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Right now, only blind faith and Zelda can make Nintendo Switch a success

OPINION: Deputy Editor, Andy Vandervell, really wants to believe in Switch, but he’s having a hard time.

As I woke this morning, I fell into the familiar trap. I smiled at the enchanting trailer for Mario Odyssey, I gasped at the dramatic new clips of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I remembered the fun I had playing Mario Run recently, and I thought, “Nintendo still has it.”

Then I read between the lines and the illusion shattered. By most accounts the Nintendo Switch hardware looks good, and I’m sure Nintendo’s games play great, but there’s so much niggling stupidity here that’s hard to ignore.

Let’s start with the price – not just the price of the console, the price of everything. Let’s assume you want to play Zelda at launch and want the Pro Controller to do so. That’ll be £405 at current prices – £280 for the console, £65 for the controller and £60 for the game. That’s a hefty start.

But maybe you’d like to enjoy some local multiplayer, too – it’s one of the big selling points of the console, after all. If you fancy Arms, the clever new fighting game that uses the Joy-Con controllers in a Wii Boxing-style, you’ll need a pair of Joy-Cons (£75) and the game (£50) for a grand sum of £125.

Switch 2The real cost of a Nintendo Switch is high (Prices from correct as of 13/01/2017)

This isn’t even a “Brexit factor” problem here – even the US Dollar and Euro prices seem ambitious at launch. I’ve heard plenty of people point to the cost of the iPhone as some kind of comparison, but that doesn’t wash with me. Notwithstanding that iPhones are famously overpriced anyway, smartphones have more tech jammed in them and the best ones arguably have comparable hardware.

Then come the games. You’d better like Zelda because Splatoon 2 is coming by “Summer” and Mario has a vague ‘Holiday 2017’ release date, which in Nintendo speak probably means mid-2018. Beyond that, Sonic Mania and Super Bomberman R offer some nostalgic fun I suppose, but I can’t live on nostalgia alone – and Sonic Mania isn’t exclusive anyway.

For a console due out in March, third-party support seems astonishingly flaky. EA is doing “FIFA for Switch”, which sounds as interesting as a plasticine potato, and there’s plenty for JRPG fans to enjoy, but only Mario Kart in April stands out after launch.

Next, it’s the “online services”. Lord knows Nintendo has done online badly over the years, and nothing I’ve heard so far proves it’s learnt many lessons. Like Sony and Microsoft, it’s gone down the route of a paid subscription for online gaming – so far, so normal. You even get free games each month… Sweet.

But, according to Nintendo, those games will be NES and SNES games and you can only play them for a month – as opposed to as long as your subscription lasts, as with rivals. You get online lobby and voice chat, but this is provided through a smartphone app, for some reason. The only good news is that online play is free until autumn because the paid service doesn’t launch until then, so it’s not even ready.

Where next? Let’s talk battery life. Here I can forgive Nintendo somewhat because the quoted 2.5-6.5 hours, depending on the game you’re playing, is entirely predictable. “All-day” gaming on the go was always optimistic, but when the whole package is quite expensive and the long-term prospects far from convincing, the vague claims worry me. Is it too much to ask for specifics so close to launch? I don’t think so.

The battery life issue also cuts through one of the Switch’s biggest advantages: its 2-in-1 design. I love the idea, but it counts for much less if your Switch dies after a couple of hours of Zelda. Is that a luxury worth paying for if you already own a 3DS and games console at home, let alone a smartphone you can play games on?

There’s also a baffling number of unanswered questions for a console that’s going to launch in March. For example, does it have Netflix? It’s basically a tablet and it has a kickstand, so that would be perfect. Hardcore fans can moan all they like about it being “a games console first”, but Netflix is the kind of basic feature people expect now. I expect it and it would make that £280 easier to swallow when I have no games to play…

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All told, the Switch feels rushed and incomplete. It could turn out to be a huge success like the Nintendo DS and its descendants – another console series blighted by a rocky start – but Nintendo needs to show me more. I ran out of faith a long time ago and, much as I like Zelda, there has to be more to it than that.

Feeling positive or negative about the Nintendo Switch? Let us know in the comments below.

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