Consoles, Handhelds, and Switch Puns by Nintendo

nintendo-switchIf you consider yourself an avid gamer then you are probably by now aware that Nintendo has unveiled its latest console/handheld:  The Nintendo Switch. Previously known by the code name NX, the Switch was officially revealed in a short promotional video on October 20th. Prior to this promotional video, the Switch had only been seen via patent applications by Nintendo containing early drawings that gave some indication of what the console was going to look like. It’s design resembled the Wii U tablet, but with some notable distinctions such as a slot for cartridge based games not unlike Nintendo’s current handheld, the 3DS.

It’s no secret that the Wii U, Nintendo’s most recent entry into the console market, has been a commercial failure. If it weren’t for the abomination known as the Virtual Boy, the Wii U would represent Nintendo’s greatest failure. I was an early adopter of the Wii U mostly out of obligation. I’ve owned every Nintendo console and handheld at some point in my life, and I had the means to get a Wii U at launch, so I did. At worst, I expected to be able to play new entries in classic Nintendo franchises that would provide many hours of entertainment. The gimmick, in this case a tablet with a second screen, was essentially Nintendo’s way of bringing the DS experience to the home console, with a couple of twists. Being on a console meant being able to do different things with the second screen, like hiding information from those who could only view the television or playing the console strictly via the tablet with no TV required. Turns out, that last little feature ends up being the Wii U’s legacy as the Switch is essentially taking that concept of not needing the TV to play and running with it.

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What I assume comes in the box (minus the TV, of course).

Nintendo was never able to prove that the Wii U’s setup was conducive to innovative game design, so naturally neither were third parties. The Switch’s attempt at innovation is far more obvious as Nintendo wants to turn every console game into a portable experience as well. The Switch is fundamentally a tablet that just so happens to have a dock to make play on a TV seamless. Its design is quite similar to the Wii U tablet but noticeably smaller. It appears to be somewhere in size between a Vita and Wii U Gamepad, which is to say for a portable a bit on the large side. The Vita is already sizable for a portable and not exactly pocket friendly, so it goes without saying that the Switch is more of a backpack accessory than a pocket one. The edges of the Switch, which feature the button inputs, are detachable so you can play the Switch like a Vita or use the included kick stand and set it up on a surface and detach the controllers. Some games appear to only require one of these tiny controllers to play, meaning the Switch can natively support two players for certain games. For home use, it looks the Switch will come bundled with a controller “dock” that turns the two pads into something resembling a more traditional controller. The video also shows off a version of Nintendo’s Pro controller that likely will be an extra accessory. The dock also contains USB ports so existing controllers for the Wii U that utilize those ports may be compatible as well.

Nvidia is providing the architecture for the Switch. Some of the preliminary specs have been shared with the public, but just how powerful the Switch is remains a mystery. Given Nintendo’s track record, its likely the Switch will be competitive with the current consoles on the market from Sony and Microsoft, but will likely fall behind in raw power when their advanced models hit shelves over the next year. As long as the Switch is capable of handling ports from those machines, and given that neither Sony or Microsoft is going to ignore the original PS4/Xbox One, the power of the system should be satisfactory. It’s also unknown what the screen’s resolution and makeup is. LED? OLED? Can it support 4k? Is it a touch screen? The display of the Wii U Gamepad is nothing special, and if the promo video is showing actuall gameplay on the device then it at least looks like the Switch is superior to the Gamepad as far as resolution is concerned. If it’s on par with the original Vita then that would be fantastic.

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If you thought using the Wii remote was uncomfortable…

The system’s concept is an appealing one for me. These days I spend more time with my handhelds than I do my consoles because it’s hard for me to make time to actually play with my consoles when I’m home. A machine that functions as both offers a lot of potential. I had hoped to utilize the Wii U in a similar fashion when I first got it around the house, but its range is severely limited so I never took advantage of using the Gamepad as a dedicated console as much as I had envisioned. Sony has offered remote play for several years now through its handhelds, but it’s something I’ve never taken full advantage of. With the PSP, it just plain didn’t work very well. With the Vita, it seems to work fine, but the Vita has fewer buttons than a PS4 controller making some games pretty awkward as those features end up being mapped to the rear touchpad. The Switch is basically just a straight portable that’s convenient to play on a television, and it’s a bit surprising that no one has really done this before. The only thing similar is the NeoGeo X which was released a few years ago. The X is a handheld that has a console dock which resembles the original NeoGeo AES system and more or less functions the same, right down to the wired controllers. The X is actually pretty cool, but the quality is a little suspect. With Nintendo, I have few fears about quality so the Switch should provide for a better experience.

