspiracy theories that the US didn’t land on the moon, this feels overblown. It could be I have a good machine (thankfully), and I’ve rarely used the controllers off of the device. For big screen play, I splurged for the pro-controller. It’s expensive. However, XBOX controllers aren’t cheap either, and I’ve had to buy more than my fair share. That being said, when I did try to use the attachments for the JoyCons I did have some challenges. Just a tip, make sure you align the ++ and — correctly. Otherwise, you’re going to apply some extreme pressure in getting them unattached. It’s a pain.

In terms of games, the launch is light. However, the N64 only had four games. “You only need one great game to sell a system.” This Zelda game is absolutely amazing.

Will this system save the Big N? I’m not sure. They are diversifying to other mobile platforms to hedge their bet. And I think there is more to do here. No virtual console (that’s a big miss). It’s so different architecturally from Microsoft and Sony that it’ll probably struggle with third-party support.

Yet, I’m not sure I care. Give me Kart. Splatoon. Animal Crossing. Expand Zelda. Yeah, I’m a biased Nintendo fan. So, take this review with a grain of salt. But I can’t help but think this console is a winner. It leverages old tricks but pushes the company into a mobile-first future, which is where games will be played. It’s good to see Nintendo return to its bold roots. The original NES. GameBoy. Wii. VirtualBoy. Not all risks lead to success but this is how innovation happens.

favorite NES Games:

  • Super Mario, 1-3 (I’m a fan of King Wart),
  • Contra,
  • Mega Man 2,
  • Metroid,
  • RBI Baseball,
  • Double Dragon II,
  • RC Pro-AM,
  • The Legend of Zelda,
  • Castlevania,
  • Castlevania III,
  • Excitebike,
  • Mike Tyson’s Punchout (When Mike Tyson was at the height of his powers),

And if you dare to revisit any of these, it’s worth pointing out that all are challenging. Like super hard. I can’t keep up with my kid on the new stuff of the day. Yet, I can’t help but wonder if he’d cry trying these out.