The Nintendo Switch has passed its first trial. Nintendo's new machine is selling like lightning based on the strength of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it feels strong as looks to gird itself for the summer. Things are simple right now: the video game industry doesn't have a lot of other major headlines, and the only potential mindshare competitor of Mass Effect: Andromeda fell somewhat flat. And yet as rumors once again begin to swirl about Microsoft's powerful new "Project Scorpio --" a version of the Xbox One built for 4K gaming -- we once again remember that this console does not exist in a vacuum. But these early successes might need to make Microsoft cautious, and not the other way around.
I wrote earlier in the year about the philosophical conflict between the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox Scorpio. Here we have a "console war" that looks different from the one we've become accustomed to in recent years, where functionally equivalent machines from Microsoft and Sony compete over minor differences in their libraries and capabilities. The Switch and Scorpio are genuinely different, and their manufacturers are going to try to convince consumers to buy the machines for very different reasons. The markets will be different, but not entirely so: a constellation of Venn diagrams with a meaty center. And now the early success of the Nintendo Switch puts the pressure on the Xbox Scorpio to convince us why it matters.
The Xbox Scorpio and PS4 Pro are notable machines for a lot of reasons, but they also represent an interesting bet on the modern console gamer. Because both machines share game libraries with their less advanced progenitors, they can't use any of their souped-up graphics for actual gameplay enhancements. The Xbox One and PS4 both campaigned, as new consoles tend to, on being more powerful than the 360 and PS3. But there's always the tacit assumption that more power can mean all sorts of things: more enemies on screen, bigger worlds, seamless load times, etc. That's not true of either the Xbox Scorpio or PS4 pro. They offer increased resolution and higher framerate, maybe some more effects as well. Deeper improvements are off limits. They are focused exclusively on visuals and will be purchased by people who want to spend money exclusively on visuals.
And then we've got the Nintendo Switch. Or even more appropriate to the moment, we've got The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. There's little negative to be said about this game, and little negative that has been said: it's an artfully crafted, expansive, drop-dead gorgeous piece of interactive art, up there with the greats of Nintendo's storied past. It's generated about as much ink and buzz as it's possible for a game to generate, and it's helped give the Nintendo Switch momentum to move through the summer and into the fall. It's done it on a brand-new system that's thoroughly underpowered compared to the beefier machines Sony and Microsoft are putting out but with a few tricks of its own in tow. The industry should take note, for many reasons -- there are more ways to sell hardware than with powerful chips. Even from a marketing perspective, it's easier to get people excited with a trailer for an interesting game than it is to try and communicate the concept of 4K.
In many ways, this is a phenomenon we've seen developing for years now in the indie space. Games can succeed despite a conspicuous lack of cutting-edge graphics technology, sometimes even because of a conspicuous lack of graphics technology. Until now, however, that mindset has yet to trickle up to the AAA world, which has continued barreling along roughly the same path it has been since the NES. The PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio are bets that this trend will continue: people want fancier graphics are will pay for them. The Nintendo Switch rejects that by saying people would rather have increased capability and that a limited library of curated games can go up against the expansive selections on offer from the competition. Visuals are still important -- Breath of the Wild's watercolor fantasy is gorgeous -- but it's betting that graphics technology has advanced to the point that the hardware in the Switch is good enough to make games as pretty as any on a fancier system.
I get the feeling that both Xbox Scorpio and Nintendo Switch are gunning for second console buyers in the fall. There will be a lot of people who already own a current gen console -- most likely a PS4 -- with some money to spend and curious about new hardware. At that point, they'll decide if they want a strange, new experience with at least one excellent exclusive, or a more powerful version of what they already have. In case it wasn't clear, I'd recommend the new. It doesn't mean I think the Switch is a surefire hit, mind you, just that it feels like a better bet than the Scorpio come fall. It's still hard to recommend either machine to someone who doesn't yet have a console of any kind -- the PS4 is the clear winner there -- but any console with such a narrow focus on 4K graphics just feels like it will have a hard time justifying its existence.
We'll see more soon, hopefully.
( っ･∀･)≡⊃ ﾟ∀ﾟ)・∵.