Happy Birthday, Switch

Age of the Geek Column: Happy Birthday, Switch.

It doesn't seem like it's possible, but Nintendo's latest video game system is already a year old. Seems like only yesterday that I got up early to stand in line to get my hands on the limited supply of release systems.

I'm rarely an early adopter on video game consoles. In fact, the only other time I've gone out of my way to buy a system on its release date was the Sega Dreamcast in 1999. Getting a launch day system can be a risky endeavor. The first year of a console's life can be littered with hazards. The PlayStation 2's early days were marked by a sparse selection of underwhelming games as developers learned how to work with the system's architecture and first models of the Xbox 360 created many a frustrated gamer as hardware failures led to the infamous "red ring of death."

Often it is wise to wait a while to see how things will shake out, but in the case of the Nintendo Switch, the allure of "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" was enough to justify the blind leap.

And so far I've not been disappointed. Defying all expectations, as much as one can realistically expect from the wildly unpredictable Nintendo in the first place, the Switch has been a hit.

In just the first year we've seen not just a revolutionary new Zelda game, but "Mario Odyssey" has set a new bar for Mario's 3-D adventures. In between, Nintendo has padded the Switch's library with definitive re-releases of Wii-U games that never found the audience they deserved the first time around. While it may be frustrating for Nintendo loyalists to be asked to buy games like "Pokken Tournament" and "Mario Kart 8" all over again for a new system, it's a great deal for the millions of people that passed on the Wii-U the first time around.

And even Nintendo's third party support is stronger than it's been for years. Bethesda has wasted no time porting "Skyrim," "Wolfenstein 2: The New Order," and "Doom" to the Nintendo handheld, which goes a long way towards filling in the gap left by Nintendo's generally kid friendly offerings.

More surprisingly though, the Switch has developed a thriving library of inexpensive indie titles. Pixel art platformers and old-school RPGs a plenty can be found on the Nintendo e-shop. The Switch, being a portable system, makes it an ideal console for playing these retro titles on the move.

Which is not to say that the Switch isn't without its shortcomings.

Ironically, considering the Switch's success with retro style games, Nintendo has yet to capitalize on their own incredible catalog of classic titles. While the Wii and Wii-U before it featured a Virtual Console that let gamers enjoy old-school games on their current system, such a feature is nowhere to be found on the Switch.

Surely Nintendo sees the demand. After all, they literally couldn't make enough NES and SNES Classics to satisfy the market's desire to buy "Super Mario Bros. 3" and "Super Metroid" again. The Switch is the most obvious place in a world to sell these games and yet they are nowhere to be found.

In fact, the closest Nintendo has come is the promise of classic games being temporarily available to members of their yet-to-be rolled out online service. Outside of the ability to play online multiplayer games, a feature currently being offered at no charge, the rotating selection of games so far appears to be the only perk of subscribing to the paid service

Online features in general are sparse for the system. When it comes to the Internet, Nintendo has been roughly a decade behind the times since the days of the 56k modem and the Switch is no exception. While its competitors offer live streaming functionality and a full toolbox of social tools, the best the Switch offers is the ability to upload 30 second clips to Facebook and Twitter.

The lack of support for non-gaming features is also a glaring omission. These days one expects that anything with a wi-fi connection to play Netflix or YouTube, but such is not the case for the Switch.

Then there's the elephant in the room. The Switch's limited power. While Sony and Microsoft are releasing upgraded models of the current systems in an effort to keep pace with PC graphics, Nintendo is already struggling to squeeze modern games onto their little system.

Some developers have already opted out of releasing their games on the Switch because of the difficulty in getting their games to run properly. Others have had to compromise framerates and graphics to get the job done.

But this is nothing new for Nintendo. The Switch is never going to run the visual masterpieces that the AAA industry produces, but Nintendo themselves has never failed to make their games look great.

If Nintendo continues to play to their strengths, and works on the weaknesses they can realistically improve on, they can make sure that the Switch gets a long and healthy life.

Travis Fischer is a news writer for Mid-America Publishing and already owns three more Switch games than he thought he'd have by now.