Nintendo Switch

That’s So Meta

A brief mea culpa: I’ve been busy. As you may or may not know if you follow Me & Nintendo, I write a lot of stuff NOT about Nintendo. I mean, not here, but I do. To that end, I’ve been back in school pursuing a second Master’s degree, this one in Creative Writing. My thesis is due this week. It’s about done now, but, you know… that’s where I’ve been.

Mostly. I’ve also been playing Splatoon 2.

I love Splatoon 2. The biggest problem I have with Splatoon 2 is I’m trying to write a general Nintendo blog but I don’t want to play anything else but Splatoon 2. I’m so into Splatoon 2 that I tend to spend a fair amount of time scouring the Internet reading up on the metagame in Splatoon 2.

The “metagame”, as I’ve come to understand it in gaming parlance, is an umbrella term that refers to the underlying factors beyond the surface rule-set that dictate in-game results, particularly in a competitive online game. To understand the metagame of any online fighter or shooter, you’ll need to understand terms like “hit box” (the designated area in the virtual two or three dimensional space in which a “hit” is registered on an opposing character or item as a result of an attack), “frames” (a reference to the number of animation frames it takes for a player command to be executed), and other various damage percentages, respawn times, traversal speed, etc., etc. Splatoon 2‘s meta is easy to learn but difficult to master.

Every competitor in Splatoon 2 starts from the same base: each Inkling character model has the same stats irregardless of hairstyle, gender, or pants. If given a neutral playing field and no stat improvements, every Inkling would run at the same speed, swim at the same speed, absorb ink at the same rate, and so on and so on.

Stats are impacted by the “primary abilities” and “secondary abilities” on each of the three pieces of gear (headpiece, shirt, footwear) with which you equip your Inkling; each piece of gear has one primary slot and three secondary slots. The abilities in Splatoon 2 can increase your foot speed, decrease the amount of stored ink consumed by your weapons, increase the charge speed of your special weapon, decrease the amount of damage caused by stepping in enemy ink, decrease the amount of “splash” damage (i.e. damage caused not by direct impact from an opponent’s weapon, but by secondary impact, say from the outer edge of a Splashdown or by the indirect splatter from a Blaster shot), etc., etc. The primary abilities and secondary abilities are stackable… but secondary abilities are weaker than primary abilities and each new stack diminishes in effectiveness, essentially assuring that you’ll never be able to “max out” any ability to 100%. For example: attempting to run through enemy ink greatly slows your Inkling down, but if you equip gear with a primary ability of Ink Resistance Up, your Inkling will be able to run 10% faster across terrain covered in enemy ink. Add a second piece of gear with an Ink Resistance Up primary, and the ability stacks… but the laws of diminishing returns only allow the second ability to increase your speed in enemy ink by another 8%. Add a third, and it goes up by another 6%. Putting Ink Resistance Up in secondary slots starts your speed increase at 2% and diminishes from that point on. Courtesy of the Splatoon wiki Inkipedia, here’s a graph that charts the diminishing impact of each additional primary or secondary Ink Resistance Up ability:

The world is divided up into two types of people: those whose eyes glazed over at the prior explanation and the follow-up graph, and those who instead rolled those eyes and said, “Uh… we know. Who doesn’t?” But these conversations: the exact percentages to which “buffs” (gamer-speak for “improvements”) and “nerfs” (or “downgrades”) impact the metagame? These are the details upon which competitive gaming turns.

Truthfully, the diminishing returns from stacking abilities in Splatoon 2 dictate that no one ability is going to imbalance the game too severely… but as with most competitive online games, imbalances happen, and the player community finds them pretty quickly. Take the Tri-Slosher, for example. The Tri-Slosher is a bucket-type weapon that allows the player to hurl three bucketfuls of ink at once in a wide fan in front of them. The idea is that while it gives better turf coverage, the actual ink thrown is weaker than from the standard Slosher, which throws a narrower stream of ink slightly further, and straight ahead.

However, when Splatoon 2 was first released, the Tri-Slosher’s ink throw was only slightly weaker (in terms of percentage of damage dealt) to that of the Slosher. Combined with it’s wider arc of ink distribution the Tri-Slosher quickly became the serious Splatoon 2 player’s go-to weapon. It was like walking around the battlefield with an “Instant Splat” button. So in an update patch to the game, patch 1.3.0 to be precise, the Tri-Slosher was “nerfed”: the developers reduced its damage output by 10% and reduced its throw range by 9%. It doesn’t seem like much, but it was enough to knock the Tri-Slosher off of the list of top tier weapons. In fact, the patch SO nerfed the Tri-Slosher that update patch 2.0.0 would eventually buff the weapon’s peak damage output BACK to where it had started, while keeping the 9% range nerf in effect.

