Why the Nintendo Switch launch line-up is disappointing
Past first party Nintendo launch line-ups
Let's begin by taking a look at the Wii, 3DS and Wii U games that Nintendo published at launch and for the following couple months (launch window).
Surprisingly enough, there is a pattern is Nintendo's own proposal when releasing a new hardware.
The easiest "slot" to identify is of course their flagship IP title, either it is Zelda game (more often than once this last decade) or a Mario one (think older consoles almost always got a brand new Mario game at launch, until Luigi showed up with the Gamecube). I pictured it on the second rows in red/pinkish background above.
Then things gets interesting, as we have got a game that is supposed to showcase the console specifities, and, in the best case scenario, to drive sales beyond the Nintendo loyalists crowd, who came as early adopters for Mario or Zelda. It's pictured in first row in a yellow background above.
Of course, Wii Sports is the best example here. Nintendo Land, much like everything else on Wii U, failed as a system-seller, even if it did a decent job at using the gamepad. In any case, 1-2 Switch falls clearly in that category.
A note regarding the 3DS: Nintendogs+Cats came at launch as a strong IP that established itself on DS. However, 3DS had its own pricing problem, and Nintendogs+cats didn't had much novelty into it. More than that, I believe that Kid Icarus Uprising what the intended launch game, as Satoru Iwata himself stated during the E3 reveal that its goal was to showcase the 3D for gameplay. But the game only came out one year later.
The third slot, pictured with a purple background, is what I call "C-tier franchises".
In that personnal and subjective ranking, the A-tier Nintendo franchises will be Mario, Zelda, and Pokémon. Then, we get B-tiers with a handfull of powerfull and known names, such as Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, or for a little while more Metroid. Such B-tiers IPs established themselves as a series, or are in a state of great success, much like Splatoon case recently.
To the point, C-tiers will be new or old IPs that have yet to prove themselves (obviously in the case of a new IP) or have seen inconsistant releases over the years (like the Excite and Pilotwings games).
In Wii's case, there was actually two games for this slot: Excite Truck and Wario Ware, who came out with inverted releases in the West and in Japan. Specifically, Europe only got both in February and March, while Excite Truck was at NA launch and Wario Ware at the japanese one. But by the end of March 2007, both games were released worldwide.
Wii in Japan also got no less than 3 other games by then: Pokemon BR, Eyeshield 21 (an US football anime IP who Nintendo secured the rights), and last bot not least, Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. Retrospectively, it was a truely rich line-up from Nintendo's teams.
It was way more simplier for the 3DS and the Wii U: While Steel Diver was a curiosity because labeled as a new "Miyamoto" game, it was Ocarina of Time 3D that was the most awaited game at that time. And the Wii U only had Sing Party from Nintendo ready to help the US launch. The launch window period was closed in March 2012 with a second-party deal with Lego City Undercover in the West (game which the exclusivity on Nintendo platforms ended in 2017, and that will also be released on... Switch sometime this year!) and Wario again in Japan.
This is with this third slot that things starts to not look good for the Switch: ARMS will not be ready (or is it by choice?) for launch anywhere, and is slated for "Spring". In term of quantity from Nintendo's first party studios, Switch is already tracking behind the Wii U.
Finally, this study of past line-ups give us a last slot, pictured in green. Wii Play (could have been inversed with Wii Sports), Pilotwings Resort (could have been Nintendogs+Cats instead) and in Switch case, the April Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Those games are usually the 4th title in Nintendo's first wave offering, and are good assets in the new library for a various reasons: Wii Play came bundled with a Wiimote, Pilotwings was another well-loved returning C-tier franchise, and Mario Kart 8, as a Wii U port, will surely be an important title for the nearly two month old Switch.
Missing someone? The pattern doesn't match in Wii U's scarse library? Actually, it match: The missing piece was the delayed Pikmin 3 who only came out in July 2013, a full quarter after the intented release, for which we got apologizes and were asked to understand.
