Console of the Year: The Nintendo Switch Dominates 2017

Things weren’t so assured prior to the system’s launch though. If you jump back a year, there was skepticism.

“And make no mistake, the Switch’s main feature—that it’s both a home console and a portable handheld console—is a gimmick, and one that will realistically only appeal to a small slice of the gaming population. It’s a cool concept and one that I’ve thought would be neat in the past, but I have to ask myself: How much will I really use this?” asked one writer at Forbes.

“We still don’t know exactly what it will cost, what games will be available on it, or the answers to a million other crucial questions. Has there ever been a shorter or more vague build-up to a major console release?” said Digital Trends.

In hindsight, while we may guffaw and sip tea from our comfortable fireside chairs as the newest updates download on our Switch, a year ago, these weren’t bad takes. They were sensible. Nintendo had faltered heavily in its previous generation of home consoles. The Wii U had great Nintendo games like every platform before it, but the odd pitch and lack of focus meant that no one bought it. The Wii U only sold 13.56 million consoles over its entire lifetime. The Switch is on par to potentially beat that in its first year.

Nintendo of America presidetn Reggie Fils Aime shows off the Switch for the first time.

The issues some folks highlighted were real. The Switch is expensive, at times $100 more than the Xbox One and PS4’s base models. It’s underpowered compared to its competitors. The battery life is pretty bad. The Joy-Cons are a bit small and gimmicky.

A year later, none of that really matters though. The Nintendo Switch just works.

This is primarily because of its hybrid nature. The Switch is really a portable console with an elegant TV dock. And that’s fine. That’s all it needs to be. At home, it’s more powerful than the Wii U was, which is good enough. When you’re out, it’s the most powerful portable console available.

Back in 2009, Wired brought up the idea of “good enough” technology. The article was in response to the long-dead Flip Ultra camera, but the idea remains sound. Consumers don’t need the best-in-class most expensive device on the market. They just need the one that does enough of what they want at a price point they can swallow. That’s the Switch. For $299, a console that lets you play games at home on your TV or on a commute is a great option. It’s something that players really want.

There’s a reason players will rebuy games on the Switch and “Where’s the Switch version?” is a bit of a meme. If I can choose to buy one game to play anywhere, why wouldn’t I? Skyrim has been on every platform under the sun, but a Skyrim I can play on TV or a plane? There’s something magical about that. It doesn’t matter if the game is years old or the presentation is far below what’s available on other platforms. Folks prize the ability to play on the couch, on the train, or on the toilet.

Nintendo didn’t stop at just making a solid system with a great marketing pitch though. One major issue of the last few Nintendo consoles were the gaps in game releases. Nintendo always had to split its focus between the home and portable console sides of the company. If a team was working on a 3DS game, they weren’t working on a Wii U game, and vice versa. With the Switch, that problem is going away completely. One platform, one home for all of Nintendo’s experiences.

Nintendo was very smart about these first nine months. The console launched in March with one marquee Nintendo title: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Since then, Nintendo has made sure that there’s at least one major Switch release for every month. April had Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, May had Ultra Street Fighter II, June saw the release of Arms, July had Splatoon 2, August had Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle, September got the one-two punch of FIFA 18 and NBA 2K18, October had Super Mario Odyssey, November unloaded with Doom, Skyrim, Rocket League, and L.A. Noire as a show of third-party strength, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 came at the end of that month, almost squeaking into December.

Look at that run. It’s not perfect, but it’s damned good as a list of anchors.

Those weren’t the only games the Switch had each month, but there was always something Nintendo could point to and say, “This is why you want a Switch”. Gone were the months-long gaps between major releases.

It’s also amazing how the Switch has become a convergence of different areas of gaming. The Nintendo faithful would always have a home on the Switch, but for a long time the PlayStation Vita was a core platform for mid-range Japanese developers and American indies alongside its big brother. When the Vita reached the end of its road, the Switch popped up to take up that slack. The unique design of the Switch means it can play almost anything: it has traditional console controls, motion controls, and touchscreen options.

And since it’s a new platform, unlike the crowded Steam Store, Apple App Store, or PlayStation Store, everything that lands on Switch sells (for the time being). The system may not be able to handle the top-end AAA blockbusters, but everything else? It can handle all that well enough. Pretty much anything can be ported over. The Switch’s software library has settled into a nice groove, with a few major releases backed up by a host of smaller, interesting titles.

The Nintendo Switch is a magical combination of solid engineering, a good message, great timing, and most of all, some wonderful games. The platform has its faults, sure, and Sony did a bang up job with the PlayStation 4 this year. But when we look back at 2017, everything came up Nintendo. If you told me that someone soul their soul to make it happen, I’d believe it.

It’s been a remarkable turnaround for Nintendo and the Nintendo Switch is undeniably the Best Console of 2017.

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