Nintendo unveiled their latest home console, the Nintendo Switch. Codenamed the Nintendo NX, the Switch was long rumored to be both a home console and a handheld system, and following the debut video the end product appears to be right on with leaks and predictions. Obviously SEGAbits is not a Nintendo site, so we don’t news the debut of new hardware from other companies. But since SEGA is a third-party software developer and they have been confirmed to be supporting the Switch I thought an op-ed was in order. Based on SEGA’s past with Nintendo hardware, what can we expect from the company? How could SEGA’s recent internal changes affect how they approach the Switch?
When SEGA first announced their shift to third-party developer, the concept was that SEGA’s internal studios would develop games for the hardware that appeared most suitable for them. The Japan friendly Playstation 2 saw Virtua Fighter, Rez, while the Xbox’s graphical powers attracted the likes of Smilebit. Nintendo’s GameCube, meanwhile, saw several kid friendly titles from Sonic Team and Amusement Vision while SEGA also made an effort to publish Sonic the Hedgehog games on all major consoles, as well as select all ages games. Still, for many kids in the mid-2000’s Sonic became synonymous with Nintendo.
With the introduction of the Wii came a unique control scheme that lead to several SEGA games that remained exclusive to the Nintendo platform, again with Sonic Team and Amusement Vision being the major developers as well as ports of lightgun arcade games and published games by Platinum Games and external studios developing Marvel games. Meanwhile, the PS3 and Xbox 360 shared many SEGA and externally developed licensed games while SEGA continued to release Japan-friendly titles like the Shining series and Yakuza exclusively to Sony’s console. SEGA’s efforts weren’t as siloed as the previous generation, but there were still a reason for SEGA fans to own each console.
The latest generation has been unique, as the releases of the Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One occurred around the time of SEGA’s restructuring. The days of internal development teams favoring a specific console appear to be over, and SEGA has whittled their internal teams down with each team focusing on specific franchises. There have been far fewer new IPs, especially for home consoles, and as of recent the home console SEGA seems to favor the most is the PS4. Prior to SEGA’s restructuring, a deal with Nintendo ensured the Wii U three exclusive Sonic games that included Sonic Lost World, Sonic Boom, and the latest Mario & Sonic title. However, since SEGA’s restructuring the Sonic Boom brand has been trimmed down and the once exclusive Sonic Lost World is now on PC. As far as other Wii U SEGA titles, the company has not done much by way of either exclusives or multi-platform titles, even going so far as cancelling the Wii U version of Aliens: Colonial Marines. Despite SEGA seemingly ignoring Nintendo’s current home console, SEGA has shown the 3DS a lot of love with titles like 7th Dragon III, the 3D Classics games and Sonic Boom: Fire & Ice.
Coming out of the drought of 2015, 2016 saw SEGA recovering from their restructuring and games are now releasing out at a more steady rate. However, the Wii U and Xbox One seem to be largely ignored, with the PS4, Vita and 3DS being the hardware to own if you want recent SEGA titles. Looking ahead to 2017, the 3DS releases are winding down considerably, the PS4 is seeing the most new games, and the Xbox One should be seeing a few multi-platform titles. But what of the Nintendo Switch?
What I find so interesting about the Nintendo Switch is that it really isn’t that gimmicky of a console. Sure you can play it on your home TV or take it with you, but when you are simply sitting and playing the thing it basically functions as a traditional video game machine. Even the PS4 and Xbox One, by comparison, have more gimmicks by way of the share buttons, voice commands and optional motion control features. The Switch likely will not utilize any motion controls and given the home setup does not see a second screen in use, it is doubtful touch controls will come into play. It appears that the Switch is the first Nintendo console since the GameCube to not call for developers to create games that must adapt to new ways to play. So what does this mean for SEGA?
I’ll take two approaches here in my opinion on where SEGA could head with the Switch. The first will be the negative approach. The Wii U was a disaster for third party developers, including SEGA. The exclusivity deal for Sonic did not pay off for gamers or for either Nintendo or SEGA. The Yakuza rereleases did not sell well. Consumers are likely hesitant to back the Switch given how Nintendo was so quick to switch (lol) consoles on them. SEGA could take this into account and not put too much into the Switch at launch. The aforementioned lack of control gimmicks means that SEGA, and other third party developers, don’t have a real reason to create exclusive titles that show off the new tech. No Wiimote friendly Sonic storybook games, no second screen wisp gimmicks. At most, SEGA would simply need to port their next major Sonic game to the console – which they are already doing – and wait until the console is a confirmed success before doing anything else.
Given the console’s portability, gamers are skeptical of the Switch’s power. Given both Xbox One and PS4 have pro models on the horizon, it is likely that the Switch will not be more powerful than the competitors in the home. However, the portability could make the Switch the most powerful handheld on the market. It is also unknown how easy it will be for third party developers to port games, but again it is worth noting that the Wii U burned several third party developers and Nintendo will have to try extra hard to ease concerns and bring them back. Sure there is the massive partners list, but SEGA being on such a list does not ensure a number of SEGA titles on the console.
Now for the positive take. Without gimmicks, the Switch removes the need for developers like SEGA to have to develop titles that are exclusive because of special controls. The rumored hardware may not be the most powerful, but it could allow SEGA to develop more multi-platform games that can appear on the PS4, Xbox One and Switch. Project Sonic 2017 is proof that the company is already attempting this. Switch owners may not see as many SEGA exclusives, but it could also mean that they will see more titles that were once only released to the Xbox One and PS4. The Switch versions of games may not be the most graphically impressive, but the Switch will allow for on-the-go handheld gaming of SEGA home console games. The Switch would be the only way to play Project Sonic 2017 on the train, for example.
Dipping back into the negative, it should be noted that while Nintendo may still keep the 3DS alive through 2017, it is likely that Nintendo and third party developers will slowly abandon the hardware. This would mean that we will see a lot less games developed with the intention of being handheld. Titles like 7th Dragon III or Rhythm Thief would disappear and developers like SEGA would focus on downloadable titles like Sonic Mania and Tembo, mobile games like War Pirates and Sonic Dash or major console games like Yakuza 6 and Project Sonic 2017. On one hand it is one less development tier for SEGA to focus on, allowing them to shift resources to other tiers. On the other hand, fans like myself who love a good handheld platformer or RPG specifically built for handheld gaming would be seeing a lot less of these titles. Would SEGA, and other developers, keep the handheld aspect of the Switch in mind? Or will a home console development mentality prevail?
Until more is revealed of the Switch, namely the handheld battery life and price as well as potential control gimmicks (if any) I cannot speak much more to it. Personally, I think the at home and handheld idea is a smart one, but it is not anything new (SEGA Nomad, anybody) and at the end of the day it is the price and battery life that will dictate if the Switch will be a winner for Nintendo and a worthwhile piece of hardware for SEGA’s games. What are your thoughts on the Switch? How would you like SEGA to approach the hardware? Sound off in the comments below!