Business / Tech

Nintendo hopes to reboot with release of new Switch game console

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

With smartphones and virtual reality making the gaming industry more competitive, Nintendo Co. on Friday unveiled Switch — its newest game system which can double as a stationary console and handheld device.

The product will make its commercial debut on March 3 in Japan, the United States, Canada, Australia, Hong Kong and some nations in Europe. It will be priced at ¥29,980 or $299.99 in the U.S.

With a teaser video released last October, fans were eager to hear more details. Observers are also watching whether the Switch, the first home console since the 2012 Wii U, which struggled with sluggish sales, can put the Kyoto-based game giant on a new growth path.

“The Nintendo Switch is a new home-stationary gaming console that can diversify the styles of video-game playing,” Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said at a media preview in Tokyo.

Friday’s event was the first chance to showcase the Switch to the media since the teaser video.

The Switch comes with a 6.2-inch touch-screen, two controllers and a dock. The tablet-like device can be placed on the TV-connected dock to work as a stationary console.

Nintendo also stressed that the Switch’s controllers are equipped with motion sensors, allowing games to incorporate the physical movements of users.

“As a game fan, I see great potential in the controllers,” said Hirokazu Hamamura, a director of Kadokawa Dwango Corp. and a video game expert, adding that a new function called HD vibration is especially innovative.

The function lets the controllers vibrate in many different ways depending on the action in the game. For example, Nintendo said it can create the sensation of ice cubes rattling in a glass.

With the motion sensors and new vibration functions, the controllers enable users to enjoy games with their bodies and physical movements, a concept similar to the Nintendo Wii, Hamamura said.

Nintendo found many new game users with Wii, and the Switch could do the same, he added.

Nintendo also said it plans to release a fighting game in the spring called “Arms,” in which game characters follow users’ punching movements.

While observers have been looking forward to details of the Switch, the market was apparently less than enthused. Nintendo’s share price dropped by 5.75 percent to close at ¥23,750.

The past several years have been a struggle for Nintendo. The firm, which had been hesitant to produce games for smartphones, posted operating losses from fiscal 2012 to 2014.

Making a turnaround in the last fiscal year, Nintendo has recently been paving new paths for growth.

Last month, Nintendo released its first smartphone game, “Super Mario Run.” The app saw 40 million downloads in four days, a record on Apple’s App Store.

Now, here comes the Switch. Nintendo hopes to sell 2 million units in March alone, Kimishima has said.

But the device’s dual roles might backfire, undermining the portable game device market in which Nintendo has a strong presence with its 3DS.

“I don’t think it will happen,” Hamamura said.

As Kimishima pointed out during the presentation, Switch is basically a stationary game console that people can easily carry around. But they probably won’t use it during short train rides, Hamamura said, saying smartphones or the 3DS are better suited for that purpose.

As for game titles, Nintendo said Friday that it will be launching some of its hit series for the Switch, with the latest title of the “Legend of Zelda” series set to debut on March 3. It also said there will be titles from the “Super Mario,” “Splatoon,” and “Dragon Quest” series.