In the days after my hands-on with the Nintendo Switch and its initial games (you can listen to the podcast episode where I discuss it here), I've been thinking about the people who will buy Nintendo's new product. Company executives have made clear that the Switch is a mulligan for the Wii U and that it's a chance to make good on that console's original promise of off-TV play in a home console. They don't want a repeat of the Wii U's dismal sales numbers. Nintendo would rather repeat the success of the Wii.
Wired's Chris Kohler made the case earlier this year that Nintendo is looking to reconnect with its hardcore fans. Some of the games I saw at the preview event reflect that: Sonic Mania, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Ultra Street Fighter II, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Fast RMX, Puyo Puyo Tetris, Arms, Disgaea 5, Splatoon 2, Snipperclips, Has Been Heroes, Just Dance 2017, Skylanders Imaginators, and Super Bomberman R. They're all games hardcore Nintendo fans might expect to see represented. 1, 2 Switch is the outlier attempt to sell people on the Switch's gimmicks, much like Wii Sports was for the Wii, except that it's not packed in with the console. By and large, I think most people in attendance at the preview event I went to were excited by Breath of the Wild, Snipperclips, and Splatoon 2, if line length is any indication of pre-release hype.
I talked to some people attending the event and have been wearing the Nintendo Switch pin from the event on my commuter bag as an invitation to chat about Nintendo's latest efforts. It's not something I do normally, but most people I talked to were aware of the Switch's existence thanks to a prominently placed Super Bowl ad, while others were shocked there had been a Zelda game since Ocarina of Time.
Interestingly, these conversations spanned many age groups and all walks of life, much as Nintendo's commercials would have you believe will be the people taking their Switches to rooftop parties and their grandparents' houses:
Connor, 8, and his father, Steve, 38 (Attended the event)
Connor: "I really like the red and the blue one and how I can take one of the controllers with me! It'll help me make friends at school!"
Steve: (Laughs) "I don't think you'll be able to take it to school, kiddo. Connor's first console was the NES [Classic Edition] they put out this past Christmas, and it's been fun reintroducing him to some of my favorites. My wife's been concerned that we're opening him up to a video game addiction, but after showing her what they've said with those parental controls and limiting playtime, she was on board. Personally, I'm a little worried the Switch will go the way of the Wii U with the one Mario game, the one Zelda game, and I dunno, maybe a Pokemon thing, and that's it."
Dwyer, 25 (Attended the event)
"I'm really stoked for Splatoon 2. The first game was awesome, but not enough people played it. My Wii U was pretty much a Mario Kart and Splatoon machine for the life of the console, and I could never keep the gamepad charged up long enough to do the whole play-off-of-the-TV thing. Hopefully the online won't end up being that much and Nintendo won't do the friend code BS they've done before. It's 2017, it's OK for kids to talk to randoms online. They have to learn to trash talk at some point."
Diana, 32, and her boyfriend, Kyle, 34 (Attended the event)
Diana: "I wish Nintendo would keep the tradition of the Streetpass going on the Switch. Ended up making a lot of friends at the cons I went to with my 3DS. As it is, I don't see myself carrying that tablet in my purse everywhere I go. At $300, I'd be too worried it would get stolen if I whipped it out on the bus."
Kyle: "Seems pretty cool to me, though. We played a lot of Animal Crossing together on the 3DS, and Snipperclips will probably test our relationship in the same way Portal 2 did. Just haven't been able to get a pre-order down for it."
Christian, 22 (Commuter)
"I actually got a Wii U so I could do co-op with my girlfriend when she's in town. We ended up playing a lot of Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. Not sure why they haven't announced a new Smash, come to think of it. I'd be there day one if they did that."
Demonte, 28 (Commuter)
"My friends and I saw that Nintendo commercial during the Super Bowl, and new Zelda looks dope. I didn't even know they made Zelda games past Ocarina of Time, the GOAT [greatest of all time]. Tried to get one at my Gamestop and they told me I'd have to wait to get one. Looks like I'll be sticking with Madden on my Xbox [One] until then."
Monica, 39 (Commuter)
"I heard about Breath of the Wild and am very excited for that. Was a huge fan of Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword on the Wii, and I didn't bother buying that Wii 2 I've seen at stores. That looked like a total piece of crap. If I get the Switch, Zelda's the only game I'm buying on it."
Sloan, 52 (Commuter)
"I can see myself bringing [the Switch] on my 2-hour commute from Wisconsin into Chicago instead of the iPad. Most of the games on the iPad require the Internet, and while I'm lucky I have a hotspot for work, there are deadzones when I travel. I don't see that being a problem with Nintendo's new box. I'll probably get mine whenever they put out a Mario game for it. [After telling him Super Mario Odyssey is announced]. Oh, really? I'll have to watch the trailer for that."
Nintendo desperately wants to benefit from the word-of-mouth that contributed to the Wii's success, and if my chats are any indication, they have people talking at least. The Nintendo faithful will show up for the Switch, but whether or not others do remains to be seen. For the first time in a long time though, people are thinking about the house of Mario, which is more than can be said for any of Nintendo's last few years of home console efforts.