Since no one asked, here are some thoughts on the Nintendo Switch.
The rumor that the Nintendo NX (now Switch) is going to be a portable/home console hybrid turned out to be spot on. Taking a design cue from the Nvidia Shield, the device is essentially a 7” tablet with removable controllers (branded as “Joy-Con”) on either side. From the video the device seems to have a cartridge slot, headphone jack and also either a fan exhaust grill or some sort of passive venting system. (A report last year from Eurogamer stated that the device was actively cooled, much like the first gen Shield)
This is all well and good, but the internals are still an unknown. The device is going to be powered by some sort of Nvidia Tegra SOC (most likely a successor to the Tegra X1)…and that’s about all we know. Based on the device running the upcoming Skyrim Special Edition, it probably packs more power than the 7th generation of game consoles (Xbox 360/PS3) but is almost certainly not going to be on par with current gen offerings.
This is the approach Nintendo has taken with its last two home consoles, and while the Wii sold a ton of units, software support was abysmal for the last two years of its life. The Wii U was pretty much a mess from the start, and probably should have been a home console/portable hybrid like the Switch. Aside from a huge branding mistake by using a variation on the Wii name, the tablet gimmick was pretty much exactly that, a gimmick. Aside from a few titles using it in a neat way, it was not a paradigm shifting feature.
As Sony is rolling out the PS4 Pro and Microsoft is potentially releasing an entirely new, more powerful home system Nintendo is again deciding not to compete on power and visuals. The 3DS is an example of the success that can be had taking this approach; it is a massive seller that while underpowered has such a stellar library of games, third party support and a gimmick that is actually utilized to enhance the gaming experience. In combination with social features and a glut of multiplayer games the 3DS is a very compelling product. Switch has the potential to build on this in a big way, and that’s what excites me the most.
Docking and Home use
I have a feeling the docking station that ships with the unit is basically just a piece of plastic with HDMI, USB and hopefully a few other I/O ports. However, I could see the device having two modes, a home mode and a portable mode. In portable mode, the SOC is underclocked and games run at 720P with less post processing. This is not only to avoid the device melting in your hands, but also to have semi respectable battery life. In home mode the SOC returns to its stock clock speed, no longer has any power saving measures in place and outputs video in full HD.
I could be totally wrong, who knows maybe it is just a dumb piece of plastic that mirrors the device to your TV set.
The sides of the tablet are these detachable mini controllers branded as Joy-Con, that Nintendo mercifully decided to keep pretty normal. They can be used in conjunction with each other (for dual analog control) or as two separate, albeit very small individual controllers with one analog stick and ABXY buttons. This I actually think is a great idea, especially for impromptu multiplayer, you just have two controllers with you at all times. I keep thinking of the “local” multiplayer in Divekick on the Vita where each player grips one side of the device to play. It requires no setup, no linking devices or syncing controllers and is really fun. If the Joy-Con/Switch is this easy to just pick up and play with friends then they are really onto something here.
Four player multiplayer on that small a display probably won’t work and I doubt will be supported in most cases when only one Switch is involved. In a perfect world Nintendo provides an easy way to sync your Joy-Con controllers to a friends docked Switch but I have a feeling this will be a pain in the ass.
One last thing on the controllers is that strange looking docking device for the Joy-Con halves. Since both sides can be used independently, they both have a built in battery but hopefully this controller dock is more than just a piece of plastic. An additional battery and some sort of range extender would be nice.
Oh yeah, they are also making a stand alone controller that looks like a mix between the WIi Classic Controller Pro and the DS4. Don’t really have any thoughts on this, it’s pretty run of the mill and will probably be 50 bucks.
This is where things could get dicey.
By far the worst part of the Wii U and 3DS experience is anything having to do with online. Besides the expense of PS Plus and Xbox Live they are very robust and fully integrated into the OS of their respective products. While a mobile gaming device will probably not have constant connectivity that is no excuse to not have features like a friends list, the ability to invite people online to play games, send and receive messages and other really basic stuff. The Wii U began to do some of this, but again in comparison to the competition it is very weak. Nintendo needs to get into 2016 and actually build an online platform. The nightmare that is system transfers, friend codes and the mess that is Virtual Console needs to end.
A new mobile OS built around online is what should be in store for the Switch, but after years of complaining and Nintendo doing very little, I would not be surprised if the OS is less than stellar at launch.
Three years into the current generation of home consoles combined with the overwhelming adoption of mobile phones as the go to portable gaming device could leave very little room for a product like the Switch to exist. People who play games probably have something at home (PS/Xbox/PC), a mobile phone and possibly a dedicated portable device. The Switch is trying to be all of these at once and ends up occupying the space of a fourth device. If priced in the $300-$400 range it could be a very tough sell alongside the $299 PS4/Xbox One S consoles and the $199 3DS. The ability of the Switch to become the consumer’s primary or even secondary gaming device will be a key factor in its success.