Nintendo won’t release its next console, the Switch, until March 2017, but it has a new piece of hardware out right now called the NES Classic Edition. This adorable plug-and-play device looks like a miniature Nintendo Entertainment System and comes packing 30 classic games. All you have to do is plug it into your TV, pick a game, and party like it’s 1989. It’s a great looking device, but its handful of faults are telling. They’re faults Nintendo has made many times over, and they work as reasons to temper your expectations for the Switch.
Nintendo is notorious for hardware shortages. Despite the Wii launching in 2006, many stores couldn’t keep it stocked even by Christmas 2008. Similar shortages happened with Nintendo’s Amiibo figures over the past couple of years. And with the NES Classic, once again a hot Nintendo product is nowhere to be found in retail outlets across the country.
There are two possible reasons why Nintendo might ship hardware in insufficient numbers, and neither of them are flattering to Nintendo or good for consumers. One is that Nintendo wants to create artificial scarcity to ramp up hype for its hardware. The other is that Nintendo had no clue how popular the NES Classic would be, which would indicate that whoever’s in charge of such things is bad at their job.
Either way, the result is that there are a whole lot of Nintendo fans out there who want an NES Classic but can’t get one without shelling out big bucks to resellers on eBay.
Should we expect similar hardware shortages for the Switch? Based on Nintendo’s history, don’t be surprised if we do.
Questionable design choices
Another reason to worry about the Switch is because the NES Classic has two big flaws that Nintendo could easily have avoided. One is that the controller cord is only three feet long. If you’re playing on your couch, it essentially means you have to put the base unit on the coffee table and string a long HDMI cable to your television. In other words, it’s an uncomfortable way to play a game.
The other issue is that you have to press the reset button to save your progress and change games. Even with the short controller cord, you’ll still probably have to get up out of your seat to do so. Would it have killed Nintendo to add a button to the controller that lets you change games? No, it wouldn’t have.
What does this say about the design of the Switch? That we should probably expect compromises. The Switch looks good in the reveal video, but who knows what curious design choices lay in wait for unsuspecting gamers?
The NES Classic is a relatively inexpensive machine, so it would be unfair to judge it too harshly for lacking features. Still, it’s missing some fairly obvious features that would have made it more appealing. For one, it could have come with a wider array of games. That might be asking a lot from a $60 device that comes with 30 (mostly fantastic) games, but it does have some odd omissions, like Metal Gear, Tetris, R.C. Pro-Am, and the original Contra.
An obvious way to solve that problem would be to include an online store that lets you buy other digital NES games. Unfortunately, nothing like that is available on the NES Classic. Adding a Wi-Fi card and the software to support it would have made the device more expensive, but it probably would have been worth it, considering Nintendo’s vast library of NES classics available on the Virtual Console.
All of this begs the question of what other limitations the Switch will have. One obvious answer could be that it’s not powerful enough to run upcoming third-party games like Mass Effect: Andromeda or Red Dead Redemption 2. Another could be that it has short battery life. We’ll find out once the Switch comes out in March, but if it’s like the NES Classic, it’s sure to have some unexpected limitations.
None of this is to suggest the Switch is doomed, or that it will be severely lacking in some way. But these problems are all things Nintendo has been guilty of time and again in the past. The Switch looks like a fantastic product. But if you’re hyped to the heavens for it, you might want to bring your expectations down to reality.