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A brief look at a game cartridge and headphone jack (take that, Apple).

Naturally, there are concerns with any new console, especially a Nintendo one. Third Party support has been a major issue for Nintendo ever since the days of the Nintendo 64. The Wii initially had a fair amount of support because it sold so well that publishers couldn’t ignore it, but there always seems to be the perception that Nintendo owners are fiercely loyal to Nintendo’s games and not as interested in others. So far, numerous developers are pledging support though none are confirming games (likely because of a non-disclouse agreement with Nintendo). Based on the video, it looks like the NBA 2K franchise is heading to Switch, and perhaps most exciting of all, Skyrim was shown as well. The video is likely a mock and what we saw of these games may not even be running on the Switch hardware, but it’s at least encouraging. I do wonder how a game as massive as Skyrim will fit on an SD card and what the costs will be. It’s possible the card in the video is a blank, and to play games on the go you have to transfer from an internal HDD in the dock to a flash style card,but that seems cumbersome. It also sounds like the type of thing that would make piracy easier and publishers hate that. Most likely games are going to come on these cards and I’m over-thinking it, but it will be interesting to see how this all works out. My fear is that the storage medium will compromise a title like Skyrim, and if I can’t have the full Skyrim experience on the Switch, then what’s the point?

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The “joy-cons” slide onto the side of the Switch. In order to preseve a traditional four button layout on each one, it looks like we have to endure possibly the world’s shittiest D-Pad.

The main concern I have, and probably most gamers have after viewing the video, is with battery life. A tablet plus two mini controllers seems like the type of thing that will drain batteries quickly. The Wii U’s Gamepad has horrible battery life, but how much of that is because the Gamepad has to constantly communicate with the actual console? Modern handhelds aren’t much better though, with 4-6 hours being the new standard. After owning both a launch 3DS and a launch Vita for a few years, I can say both of my handhelds are closer to that 4 hour lifespan than the 6 at this stage and it gets discouraging. How well the Switch handles that part will determine just how portable it truly is. Aside from that, the standard concerns apply such as how much will it cost and how does it feel to actually play it? I’ll admit, those little controllers (I think Nintendo is referring to them as joy-cons or joy-pads) don’t look optimal. My guess is they work in a pinch, but I suspect most will be buying a pro controller. The fact that they slide into the side of the tablet is a minor concern as well. Will they slide out during some intense gaming sessions? Probably not, but we’ll see.

I did find it interesting that the promotional video’s target audience clearly seems to be adults. There are no children at all in the video which is in stark contrast to Nintendo’s family audience we’re used to seeing. This probably all factors into the name, Switch, as the console represents a very different approach by the company to remain relevant. At this moment in time, I can’t commit to buying it without seeing more. The Wii U’s tech was never very interesting to me, but I purchased it largely on faith that Nintendo would deliver with excellent software. The Wii U never did, and even the first party titles from Nintendo have really started to suffer. This even goes back to the days of the Wii. Triple A franchises like Star Fox, Metroid, and Mario have really taken a hit lately and Nintendo needs to win me back in that respect. The company really hasn’t shown off any games yet. The video mostly appears to show off enhanced versions of Wii U games like Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 which leads me to believe the unveiling of the big titles is still to come. There is a glimpse of a new Mario game in there that appears to be very much in the style of Super Mario 64, and of course we know that the new Zelda game is likely to be a launch title with a simultaneous or delayed Wii U release (similar to what Nintendo did with Twilight Princess). A new Zelda game, even if it was largely developed with the Wii U in mind, might be all the Switch needs for a successful launch. After that, it will fall to Nintendo to provide reason for gamers to keep coming back. No one is really talking about it right now, but if the Switch is a failure it could mark the end of Nintendo as a console developer, and there’s no way to spin that as a good thing for gamers.

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