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The Nintendo Switch and the Long Game

What has Nintendo learned from their 3DS game library about the Switch? Do they recognize the value of Switch as a mobile device, or are they thinking of it as a home console?

This week Ever Oasis came out on the Nintendo 3DS. It is notable for being produced by Koichi Ishii, the creator of the Mana series. It is also notable for being one of many RPGs coming to the 3DS this year.

Last week Nintendo UK released a Press Release for all the great games coming to 3DS this year, take a look at the list of games and count how many of them are RPGs:

  • Metroid: Samus Returns

  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions

  • Pokémon Ultra Sun & Pokémon Ultra Moon

  • Ever Oasis

  • Hey! PIKMIN

  • Miitopia

  • Monster Hunter Stories

  • Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth

  • Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

  • Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux

  • Dr Kawashima's Devilish Brain Training: Can you stay focused?

By my count 8 of the 11 titles Nintendo highlighted for 2017 release are RPGs!

This should really come as no surprise as the DS, Vita, and 3DS have all become well-known as a great place for JRPGs. It further comes as no surprise that with Dragon Quest, the premier JRPG, Square focused so heavily on developing and releasing for the 3DS alongside the PS4 even though doing so creates serious technical challenges. Mobile game consoles have become a key platform for single player long-form games, and RPGs are at the top of the list.

However, RPGs aren't alone in finding mobile consoles an ideal home.

Many strategy games, with Fire Emblem a prime example, and builder games, such as Animal Crossing and Harvest Moon, have performed dramatically better on handheld than their home console counterparts (and we could add Monster Hunter here...though perhaps it best fits in the RPG section above).

The thing all these games have in common, is that they are long-form games. They take a LONG time to play.

Making a Switch

So how will this affect the Nintendo Switch?

This is the more interesting question, and it is clear that different companies have different ideas of what Switch is.

Pokemon developer Game Freak was surprised at people expecting a Pokemon game for Switch this year pointing out that mainline Pokemon has always been focused on portable and that they make spin-offs for console, showing their feeling that Switch is more home console than portable.

EA Sports, on the other hand, pointed to the upcoming Switch FIFA 18 as the best "portable" football game ever.

This highlights the confusion that exists around the Nintendo Switch. Is it a home console or a mobile console? The reality of it being both is the genius of it, but also creates a head-exploding difficulty for many developers to understand.

The Nintendo Switch and the Long Game

Zelda: Breath of the Wild was the perfect launch title for Switch b/c it was a single-player long-form game. The ability to take the game with you and also play it on the TV seems like an interesting gimmick to people until they do it, and then you wonder why every game isn't built that way. 

Since it's release gamers have immediately seen this strength of the Switch console and been asking for games like GTA, Fallout, and Mass Effect to make the jump. However, publishers, and even Nintendo, seem to not have fully understood the value of the hardware in this regard.

Nintendo at E3 showed a very console heavy software line-up of games like Kirby and Yoshi. Only Xenoblade 2 and, surprisingly, the Mario Rabbids mash-up, are built to the strengths of long-form gaming. Most of the games they showed don't take adavantage of playing at home and on the go. The list of games Nintendo showed at E3 was more like a console list than the 3DS list of games above.

Bethesda was the one shining light as their focus on bringing Skyrim, even as old as it is, to Switch seems like the perfect type of title to play to the consoles strengths.

Nintendo has been making handhelds for years, and its upcoming library on 3DS shows that it understands what sells well on the platform. I expect we'll see Nintendo switching whatever sells best on the Switch, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if we found that long-form games are what the console does best.

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