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Nintendo Switch: Will kids even care?

Commentary: Why is my son so iffy on the idea of the Switch? Will Nintendo have a hard time pitching the concept? Even for a Wii U fan, the Switch isn't a clear-cut win.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Are you excited, I ask?

He shrugs. "Yes."

What, you don't like the Switch? I ask him after showing him the trailer. What do you think?

"So so," he says.

My 8-year-old son is a Nintendo fan. He loves the Wii U, and plays several times a week. And yet he's ambivalent about the Nintendo Switch, the next gaming system arriving in less than a month. He hasn't played one yet. But he's watched the videos, seen the games, and is not wowed by the pitch. What's going on here?

I can't help wondering if Nintendo is going to have a harder time winning kids over to the Switch than I thought.

Curiously, Nintendo's first Switch videos didn't feature any grade school age children. Its latest Super Bowl extended ad does, fleetingly: playing with grown-ups in games like Mario Kart 8 and the robo-boxing game Arms. Is the Switch made for kids? It seems to be looking at a different audience: millennials. Nintendo's Reggie Fils-Aime suggested the Switch is targeted at young adults with disposable income. That's not my 8-year-old son. Or, even, me.

My kid wanted the NES Classic, which I couldn't find over the holiday. He loves Super Mario Run. But he keeps showing ambivalence toward the Switch.

Here's what my son says about the Nintendo Switch (£470 at Amazon.co.uk):

  • "It's a lot of money. Kids can't really get it because it's really expensive." (I remind him that it's $300, while the Wii U is $250. And, anyway, he doesn't buy his own game systems.) "It's still fifty dollars more expensive!"
  • "But I think it can do really cool things, like the new Mario game."
  • "A lot of games are a lot like ones on Wii U, like Mario. But there are tons of Mario Wii U games, and Zelda, and Mario Kart."

According to my son, he likes the Wii U because it has "lots of really cool games," and he can play with friends. One of his favorites, amazingly, is NintendoLand: Yes, the 2012 Wii U pack-in game that I originally wrote off as a bunch of demo minigames. That game has more multiplayer modes and depth than I ever expected, and he's never gotten tired of it. In the end, NintendoLand was a lot like the Wii's Wii Sports -- for kids, at least.

Can 1-2 Switch, a game that isn't even a free pack-in game for the Switch, do the same? We haven't played more than a few of the oddball game's mini-challenges. It's trying to be a party experience, a casual social game and more.

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I ask my son whether he'd want iPad-like features on the Switch, and he says he does: a chance to play movies, or read books, or try other types of apps. But I think all he wants are a lot of great games. After all, he's not usually paying for his own games with an allowance anyway -- not yet, at least.

Maybe he sees the Switch and wonders why he'd need one if he has a Wii U. Maybe he just sees it as a weird variant of the iPad sitting on our coffee table.

Was he impressed with the Switch ad? He's wary. "Sometimes when you watch ads and you really want to get something, when you get it, you might realize you don't really want it and you spent a lot of money on something you don't really want."

Maybe it'll take a lot more than a couple of launch games to convince my son. How many other kids are feeling the same? Or, maybe the Switch isn't even meant for them yet: the Nintendo 3DS is sticking around as the affordable handheld. Nintendo's game selection so far for the Switch seems completely kid-friendly, but there just don't seem to be enough games right off the bat. Is Nintendo trying to slow-play the Switch or buy time while the 3DS and Wii U hold the fort? How many will even be available to buy at launch?

It's odd. Nintendo's been incredibly kid-focused for decades. Is it trying to hedge with the Switch, or appeal to the fans first?

All I know is, based on the pitch alone, my son isn't sold yet.

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