5 months, 1 week ago
Here's the thing about cycles. The wheel turns, but that does not imply that history will repeat wholecloth. Time, of course, does not exist. History doubly so: History is a patriarchal fiction. There are endings and new beginnings as the seasons change. Recognisable archetypes reiterate and reincarnate, but each spin of the wheel is an event of its own. Impermanence is all part of the cycle.
We in video game journalism appropriate some of this truth when we use terms like “hardware cycles” to describe the passing of the console generational torch (“generation” and “torch”, of course, both being metaphors taken from patriarchal master narratives). Video game consoles do not so much go out of date as they get supplanted. A history of invasions and conquests, or a season for everything?
Were I to do this normally, I would go through my notes and recap the Nintendo Switch Reveal Event Presentation beat-for-beat. But on this occasion, normality doesn't seem appropriate. Nintendo did indeed flip a Switch with this event, but I doubt highly it's the Switch they wanted to flip. Over the course of about an hour, my entire world was turned on its head, and I've been in shock trying to cope ever since (of course, I should be used to this by now-Shock, trauma and loss is apparently what my life is now as it's been this way for three straight years). Within the span of not even 24 hours, my entire perspective changed entirely. I walked into the reveal super excited for the next new Nintendo console, and I left it seriously considering walking away from everything, starting with video games.
The console itself, it should be stressed, looks marvelous. As a piece of gaming hardware, it's just about second to none. Much time and emphasis was spent during the presentation demonstrating the Switch's impressive tech specs and functionality, such as its detachable JoyCon controllers, both of which boast highly sophisticated motion sensors and haptic feedback. The two controllers have independent left-right motion control, near field communication read/write capability (or at least the right one has that), and something Nintendo have obnoxiously decided to call “HD Rumble”. Basically, it's a haptic feedback system that can emulate highly detailed acoustics, like (for example, as was demonstrated) ice cubes being dropped into a glass, and then the glass filling with water. And from the hands-on previews I've read, the system seems to run great, and the 2.5-6 hour battery life (depending on the game) seems more or less reasonable for a system of this power, if not really ideal. Even better, the Switch will not be region locked like some previous Nintendo consoles have been, and there was an admirable focus on the Switch's local co-op features: A highlight of the WiiU, but rather lacking on either version of the 3DS.
Concerns, however, start to arise looking at the software lineup touted last week. 1-2-Switch is Nintendo's attempt to capture lightning in a bottle again the way they did with Wii Sports two generations ago. Like Wii Sports, it's very much a showcase of the system's capabilities, and is very much aimed at the “casual” gamer crowd, if indeed that term has any discernible meaning anymore. Two players each take hold of a JoyCon and basically play quick draw poker, looking for minute changes in each other's body language and trying to be the first to input a button press. And while 1-2-Switch is launching along with the console just like Wii Sports, *unlike* Wii Sports, this will *not* be a free pack-in, but instead a complete retail product launching at full MSRP. This is after, mind you, you have already spent $300 on your Nintendo Switch itself (oh did I neglect to mention that? The console is $300). There is absolutely no way to justify a game like 1-2-Switch being anything other than a free pack-in: To put it in as blunt language as possible, it's not worth anything more than that.
Then there was Arms, a boxing game that showcases the sensitivity of the JoyCons' motion controls. Unlike previous motion controlled sports games, this one requires extreme precision, as your titular arms are spring-powered devices that can arc around obstacles. Precision, it seems, the JoyCons have. One highlight of this part of the presentation was how Nintendo emphasized how the accessibility of motion controls mean “anyone can pick up and play”, something I have always firmly believed. And though I chuckled at how the characters have names like “Spring Man” and “Ribbon Girl”, putting me in mind of AA 90s tournament fighters, in hindsight that is part of one of Arms' two biggest problems: As Eurogamer and others have pointed out, the game seems a transparent attempt to follow in the footsteps of Splatoon's style and competitive edge. Once again, Nintendo seems to be copying itself, somehow becoming its own me-too (or perhaps MiiTu) imitator.
The other problem is that Arms, like 1-2-Switch, is a full retail game that probably should have been a free-pack in. Indeed, one wonders why both of these games are not part of the same free pack-in.
