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The Nintendo Switch is four years old. The hybrid handheld-and-home console launched on March 3rd 2017, with a small selection of day-one titles, the most significant of them being The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (our greatest game of all time). Not all of the system's launch games have really lasted the distance - 1-2-Switch, we loved you for that one afternoon, the screaming baby aside - but there's no denying that the Switch got off to a pretty good start. A good start that it's rarely faltered from, since.
And since day one, I have loved this console. Adored it. Cherished my every session with it. It's completely changed how I play games, how they weave themselves around the demands of real life - and I'm certain that I am not alone in feeling that way. In my opinion - and goodness, writing that makes me feel like a YouTuber trying not to get called out by their subscribers for receiving free products - the Switch is the best darn video game console of all time. And here's five reasons why.
But before I get into those, a brief detour. Because I can't really celebrate the Switch without also mentioning its greatest flaw. The Joy-Cons. More specifically, the drift that affects them. For my first couple of years, I had no problems whatsoever with either my red-and-blue Neon pair that came with the console, or a second set of yellow controllers, picked up around the summertime 2017 launch of Arms. But now, the left stick of both sufferers from upwards-facing drift.
As late as October 2020, Nintendo claimed that Joy-Con drift was not a "real problem"; but with a number of lawsuits filed concerning faulty controllers, there's no doubt that drift remains a huge issue. Four years in, I think we were right to hope that Joy-Con drift would be eliminated; but the problem persists, and there's every chance that a pair of Cons bought today will, over time and use, begin to drift. Maybe you feel the price of some new Joy-Cons every couple of years is worth paying, to enjoy what the Switch offers. Alternatively, maybe not. But Nintendo sure isn't alone in seeing its controllers suffer wear and tear beyond consumer expectation.
Breath of the Wild is one hell of a launch game - but Nintendo didn't sleep on following it up with amazing titles to keep early adopters of the Switch happy. Looking at Metacritic's best games of 2017 list, four out of the top ten highest-rated titles were on Switch: Shovel Knight (the only non-exclusive), Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey, and Breath of the Wild. The latter pair both received Metascores (an aggregate based on critical reviews) of 97/100. Three points from perfection, apiece. What a way to start a new generation of Nintendo gaming.
Since then, the Switch has played host to so many more amazing, original, new games - games that have wowed players and earned plaudits aplenty. The Switch has console exclusivity on Supergiant's phenomenal roguelike Hades right now - our Game of the Year for 2020, and a multi-award winner. Animal Crossing: New Horizons was a much-needed salve for our souls when it released in March 2020, just as the global pandemic really hit its stride and lockdowns snapped into place.
Sticking with 2020, and the Definitive Edition of the Wii-released RPG Xenoblade Chronicles was one of the most epic adventures of the year; and the (console-exclusive) Switch port of the delightful PC game A Short Hike, one of the smallest (but so worth taking). Further exclusives and console exclusives from incredible studios like PlatinumGames (Astral Chain), Subset Games (Into the Breach) and Square Enix (Bravely Default II, Octopath Traveler) have ensured that there's always something else to play on Nintendo's system, an alternative to what the PlayStation and Xbox ecosystems can offer.
As a device for indies, the Switch can't be beaten right now (it's the sole console home to my indie-made GOTY for 2020, Paradise Killer). For first-party titles full of imagination and beauty: again, it's so far out in front. For big AAA games? Okay, the Switch can be beaten, right now - by just about anything else. But, really: who's buying a Switch to play DOOM Eternal? It's amazing - still, it's amazing, to me, that it works - that the Switch can run The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. And being able to pick up my Switch and revisit favourite Toussaint haunts and virtual magical friends from the comfort of my bed, rather than squinting at my too-small TV downstairs while being nagged about hogging it, is an absolute treat.
But again: if I wanted to experience Geralt's 2015 adventures for the first time, I wouldn't be looking to do so in handheld mode on what is, clearly, a lesser-powered console. Second time around, though? Love it.
And speaking of second-time-around opportunities, the Switch has been the greatest advocate of its predecessor, the Wii U, that the gaming world's ever seen. Released just recently, Super Mario 3D World is the latest in an ever-lengthening line of Wii U ports to have made the jump from an underloved and misunderstood console to one that people have bought with ravenous enthusiasm.
In the Switch's launch year, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe landed and immediately showed how the new console could breathe fantastic new life into games of the previous few years. Released in 2014, Mario Kart 8 was already the best Mario Kart title of all time; but its bells-and-whistles, all-DLC-included, expanded-roster, better-Battle-mode Deluxe version really set a new high when it came out in April 2017. By the end of 2020, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe had sold over 33 million units, making it the top-selling Switch game. It's also the best-selling Wii U game ever released, too. Not bad for a series that began back on the Super Nintendo, in 1992.
Lest we forget, of course, that Breath of the Wild is, really, a Wii U game playing pretend at being a Switch title, given it launched simultaneously for both consoles (and pretty much plays the same, on each, minor Switch improvements excepted). Other unmissable Wii U games to have made the leap to Switch include the action genre all-timer Bayonetta 2, the charming puzzler Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (which also transferred to the 3DS quite brilliantly), Pikmin 3, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and - albeit dressed as a sequel - Super Mario Maker (2).
The Switch has given an awesome library of games another chance to impress - and I know I speak for many owners, with or without a Wii U collecting dust, when I say I'd love to see some more make the transition. Sure, even Star Fox Zero.
Throughout its history, Nintendo's made its share of missteps. The Wii U? Sure, that counts - worldwide sales of under 14 million make it quite the shocking performer compared to the Wii before it (over 101 million) and the Switch that followed (around 80 million and counting). But go back a little further, and there are more imaginative ideas that just never caught on with the gaming public.
