Why the Switch is the Indie Console We Needed

Nintendo has always had an interesting place in the home gaming market. Originally founded as a playing card company in 1889, no one ever expected that they would also be the linchpin that relaunched the home gaming market, which had crashed in 1983. Over the years, the company has released systems that, while not always the most technically advanced, inspired a devoted following from gamers everywhere.

From the Nintendo Entertainment System through the Nintendo 64, Nintendo’s goal was to innovate video games in anyway they could. 1996’s Super Mario 64 showed gamers just what could be done with 3D graphics, while games like Bubsy 3D, released later that year, showed some developers just hadn’t figured out 3D yet.

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Because of their longevity in the gaming community, many people who grew up playing Nintendo games in their youth are now of the working age. Some are working as independent game developers. Inspired by the 8 and 16-bit games of yesteryear, developers are now producing content that serves as a love letter to the games of their past.

But Nintendo hasn’t always been the nicest to independent gaming. In the past, they’ve made moves to hinder the homebrew scene, which served as the early days of indie gaming.

Cartridges Everywhere

When the Nintendo 64 was released in 1996, the Japanese company surprised many by sticking with cartridges for their games, as opposed to discs, like Sony was doing with the PlayStation.

Nintendo defended this decision, as using cartridges for their system severely reduced load times. Trying to load data on a disc would take longer at times, depending on the content that needed to be loaded.

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The truth of the matter is that Nintendo really chose cartridges for a different reason, though. Nintendo chose cartridges as their chosen form of media for the Nintendo 64 because it would severely curtail piracy. CDs are easy to buy in bulk. It would have made pirating a Mario game much easier in the early 90s than a proprietary cartridge would. Nintendo has always been about protecting their IP and that has led to some poor decisions over the years. It has even managed to hurt a few consoles that could have been great.

When Nintendo finally made the switch to disc-based games with the GameCube’s release in 2001, the company did it their way. The GameCube discs are a fraction of the size of regular optical discs with decreased storage to match. Sure, the 1.5 gigabytes of data that you could store were a step up from the Nintendo 64 cartridges that capped out at 512 megabytes for the largest of them. But that still couldn’t hold a candle to the PlayStation 2. PlayStation 2 discs were DVDs and could hold amounts of data ranging from 4.7 gigabytes to 8.5 gigabytes.

Going Digital

When Nintendo finally decided to add the ability to download and purchase digital games on their systems, the implementation was less than ideal, but it was something. On the Wii U in particular, I can remember seeing a decent number of independently developed games show up on the eShop, even picked up a few.

Nintendo extended this functionality to the 3DS. It was interesting to see what kinds of games developers released. The 3DS is a system that I am proud to own. I can see myself buying games for it for the foreseeable future. But it isn’t a perfect system. The 3D gimmick wore off quick for me and the system isn’t exactly comfortable for prolonged gaming sessions, even with the XL model. But for quite a while, the 3DS was the best way to pick up indie games and take them on the go.

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When it comes to indie games, I will always think of the PC as ground zero for everything. The PC is a great testing ground for developers to throw their games on Steam and see how they sell. With programs like Steam Early Access, developers can even get feedback from gamers while they are still making their game.

Like all good things, though, this came to an end. The indie scene outgrew just the PC community and has taken the console world by storm. PCs and laptops weren’t satisfying gamers anymore. They wanted to play on their TVs and on the go.

I can’t speak for anyone but myself when I say this, but playing a full-fledged game on a smartphone is not the best experience you can have. It’s doable, but it is going to be frustrating and it is going to hurt.

And then Nintendo solved the issue….

Enter the Switch

Nintendo has never released a console like the Switch. It’s a fun system to take on the go, despite being larger than a 3DS, while also serving as a fully functional home console. The ability to play games like Breath of the Wild on my TV before undocking the system and taking it on the go is something that will never get old. It’s like gaming for the modern nomad.

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Nintendo’s first party output hasn’t been the greatest on the Switch, as the console is still finding its legs. Luckily, third-party developers have been present to get games on the console that don’t feel trimmed down compared to their PS4 and Xbox One brethren. But there’s one other power that Nintendo has relied on heavily in the early life-cycle of the Switch: indie games.

Indie Games are Playing with Power

Since the launch of the Switch, Nintendo has held several Nintendo Directs dedicated to Nindies, or indie games brought to the Switch. In the earliest days of the system, games like The Binding of Isaac and Shovel Knight showed that indie games would have a place on this console. The number of indie games that actually came to the system, however, was something no one could have predicted.

It’s not uncommon for the company to announce upward of 20 independently developed games during a Nindies showcase. More importantly, these games are selling very well. At the time of writing, the number one game on the Switch eShop is Stardew Valley, a Harvest Moon inspired game that has been heaped with praise since its release. Number two on that list is Golf Story. Five of the top ten best-selling games on the eShop charts can be considered independent games. Nintendo’s own games show up on the tail end of the list.

I can’t say that this is surprising to me, though. In the modern day gaming market, independent developers have a very important place in the market. They are there to offset the bad karma put out more and more frequently by triple A developers. For every game restricted by a season pass, features pay-to-win content, or is ridiculously buggy, an indie game is waiting for you.

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The reason for this is obvious: an indie game has more to lose if it flops on launch. For some developers, this could mean a loss of a job. When a triple A studio releases a game that isn’t up to snuff, a few people are held accountable, but the game is usually just written off.

The Indie Game Console We Need

These last few months have led me to one conclusion: Nintendo has unintentionally made the indie game console that gamers have always wanted. The unique design of the Switch means that gamers can play their favorite indie games on their commute or break, then easily switch to playing the game at home after a long day. That’s a dream come true for indie game fans.

A lot of the games selling gangbusters on the Switch are tried and true classics, but gamers are also showing how much faith they’re willing to put in an indie game.

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I admit that I haven’t always been the best indie game fan, opting to pick up games as a part of Humble Bundles or on Steam sales, but that has changed to an extent for me. I’m now more excited to pick up the Switch due to the console’s inherently portable nature. A game like Stardew Valley isn’t something I want to be tied to a PC desk while playing. It’s a game I would definitely be more comfortable playing sprawled out in bed, relaxing, not unlike the way I’ve played Animal Crossing for many years.

I don’t know if Nintendo intended to target the indie market the way they did. But they managed to hit the nail on the head perfectly.

What do you think of the Nintendo Switch as an indie gaming machine? Do you enjoy using one or do you prefer to stick to a PC? Let us know in the comments below.

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