Splatoon itself made an appearance in Splatoon 2. It's being sold as a true sequel, not an enhanced re-release...Except it basically *is* an enhanced re-release. The big changes are new hairstyles for the inklings, a redesigned Inkopolis, dual wielding and a kind of ink jetpack you can use to reach new areas. In fact, the new game even removes some major aspects of the original, namely the special abilities (the inkstrike, the inkzooka and so forth). Though the biggest change is (bloody finally) local multiplayer, this underscores the single biggest problem with the Switch, which I'll return to a little later on. Splatoon 2 is also bewilderingly not a launch title, in spite of the original Splatoon being the only reason a lot of people had to get a WiiU. It's launching this summer, which I can kind of see if Nintendo wants to underwrite the game's potential as a local co-op experience, but it still feels like a gigantic missed opportunity to me.
The new Super Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey, looks kind of cool, on the other hand. It's the first time since Super Mario Sunshine the series has attempted to render actual 3D space instead of a glorified linear obstacle course, and I'm excited to see it return to this style, even though I couldn't help snickering at the debut trailer for how much the real-life environs shown reminded me of another infamous series of AAA 3D platformers. Privately, Super Mario Odyssey will always henceforth be known to me as Super Mario Adventure: Unleashed. Said game is slated for a “Holiday 2017” release, which makes sense, but...Insider reports have been claiming the game is already complete. Which would seem to indicate it's being held back because Nintendo knows it doesn't have enough tentpole games to launch its new console with.
As the hour went on, I could feel my optimism and hope slowly draining away with each successive reveal. There's going to be Xenoblade Chronicles 2...But whether that's a sequel to Xenoblade Chronicles or Xenoblade Chronicles X is entirely unclear. And I didn't like either one of them to begin with anyway. Omega Force, Koei Tecmo's Warriors team, announced Fire Emblem Warriors. That this wasn't Hyrule Warriors 2 is, I freely confess, a punch to the gut for me personally, but I can totally see why they chose to make this next. It's probably wise to wait until after The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is established to do another Hyrule Warriors (and yes, I'll get to that soon enough, keep your pants on), and of Nintendo's first party franchises, Fire Emblem really is the only other one I can think of that would fit the Warriors template. Koei Tecmo is also apparently bringing Dragon Quest Heroes and Dragon Quest Heroes 2 to the Switch for fans of that series, while Square-Enix is bringing proper Dragon Quest X and XI.
None of these games, to my knowledge, have release dates.
There's going to be a new Shin Megami Tensei that may or may not even get a Western release. There's a thing called Project Ocotpath that looks to me for all the world like a shit Final Fantasy spinoff. SEGA sent a guy onstage to basically say “We totes have games for you guys, honest. I know you can't see anything, but we do. We promise”. Later announcements revealed said games to be Sonic Mania and Project Sonic, the two games celebrating Sonic the Hedgehog's 25th anniversary in 2016 in 2017. Also, the two games that are coming literally fucking everywhere else already anyway. Why these were not showcased in the presentation itself is beyond me. Probably because SEGA.
I did actually get the announcement I wanted. Todd Howard appeared (in a pre-recorded message, natch) to announce The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition is indeed coming to the Nintendo Switch. But no matter how enthusiastic Howard sounded and how much genuine, honest heartfelt passion and admiration he seems to have for Nintendo and its game design philosophy (which only makes sense given how indebted The Elder Scrolls is to Nintendo), even he, and even Skyrim, couldn't salvage the show for me. TESV:SE was rumoured to be a launch title, but it in truth will actually be coming out this fall. Perhaps Bethsoft need time to tweak the game for the Switch's motion controls or something, but somehow I have a nagging suspicion the real reason is because Nintendo wants to pace out its unbelievably sparse 2017 lineup. And one key feature of the Switch may actually end up crippling its version of Skyrim. I never imagined I'd be disappointed to hear about The Elder Scrolls on Nintendo hardware.
Then we saw Suda51, who was either unbelievably awkward or the translator absolutely sucked. The gist I got was that there's going to be a new No More Heroes for the Switch. Given that No More Heroes is about a self-absorbed, self-destructive otaku who thinks he's a tokusatsu hero and ends up either alienating or killing everyone he loves, this is a charming series to bring to a console whose premium price point and exclusivity in spite of its own marketing bluster seems custom-tailored to appeal to hardcore Nintendo fans and hardcore Nintendo fans alone. And it really says a lot about how much trouble Nintendo is actually in that EA's big announcement is that they're porting this year's FIFA to the Switch. That would be the FIFA that is the most popular console game in the fucking world and that famously has traditionally been on literally every other platform except Nintendo's.
