“If you’re looking to get one current-generation game system, get the Microsoft/Sony console or a PC. If in the market for two systems, though, get Nintendo’s console second.” - The Primary-Secondary Game System Methodology
Such is the rationale that has guided many a purchasing decision since at least the Nintendo Wii, the first game system where Nintendo gave up their standings in the horsepower arms race to instead corner the market on other niches. It may have arguably started even earlier, perhaps going back as far as the Nintendo 64, the first console generation in a longstanding pattern where Nintendo was not the dominant victor. In fact, speaking anecdotally from personal experience at least, beginning with the N64 era, my family always owned other competing consoles from the same generation.
With the advent of the original Playstation and then with the Playstation 2/Xbox, there was a simple reason for that: The gaming libraries of Nintendo’s competitors outnumbered what was on the Gamecube and the N64 by orders of magnitude. If one’s goal was to position themselves, in a single purchase, to play the widest array of video games on offer, getting Nintendo’s console was decidedly the wrong move.
However, Nintendo has always had a certain something—a BIG something, depending on a gamer’s interests and preferences—over the competition. Their consoles, by design, were the only ways to play Nintendo games. It often may not have been enough to make people buy their game systems over whatever Sony, Microsoft, or (even more recently) PC had on offer, but Nintendo, as a long-running powerhouse in the gaming space, could make the somewhat compelling argument that their systems might be worth owning alongside the Sony/Microsoft/PC offering.
And for the last couple of decades, that has served as the fulcrum of the Primary-Secondary Game System Methodology. The model Discerning Video Gamer, looking to get close to experiencing the wide scope of what’s on offer on a (relatively) modest budget, could do so in two purchases. The first one would be the current Xbox, current Playstation, or a gaming PC. That will tap into the vast majority of multiplatform games, with whichever system-exclusive games—the Halos, the Horizon Zero Dawns—that appeal to them more as the cherry on top.
The second purchase would be the current Nintendo system. It will not have most of the multiplatform games present on the other systems, but that is not the point; remember, that’s what the primary system is there for! Rather, the Discerning Video Gamer owns the Nintendo system to fill the Nintendo Niche: Playing the crop of Nintendo video games, along with their grab bag of unique experiences and esoteric experiments. The footprint this console makes in one’s gaming library may be small, but with the likes of Mario, Zelda, and Smash Bros. in the mix, it will be impactful.
For the gamer who wants it all but still needs their Nintendo (oh look, that’s me!), doing things this way is a boon. However, where Nintendo themselves are concerned, that has not necessarily translated to being a boon for business. In the past 20-plus years, with the last four Nintendo consoles ranging from the Nintendo 64 to the Wii U, all of them except one were utterly dwarfed by the competition.
That’s the thing about being the choice for secondary console. It may be enough to allow for a foothold, but there is also bound to be a swath of players who decide they don’t need the second console, and will be perfectly content with that choice. And if the hook for said console starts and ends with “It plays Nintendo games”...well, it should not be a big surprise that a lot of people are seemingly fine without having it, because quite frankly? That is not a strong hook.
Any walled-garden approach along those lines never is. Just ask Anime Strike, which was bankrolled by Amazon, titan of all titans, with a strategy that entirely boiled down to the “if we build it, they will come” approach of picking up most of the best anime series of last year—including a certain (pleasantly surprisingly awarded) Crunchyroll Awards Anime of the Year—and still flopped hard enough to be abandoned because the nuts and bolts of the actual service sucked.
Thus, it might even be a minor miracle that Nintendo—along with being incredibly fortunate that no other gaming company has managed to crack the handheld system market like they have—has been able to get by as long as it has in the console gaming department by largely coasting along the good will accrued as a game developer. Even then, up until last year, given the abysmal performance of the Wii U, it seemed like maybe not even that could keep them afloat for much longer. Nintendo needed a change.
That brings us to March 3, 2017, the release date of Nintendo’s latest game console, the Switch. Based off of the year since then, it makes me happy to say that they might truly, honestly actually have the goods to do precisely that.
Was it a move to jockey against the other contenders for primary game system status? If that happened to be their intention, it’ll take more time before there can be a definitive answer, but I am not sure if it’s set to work; the Switch still lacks the computational or graphical power of the others, and that is not insignificant, especially in terms of currying favor with third-party AAA developers. In the short term, however, this handheld/tablet/TV-mode hybrid has proven to be Nintendo’s best proposition for a secondary game system in a long time.
The reasons to get one as a supplement to a PS4, XBOne, or PC now go far beyond because it plays the latest crop of Nintendo games. Remarkably, that remains true even when viewed purely from a focus on game availability. Like, here are the top four most frequently-played games on my Switch within the last month.
- Graceful Explosion Machine
- Tiny Metal
- Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Count em: Just one Nintendo game, or one and a half if Tiny Metal practically being an Advance Wars clone is taken into account—25% to 37.5% of all frequent games—in the last month.
The Switch has transcended being my “Nintendo games” system to become my “Nintendo games and indies” system. I am not the only one in this regard. And that has been by design, as evidenced by the strong, continuous push by Nintendo to actively court and promote indie developers.
Hell, there is a whole lot more that I would be tempted to get if it were on the system. Even to outright idiotic “seriously considered buying DOOM again despite having it for the PS4 already“ extremes. (The announcement inspired me to finally finish the campaign instead)
Truly seeing how the Switch comes into its own as a legitimately strong choice for a secondary system, however, requires zooming out from a focus on games. In practically the entire lineage of game systems, gaming consoles have been equivalent in form to set top boxes. The Switch, pulling heavily from prior gaming tablets, fundamentally bucks that tendency, and does so in a way that makes it far more flexible and mobile than the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.
By being able to dock it in order to play on the TV as per usual, yet also having the option to play it on-the-go as either a handheld or a kickstand-propped tablet—or, with the modular separation of game system and dock, even allowing someone to transport the entire setup with relatively little hassle—the Switch has positioned itself as the gaming console that can fit into the crevices of players’ lives that the other consoles cannot penetrate.
Lately, when I’m in my living room and want to use the TV to play some games, the PS4 reigns supreme, most recently in order to go through the Dragonball FighterZ story mode piece by piece. Everything outside of that, however, is ruled by the Switch. It has become, over the past year, a companion to me in ways that no other game system—with the exception of my laptop, the predecessor to the Switch in numerous ways—could ever truly compare against.
This is the system into which I can sink a little bit of time on the couch when the TV is being used to watch or play something else. This is the system I can take from living room to bedroom if I want to play something but am still too lazy or tired to leave my bed for the day. This is the system I can bring into work on Fridays if I so desired.
This is the system, if any, that will accompany to the laundromat. This is the system I can break down and set up at my family’s home on a whim, just for the sake of getting in some rounds of Mario Kart 8 with my brothers. This is the system that I, along with five or six other people, would bring to the Halloween sleepover party at our friends’ house, just because we can.
This is the system that comes with me whenever I travel around the country for work, especially when made to do that three weeks in a row, from late last month to the first full week of March. It helps keep me sane in an airport, on a plane, or during train rides. It occupies my time whenever there is nothing to do in a server room other than wait around. It sometimes even comes with me to lunch, available to play during the spare moments before the food arrives.
This is the system that, solely from sheer flexibility, is almost always able to accommodate and fit into my life however I desire it. AND it plays Nintendo games on top of that???
Yeah, this thing is golden. It has earned its success beyond expectations up to this point. Now to see if Nintendo can keep it up throughout the second year.