Nintendo’s next console has been a long time coming. Since it became clear that the Wii U probably wasn’t going to be the next huge hit the company had expected — writing that was probably starting to faintly show on the wall before the console had even been out a year — fans have eagerly been anticipating Nintendo’s (assumed) hardware innovation. It’s finally arrived in the Nintendo Switch, a console and handheld hybrid that’s seemingly ready-made for the particularities of both markets.
But what is the Switch, exactly? And how does it compare to the soon-departed Wii U? At a glance, the Switch’s design — which docks what amounts to a tablet into a housing unit that flips output to a TV — seems a little hard to grasp. From what’s been shown thus far, the most complicated thing about the Switch may just be the many ways you can use it. Compared to the never-quite-made-it appeal of the Wii U, that alone could be the reversal of fortune Nintendo’s hardware needs.
Gaming at Home or Out and About
Nintendo has said it themselves: You should primarily think of the Switch as a home console device. It was first introduced as such in their intro trailer for the hardware and, really, it makes the most sense. To understand how it works, picture if your PS4 or Xbox had a screen nestled in the middle of the case. Now, imagine if everything powering the hardware was housed behind that screen and you could take that out for portable use (albeit with a much smaller form factor here). This is, in very basic terms, the concept behind the Switch.
So if you theoretically wanted to play a game using your TV, the Switch’s portable tablet component would stay connected to its dock, which in turn would remain hooked up to your entertainment center. Outputting the picture to the screen is dependent on the tablet being docked.
Where things get interesting is when you remove the tablet from the dock, making the Switch function as its own unit, which is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra X1 chip (also found in Nvidia’s own Shield portable). The tablet reportedly has a 6.2” touchscreen that outputs at 720p, probably to save power so that the battery lasts longer than an hour or two in portable mode.
The Switch also comes bundled with two “Joy-Con” controllers which slide into either side of the tablet to create a controller with a strong resemblance to the Wii U gamepad. But unlike either a traditional portable console like the 3DS or the Gamepad, the Switch can be controlled in a variety of ways. Players can play portably with both Joy-Cons attached to the tablet, or they can detach the controllers for wireless play, using the tablet’s kickstand to set up an independent mini-display.
There will also be optional peripherals available. The Joy-Con Grip will connect the two Joy-Cons together (so, like sliding them into the tablet, minus the tablet) with a housing that makes it resemble a bulky Dreamcast controller without the VMU; far easier is the fact that you’ll also be able to play Switch games using a traditional controller that looks a lot like the Wii U Pro. (Nintendo is for now staying mum on how and to what degree touchscreen controls could be used for games themselves.)
Finally, multiple players can each take one Joy-Con for use in multiplayer, though how it can support as many buttons standard play needs, or how practical using such a tiny controller would be, remains a significant question mark.
All About Them Graphics
Graphically, it seems like the Switch takes after the Wii U in that it won’t attempt to start a new console generation, putting it behind the baseline PS4 and Xbox models but ahead of the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U in terms of power. On the Wii U, the Gamepad was initially used in a somewhat similar fashion to the touchscreen on the 3DS, doing visual or tactile things that a normal controller couldn’t, though these features were gradually phased out on a game-by-game basis as the hardware endured.
There doesn’t seem to be a big basis for comparison with the Switch’s tablet; the latter’s primary function seems to be mostly as a screen, though that could change once Nintendo debuts some games in January. Interestingly, the Switch also uses cards similar to the 3DS rather than discs, though what, if any effect this has on its functionality is up in the air. Just don’t expect to be able to play Wii U or 3DS games on the system, as it’s not backwards compatible. Virtual console support, on the other hand, seems much more likely.
The price for everything — the console, peripherals, and games — has yet to be announced, and with its less beefy hardware, it might actually come in under the cost of a current-gen console. There’s something to be said for pitching it at folks that find the current cost of consoles too much to bear.
But Where Are the Games?
Finally, there are the games, which are at this point maybe the Switch’s biggest mystery. Titles like NBA Live and Just Dance have been confirmed, as has Dragon Quest XI (in Japan anyway). Despite being shown in Nintendo’s trailer, Bethesda has yet to officially announce the Skyrim remaster for Switch; it, along with Nintendo’s Mario tease, will undoubtedly be revealed when the system makes its next appearance. (And Zelda, obviously.)
More exciting is the list of partners developing games for the Switch already. Close to 50 publishers and developer have pledged support, including a lot of top-tier Japanese talent like Dark Souls creators From Software, Capcom, Grasshopper Manufacture, Platinum Games, Level-5, Sega, Koei Tecmo, and Square Enix, among others. (Konami is on there too. Weird.) A number of western developers — Bethesda, EA, and Ubisoft among them — are also working on titles for the console.
Of course, Nintendo’s spotty history with third-party publishers and developers doesn’t mean every company will stick around, but the initial list is mighty promising. Overall, compared to the Wii U, this is a bit of a reset for Nintendo. And with no branding ties to the Wii or Wii U, the company can make a clean break to bring a different kind of console to market. And this time it looks like it might actually succeed.