The announcement everyone was waiting for (well everyone except me) was the release date of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Reggie Fils-Amie, Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma even joked about it. We got a new (suitably overblown and melodramatic) trailer for the game, followed by confirmation that it is indeed going to be a launch title, releasing alongside the Switch on March 3. I'm not going to spend a lot of time deconstructing the trailer or talking about the game here. If you want it, you'll get it. To me, it looks like what everyone who hasn't actually watched Hayao Miyazaki movies thinks Hayao Miyazaki movies are like: A lot of (admittedly gorgeous) sweeping vistas and hypercharged emotion played at the loudest frequency. And I'm sure absolutely everyone will be picking apart Princess Zelda's portrayal in the trailer, in particular her constant hysterical crying and clutching to Link for support, from every possible angle. I, personally, do not care. The Legend of Zelda is a series that is firmly behind me.
What does concern me is that while Breath of the Wild will surely sell like hotcakes, I suspect it will not do as well as Nintendo is banking on it doing, at least the Switch version. In spite of its pomp, circumstance and ceremony, this is still a WiiU game at heart, and the WiiU version is launching the same day. And given the way Nintendo have effectively locked out a *huge* portion of its potential audience with this thing, and given that most of the people they seem to want to buy the Switch probably have a WiiU already and are not exactly the most active sort, I expect a fair bit of sticker and sales figure shock come March 3. You can call me an idiot and a liar if I'm proven wrong, and I may well be, but I have next to no confidence in this industry anymore.
So let's talk about that shall we? Aside from the exorbitant price of both the console ($300! And even more if you're unfortunate enough to live in the post-Brexit UK!) and its launch lineup, none of which are pack-ins and all of which are going for full MSRP (not to mention the accessories: You can't even charge the controllers without buying a separate charging dock for them!), Nintendo is pushing this as a home console first and foremost. It plainly isn't. And for those who think it is, that price puts it directly in line with the PlayStation 4 Pro and XBOX One Scorpio or whateverthefuck Microsoft is going to end up calling that fucking thing. And, my personal feelings on those two consoles aside, no one is going to dispute both of them are more featured then the Nintendo Switch and, honestly, better deals. But the absolute last straw, the nail that seals the coffin and the absolute dealbreaker (at least for me), is that Nintendo is now going to be charging a subscription fee for online play, just like XBOX Live and the PSN.
To be fair for Nintendo, this has been industry standard practice since the XBOX 360 instituted in in 2005. To be not fair to Nintendo, it has been fucking shit
industry standard practice since the XBOX 360 instituted it in 2005. It was daylight robbery back then, and it's still fucking daylight robbery now
. So now, in order to play Splatoon 2
online, the primary selling point of the original game, you'll have to buy the ($300) console, the ($60) game, have access to an Internet connection (which you already have to fucking pay a monthly bill for) and on top of all that
, sign up for Nintendo's bullshit online subscription plan. I'm sorry, but that's not on. Eurogamer's Oli Welsh put it best when he said
“I worry that the threadbare slate and eye-watering pricing will be off-putting, even - especially - to the diehard Nintendo fans who've bought half of these games before. Their loyalty, it seems, will be squeezed for every last drop, and in doing so it will be sorely tested.”
Oh but you get a free NES or SNES game a month for signing up! That you only have access to for that month! A game that you most likely already own multiple copies of, or, if you for some reason don't, you can download a ROM of for free in literally seconds!
Furthermore, what does this mean for literally everything that isn't Splatoon? Nintendo hasn't said, probably because they knew this was going to go down like the Hindenburg among Nintendo fans used to free online play. One of the few joys I've had this past month has been exploring Course World in Super Mario Maker (the WiiU version, because the 3DS version is bullshit and a fucking mess), where people can upload their custom Super Mario Bros. levels for everyone to play. If Super Mario Maker comes to the Switch, will I have to pay for Course World now? And what about The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Special Edition? One of the primary reasons for that game's existence is to bring the PC mod scene to consoles. Are Switch players getting Bethesda.net like everyone else? And more importantly, if they are, will they have to pay extra for it?
