The first sign of trouble was the price point.
With analysts suggesting that the Switch should sell for as low as $200 at launch, the announcement that it would cost $299 was a bit of a kick in the teeth. At that price, it will effectively match the PlayStation 4 Slim—a likely more powerful console with a mature library and more support. In short, it's too much for what will probably be an accessory console.
From there, the hype was let out of the Switch like a slowly deflating balloon as Nintendo went full 2006 in its presentation of the Switch's motion controls. Nintendo, it seems, is determined to recapture some of the magic (and accompanying sales numbers) of the Nintendo Wii with more mature technology. But will games like Arms, a boxing titles, and the cutesy 1-2 Switch capture people's attention in the same fashion as Wii Sports? It's tough to imagine.
Things picked up when Nintendo shifted to highlighting their first-party offerings. Splatoon 2 and Xenoblade 2 were clear wins, but the best of them was clearly Super Mario Odyssey—a true 3D Mario game in the vein of Super Mario Sunshine and Galaxy. With all due respect to New Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario 3D World, this is the real deal. And with "New Donk City" already a borderline meme on Twitter, it's guaranteed to be at the forefront of a lot of the conversation surrounding the Switch through the holidays.
The same can be said for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which closed out the show with an absolute killer final trailer and the announcement that it would be out March 3rd. Coming on the heels of a mostly disappointing third-party reveal (Skyrim! EA vaguely testing the waters with FIFA! Sega kind of mumbling in the shadows!), it did more than anything to restore faith in the Switch as a console worth owning from the outset. No wonder Nintendo was in such a rush to get it out the door in time for launch.
Strong as Zelda looked, though, the presentation felt like a net loss for Nintendo. Much of it came off more as an investor pitch than a presentation—the product of bored-sounding and occasionally overmatched translators. Shorn of the slick editing that typically accompanies Nintendo Directs, it often felt slow. For Nintendo, the loss of Satoru Iwata feels keener than ever, as he was a naturally gifted salesman in addition to his many other talents.
And yet, the Switch's big reveal was Nintendo through and through. It focused hard on weirdo casual games like Arms, then left Ultra Street Fighter II for the sizzle reel. It briefly detailed the online service, but neglected to mention that subscribers would purportedly receive a free monthly download of an NES or SNES game. And that the SNES games will apparently have online play (!?)
The impression that was left by the presentation was of a too-expensive gimmick of a console with a tiny launch lineup, scant third-party support (don't expect SMT and Project Octopath Travelers until like 2019, kids) and terrible battery life (2.5 to maybe 6 hours isn't enough, sorry). Let's be really honest with ourselves: Outside of Zelda and Mario, it wasn't great. Nintendo did little to sell the Switch's long-term prospects outside of its usual array of first-party games. It's tough to imagine a worse follow-up to last year's outstanding reveal.
So now what?
The natural reaction to the people who are panicking is to say, "Well, so what? It's going to sell out on March 3rd. It's going to have Zelda to carry it until summer, when Splatoon will arrive. Mario Kart 8 will be on it. Mario Odyssey is in the fall. The faithful will be waiting in line for it. The Switch is all about its first-party support."
I don't doubt that there will be long lines and sellouts on March 3rd, especially with an (amazing looking) new Zelda to buoy the Switch. But as a Nintendo fan, I'm once again left with the gnawing fear that there just won't be enough games for the thing. One has to wonder where the indie support in particular was for the Switch.
As always, Nintendo is going to Nintendo, which is to say that they will do things their own way, as they have the past decade or so. In that regard they've had their successes (the DS, the Wii, Splatoon) and their failures (the Wii U), and it's too soon to say where the Switch will fall. But in their big global debut of the Switch, Nintendo failed to tick many of the boxes that analysts said they had to have: the price, the battery life, and the games. In that, Nintendo's Switch presentation was as bad as could have been imagined.
Thankfully, presentations aren't everything, and all will temporarily be forgiven once Zelda blows the doors off in March. But in the first test of what will be a new era for Nintendo, they scored a C-minus at best. If they want to avoid another Wii U, they'll have to do much better going forward.