And this is how the developers of competitive online games continuously work to balance the metagame.

I don’t run a YouTube “Squid Research Lab”, and I’m not running side-by-side comparisons of how each stacked ability buffs or nerfs a particular aspect of the game. I do, however, have my favorite abilities. I like to pair Ink Resistance Up and Bomb Defense Up, defensive abilities that help me survive in the higher ranked rounds full of high-level, top skill players. That’s my current go-to combo, but that combo changes. A lot. I also like the abilities that buff ink usage: Ink Saver (Main) and Ink Saver (Sub), which decrease the amount of ink used by your main weapon and sub weapon, respectively, and Ink Recovery Up, which increases the rate at which your Ink Tank refills (although just recently while studying the meta I realized that Ink Recovery Up is nowhere near as effective in Splatoon 2 as it was in Splatoon. I may start backing away from that. Hmmmm…) Other favorites include Special Charge Up, which increases the rate at which your special weapon charges as you ink turf, and a headgear-only primary ability, Tenacity, which charges your special weapon faster relative to the amount of competitors fewer your team has on the field than the opposing team.

Did I say this was simple?

The real metagame lies not with gear, but with weapons. Like all good competitive shooters, Splatoon 2 is balanced in such a way that there isn’t one weapon that dominates the field. And if one emerges, as the Tri-Slosher did for a time, it gets re-balanced by the developer, the sort of thing that can only happen in the age of online gaming. (Game developers take a lot of crap for releasing buggy games that need post-launch patches, and rightfully so. But the ability to adjust the competitive balance of a player-vs-player game post-release is one of the best parts of the Internet age of gaming.) Splatoon 2 has a LOT of weapons and weapon types. I have spent way too much time figuring out my favorites. Here’s some commentary them:

Splash-o-Matic – For some reason, in the first Splatoon, I hated the Splash-o-Matic. I can’t remember why but I never did well with it. So in Splatoon 2, I ignored it until literally a few nights ago. I’ve spent all of Splatoon 2 trying to fine a “main”; a weapon I could default to. In Splatoon that weapon was the Aerospray, but in the more aggressive and combat-focused Splatoon 2, an inking-focused weapon like the Aerospray (wide spray, short range, weak impact) leaves you vulnerable. So in my frustration at not being able to find “the one”, I turned to the Splash-o-Matic. I did so because I realized: I hate going up against players wielding the Splash-o-Matic. Why is that? After a round or two of using I realized it’s because the Splash-o-Matic has the highest rate of fire in the game, and the most accurate ink stream of any shooter. Seriously, it’s like shooting with a fire hose. I was knocking out Brella shields left and right with ease. So right now, and these things are always subject to change (especially since I’m not crazy about the sub-weapon load out on either of the two Splash-o-Matic options), but right now? I’m maining a Splash-o-Matic.

Clash Blaster – The original appeal of the blaster-type weapon was that it offered a one-shot kill that fires faster than a charger type weapon (but slower than a shooter), and at  mid-range instead of at long range. The Clash Blaster ignores that profile: it’s a rapid fire short-range blaster that takes three hits to kill. It has become very popular, though, especially because like all blasters, the Clash Blaster’s pellets damage outward from their explosion points. They’re the perfect weapon for firing directly up onto the tower in Tower Control and popping an Inkling you can’t even see. Also, the Clash Blaster is the only lightweight blaster (all of the others hinder movement to some degree) and it’s rate of fire is such that it’s hard to escape the second and third blasts after you’ve been slowed by the first. The Clash Blaster is derided among some serious Splatoon 2 players as requiring little to no skill… but it’s in the game, and if it’s in the game, it’s fair game.

E-Liter 4K Scope – The E-Liter 4K Scope is the most powerful charger (Splatoon‘s version of sniper rifles) in the game, with the longest available range. I enjoy picking up an E-Liter from time to time and going with it, but I’m not as talented with it as the point-perfect Japanese charger players. Really, I’m only effective with it on certain maps and in Tower Control and Splat Zone modes, two modes where you know enemy Inklings will be semi-contained in specific areas and therefore easier to track.

