It was late in the evening as I causally paced around my living room trying to burn off some nervous energy. I always pace when I’m on the phone; I think the only time I haven’t was when the thing was when the phone was physically attached to the wall – and I don’t mean by the landline. I hummed lightly and frowned, adjusting the phone in my grip slightly. I hadn’t spoken to the person on the other end, my mother, in well over a week. We’re pretty close, so this was unusual. I was busy running her through how I was, and what had happened during the usual period of invisibility that working on the website from home during a major event (or in the case of last week, two) brings.
I had just explained about (almost) everyone’s joy over the launch of Nintendo Switch. The latest, hottest videogame console on the market.
“Oh, I saw an advert for that. It looks a bit rubbish doesn’t it?”
She explained to me she’d seen what I identified to be 1-2-Switch in action and thought it looked ridiculous. Whilst the console itself she thought looked a bit cheap in construction. Tho not owning a Switch myself (my current setup consists of an Xbox One and a Wii which is pretty much just used as a rectangular Game Cube at this point) I defended it a little; explaining how Breath of the Wild had been deemed to have overtaken Ocarina of Time as the best Legend Of Zelda game ever. That got her attention. She knew all about Zelda and whilst not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, much preferring casual titles from PopCap, she’s gotten hands on with consoles down the years. A particular favourite game of hers was actually the original Super Monkey Ball. But Ocarina of Time she also knew about, and if something had beaten that… she gave a small but impressed sounding ‘ooh’ of surprise/acknowledgement.
“Yeah.” I said, “They’ve also done this weird thing with the cartridges. They’ve made them taste bad.”
“Yeah.” I said again, “They’re small – like a little memory card. So to prevent small children from maybe picking them up and swallowing them they’ve added something to the plastic that makes it taste really foul.”
“That’s some clever thinking ahead from them.”
– and that was when I started to think. It was some pretty clever thinking ahead – which makes you wonder why a company able to have that much foresight of a potential issue that no one even considered in the run-up to launch, continues to make such a hash of everything else. Oh, I could talk about things such as the way the shop works or the silliness of a system that gets interference from wifi and other signals needing a smartphone app to have in-game chat – but check the name of the website again and you might figure out what I’m going to get at here.
Nintendo’s virtual reality (VR) history has, as if we need reminding, not been the best; and despite their protestations about experiences needing to be for the family or needing to be playable for hours at length it’s clear the failure of the Virtual Boy and it’s decent into a joke over the years is still very painful to them. (As is the short lifespan of the Wii U.) But unfortunately for Nintendo, VR is back and is a factor now in how people play games. A factor that isn’t going to go away. A factor… that will get stronger over time. So in much the same a child drags its feet and yells “I DON’T WANNA”, Nintendo are going to look at adding VR to the Switch… maybe…kinda. Sort of? Definitely! No? Never. Of course! (Possibly.) Yes. Not sure. Ask again next week. At this point I just imagine it’s whatever the Magic 8-ball on Reggie’s desk says.
So if it does happen, it’s going to be a later add-on for the system.
Which is a slight problem, because when was the last add-on or peripheral to a console that properly worked and became an indispensable piece of kit? Kinect? Not really. EyeToy? Nope. SEGA CD? Perhaps, but you could certainly live without it. The Atari Jaguar CD? You’re kidding right? Wonderbook? You’re just being silly now. What about Nintendo’s own repertoire of add-ons down the years. Was the world blown away by the Family Computer Disk System, or the Famicom 3D System? Did the Super Scope or R.O.B change everything? Did the Nintendo 64DD become a red hot topic?
No, no and no.
Add-ons tend at best disappoint and at worst suck, and it is rare indeed to find one that truly enhances a console. One that doesn’t suck is the PlayStation VR, and why is that? Well for a start the PlayStation VR was developed over many years. It began life as Project Morpheus as you no doubt recall, built on some existing technology and developed into the final product now available at stores – unless they’ve run out of them. It was designed and developed in sympathy with the PlayStation 4 as opposed to support just being shoe-horned in later. It’s why PSVR is an add-on that works.
And that’s why Nintendo, now they’ve let loose the Switch into the world, at this stage should probably just knock the idea of a VR system on the head for now. Because whatever they do (if they decide to do anything) with the Switch hardware it won’t be anywhere near as efficient as if they developed something standalone or something in partnership with something else it is to go with. If you completed two thirds of a jigsaw of, let’s say, a picture of a battleship at sea. You couldn’t then fill in the rest with bits from a jigsaw of John Constable’s The Hay Wain, and pretend it showed you a full or true picture. Yes, you can probably make the pieces fit, but you’ll still have the first jigsaw at the heart of it. It won’t be what’s required.
Also, you’ll have some mighty surprised sailors and country folk on your hands when the HMS Revenge comes steaming in to a small river and knocks a 19th century hay cart flying.
It would be nice to be surprised, yes. But a half-baked VR solution for Switch doesn’t do the Switch any favours, it doesn’t do Nintendo any favours and it doesn’t do VR as a whole any favours. It may irk the shareholders for now but at this stage the smartest move might be to sit this particular dance out. Learn what needs to be learnt, acquire and develop the technology needed and start developing a long term plan that includes VR for the next Nintendo.