The Virtual Boy, oh dear. Virtual reality in gaming hasn't really caught on yet, even now in 2021 - and when Nintendo launched its Virtual Boy console in 1995, it stood even less of a chance. It did not hang around for long. At least it came out, mind, which is more than can be said for the CD peripheral for the Super Nintendo that Sony was at one time earmarked to manufacture. And if you know your gaming history, you already know how that aborted contract played out.
And then there's R.O.B. - aka the Robotic Operating Buddy that shipped with a whole bunch of NES consoles (sorry, control decks), and was almost instantly resigned to a life of being ignored by its owners. R.O.B. was compatible with only two NES games, and while its bundling definitely helped sell consoles, as kids nagged their parents for that cool robot thing, it's become known as one of Nintendo's greatest flops. It's a peripheral with barely any use, that showed its limited hand within minutes, and was nothing more than worthless plastic come day two of having it.
But the Switch? The Switch is Nintendo daring to be different to its peers, its competitors, once again - and this time, winning. Where Sony and SEGA went to discs, the Nintendo 64 stuck with cartridges and... it did okay, right? The NES achieved great success in a struggling North American games market when it elected to use language that didn't sound like its competitors - its cartridges were Game Paks, and they all wore a seal of quality. When PlayStation and Xbox promoted power, crisp visuals and adult-oriented shooters and adventure games, Nintendo made the Wii its most accessible console ever with motion controls that actually worked and games that didn't immediately have your gran hiding behind a cushion.
There are further wins and fails in Nintendo's history - let's not revisit the love hotels era, please - but there can be no doubt that the Switch's ambitious pitch has resonated with the gaming public en masse, as those sales figures sure don't lie. Here's a home console that you can take with you, anywhere. Here's a single-player machine that can instantly become a two-player device (I am ignoring the Switch Lite for this argument, ok?). The adverts sold us a dream of being able to take what we were playing while sitting on the sofa with us on the next day's commute - and damn, it actually proved to be the case when we got our hands on this thing (and it, its claws in us). Marketing, that isn't all shortened sequences and simulated experiences? What a rush.
Like I said, just up there, the Switch's flexibility is one of its most fantastic features. Forget processing power or how the sides can get a little scratched over time - I can play Sonic Mania at home, pause it, grab my console and throw it in my bag (in a case, obvs, I'm not an animal), whip it out on the other end of a drive, and play right where I left off. That seamless switch (oh, haha) from traditional home console play patterns to handheld accessibility, with the added bonus of instant two-player compatibility, is amazing. Still, now, four years on, it's just the best.
But it's not just the take-it-out-the-house thing that has helped make the Switch my number one go-to platform for any gaming (if a title's available for everything, I want it on the Switch, Nintendo tax be damned). I live in a house with three other humans, and we have one television. Whatever time of day, if we're, let's say, on our Own Time, doing our Own Things, there's a good chance that our one television will be in demand. Perhaps for Netflix or Disney, YouTube, Minecraft or Fortnite, or whatever else is presently piquing the interest of everyone but me. I'm back of the queue, and I've come to accept that. Sorry, Yakuza: Like a Dragon. I'll finish you somewhen, this year, maybe.
Or definitely, if you come to Switch (it's okay, I understand that you won't - though I wouldn't mind some of your predecessors on the platform). With how busy I am, the Switch just makes the most sense. It's there when I need it. When playing, I don't take up devices that are in demand from others. Okay, some of its functionality needs refining - I can't believe the eShop is still so poorly designed, and the way you connect with pals through friend codes is hopelessly long-winded. But for those solo-play sessions where I know what game I want to dig into, and how to find it, it's the ideal platform at this moment in my life. It's enabled me to see games that I otherwise wouldn't complete, through to their credits. And, again, I am certain that I'm speaking to others in very comparable circumstances.
Switch Online's provision of some excellent SNES and NES games, as a bonus to the multiplayer-access subscription fee, is a real treat - and a taste of how the Switch could be a time capsule for Nintendo's greatest hits. If only Nintendo actually acted upon that potential.
While the Wii U was maligned in many corners of the games-playing audience - not totally the fault of gamers, as Nintendo spectacularly mishandled their marketing - the console's support for older systems was fantastic. Wii games played by simply sliding a disc inside the Wii U (though you did need a Wiimote handy). On the Wii U's dedicated eShop, games from the NES, SNES, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS and Nintendo 64 libraries could be downloaded. And it even went beyond Nintendo consoles, offering a selection of games from the TurboGrafx-16 (otherwise known as the PC Engine, outside of the US).
So, where's all that on the Switch? The Super Mario 3D All-Stars compilation of September 2020 gave us the tiniest taste of how GameCube and N64 games could perform on Switch - and we had no complaints. But there's still no Virtual Console proper to be had; no option to play the handheld greats that the 3DS eShop provided (well, still provides) access to, from the Game Boy, Game Boy Color and SEGA Game Gear. There's just those SNES and NES games, and they're wonderful but... come on, Nintendo. The opportunity is right there.
It really feels like the Switch could be the platform to host very best of Nintendo's gaming history - if only the company would elect to do so. The time is right for a Netflix-style Virtual Console where a subscription fee, like that for Switch Online, gets you unlimited access to download and play what you like, when you like - just like Xbox Game Pass, but, y'know, a dream-world wealth of Mario, Zelda, Kirby, Metroid and Donkey Kong goodness, from right through the eras, instead of Crackdown 3. The SNES and NES stuff is already there - so what do we need to do, Nintendo, to get Game Boy on there, GBA, N64 and GameCube? Our blood? You want our blood? I mean, it's a small price to pay for Eternal Darkness on the go, I guess. Go on, then.
Featured Image Credit: Nintendo
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