Heavy Splatling – The original gatling-type weapon, the Heavy Splatling offers a good defensive alternative to the more unwieldy E-Liter. I’ve made good use of it in Clam Blitz and Rainmaker, using it in concert with its Ink Wall sub-weapon to both defend my team’s goal and help a teammate carrying the Rainmaker or Super Clam advance to the enemy goal. Wielding the destructive power of the Heavy Splatling and rat-a-tat-tatting an Inkling or the Rainmaker Shield into oblivion is one of the most satisfying actions you can take in the game.

Jet Squelcher – The Jet Squelcher is my long-range shooter of choice. Less powerful than the .96 Gal or Splattershot Pro but with a much longer reach, the Jet Squelcher is great for holding turf in Splat Zones or for splatting the Rainmaker carrier at a long distance. There aren’t many weapons that can outreach the Jet Squelcher, and it comes alongside my favorite special weapon: the multi-enemy targeting Tenta Missiles.

Glooga Dualies – One of Splatoon 2‘s biggest additions was the dualie class of weapons, double-fisted pistols that enable a dodge roll while firing. Dualies are popular, but the Gloogas are not. I like them because, frankly, I enjoy the dodge rolling aspect of the Dualie class but I have trouble getting used to it. The Glooga Dualies feature a slower, more controlled version of the roll, and as an added bonus: after rolling, the Gloogas combine their streams into a longer range, more powerful ink burst until you move again.

Splattershot Jr. – This is the weapon you star Splatoon 2 with, and even far too many hours into the game I find it to be the best of the short range shooters: great rate of fire, nice ink coverage, moderately powerful, conservative ink usage… and they come equipped with the triangular splat bombs, the game’s signature (and best) sub-weapon.

 

Splat Bombs & Tenta Missiles – I’ve already referenced these throughout, but this is my favorite sub weapon and special weapon. The splat bombs will arm as soon as they touch the ground and explode just a heartbeat after that, faster than suction, auto, and curling bombs, and much harder to avoid. Tenta Missiles are the most annoying of the Splatoon 2 special weapons (followed closely by Ink Storm and the Stingray), as they lock onto you and force you to move out of whatever position you may have been holding.

That’s all for now. I also enjoy the Sploosh-o-Matic, the Octo-Brush, and the Range Blaster, but right now my go-to’s are the weapons I’ve listed above. I figured it was about time for this deeper dive into Splatoon 2‘s meta for one reason and one reason only: My Splatoon 2 total playtime has just passed my total playtime for Breath of the Wild.

I really do love this game.

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Better, Stronger, Faster

I’ve always loved 2D platforming games with slick play control. I mean, of course I did. I cut my gaming teeth in the age of the NES, where every other game was a developer’s attempt to knock Super Mario Bros. off of its pixelated throne. If you didn’t like platform gaming in the 80’s, you didn’t like gaming.

I can only imagine the amount of hours I’ve put into platformers and action-platformers. The entire Super Mario series, most of the Mega Man and Mega Man X series, Ducktales, Aladdin, Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, Super Metroid… those are just some of the games I poured hours into, as I just riff on them off the top of my head. (Bionic Commando and the Castlevania series… there’s two more. Shovel Knight. There’s another.)

As such, 2D action-platformers hold a special place for me as a gamer, and now, as a 30-year veteran of the genre, I have to ask myself: have the platform games gotten easier, or have I gotten better at them?

It’s a question that I’ve pondered as I’ve played my way the past month or so through two of the Switch’s more highly acclaimed indie titles: Celeste and Steamworld Dig 2. Starting with Celeste (which surprisingly enough is my first of the brutal-core genre of platformers popularized by Super Meat Boy and 1,001 Spikes), something that has surprised me as I’ve made my way through the game is… yes, it’s difficult. And if you go for the strawberries, there are certain jumps that’ll take a great deal of time and practice. But just traversing through the regular game (and mind you, I’m not finished) has been challenging, but nowhere near the glorious nightmare I’d been led to believe it would be.

I treat 2D platformers as exercises in virtual parkour. I always have. It’s why I greatly preferred the Super Nintendo version of Aladdin to the gorgeously animated Sega Genesis version of Aladdin. Yes, the Sega game looked like the movie and the SNES game looked like second-rate Aladdin fan art, but the SNES game was a fluidly acrobatic experience of handsprings, backflips, and parasailing, while the Sega game was a chug-along sword-swinging trudge with poor collision detection. I played all of two levels of the Sega game, but played through the SNES game several dozen times.

