Earlier today Nintendo unveiled its newest console, the Nintendo Switch. The trailer doesn’t tell us much about the console coming in March 2017 other than its design and some of its functions.
Based on its design it looks like you have a couple parts: a dock, a tablet, and two controller paddles that can be attached to the tablet, used independently (a la the Wii controller), or on a controller dock. It looks like a much smaller machine than Nintendo’s previous consoles, and practically bite-sized compared to Sony and Microsoft’s current behemoths.
The tablet looks to be about the size of a mid-sized Samsung tablet: enough screen space to comfortably play a game or watch a movie, but not unwieldy like the Wii U’s controller. It looks about as thick as your standard tablet too, with just enough space for essential hardware, some kind of cartridge slot(!!!) and a headphone jack (See Apple? Not everything has to be wireless).
The dock is probably the size of an original Wii if not a little skinnier. It’s also a pretty minimalist design, which is unsurprising but a smart aesthetic decision.
Now the controller/controller paddles could either be a phenomenal move, or disastrous. The ability to remove them from the tablet and put them on a controller dock to make a gamepad is a step in the right direction. Motion controllers were a unique novelty, but frustrating when it came to certain games, so I’m glad to see that Nintendo is conforming while remaining its individuality. The paddles can be used on their own, and there are a few examples in the trailer where each one is used as mini-controllers. My only concern is that they look about as big as an Apple TV remote. This means they could easily be lost and/or be uncomfortable for a gamer with larger hands. Fortunately this doesn’t seem to be a required method and merely an option. Also, a Wii U Gamepad Pro is shown as a controller option, so it’s great to see Nintendo continuing its tradition of backwards compatibility.
The only thing showcased in the reveal trailer is that it can play games at home and on the go. This is pure speculation, but it looks like since the tablet is the console then you aren’t streaming games, but actually mobile.
At one point you see one of the people put a cartridge into the top of the tablet. Right now there isn’t much information about this console, but my educated guess is that Nintendo is signaling a return to cartridge-based games. On the one hand that seems like a reasonable idea. Blu-ray discs can fit 50gb of data, and a microSD card can handle up to 512gb of data. In the trailer we see one of the people playing Skyrim. Before anyone says, “Hey that game came out in 2011! Why is it impressive if a console can play a game that old?” then think of it this way: they fit a game like Skyrim onto a cartridge. Chances are the Switch will be capable of handling games bigger than Skyrim and making them mobile.
Of course you would be correct in saying, “Gaming laptops are a thing, Adam,” but despite being mobile, I wouldn’t call a laptop a handheld console. Speaking of which, since the Switch is a hybrid console (meaning home and handheld), then Nintendo should be able to focus all of its attention on the Switch instead of a home console and a handheld console.
Here’s my major worry about its function: versatility.
If the Switch is priced around $300-350 on release, and it plays games, and has streaming capabilities then that’s a fair price, especially since it can double as a handheld. If you can use the tablet for practical purposes (basic productivity apps like word processing, spreadsheet, slideshow, etc.) and use Bluetooth devices then the Switch is going to be a major threat to Sony and Microsoft. If the Switch is just an entertainment system, but still in the aforementioned price range, then it’s still good.
Here’s the problem. Nintendo doesn’t have a good history of versatility. The Gamecube couldn’t play DVDs when the Playstation 2 and Xbox could. The Wii could do Netflix, but no DVD or Blu-ray. The Wii U still couldn’t play DVD or Blu-ray even though the Playstation 4 and Xbox One could.
Microsoft is moving toward cross-platform cooperation. This means that if you buy a Microsoft game on Xbox One you can play it on Windows 10, and vice-versa. I wouldn’t be surprised if “Project Scorpio” (Microsoft’s next console) will be an entry-level gaming PC set around $500-600 that works like a console, but can function as a home computer. If “Project Scorpio” is what I mentioned then this means future game consoles need to be cheaper, or offer that same versatility.
When people still have to worry about paying rent or mortgages, groceries, basic bills, and student loan payments they’re going to think long and hard about buying a luxury item like a game console. If it has practical applications that offsets the price then it’s worthwhile, but if it’s just for entertainment…
Look, if the Nintendo Switch is cheap, versatile, and comfortable then I might be inclined to buy one. I’ll be honest, I have a soft spot for Nintendo. My first exposure to video games was on the Nintendo 64, my first game console was a Gameboy Color (I still have it), after my grandma’s estate sale I bought a Nintendo Wii with my cut of the profits, and I now own an N64 and a Nintendo Wii making great memories with my girlfriend. I might be a little biased.
The Nintendo Switch looks promising. I’m happy to see Nintendo making controllers that make sense. I’m happy to see Nintendo’s desire to make a hybrid console. I’m happy to see that Nintendo is packing a lot of power into a little console.
I guess we’ll all have to see come March 2017.
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