After months of rumors and speculation, the Nintendo Switch launch is finally on the horizon. With the Nintendo Switch Direct and the weekend’s Treehouse streams and live hands-on events, we now have a better idea of what to expect of Nintendo’s new home console. But while first party IP powerhouses like Super Mario Odyssey and Splatoon 2 will likely be the major draw for most players, the Nintendo Switch also has major potential with an oft-overlooked segment of the market: players of niche games.
1. The Nintendo Switch is region-free
One thing all niche videogame fans have in common is a penchant for importing rare titles from Japan. Unfortunately, both the Wii U and 3DS are region-locked, which meant that the only way to legally play Japanese games this past Nintendo generation was to own a Japanese system. That’s how folks like me ended up with 3 different 3DS’s, and believe me, it’s not ideal. While fans have asked Nintendo to remove regional game restrictions from their next system for years now, it seemed like a long shot for the Switch, due to the fact that Nintendo’s home consoles have previously all been region-locked. That’s why, when president Tatsumi Kimishima took to the digital Nintendo Direct stage to announce that games for the Nintendo Switch would be region-free, importers around the world rejoiced.
Of course, there are still some questions that remain unanswered regarding the removal of regional restrictions on the Nintendo Switch. Will it be possible to switch between accounts from different regions on one system, like on the PS4? Or will only the physical games themselves be region-free, locking users out of online content, downloadable content (DLC), or download-only titles? If the removal of region restrictions from the Nintendo Switch was deemed important enough to include as a talking point in the Direct, I’m hopeful Nintendo will make accessing games from other regions as smooth as possible.
EDIT (1/23/2017): In an interview with Kotaku, a Nintendo representative clarified the region-free issue (slightly), saying:
The Nintendo Switch system is not region locked, but we recommend that players buy games within their region to ensure full service and support. The user will access the Nintendo eShop that corresponds to the country identified in their Nintendo Account. (Up to eight user accounts can be created on a single Nintendo Switch system.)
2. Upcoming games list is a niche player’s paradise
As great as a region-free console sounds, it’s only as good as the games in its roster. Luckily, the Nintendo Switch has 80 titles in active development, and a large number of them cater directly to niche gaming fans. Alongside the usual Zeldas and Marios are a plethora of quirky titles such as Project Octopath Traveler, an RPG by the team behind Bravely Default for the 3DS, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, Minna de Wai Wai! Spelunker, and Super Bomberman R. Yes, you read that correctly: Bomberman is finally making its return to consoles in the form of a brand new title for the Switch, featuring the series’ trademark eight-player competitive multiplayer. It’s about time!
Along with brand new RPGs and a surprise return of retro favorite Bomberman, the Switch will also be seeing the highly-demanded English release of Puyo Puyo Tetris. Released for nearly every console available in Japan in 2014, Puyo Puyo Tetris was extremely import-friendly but still remained inaccessible for Wii U and 3DS owners due to region locking. While the game will also be releasing in English on PS4 this spring, the return of not one, but two overlooked retro classics in the form of Super Bomberman R and Puyo Puyo Tetris will make the Nintendo Switch especially appealing for niche gamers.
3. Many niche game publishers have already announced their support
In addition to the many games coming out over the next 11 months, there have also been a wide range of niche publishers who have announced plans to release games for the Nintendo Switch. Atlus put out a teaser trailer for a new Shin Megami Tensei game, which very well could be Shin Megami Tensei V, and Suda51 took to the Nintendo Direct stage to announce his plans to develop a new No More Heroes title for the Switch. Another teaser during the Nintendo Direct revealed Fire Emblem will be getting the Koei Tecmo treatment with its own Warriors installment, as well.
Among the list of game logos on the Japanese Nintendo Switch website is Taiko no Tatsujin, a taiko drumming series popular in Japanese arcades that unfortunately only has one English release: Taiko: Drum Master for PlayStation 2 and mobile phones. Even if the Switch Taiko no Tatsujin game is never localized, fans of the series will be able to import a copy from Japan for easy drum-bashing fun thanks to the region free system.
There are also many more Nintendo Switch partners who have yet to announce what games they have in development, such as Level-5 (developer of Yo-kai Watch), Platinum Games (Bayonetta), FromSoftware (Dark Souls), and Spike Chunsoft (Danganronpa). While it’s entirely possible these partnerships will never amount to much, I know I’m crossing my fingers for Danganronpa Switch from Spike Chunsoft!
It still remains to be seen whether the Nintendo Switch will be a breakout hit like the Wii, or suffer from a lack of game releases like the Wii U. But with region locking axed right of the gate and numerous titles that will appeal to niche gamers planned for this year and into the future, the Nintendo Switch has the potential to appeal to both hardcore Nintendo fans and obscure import fans alike.