In Switch case, the use of the Mario Kart port is perfect, and will be present in the launch window, which is an improvement at least compared to the Wii U.
A first concrete summary
Here's a first summary of the situation: Usually, we get the emblematic title (yellow) alongside Mario or Zelda (red) on day one.
With those two main titles, at least two other titles (purple and green), preferably at launch, or during the launch window otherwise.
The Switch line-up Nintendo showed us on Friday conforms itself to what BigN in-house teams usually produce before the system is released, however, unlike the rich Wii line-up, Switch only get two games at launch.
The only good news is that the powerfull Mario Kart name will come out pretty soon, but other than this Wii U enhanced port, Switch doesn't show any improvement in Nintendo's software output, and given that Breath of the Wild is a cross-gen game too (unlike New Super Mario Bros U for example), Switch 1st party launch window weight merely the same as the 3DS and Wii U ones - At least there is definitely no improvement.
Why this looks so bland?
As said, on the strict topic of quantity, this is the poorest output from Nintendo for a launch day in the last decade, possibly even since the N64; And the minimum we could have had from them for the launch window.
Secondly, the nature of some of those games.
Breath of the Wild, just like Twilight Princess, and in some extent like OoT3D, is a cross-gen game that we have been knowing about for almost three years. By its inherent nature of being a Wii U game, its impact on the line-up feels not as strong when thinking it will not be exclusive to the system and released on Wii U too...
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, is more of the same: Hugely speculated even before the first reveal trailer back in October, the Wii U ports were welcomed additions to avoid software droughts in the 2017 shedule. Even then, the "Switch is the new Wii U" because of too many of those ports was a concern expressed by some gamers.
Problem: There is only one Wii U port (so far, where is Smash for Switch?), and it doesn't come in addition of anything, it's a core part of the usual Nintendo offering.
1-2 Switch: Often under-estimated, the -yet again- usual compilation of mini-games showcasing the console features and gimmicks. 1-2 Switch is more like Wii Play than Wii Sports or Nintendo Land. And while Wii Sports took everyone by surprise and became the biggest system-seller of all time (thanks to being bundled in the West), 1-2 Switch doesn't look to come close to have that kind of appeal. Regarding Nintendo Land, even with the use of all Nintendo franchises, it didn't helped the Wii U either.
And yet without any recognizable characters, 1-2 Switch will be the only Nintendo 1st party exclusive available on March 3rd.
Finally, only ARMS is a pleasantly unexpected asset in the Switch launch. Remember the many "what's your dream line-up" threads and the infamous "New IP" lines? Here it is, ARMS. New IP, new characters, new ideas, with multiplayer component and making an (optionnal) use of the joy-con controllers features. Only con: It's not launch day, it's "Spring", and with MK8D release date in late April, ARMS will likely be available in May or June.
Thirdly, expectations: Over the last few years, dare I say decades, for each new Nintendo system coming out, people have been expecting no more software drought, Nintendo learning their mistakes, having more games ready at launch... Once again Switch doesn't live up to expectations. But even by cooling down fan dreams, there is several things to point out:
1 - The rumored -and finally true in the case of Mario Kart- Wii U ports were supposed to be quick, easy additions to Switch library; Only Mario Kart is currently shown, and as far as Nintendo showed (ARMS in Spring, Splatoon 2 in summer, Mario in the holidays), it is unlikely any other Wii U port appears for a release before July.
2 - Wii U software support has been killed by Nintendo in (speculated) 2015 to focus on Switch software (as well as 3DS related profits). With this shorter lifespan, it was fair to expect a bigger output for the new console.
3 - Not only with Wii U shorter support, but Switch was previously delayed from the holidays of 2016 to March 2017.
Such a delay was officially explained by the President Kimishima to get software ready in time.
