The Switch is Nintendo's opportunity for a second chance, but success isn't certain

The Wii U is deader than dead. This is a fact. Some would say it was dead on arrival: despite having quite a few games worth playing, the system was an obtuse bit of aging, expensive tech. But that doesn't matter now. The Nintendo Switch is here, and it's going to try it again. I'm already onboard, because I'm a weirdo who buys every system at launch. But as for the regular gamer, or parents looking to buy something for their kids? I don't know if Nintendo's made a proper case for them just yet.

At Nintendo's extended reveal on January 12 (or 13 on the other side of the Atlantic), the publisher made its case for the Switch. It's a console; but also a handheld. The JoyCons aren't just detachable controllers, they've got built-in motion controls, sensors, and high-end rumble. It's getting fresh and exciting-looking entries in its staple Mario and Zelda franchises. It's also getting Splatoon, Mario Kart, party games, Western games like FIFA and Skyrim, and loads of weird Japanese games, like Shin Megami Tensei 5 and new titles from the developers behind Yakuza and No More Heroes.

So it's the Wii U again, but tweaked and with a clearer message. There's no mistaking that the Switch and its JoyCons are their own beast, unlike the weird, Frankenstein's monster of controller compatibility with the Wii U. The games that found success on the Wii U in spite of the system's commercial failure can now get a second wind on a system people actually seem to want to buy. And while its $300 price point is perhaps a bit higher than people were hoping for, its mobile architecture can help ensure that price drops will actually keep pace with market demand. Besides, being able to take a game that looks as sprawling as Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey on the go is an alluring prospect. 

But there are too many questions this close to launch. So far, only four games are arriving alongside the Switch: bizarre (and admittedly interesting-looking) party game collection 1-2 Switch, Skylanders Imaginators, Just Dance 2017, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Zelda can move units to its fans all on its own, of course, but gone are the days when you could launch a platform with a paltry line-up like this if you're hoping to ensnare a wide audience.

What's the Virtual Console situation like? How about the eShop? Hell, what's the interface like? Will it be pleasant and easy to use, or a Byzantine maze of wholly unrelated apps and menus like the Wii U was? Will I be able to transfer my purchased games from my Wii U to the Switch, or will I have to buy Super Mario Bros. 3 for like the fifth time? It's less sexy than showing off a slick new trailer for Zelda, sure, but these are important things to know that could be run through in a handful of seconds.

Even more uncertain is its online situation. Nintendo mentioned that access to online multiplayer will be locked behind a paywall. Nintendo's online multiplayer is generally smooth, but its account system has been incredibly limited in the past (friend codes are trash and they should be destroyed). Hopefully the partnership with DeNA has smoothed this out, and the free trial period Nintendo is offering until Fall 2017 is a good faith move on its part. Plus, the bonus free NES or SNES game (and SNES games come with online play[!!!]) each month with a membership gives it parity with platforms like PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live. But considering Nintendo's checkered past with anything regarding the internet, and how many of the Switch's features (including the ability to upload and share video, online lobbies, voice chat, and more) aren't coming until months after launch, there's plenty of cause for concern.

I'm hopeful for the Switch. I'm excited people will be able to play a better-looking version of Splatoon with a non-crap controller. I'm excited to be able to play a game like Breath of the Wild on my couch or take it in bed while my wife watches TV without having the signal go out like it would on my Wii U. I'm excited that people seem to be excited about Nintendo again. But Nintendo's already got people like me lining up. Nintendo has a hell of a lot to prove going forward for everyone else - and right now should be the time for answers, not questions.

Oh: and $70 for a freaking Pro Controller? Come on, Nintendo.

David Roberts
David Roberts lives in Everett, WA with his wife and two kids. He once had to sell his full copy of EarthBound (complete with box and guide) to some dude in Austria for rent money. And no, he doesn't have an amiibo 'problem', thank you very much.