It's been quite a year for Nintendo.
The company's new Switch console launched to massive success, selling close to 1 million units in its first month and generating hit games such as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Arms. While the Wii U console suffered from a relatively small user base and a thin game lineup, the Nintendo Switch feels like a return to form for the Big N.
But can the company keep up the momentum? At E3 2017, I chatted with Nintendo PR director Marc Franklin about the company's plans to keep you glued to your Switch every month, as well as how much life is left in the aging Nintendo 3DS handheld.
Marc Franklin: So, you're playing Switch?
Tom's Guide: Oh yeah, absolutely.
Franklin: What are you playing on your Switch?
TG: Lately, I've been playing a lot of Arms; I reviewed the game, so that was a lot of fun. Obviously Zelda, which I'm still very early on in because I just got my Switch very recently. A lot of Mario Kart 8, Ultra Street Fighter II ... I'm a huge fighting-game fan, so that's really nice to have on the go.
Franklin: And where are you playing your Switch?
TG: It's funny you ask — I feel like a walking Switch commercial sometimes because I'm the guy that's always trying to get a Switch session going. I've taken it out at bars, at parking lots, so I'm kind of using it anywhere I can.
Franklin: That's great. We hear a lot of things about people playing Switch on subways, or they're taking it to the restaurant. They're playing while they have dinner. I heard a story the other day about some guy who was taking his Switch on the subway, and he offered a Joy-Con to a stranger to play a game with him, so that's great. That's the absolute promise of Nintendo Switch.
TG: I think it's delivering. Now that it's been a little over three months, what's the general reception to Switch been, from your perspective?
Franklin: We're really happy about the reception to Switch. What we said when we started it is that the Nintendo Switch is the power of a home console system combined with the mobility of a handheld. We're seeing it come to play as what you just said. Those were great examples, because those are the things that we're seeing people experience with the Switch in real time.
The other thing to know is just that drumbeat of games coming out for the system. So at launch, we had Zelda, a phenomenal game — it's just incredible, a really deep game. And then really quickly after that, we came out with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. So you know, people love Mario Kart, and this is a great way to play it on the go. We're launching Arms this [month], and then quickly following up with Splatoon 2 in July, and then a number of other hits through the year, which are bookended by Super Mario Odyssey. So there's virtually a big Switch title almost every month.
TG: You mentioned Super Mario Odyssey, which seems like the marquee title this holiday. What else should people know about it?
Franklin: Over these last 15 years, we've been doing more traditional Mario adventures … great, great Mario adventures like New Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario 3D World. The development team determined that it was about time that we get back to a sandbox-style game like Sunshine or Super Mario 64, so they came up with Super Mario Odyssey. This is a fantastic game because it's got so many interesting things that are happening inside the game world. It's an environment where there's no real set path. There are obviously objectives and challenges that players go through. But you can go anywhere, and you've got all these different elements to explore.
There's the Metro Kingdom when you're in New Donk City; there's the Sand Kingdom; there's a Wooded Kingdom that was shown during Treehouse Live — each one totally different, and lots of secrets and hidden items in there. And there's the new capture mechanic, which basically lets you throw your hat at an enemy and become that enemy as part of a power-up. So yeah, there's just so many different things going on in that new game. We're really excited that it's coming.
TG: Looking past 2017, you guys unveiled new Kirby and Yoshi games, and obviously the big one was Metroid Prime 4. Can you talk a bit about the future of the Switch lineup?
Franklin: One of the things that we've said at the start of Switch was that it was really important for Nintendo to have a steady drumbeat of games this year and going into the future, and we firmly believe in that strategy. We just announced that Metroid Prime 4 is in development. We also announced a new core Pokémon RPG that's coming to Switch. Lot of exciting stuff just right there.
The Kirby game is fantastic, and Kirby is such a great character. One of the great things about that game is that it’s multiplayer up to four people. But you can also, as a single player, capture three other enemies, and they become part of your team. Yoshi is [made by] the same team that made Yoshi's Woolly World, and in that game, you can see a lot of textures and textiles — they love to leverage unique environments. There's also third party. So here, we've got FIFA 18, we've got Skyrim coming to Nintendo Switch with a few Zelda items in the game,and we talked about Mario + Rabbids. We've got great first-party content, we've got good support from third-party and we feel like we've got a good pace of software here and into the future.
TG: Metroid Prime 4 is a game fans have wanted for years, and it was definitely one of the big surprises of E3. Is there anything more you can tell us about it?
Franklin: It's going to return to its first-person adventure roots, it'll have a new storyline and that's about all I can say right now [laughs]. Not a lot of other information we can provide, but I'm hoping that people are happy just knowing that that game is coming.
TG: I wanted to briefly touch on Nintendo 3DS. How much life does that system have left now that the Switch is in the picture?
Franklin: Well, we're really happy about the Nintendo 3DS family of systems just because there's so much going on with it. We have new games launching all the time, including Miitopia, Hey! Pikmin, and Ever Oasis, which are coming very soon. We just announced Metroid: Samus Returns. Next month, we have a brand-new hardware system in the family called new Nintendo 2DS XL. So we are fully committed and dedicated to that line of systems.
Also, just to note, out of all dedicated video game systems, the 3DS was the only system that had year-over-year growth last year, and it’s up to 66 million units worldwide. So there's a big user base, and we're excited about new content coming.
TG: Getting back to Switch itself, has there been any negative feedback or criticism of the console that you guys are working to address?
Franklin: You know, the reception that we've gotten so far has been fairly positive. People talk about wanting new IPs [intellectual properties]. We're showing new IPs with Arms launching now and others that have launched previously. People want to see third-party [content], so we've got third party coming to the console. So we have taken a lot of feedback from consumers, and we're really applying it to the console.
TG: Are there any new features planned for the system?
Franklin:: We have the Nintendo Switch Online service that we'll be launching in 2018 that will include connection to a smart device application. Chat will be available as soon as Splatoon 2, and then a fully featured version of the app will be available in 2018.
But most of the other features of the system are dependent upon what the game developers do with it, right? And that's the beauty of the system.The fact that you can take the system anywhere with you is what is garnering interest from different developers and publishers. Like FIFA — FIFA has been traditionally a home-console-based experience. Now, you can take that to the park with your buddies and have competitions right there on the park bench. That's phenomenal, and I think that's why people are coming to Switch.
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