4 - Finally, there is no question here about stacking up games like never seen before on a Nintendo system: As shown above, and in line with reasonnable expectations, Switch is merely starting with the same line-up quality and balance than Nintendo 3DS and Wii U. Even without expecting a launch window like the Wii had in Japan, what it was fair to expect is some sort of improvement over the 3DS and Wii U software offering, which havn't been able to build a sales momentum. Even Nintendo stated to seek for a better, stronger use of their IPs.
But is there any reason why we are getting this line-up from Nintendo?
Even if my goal here isn't to seek for explanations -I didn't intended to keep dragging this for so long- just a couple words on the Why?
There are only two explanations: Either it's intended by Nintendo, or it's not.
Emily Rodgers already advanced her theory about Nintendo wanting to let more space for the few third party publisher games present at launch. It's a viable theory, although unlike everything we've seen from Nintendo for the last years, I mean actually caring that much about 3rd parties, and not theorizing anymore about "software drive hardware, and it's Nintendo's job to do that before 3rd party comes".
My opinion, and maybe the most possible and simple explanation, is far more pessimist than Emily's "it's on purpose, for 3rd party pubs".
Delaying the Switch for 3 months and missing the holiday period already -and officially- implied they had hard time with software development, which is all but a good sign. Again, after Wii U's HD development shift. The new "NX" architecture or OS or API however you want to refers to is brand new, and it's understandable delays may occurs for part or even all the product line.
In any case, I don't understand how a game like Splatoon 2 isn't ready for March, when even if it's branded as a full sequel, it's also very close to a Wii U enhanced port of some sort, and we already know it's shipping in the same way than the first game, with timely updates.
The transition is done, I will conclude with the slighty changed but better line-up I would have hoped for the greater good.
Splatoon 2 should have been at launch
What to change -let's be realistic too- from this bland line-up, to something that would have positively received, and possibly enhance the chances of success for the Switch?
Outside the necessary and great but still cross-gen Breath of the Wild, the new IP ARMS, the concept demo 1-2 Switch and the Wii U port Mario Kart, the title I keep looking at is the new Splatoon sequel.
Of course, if it was possible, another lesser game would have been welcome during the launch window (the other purple "A slot"), most like Nintendo achieved once with the Wii.
But Splatoon 2 solves several shortcomings by itself within the current Switch library.
1-2 Switch will probably be a nice casual, local multiplayer experience, and Zelda is a great solo game, but what's more if you are not interested in one of those titles, or just happen to finish Zelda in a couple weeks?
Splatoon 2 is on the opposite an online multiplayer game. Of course, I do realize that Mario achieve that in the current line-up, but as a Wii U port with a late March release, it achieve a lesser impact than a potential Splatoon sequel on launch day.
Beyond that, there is a wasted opportunity to build a true "Switch community" around Splatoon 2, community who has been very lively on Wii U, with the help of the late miiverse. That kind of online momentum (always useful when establishing a new console with a new brand) now relies only on a screenshot sharing button.
Last but not least, Splatoon 2 will use the same regular updates. Back at the original, it was sometimes badly perceived that the game was shipped 'unfinished" until more stages and multiplayer modes were included. Since then, this became a bad trend in the videogame industry (Final Fantasy XV...) and it will surely be noted as such when Splatoon 2 will release.
If that game was present at launch, however, it would have turned into a pro: Regular updates after the launch day will easily provide the feel of constant novelty, forcing early adopters to continue playing the regular Splatoon updates, even without a new game release.
And overall, maintaining the impression of a healthy and fresh ecosystem.
To conclude, with the ressources of a company like Nintendo, and the 2 to 3 years development cycle of a game like Splatoon, I believe it was possible to make that game ready for a day one release. This is in my opinion with this mismanagement that the weak line-up become a true disapointment.
More ressources could have been allocated to the sequel before/alongside the last batch of Splatoon Wii U updates between Januray and July 2016 - Last summer have seen the last content update, one year before the slated release for Splatoon 2. Maybe it would have been better for the Switch to cut short in March, one year before the new console release, and earn those tiny but precious 4 months of time.