The Nintendo Switch is three years old today. So far, Nintendo has worked hard with the system in order to overcome the Wii U’s missteps. A refreshing hybrid hardware design and a consistent output of great games have the Nintendo Switch killing it in sales. Those factors have also gone a long way in reminding us how Nintendo does it at its best. Unfortunately, though, the system also has some familiar drawbacks, like a very weak online suite, and has even regressed in some ways. Virtual Console’s disappearance, missing apps like Netflix, and a barebones UI have stripped the Nintendo experience down to its barest essential: new games. That’s not to mention new hardware issues like case after case of Joy-Con drift. (Gone are the days of Nintendo 64s with the strength of airplane black boxes.) The central focus of the new games has been fantastic, so the Switch is far from a disappointment. Still, three years in, it is apparent that this isn’t the generation where Nintendo gracefully modernizes its online presence.
The Switch’s design feels like a full realization of what Nintendo has been working toward for several console generations. It merges the company’s portable and home console pillars, gives us an untethered version of the Wii U’s Off-TV Play, and brings accessibility to a whole new level. Since you’ve always got two controllers on you, the Nintendo Switch makes it quick and easy to put down something like Celeste for a quick match of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate over lunch, on a commute, or wherever you want. I can’t understate how cool the switching aspect is to Nintendo Switch. For the first time ever, I’m not that interested in seeing what Nintendo cooks up next, simply because I’m completely satisfied with the current design.
Speaking of games, the Switch has nailed it on that front in its first three years. While also a Wii U game, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild went off with a bang right out the gate, and then great titles like Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, and many, many others followed in the months and years since. It wasn’t long until the Switch carried a solid library of must-haves. Several underappreciated titles from the Wii U’s run have also found new life on Switch, like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Right now, all we mainly have to look forward to is Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but we’re bound to get a new Direct eventually that shows off some exciting new titles.
Not everything has been sunshine and roses, though. Despite the fact that we are now charged $20 annually to play online, Nintendo still has a lot to learn about seemingly anything that involves an internet connection. Twenty dollars isn’t much at all, so it says a lot that Nintendo Switch Online still manages to be overpriced.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is often frustrating to play wirelessly, and while Splatoon 2 works a bit better, it never kicked that annoying habit of locking modes behind a schedule. The online app is a huge pain in the butt, the system itself is missing all kinds of basic online features, cloud saves are a constant battle, and friend codes are still a thing. The eShop can be a huge pain to navigate, especially with its hordes of shovelware. Sooner or later, it would be great to see Nintendo actually treat online like a necessity, but the Switch’s massive success unfortunately proves that Nintendo still does not need to be even remotely competitive with its online experience for us to buy their stuff.
In some ways, the Switch has regressed from the Wii U and 3DS. Virtual Console’s unceremonious disappearance is very disappointing. Nintendo Switch Online’s drip-feed of NES and SNES games is far from an adequate replacement, plus who knows what becomes of our access to those classic games once the subscription is no longer available. The UI also lacks fun distractions like accurate play timers and themes, and it’s missing helpful organizers like folders. Apps like Netflix are also nowhere to be found.
Legacy content is, in my opinion, the most significant snub. It’s one of the coolest things about Nintendo’s catalog, and the Switch’s combination of power and portability made it one of the most exciting prospects for a robust Virtual Console. What we have instead has completely sapped all of my enthusiasm to revisit my old favorites, and at this rate, whether or not I’ll even get the chance to dive back into N64 games and beyond is a serious question mark.
There are a few other unresolved questions as well, most notably the future of AAA support. Overall, it has been probably the best on a Nintendo system since the GameCube at least, but a closer look shows an up-and-down AAA presence. Some companies, like Ubisoft and Bethesda, are committed to bringing myriad new and old experiences to Switch. However, several other publishers, notably EA, are somehow still wavering on whether or not to bring their titles to Switch. I understand why Rockstar hasn’t put Red Dead Redemption 2 on Switch, but what exactly is preventing them from tossing Bully and a few classic Grand Theft Auto games our way? If the Switch keeps selling like hotcakes, then more and more publishers should find their way over in its last years, but with the PS4 and Xbox One winding their runs down, Nintendo has some new console competitors on the near horizon.
In all likelihood, we’re at the midpoint of another chapter in Nintendo’s story, if not just under halfway through. So far, the Nintendo Switch has redeemed some of the Wii U’s faults, including the most important one — the frequent dearth of games. It’s also remained consistent in its frustrations and stepped backward in ways that only Nintendo seems to know how to do.
Overall, though, it succeeds with its games, and that’s what matters the most. Like millions of players, I’m very satisfied with the Switch, and the next few years of its life will hopefully have a lot to love. A vastly expanded NSO suite, a few updates to the UI, and a few more big-time publishers straggling over would do a lot for my base enjoyment of the system. Yet ultimately, I’ll be fine without such improvements — and there isn’t any reason to believe we’ll get any of them — so long as the games keep rolling in.
Even without a concrete picture of what 2020 looks like, the future is bright: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out this month, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2, Metroid Prime 4, and Bayonetta 3 are all in the works. And who knows what other unannounced heavy hitters are waiting to blow us all away this year and beyond? As far as games go, Nintendo is in a great place. Here’s hoping for many more years of this kind of output. They might never figure out all of the other aspects of a game system, but with the games they’ve been making, it’s honestly hard for me to care.