Steamworld Dig 2 is nowhere near as unforgiving as Celeste. Upgrades are plentiful and powerful, and though I could see myself going back to the game using the challenge upgrades designed to make the game harder, it was while playing SWD2 that I was really reminded how second-nature 2D platforming has become for me over the past many years. Again, Dottie the robot is the recipient of any number of fantastic traversal upgrades, but by a third of the way through the game (I’ve finished this one) I was hook-shotting and jet-packing my way through the tunnels and temples buried beneath the game’s surface not just with ease, but with flair.

It helps in the case of both Steamworld Dig 2 and Celeste that the controls, much like Aladdin back in the day, are pinpoint-precise, quick, and responsive. Still, it sort of amazes me: my biggest gaming thrill to this day is quick-step hair-trigger parkour traversal of my digital avatar across terrain and enemies, be it air-dashing with Madeline, hook-shotting with Dorothy, hand-springing with Aladdin, or… jumping off of the Master Cycle, whipping out my parasail, pulling out my bow, and slow-motion head-shotting a bokoblin with Link.

It’s been awhile since I’ve made a Breath of the Wild reference, hasn’t it? I was probably due.

NEStradamus

Back on November 17th, 2017, I made a bunch of mostly tongue-in-cheek predictions for Nintendo’s 2018. (You can look at that list here.) Well, here it is, March 20th, 2018, and I’ll be damned if I didn’t dumb-luck stumble into some things. Let’s take a quick look at my grade thus far:

Old Super Mario Bros. – I predicted a 2D Super Mario Bros. based on the old-school snippets in Super Mario Odyssey. Nothing doing yet, but this was actually the pick I was most confident in.

The Legend of Zelda: Something of Something – Essentially, I declared that we wouldn’t go all of 2018 without something released with the Zelda brand. Well, here comes Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition.

Super Smash Bros. Melee DX – What we DO know is that we’re getting a Smash Bros. game in 2018. Is it going to be Melee DX? Melee 2? Smash for Wii U for Nintendo Switch? Something completely new? I dunno, but Smash is coming. That much I got right.

Ubisoft’s South Park gamesThe Fractured But Whole is coming in April. The Stick of Truth is almost sure to follow. Hopefully.

Donkey Kong + Minions: Banana Brawl – DK has since been announced as a playable character in Mario + Rabbids, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is on its way to Switch.

WarioWare: Switched Off – Right franchise, wrong platform. WarioWare Gold will be landing this year on Nintendo 3DS.

Batman: Arkham Adventures – This was and still is the biggest pipe dream on the list.

Paper Mario: The Two-Thousand Year Door – I pegged the wrong GameCube franchise for a return. While Luigi’s Mansion is coming back to 3DS, nothing yet on any paper doors, a thousand years old or otherwise. YET.

Portal 3 and Portal HD Collection – No, but Bridge Constructor Portal is ALREADY HERE.

I’m obviously psychic. Clearly we’re minutes away from the announcement of Codename S.T.E.A.M. 2: Even Steamier.

Making the Grade: “The Switch is One Year Old” Edition

This is the fourth installation of my “Making the Grade” series, a temperature-check all of Nintendo’s major franchises and where they stand in the overall scheme of existence. The idea was always that I’d go back and update this list whenever there was some sort of major shift or big event. This time around, we’ve had two occurrences: the first is a recent Nintendo Direct with some good-sized announcements. The second? The Nintendo Switch this month celebrated its first year on the market, and what a year it has been.

A couple of things have moved around the list as a result of the news that’s been revealed over the past few months. As always, I’ve highlighted the franchises that have switched tiers, with a (+) for those that have been upgraded, and a (-) for the downgrades. As always, feel free to disagree.

Grade A: Fire EmblemThe Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, Metroid, Pokemon,  Splatoon, Super MarioSuper Smash Bros.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages… nothing’s changed here. I mean, I can’t very well move Smash Bros. UP a grade, can I? Up to Grade S? Should I make a Grade S?

No, I shouldn’t do that.

Pressing Question: Is Fire Emblem truly an A-tier franchise? Or is it a B? Let me know in the comments.

