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Console War VI Part 4 March 19, 2020

Posted by Maniac in Console War, Histories.
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As we entered 2017, the PS4 was dominating the sales charts over the Xbox One, but Microsoft was showing no sign they were throwing in the towel. Nintendo, on the other hand, was. Sales of the Wii U console were in the toilet, despite its incredible library of exclusive games and the imminent release of Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Nintendo was preparing to shift their focus to their next console, the NX. Due to the fact it would not be released in time for Christmas 2016, Nintendo took the unprecedented step to not reveal their console at E3 that year. Since E3’s foundation, no new console had ever missed an E3 showing and after the Wii U’s poor sales performance, many mainstream pundits wrote the NX off as Nintendo’s final product just as they had with the Wii nearly a decade earlier. We would find the answer very soon as Nintendo held a press event at the start of 2017. Their topic would be the NX.

Nintendo took the stage to announce the Nintendo NX was going to be coming to retail as the…Nintendo Switch. But what was the Nintendo Switch? Was it a console follow up to the Wii U or a handheld follow up to the 3DS? It was actually both. As the console was presented on stage, it appeared to be a fully functional tablet with detachable motion controllers. Then, it was placed into a charging dock where the game being played moved over to display on the adjacent HDTV. The Press dropped their jaws. There was no latency and no loading time in the transition between tablet and television, and Nintendo also showed the transition from television to tablet was just as seamless.

But what about the games? The Nintendo Switch would launch with a series of exclusive titles and ports of beloved games from the Wii U. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which had already been shown on the Wii U, would get a native Switch version at launch. Mario Kart 8 from the Wii U would also get ported to the Switch at launch as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. This Deluxe version included all of the Wii U version’s DLC and some new features. This was good because the Switch was completely incompatible with the Wii and Wii U’s games and controllers. The Switch didn’t even have a disc drive, so retail games would ship on game cards, similar to the carts used for the DS and 3DS. It also had 32GB of internal memory, but its memory could be expanded if the user installed a microSD which had a transfer speed of 65-95Mb/s. The downside was the Nintendo Switch, even docked, could only produce a maximum 1080p image, making 4K UHD gaming out of reach for the Switch. Even after all that, the final price of the Nintendo Switch in box with controllers and a dock would be just $299 US.

The Nintendo Switch released in March 2017 and sold like hotcakes. Within no time it even surpassed the known sales of the Xbox One. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was a must-own launch title (as expected) but one of the games brought over from the Wii U, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, was a big system seller and became the de facto multiplayer title for the Switch at launch. Players like myself were impressed with the Switch, but we were looking forward to some of the later games that were announced for the system including Octopath Traveler, Splatoon 2 and (of course) Super Mario Odyssey. No new Pokémon game was announced for the Switch, but Pokémon’s arcade fighting game Pokkén Tournament would get a Switch port in the form of Pokkén Tournement DX, and it would include three new characters that until that point had only been seen in the arcade version.

E3 2017 came and Microsoft finally revealed the final specs of the 4K-native Xbox One console they had previously been teasing as Project Scorpio and its name, the Xbox One X. This 4K native X console would feature an improved GPU and CPU and promised superior performance over the PS4 Pro bundled into a console that would have the capability to play 4K Blu-Ray movies on disc. It would be coming in November 2017 for a price of $499 US, a $100 premium over the PS4 Pro. Not a single first-party title was released alongside the Xbox One X to show the possibilities of the increased horsepower, but Microsoft did release a free patch for Halo 5 near the X’s launch to bring the game 4K 60fps support on the X. Other third-party developers also took the time leading up to the X’s launch to prepare patches for multiplatform games they already enhanced for the PS4 Pro including Final Fantasy XV. Since the Xbox One X had an improved CPU as well as a GPU, Microsoft assured players their new console’s performance was just as good as the PS4 Pro, and in some cases might be a little better. That was good since it had a nearly $100 premium over the PS4 Pro.

While few PS4 owners chose to trade in their original PS4s for the newer Slim model, many of them were more impressed by the Pro and made the more expensive upgrade to the 4K console. Sony was even nice enough to add a data-transfer feature into the PS4’s operating system using the console’s Ethernet port. People who chose to upgrade to the Slim or Pro from an earlier PS4 found the transfer process painless if time consuming. At a base price of $399 for the Pro, which was still $100 cheaper than the Xbox One X, PS4 games across the board looked so much better on it. In fact, Sony partnered with companies like EA and UbiSoft to make sure that their third-party titles could take full advantage of the Pro’s improved GPU, so games like Battlefront II and Watch_Dogs 2 would launch with full 4K Pro support when they released. By E3 2017, Sony’s entire lineup of first-party titles including Detroit: Become Human, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy would all preview in 4K on the show floor. While The Last of Us Part II would need more development time, all of the other games I listed shipped with PS4 Pro native support, and those games looked fantastic.

