With Nintendo Switch now released into the wild, impressions beyond critics’ reviews have steadily begun flowing in. Obviously everyone is having a blast with Zelda, but beyond that I’m noticing frustration with the console’s lack of software features and functionality, both in comparison with Sony and Microsoft competition, and in some cases even Nintendo’s own previous consoles.
I have no doubt Nintendo intends to beef up Switch’s OS software and online offering before the fiscally important holiday season. They’ve said as much regarding the latter, for which they’ll begin charging a modest subscription fee in the Fall. In the meantime though, Switch’s user interface and pittance of minor non-game features are what you can start getting used to for the foreseeable future. It isn’t much, and my gut instinct at first was to resent it. Switch even lacks a web browser, something both Wii U and Nintendo 3DS have both had for about as long as they’ve existed. Pretty soon refrigerators will have them, if they don’t already.
And yet, after spending about half a week and well over a dozen hours now with Breath of the Wild and Switch, my resentment has yielded considerably. As anyone over the age of 20 knows, the amount of dedicated time for gaming in a person’s day-to-day has a disheartening tendency to trend downward as the responsibilities of work, family, or general adulthood requirements creep into most facets of waking life.
What I’ve discovered personally is that it was never so much my lack of free time, despite its dwindling totals, but instead my use of it. Instead of gaming I’d waste hours on my smartphone, computer, TV, or other less fulfilling distractions. By the time I’d yank my head from the vision-tunnel these devices so often create, it would be time for bed, time for work, time for a prior commitment. Another day without a satisfying, engrossing play-session. “Oh well,” I’d say. “Maybe tomorrow I’ll plan better.”
With all that in mind, to me there is something very satisfying about the sheer, almost preposterous simplicity of the Switch. When you turn it on, there is almost literally nothing to do but play a game. Sure, on day one you set up your account and add your pals via friend code, and there are Parental Controls for those who need them. You can also mark Best Friends, poke around various system setting, explore the eShop, or browse saved screenshots. But after that, there’s not much else. Just you, a horizontal scrolling menu, and your games. So how about you get to picking one?
Whether this is Nintendo’s intention or not remains to be seen (retaining simplicity or scrambling to patch in features like web browsers, Netflix, and others in coming months will be telling), but it’s been a long time since I was able to turn on a console, have my naturally distracted brain search for something, anything to waste time on before delving into a gameworld, and then finally cease in resignation as I simply press A on Breath of the Wild after two or so seconds.
It seems Aonuma and his Zelda team have designed the game with this in mind. For the first time in decades, there’s no title screen, no emblematic file-select fairy fountain theme, no sound at all in fact; simply a plain-looking menu with pleasant scrolling Zelda art, and minimal compelling options to speak of beyond pressing “Continue.” This extends even to the title’s lack of a play clock - are you playing to be immersed in Hyrule, or to tally how many real-world hours you devoted toward pretending you were there? Breath of the Wild’s world is vast, it’s meticulously crafted, and while you’re playing, it truly does feel real. Nintendo isn’t about to let constant FAQ-checking, friend-list party-joining, or on-system Netflix apps get in the way of that. Either you’re in, or you're not. Isn’t that why you played Ocarina of Time as a kid? After all, nothing’s stopping you from just watching TV instead.
Such idealism probably isn’t realistic long-term, and as such I suspect Nintendo will arm Switch will added user functionality and online conveniences between now and the holiday season. We also know that most of the online experience will be handled via smartphone app, a choice bemoaned by those who prefer a full on-console solution. I’d normally fall in that category, but the more I play Switch, the more I suspect it’s probably a good idea.
In fact, the more I play Switch, the more it becomes clear I may very well log more hours to it than any home console in a long, long time: assuming there are enough games to play. This is aided by its hybrid nature, but even my 3DS, portable and full of games I adore, would go untouched for weeks and occasionally months despite plenty of available software. In hindsight, I think there’s an intimidation factor there. I wonder how many Streetpass encounters I’ve racked up since last time? How’s my Mii Plaza? How many AR puzzle pieces remain? I wonder if I should grab that new Zelda menu wallpaper? Oh, and I’ll want to investigate the mysterious wrapped gift that just appeared on my homescreen too.
There’s a part of me that’s a bit sad quirks such as these, or peppy Nintendo eShop music, may have passed on with late Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. Even so, there’s little argument that every publisher, developer, and game maker can benefit from a period where all resource and focus is channeled solely, unequivocally, toward the purpose of this pastime in the first place: creating and enjoying games. I don’t want Nintendo obstructing my basic needs as a player in the modern age, and as time passes I don’t think Switch will. But if things remain approximately this simple for the duration of its lifespan, where I turn on the device and am riding through the plains of Hyrule mere seconds later, with minimal mid-play notifications or streamable cartoons tempting my attention, there’s little doubt in my mind I’ll be fully okay with it.
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