Grade B: Animal CrossingDonkey KongKirby, (+) Luigi’s MansionMario & Luigi, (+) Mario spin-offsPaper Mario, XenobladeYoshi

A couple of new entries to Grade B, and one franchise exit. The original GameCube Luigi’s Mansion is getting a surprise remake for Nintendo 3DS in the Dark Moon graphical style. It’s a franchise I’m bullish on, so Luigi & his Poltergust move up two grades instead of just one. Mario spin-off games also get a bump thanks to the very positive impression Mario Tennis Aces made during the most recent Nintendo Direct. Additionally, Kirby’s first Switch adventure just launched to positive reviews, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is scheduled to make its way to Switch from Wii U, another Mario & Luigi remake is on its way to 3DS, Xenoblade Chronicles 2 was largely well received, Animal Crossing‘s mobile game is popular, and Yoshi is still set to debut on Switch sometime in 2018. No new news on Paper Mario, but I expect we’ll hear something from that franchise sometime this year.

Pressing Question: Is Animal Crossing a B-tier franchise? Or does it deserve a bump to tier A? Let me know in the comments.

Grade C: ARMS, (-) Pikmin, Pokemon spin-offs, (+) Wario games

I know: I treat Pikmin like a yo-yo. But Hey! Pikmin for 3DS failed to move the needle much. I’ve said it once, and I’ll keep saying it: Nintendo wants us to like Pikmin way more than we’re ever going to like Pikmin. The announcement for WarioWare Gold has been received warmly, though I’d probably move WarioWare up to a Grade B if it was launching on the platform where it truly belongs: mobile.

Grade D: (-) BoxBoyKid IcarusStar Fox

Yes, BoxBoy just landed on this list the last time out. Yes, BoxBoy has already been downgraded. Yes, I suspect BoxBoy as a franchise is over. Expect a bump if it turns out BoxBoy is joining the roster for Smash Bros.

Grade E: Advance Wars, (+) DillonF-ZeroMother, (-) Mii GamesPunch-Out!!, Pushmo, Puzzle League, Rhythm HeavenNintenDogs, Pilotwings

It just goes to show: never count a Nintendo franchise out. The Dillon franchise (yes, that’s a thing, apparently) is getting a new game, and the only surprise bigger than that is that Dillon’s Dead Heat Breakers actually looks pretty good. It would look even BETTER if it was on Switch as opposed to Nintendo 3DS, but it’s amazing enough that it even exists. The Mii franchise, however, really does seem to be on its last legs. Not only has Nintendo ended the Mii-centric social networking app Miitomo, but the casual mini-game collections that were the Mii bread-and-butter are nowhere to be found, replaced by the likes of 1, 2, Switch and now Labo. Even Mii Tennis has been shunned in favor of a motion-control mode in Mario Tennis Aces. I’d almost anticipate the Mii brand dropping down into Grade F by the time E3 rolls around.

Grade F: Brain AgeCodename S.T.E.A.M.Chibi-RoboCustom RoboExciteGolden SunThe Legendary Starfy, (-) Remix series, Sin & PunishmentStarTropicsWave Race.

The Remix series of games hits rock bottom, as the no-brainer sequel SNES Remix never did materialize. Who here will be the next Dillon’s Rolling Western and get an unexpected franchise revival? Probably not Codename S.T.E.A.M., and that makes me sad.

A Lull

Nintendo took January off.

No, of course they didn’t. Not really. January of 2018, though, was the first month of the Switch’s life that came and went without a major Nintendo-published game release. It was a deserved month off, to be sure; 2017 was as gangbusters a year as any Nintendo has ever had, as the Switch debuted to boffo sales numbers and the software cranked out on a monthly basis by Nintendo’s first party madmen and their collaborators resulted in critical hit after critical hit.

Repeating in 2018 the success of their 2017, or replicating that near-constant wave of major first-party games, is almost impossible to anticipate. Those are expectations they will most likely never be able to keep. To be sure, even after January, the first bit of 2018 holds few major stops on the Hype Train, at least not from Nintendo’s publishing stable. There are some old reliables coming the first few months of the year, and a bunch of ports, but it is almost impossible to define the coming period of the year, a traditionally slower portion of the year for game publishers, as anything but Nintendo pumping the brakes for a minute.

In February, Nintendo is publishing ports of Platinum Games’ Bayonetta and Bayonetta 2 from Wii U over to the Switch. I thought they were done with Wii U ports after Pokken Tournament DX. I was very, very wrong. Not that I have a problem with this. The Switch is already about a billion times more popular than the Wii U ever was, so moving some of the underplayed killer Wii U apps, such as Bayonetta 2, over to Switch is a great idea.

