From a technical perspective, the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Con controllers are probably the most impressive peripherals the company has ever produced. They support both traditional and motion control schemes, can function with and without a direct connection to the Switch, and pack enough bells and whistles to make Steve Jobs jealous inside a tiny form factor. While the necessity of Nintendo’s hardware development teams is often questioned, the talent and capabilities of said teams are never in doubt.
That said, with system costs being a large concern for potential buyers, I can’t help but wonder: How much tech is too much for a simple controller, and has Nintendo crossed that line with its Joy-Cons?
While gamers have been impressed with the Joy-Cons thus far, a lot of people are blanching as the proposed price point: $50 for an individual controller, and $80 for a matching set. This is a sizeable step up from the $20 Wii Remote (but also a decent drop from the $140 needed for a replacement Wii U gamepad), and it begs the question “Is a Joy-Con really $30 better than a Wii Remote?”
After looking at a spec list for the Joy-Cons, my answer would be “Not really.”
My critique of the controllers is based on two of its biggest new features:
- “Haptic feedback” (i.e. HD Rumble): Nintendo is really pushing this feature, claiming that the feedback will be so precise that you’ll be able to count the number of ice cubes in a virtual glass. That’s neat and all, but how exactly is this going to improve the average gamer’s experience?
We already know that Zelda: Breath of the Wild won’t make use of HD Rumble, and I struggle to see how it would meaningfully impact a game like Super Mario Odyssey (beyond some general atmospheric shaking that wouldn’t require HD Rumble’s precision). Mario Kart 8 Deluxe might now be able to adjust its feedback based on which side of your kart is scraping the wall, but seriously, how much does that add to the gameplay? (And since each controller has its own rumble tech, why couldn’t this be done with non-HD rumble?)
Beyond 1-2 Switch (which I’ll talk about later), I really don’t see the point of HD Rumble.
- The Motion IR Camera. According to CNet, the Right Joy-Con contains a camera that “senses the shape, motion and distance of objects in front of it.” I ask again: How is this actually going to improve my gaming experience? Amiibos are already handled by the controller’s NFC sensors, so unless they are specifically shaped for special in-game purposes, this doesn’t affect them at all. Besides that, I can’t think of any way to incorporate real objects into a traditional game in way that doesn’t seem tacked-on or contrived.
Again, 1-2 Switch seems to be the exception to this, with twenty-eight minigames specifically designed for the Joy-Con’s technology. Here’s my problem with this: 1-2 Switch doesn’t look fun. At all. Not one little bit. Bowling, tennis, and baseball all seemed interesting at the time of the Wii’s launch. Cow milking, shaving, and baby rocking? Not so much. Even the sword and wizard duels wouldn’t hold my attention for very long. If 1-2 Switch is the game that’s supposed to demonstrate the power and potential of the Switch, then color me unimpressed.
None of this would matter, of course, if the price point was more palatable. Packing HD Rumble and an IR camera into a $20 Joy-Con would elicit nothing but a shrug and a yawn from yours truly. Stuffing it into a $50 package, on the other hand, generates a raised eyebrow and a six-hundred-words-and-counting blog post.
Now, suppose Nintendo had chosen to ditch the IR camera and settle for a standard rumble system. Suddenly:
- Joy-Cons become cheaper to produce, and their MSRP comes down ($5? $10? $20?) to a more reasonable number.
- The drop could carry over to the Switch bundle, and suddenly a $299 system becomes a $289/$279/$259 system, and becomes a smaller pill for budget-conscious gamers to swallow.
- 1-2 Switch disappears, to the disappointment of absolutely no one.
Personally, I think Nintendo should have focused on the Switch’s home/portable console feature as its main selling point, and presented the Switch at a lower price point that would have been more accessible to consumers. As things stand now, I predict the Joy-Con’s shiny new features will end up like the 3DS’s marginalized 3D option: Unused, unsupported, and eventually forgotten…and if the added cost puts off potential Switch consumers, Nintendo will learn the hard way that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.