As someone who was born right at the turn of the 21st century, the seventh and eight generation of video game consoles is what I grew up on. My very first console was a Nintendo Wii, with a DS Lite being added to my collection not too long after. These consoles, along with the DSi and 3DS, are the consoles that I have the most fond memories of. This was a time when Nintendo wasn’t afraid to continue the almost-quirky brand image that they had set up for themselves – and this showed in their products.
The Nintendo Wii, for instance, used the incredibly unique and nearly-innovative concept of basing an entire game console around channels akin to those on TV, making for a fun, cohesive and ultimately nostalgic UI experience. Tied with the mind-numbingly catchy music paired with almost every channel and menu, just browsing the Wii’s software was genuinely fun on its own.
Although not quite as ingenious and special, Nintendo’s seventh and eighth generation handhelds also reflected this line of thinking. While the original DS and DS Lite’s menus were quite straightforward and basic, they still had this oddly homey feel to them, especially with the addition of all-time classics like Pictochat. The DSi and later the 3DS took this to the next level, as if the handheld was almost your own personal storage box of games and apps – all with the same special Nintendo music, design and flare shown on preceding consoles.
And then the Switch arrived. After the failure that was the Wii U, I guess Nintendo decided to go in a bold new direction, trying to pander much harder to the absolute mainstream than they had in the past. A universally appealing gimmick, a stripped-back minimalist user interface, and well-assembled modern marketing that wasn’t a total cringefest like the Wii U’s disastrous campaign. Which is fine, I guess. I completely understand why Nintendo took this direction, but as a long-time Nintendo fan, I feel it’s lacking something.
One of the reasons why I connected with Nintendo consoles so well was because of the unique flare they put on them. The innovative concepts of their software, the quirky console design, Nintendo trying their absolute hardest to stand out from the crowd. But with the Switch, much of that flare is gone. Outside of the central gimmick of the console and the games available for it, there’s nothing really special about the Switch. The software and even much of the hardware is fairly generic, out-of-the-box stuff. Basic accessories being exorbitantly priced certainly doesn’t help.
While it’s a great console, it feels like one that any company could have made. If you had told me at announcement time that Sony was the one making the Switch as part of their PSP lineup I absolutely would have believed you.
There’s no ambient sound on the system menu, nor is there any unique or innovative concept for the menu itself. There’s no special pack-in apps, save for a primitive Mii Maker that seems less developed than its predecessors. There’s no eShop music. There’s not even a messaging system or anything allowing you to directly connect to fellow Switch users. The Switch software is functional and does what it needs to do, but it could have been so much more. This may be a Nintendo I can withstand, but it’s not the Nintendo I know and love.
Using a Nintendo console should be a special experience without even playing a single game. Just browsing the system menu and the little apps included should be enough to spark joy. But with the Switch, you’re not given this opportunity. The Switch’s software has no real substance; it’s merely a vehicle to play games on. It makes the console simply feel like just another games console rather than a special, unique box of excitement and fun. Nintendo has always been a magical company, but with the Switch much of that magic is taken away. Perhaps this is a good thing for some people, but as a lifelong Nintendo fan I cannot say the same.