Moving on to March, we have the first original first party Nintendo title of 2018, Kirby Star Allies, a multi-player focused Kirby adventure. Also in March (at least in Japan; presumably the worldwide release date will be around the same time) comes the second port of the year: Hyrule Warriors Definitive Edition. I put more hours into the first Hyrule Warriors than anything else on Wii U aside from Splatoon, and I never picked up the 3DS port of the game, so you can bet your buttons I’ll be diving back into this.

With April comes the launch of the highly-anticipated Nintendo Labo, the cardboard-construction-kit-meets-video-games product that literally nobody saw coming. While they may want to keep April clear for a full-fledged “Month of Labo“, also keep in mind: Mario Tennis Aces is scheduled for release in the first few months of 2018, and April might be a good landing spot for it.

In May, the third Wii U port so far announced for 2018 hits the Switch in the form of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the most recent installment of the notoriously difficult platforming series, and the Wii U game that I most regretted missing… so I’m very cool with this re-release, pun un-intentional.

Then along comes June, and with it, E3… and we have no set release dates or windows for any Nintendo-produced titles beyond this point. Obviously, Nintendo will release several more first-party titles in 2018; we know for a fact that Yoshi, Fire Emblem, Pokemon, and Metroid Prime 4 are all in development, even if we don’t know whether or not they’ll hit this year. (Yoshi almost certainly will, and I’m betting it comes with Labo integration. Write that down.)

On a personal note? Most of my favorite Nintendo franchises released installments in 2017: Zelda, Splatoon, Super Mario, Mario Kart, and Metroid. The other big bullet I’m waiting for is Smash Bros., which will get here soon enough, of course, whether as a port of the Wii U game, as a new fifth installment in the series, or as… something else. Beyond that, I’m eager to hear about a new 2D Super Mario game, also a near sure-thing, and a new Nintendo-developed 2D Zelda would be nice. Lots of the games coming from Nintendo, though, are from IPs I’m less invested in. Fire Emblem and Pokemon are franchises I’ve tried dozens of times to enjoy, to no avail. I’m lukewarm on Kirby and Yoshi, and Labo looks very neat but I doubt it’s something I’ll put a whole lot of time into. (It’s not really made for me, after all.)

This bothers me little, though. DK: Tropical Freeze and Hyrule Warriors DE will keep me busy, along with Dark Souls Remastered, Mega Man 11, and the Mega Man X Legacy Collection… and ALSO along with Skyrim, which I’m still elbows deep in, and any number of other backlogged titles I’ve yet to get to (Steamworld Dig 2, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Celeste, etc., etc.) not to mention Splatoon 2.

Still, there’s no denying it: after a breakneck 2017, Nintendo has taken their foot off of the gas a little bit to start 2018. If we’re being fair, we have to admit: if this is a lull, it is a well-earned one.

Please Slow Down

The common wisdom on the Interwebs tells us there’s a Nintendo Direct incoming any day now. It makes sense; 2017 is over, and we know next to nothing about Nintendo’s first-party offerings for 2018. We have one confirmed game with an actual title (Kirby: Star Allies) and a bunch of rumors and vague confirmations. (Yoshi and a bunch of Bayonetta games should be coming in 2018, as well as Wolfenstein, Fire Emblem, and Mega Man, and Project Octopath Traveler, and perchance to dream, Metroid and Pokemon.) We don’t yet know what A-list Nintendo franchise will tentpole 2018, but Mario, Zelda, Splatoon, and probably Mario Kart are all off the table.

Now, I’m not one to speculate… but just about everyone else who has access to the Internet, is. (Also: I speculate all the time, just not NOW.) Today a “leak” happened, if you believe such things, and according to this leak, some of the games forthcoming for the Switch also include Grand Theft Auto V, a new Animal Crossing, Red Dead Redemption Remastered, Ace Attorney, Injustice 2, Dark Souls, and I guess every game ever made. Rumors are fun, no?