Because, y'know, not only did I get that game for free on Steam, I also have access to literally every Skyrim mod ever made between Bethesda.net, Nexus Mods and some other places I will not mention in quasi-polite company. All of which are free for me to access on my computer. I'd love portable Skyrim, but I can probably work that out on my own, thank you very much, with or without Nintendo.
My anger belies my deep, deep feeling of heartbreak and loss. The end result of all this is that the Nintendo Switch, what I previously described as “everything I want in a video game console” is now, in all probability, going to be the first Nintendo console since the Virtual Boy I do not invest in. And, given the state of the rest of the industry, this will be the first generation ever in which I don't own a video game console of any kind.
This comes on the heels of a whole host of media disappointments, in addition to my chaotic personal life, most of them related to Nintendo. In particular I thought Pokémon Sun and Moon, (which, I will remind you, is the series' 20th anniversary celebration and comes in the wake of the awesome success of Pokémon Go) was a fucking car fire. I couldn't even get out of the tutorial, and I feel the story verges on youth-hating and racist. I have *never* had this reaction to something like Pokémon before. That caused me to do a whole lot of soul-searching Though in hindsight, I shouldn't be surprised. As I also said before, the video game industry seems to be dying. This has been true for Nintendo just as much as the others: The only reason I ended up getting a WiiU and why that wasn't the generation where everything fell apart for me is Nintendo suddenly released Bayonetta 2, Hyrule Warriors and Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze within months of each other in 2014. They cannot possibly pull a trick like that again. Certainly not with paywall-gated online play.
The constant description of the Switch as “containing the DNA of every previous Nintendo console” seems morosely telling. This is their last chance, as it's looking depressingly like they won't get another. I admire Nintendo for holding on as long as they have, but (and this is coming from someone who has always been an ardent defender of their way of doing things), maybe it really is time they bowed out.
As, perhaps, should I. I have flirted with video game journalism for almost twenty years, and have been playing video games even longer. And now, I'm about ready to walk away from all of that forever. This industry and this medium seems to have no place for me anymore.
There are very few constants and sources of comfort left in my life at this point, and Nintendo was one of the biggest. I know it's silly and unimportant in the scheme of things. I'm sure you're all scoffing and rolling your eyes at me more than you already do here on a weekly basis. “Commodity fetishism” and “hypocrisy”, I suspect more than one of you are thinking right now. And corporations are not your friends. There are, of course, far worse and far more important things in the world way more befitting of your time and energy than this and me. Political things. And I do not at all blame you for feeling that way. So please, be off with you and return to your noble activism. I will not ask for any more of your time.
The last thing I will say is that, if you're like me and have had a rough go of things for a long time, suddenly losing something like this can be enough to send you over the edge. Silly as it is, a part of my life ended last Thursday. As I was writing this, I was also consolidating my video game collection into one library space in my bedroom. It broke my heart to take apart my DS/3DS go-bag, because just knowing my New 3DS, which I have considered an irreplaceable accessory and travelling companion over the years, is not going to be an active, everyday accessory for me anymore feels like an absolutely shuddering loss.
Put perhaps it's a necessary one. Maybe that's where these things belong now: In a library or a museum. Perhaps they'll never again be what they were for me and other people my age. If that is to be the case, I feel very sorry for the younger generations. They will never know what they missed.
But this is the turning of a new cycle. Endings beget new beginnings. I don't know what the future looks like for Nintendo, but I hope it's a good one. I hope the Switch does well (though it would be doing so without me), but I doubt it will. At least, it won't do well enough to stave off what seems to be the inevitable collapse of the video game industry under its own weight and attitude of exclusivity, which is another thing I've been predicting for awhile. I hope my life will one day again bear witness to that beautiful sense of creativity, exploration and play that caused me to fall in love with this medium too many years ago, but I no longer count on it. And while I'm re-evaluating my own course in life and how exactly I will move forward, this will be my final piece of games journalism.
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“You are already leaving this land of Hyrule, aren't you? Even though it was only a short time, I feel like I've known you forever. I'll never forget the days we spent together in Hyrule...And I believe in my heart that a day will come when I shall meet you again...Until that day comes, please...Take this...I am praying...I am praying that your journey be a safe one...If something should happen to you, remember this song...”