After the Nintendo Switch launched, Nintendo allowed its early adopters the chance to play their multiplayer games online for free, but they needed to sign up for an online account because the fact it was free was merely temporary. However, games like Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe had great online functionality gamers enjoyed. However, even gamers who loved their Switch were getting more and more frustrated by the Switch’s limited features. Game saves could not be backed up, which for a handheld (that could be lost or dropped) was a serious issue. Downloadable classic games from Nintendo’s back catalog (which was a big reason why I bought a Wii and a 3DS back in the day) were not offered for sale on the Switch’s digital marketplaces. On top of all of that, The Pokémon Company had not yet announced if an all-new Pokémon game would be coming to the Switch. Pokémon games pushed Nintendo handheld sales unlike any other release, and since the Switch functioned as both a handheld and as a console, I could not imagine a better design for a platform a Pokémon game to be released on than the Switch.

Nintendo assured players this issue would be rectified when they launched their premium online service, Nintendo Switch Online. When it launched, it would allow subscribers to resume playing multiplayer games online, and offer them new features including cloud save sync for selected games and access to a select catalog of NES games. At merely $20 per year, the price Nintendo asked for put the $60 a year price for Xbox Live Gold and PlayStation Plus to shame. In 2019, The Pokémon Company finally announced an all-new Pokémon generation would be coming to the Nintendo Switch which would use Nintendo Network for online functionality, but that is a very long story that is not going to be addressed in this article.

As this generation’s console war comes to a close, the winners are clear. Sony’s PS4 is the winner, Nintendo Switch (despite being a late entry) receives the Silver, and the Xbox One comes in third with the Bronze. The Nintendo Wii U can be considered as coming in 4th place, and receives no medal.

So how did the PS4 come out on top? A few reasons, but I think it can be boiled down to price and superior first party offerings. Microsoft made a lot of mistakes this generation and it cost them deeply. At launch, the PS4 was $100 cheaper than the Xbox One and ran multiplaform games at better performance. The exclusive titles Microsoft hoped would help the Xbox One overcome that price premium were critical flops full of microtransactions gamers were not interested in playing. Great exclusive titles like Quantum Break and Sunset Overdrive were not considered enough to put an Xbox One in people’s homes. Those games would have to make up for lost sales when they released on the PC. After third parties looked over just how much they were losing in sales by being Xbox One exclusive and Microsoft did away with the Kinect, no third-party publishers were willing to make exclusive titles for the Xbox One by 2016. This was devastating for the console.

In 2019, Microsoft did their best to cut their losses by releasing a new version of the Xbox One S that lacked a disc drive. This was arguably one of the dumbest calls Microsoft has ever made for two reasons. One, the 4K Blu-Ray Disc player was a major reason why people bought the Xbox One S in the first place, and a disc-free console essentially removed what was the ONLY positive the console had over the PS4 Pro. On top of that, at the same time the disc-free Xbox One S reached retail at a price of $250 US…it had to compete with the thousands of Xbox One S consoles that were already on most retailers shelves…that were at the same time selling at discounted prices far below $250. The budget-minded gamers Microsoft was trying to attract with a disc-free Xbox One S would not pay for a $250 console when they could pay for a superior one that had a major feature they wanted for $50-100 less!

Meanwhile, PS4’s own exclusive titles were considered some of the finest games of the entire generation and Sony refused to fill them with microtransactions. God of War (2016) and Marvel’s Spider-Man went on to critical acclaim and even though it is still too early to tell, could be considered games that will be talked about for years to come. Microsoft can’t say the same about the exclusive titles that were released on the Xbox One. Even Halo 5: Guardians, has been considered by Halo fans to be a disappointment and the worst game of the franchise. Even though the Xbox One X could deliver superior performance to the PS4 Pro on multiplatform titles, by the time it released in 2017 it was far too late in the console war for anyone to care. Now, you could probably find a Xbox One X at retail for $299, whereas the PS4 Pro still commands a full price of $399, and people are still buying it.

As for Nintendo, the success of the Switch was unprecedented in this generation, but its late entry and the already massive existing install base for the PS4 kept them out of contention for the Gold, Nintendo still needs to be commended. They have proven time and time again when they’re more interested in creating a product that can enter the console war at a unique angle, they will succeed. They did it with the DS and Wii to great success, and now the Nintendo Switch is doing it again. The failure of the Wii U will go down as a black mark against the company, but with the Switch it is clear they learned from each of the Wii U’s failures to release an incredible product.

In 2019, Nintendo released the Nintendo Switch Lite, a slimmer Nintendo Switch tablet with integrated controllers and a longer battery life. It was only $199 US but it had a lot of downsides. It had no TV-Out functionality, making the Switch feature of something called the Switch moot. Its integrated controllers lacked rumble, making it incompatible with some launch titles and putting some hurdles into players interested in couch gaming. However its price, size and battery life were major strengths and the Switch Lite sold as a popular alternative to the Switch. Nintendo didn’t care what their customers were buying they were making a profit on each Switch that was sold.

And that is where we will wrap this generation’s console war. As I type these words out Microsoft and Sony have already revealed their successors to the Playstation 4 and Xbox One, and if all goes according to plan we will find those consoles on shelves by this Christmas. There have also been rumors a 4K Switch might be in development, but those are unconfirmed at this time. Stay tuned, because in the next generation we will be pitting the Playstation 5 against the Xbox Series X, and the Nintendo Switch is still very much in the game. What will happen? Only time will tell.

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