Again: I’m not going to speculate. I have no insider knowledge and I’d be “speculating” based on pure whimsy. I AM going to say: hey. Nintendo. What’ s up, girl? I know you want to keep the games coming. I know you want Switch’s momentum to keep on rolling. But maybe you can just slow down a bit, cuz I’m still buried under an avalanche of 2017 games. For example:

  • Breath of the Wild: I’m pretty much done with this after 350+ hours. However: I still have 300 some odd Korok seeds to find, a motorcycle to find them with, and a Master Mode I haven’t even touched.
  • Skyrim: I’m barely 10 hours in and I already love this game and planning my next playthrough. This should keep me busy for quite some time, like forever.
  • Super Mario Odyssey: I’m somewhere in the 600 Moon range, but I’ve put it down for now. It’s good to know I can come back to it when the mood strikes and still have stuff to do.
  • Mario + Rabbids: I’m three-quarters of the way through the main game, but there’s a ton of challenges I haven’t gotten to yet.
  • Splatoon 2: I’ll never be done with Splatoon 2, and you’re going to keep updating it for two years.
  • ARMS: I haven’t touched it since Splatoon 2 launched… and this is a game I like a lot.
  • Minecraft: In Survival Mode I’m working towards the Ender Dragon. In Creative Mode I’m building all the LEGO kits I was never able to afford.
  • Stardew Valley: I’m somewhere in winter of the first year.
  • Steamworld Dig 2: Haven’t even started yet.
  • Rocket League: I love it. I’m very bad at it.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Doom, Telltale’s Batman: I don’t even have these yet.

So please, Nintendo: you’ve proved your point. You can keep the games coming with the best of them. Now for God’s sake, can you take a breath?

I mean… Grand Theft Auto V? Just how much time and money do you think we all have, anyway?

Stupidly Obvious

Coming off the years of failure and irrelevance that defined the end of the Wii era and the entirety of the Wii U era, it was fair to wonder (and often was, loudly) if Nintendo was in a crisis. Some pundits insisted that it was time for “the Big N” to pull a Sega and abandon the hardware market in favor of publishing for other platforms, playing the role of third party developer. Some had speculated that the announcement of Nintendo mobile games could be a sign that Nintendo would eventually get phased out of the console market completely.

To be clear: these were not crazy takes. The Wii U era was bad. To this day, most of the general public does not know what the Wii U actually was. Coming into 2017, Nintendo had one directive: the NX, or Switch, absolutely had to be at least a moderate success.

As we leave 2017, what has happened instead is, Nintendo hit a grand-freakin’-slam. Lots of virtual ink will be spent asking, “How? How did Nintendo do it? How did they come back from the precipice of irrelevance to craft the comeback story of 2017?” The answer to that question is, if you haven’t already guessed, stupidly obvious. It is a story told in three parts:

1. Form Over Function

The Nintendo Switch made a big bet, and in a way the Wii U is probably to thank for it. When Nintendo first introduced the Wii U they showed off a lot of different ways one might use the tablet-like Wii U Gamepad. At the end, there was only one usage that Wii U owners unanimously loved: playing console games on a small handheld screen. The Gamepad, of course, wasn’t a portable; you couldn’t travel more than 15 feet or so away from the system’s base unit before losing the connection.

So for the Switch, Nintendo put the console in the handheld screen, and made the base unit the empty shell.

In a world of high engine, high power gaming, another popular suggestion by fans and by industry analysts was that the failure of the Wii U had made it necessary for Nintendo to build a PS4-style power box. By instead developing the Switch, still underpowered when compared to its souped-up marketplace brethren (especially when you consider the PS4 Pro and the Xbox One X), Nintendo placed their big bet: they bet that a console that was both a home console and a portable, which also allowed for portable local multiplayer, was going to appeal to gamers as well as the public at large, even if it was “weaker” than its market competition. A console that fits YOUR life, that lets you play however YOU prefer. It’s almost too perfect a system for the millennial age gamers, the ones who grew up on portable Pokemon games, a generation of YouTubers and social media gurus for whom personal branding and individuality is second nature. And the “kids” who grew up on the NES are now, well, bigger kids with children of their own. A console for the backseat of the car that nobody’s going to fight over because everyone can play at once? Yes, please.

2. It’s the Games, Stupid

Of course, hybrid portability and on-the-go local multiplayer doesn’t count for a hill of beans if there aren’t games worth playing on the device. Lots of people looked at the Switch’s launch line-up and scoffed: only TEN games? That’s it? #LOL #SameOldNintendo.

