The Platform is the Playstyle: Missing the Point

So, while I love the Nintendo Switch, there is something about it that makes me sad: the death of pointer-based games on console and handheld.

In 2004, the Nintendo DS came out. At first, people didn’t know what to make of its touchscreen and stylus. It felt gimmicky. But then games like Trauma Center: Under the Knife, Elite Beat Agents, and The World Ends with You (to name just a few) showed us what you could do with it - things that you couldn’t do on any other game system. Then in 2006 came the Wii, showing that by using a Wiimote and sensor bar you could do the same things on a larger scale on your living room TV. Everyone talked about the Wii’s waggle, but the pointer was the real game-changer, as seen in games like Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (not to mention three more Trauma Center games). You could even play light gun games like Sin and Punishment: Star Successor or Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles with no extra equipment!

In 2011 we got the 3DS, an improved DS that allowed for new experiments like Kid Icarus: Uprising and in 2012 the Wii U combined both the Wiimote/sensor pointer and the stylus/touchscreen pointer. Not only could the Wii U play its own pointer-based games and Wii pointer-based games, but through the Virtual Console it could play dozens of excellent DS games by using the TV as the top screen and the GamePad as the touchscreen.

But the Wii U failed, and the hybrid console Switch has replaced both the Wii U and the DS line. It technically has a touchscreen, but it’s easy to forget - most games don’t use it because it’s not accessible while the Switch is docked. The system doesn’t even come with a stylus.

As a result, an entire interaction style is lost to console games. To port any of these games to Switch would require completely reworking them for a very different experience. Sony and Microsoft never adopted these interaction methods on a large scale - Xbox had its own Kinect experiment, and PlayStation Move was never a major player. The only place you can find reasonable pointer-based games now is on PC via mouse, which is not quite the same.

I’ve written before about how the convergence of gaming platforms will mean more homogeneity of game experiences. This is why that makes me sad. There were some great games on DS, Wii, 3DS, and Wii U that are now unlikely to receive any real follow-up and will be increasingly difficult to find and experience as their native hardware ages out, and which can’t even be preserved via ports without losing a lot of what made them special.