As it turns out, ten games is plenty, when one of those games is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

And although Zelda was enough to keep early Switch adopters happy for months, what the “only ten games” crowd also believed was that the steady stream of first-year first party games Nintendo was promising would inevitably be delayed. There’s basis for that; the Wii U, for instance, launched in November of 2012. Here’s the list of Nintendo-published first party software that debuted on the Wii U in its first year and a half of existence, November 2012 through the end of 2013:

  1. New Super Mario Bros. U
  2. New Super Luigi U
  3. The Wonderful 101
  4. Pikmin 3
  5. Nintendo Land
  6. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD
  7. Wii Fit U
  8. NES Remix
  9. Game & Wario
  10. Sing Party
  11. Wii Sports Club
  12. Wii Party U
  13. Dr. Luigi
  14. Super Mario 3D World

That is a heinous list. The highlights include a 2D Mario game, a 2D remix of that game starring Luigi, a 3D Mario game, an HD refurbishing of an old Zelda, and Pikmin. Then there’s three Wii-branded games, two collections of microgames, multiple games starring Mii avatars, a re-branded two decade old puzzle game, a very niche superhero action game, and something called Sing Party. Did Nintendo FORGET they were releasing a console?

Compare that to what we’ve gotten, first party, from Nintendo over the Switch’s first nine months:

  1. 1-2 Switch
  2. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
  3. Snipperclips (and Snipperclips Plus)
  4. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
  5. Arms
  6. Splatoon 2
  7. Flip Wars
  8. Fire Emblem Warriors
  9. Super Mario Odyssey
  10. Xenoblade Chronicles 2

Also: although Nintendo didn’t publish it, they sure helped shepherd the surprisingly good Mario + Rabbids to the Switch this year, and they’ve already told us we’re going to be getting Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2, Bayonetta 3, Kirby Star Allies, a new Yoshi, a new Fire Emblem, a core Pokemon, and freaking Metroid Prime 4.

The third party and indie story is much the same. Here’s a sampling off of that plate: Doom, Shovel Knight, Overcooked, Steamworld Dig 2, Skyrim, Rocket League, Stardew Valley, Golf Story, Minecraft, FIFA, NBA2K… I can go on. Not only did Nintendo create in the Switch a versatile piece of gaming hardware that’s cool to the touch, but they have released for it more great software than Wii U arguably saw in its entire lifetime.

3. Marketing & Branding

I’ve said it over and over again, and I’ll say it for the last time right now: there are still people who have no idea what a Wii U is. It was a confusing system (It’s a tablet that I need to keep near my TV? What’s the tablet for, anyway?) with an awful name (So this is just a new Wii? I already have a Wii. Is this just a tablet that connects to the Wii I already have?) I mean, just LOOK at this trailer:

What is this telling us? It’s telling us that there’s a new controller with a screen. Is it for the Wii or for a new system? No idea. You can play Super Mario Bros. on it while your dad watches awful baseball, you can draw on it, you can play Reversi on it, you can wave it in front of Wii Sports, you can see your golf ball on it… in Wii Sports, you can measure your BMI with it, you can snipe Miyamoto’s Mii with it, you can flick throwing stars of off it, you can FaceTime on it, you can do… something with the Internet on it, you can flick a video of a parrot off of it and onto your TV to thrill and amaze your easily amused friends, you can play a Zelda game that will never exist on it…

… what the hell is it?! Who is this even FOR?! Is it a video game system or a… I don’t even know what. Look: the Wii U ended up with a respectable library of great, if off-kilter, Nintendo-developed games. The problem was, its marketing was so poor, its reveal so botched, that the whole thing was essentially DOA.

Compare the Wii U’s reveal to the Switch’s initial reveal:

What is THIS telling us? It’s telling us the Nintendo Switch is a multi-form video game console that can be played at home on your TV, on the go as a handheld, and anywhere else as a multiplayer standing tablet with two detachable controllers on either side of it. Oh, and that we’ll be able to play The Legend of Zelda, Skyrim, Mario Kart, NBA2K, a new Mario game, and Splatoon on it. (As it would turn out, we’d get to play all of the games in that reveal within nine months of the Switch’s release.) One of the best things you can say about the Wii U era is how much it taught Nintendo about what NOT to do when marketing a home console in the 2010’s, a truth that is best exemplified by their system’s chosen names: “Wii U” tells you nothing that you need to know, while the name “Switch” tells you everything you need to know.

In Conclusion…

So to go back to our initial question… how did Nintendo do it? How did they make the Switch into such a winner?

Well, they 1. made a great piece of video game hardware that 2. plays lots of great software, and then they 3. did a great job telling people exactly what that hardware is and what software is available for it.

See? Stupidly obvious.

So stupidly obvious, they probably should have done it sooner.