Before we buy into Nintendo Switch, there are a few things we need to know
If you have a pulse, there’s a better than average chance that you heard the news that the Nintendo NX has officially been announced and it is now known as the Nintendo Switch. It was a strong debut that had people talking, and more importantly had people truly excited for a Nintendo product for the first time in a long time.
I am a longtime fan of Nintendo. I’ve written a lot of words over the years about the Japanese game maker, from its early days to the stumble that was the Wii U to how the company can get back on top in an industry increasingly pushed forward by more powerful technology over creative thinking. The Nintendo Switch seems to be on the right track and could be a big hit – but let’s slow down a bit.
The reveal did its job. It showed that the Switch is a different type of console from its competitors. It was intriguing enough that it overshadowed the reveal of the first new Rockstar game in three years. It even managed to unite people on opposite sides of political spectrum. Both sides still thought the other was a fool, but at least they agreed that gaming on the go is cool.
Before we commit to the Futurama “shut up and take my money” meme, however, there are a few major questions we need answered first. Hopefully, all the answers will just make us more enthusiastic. But they need to be answered.
This is probably the most obvious question, and arguably the most important. The Switch is a great concept – a system that is both mobile and designed for the home. If it’s overpriced, it won’t matter how cool it is, if it’s underpriced – well, let’s be honest, there’s no such thing as underpriced when it comes to consumers.
A leak a few weeks back claimed there would be two bundles of the Switch, the first would run $299 while the second deluxe set would cost $399. That would be in line with the Wii U, although the deluxe bundle of that console was $50 cheaper at $349. Nintendo hasn’t officially released a price, but anything more than that would be pushing it – especially given that the upcoming PS Pro, a console that will likely be far more powerful than the Switch in terms of hardware, will also be $399.
With that said, $400 isn’t cheap. It’s not unreasonable, but at that price Nintendo will need to justify to fans that it’s worth it. Especially after the Wii U.
This is a much less pressing point at the moment, but it fits with the discussion of the price.
Nintendo, like all gaming hardware makers, will have multiple bundles of the Switch. It’s a given. As noted in the last section, there may even be two separate types of Switch bundles – call it an economy and a deluxe version. In top of that, there will probably be special bundles made to coincide with things like the release of major titles. Don’t be surprised to see a Zelda or a Mario bundle.
The real question, however, is what comes with the console. The day after the console’s official debut, word came down that the Switch will include two “Joy-Con” controllers (or one set). The Joy-Con controllers slide onto the sides of the tablet (which is more accurately called the console, but more on that later). When attached, they turn the tablet into a mobile system, much in the same way that the Wii U’s gamepad could be used on its own.
Once you slide them off, you can attach the controllers to a chassis that makes them into a more common style of controller. Alternatively, they can be used like a Wii nunchuck with one in each hand. Each controller can also, apparently, be used on its own, although there would probably be some limitations. It’s an open question how much these controllers will cost on their own, but you’ll need another set if you want to play on the same console with friends.
The video also shows another, more typical style of controller. The Wii U did something similar. But will the controller only be sold separately or will it come as part of a bigger bundle? And most importantly, how much will it cost?
Beyond the pricing, the biggest question may be system’s storage.
The video clearly shows that Nintendo is switching from optical disks to cartridges, but it’s not clear what type of cartridges – besides, the real question is how it handles downloads.
Nintendo has historically been somewhat reluctant to embrace online sales, even of its own library. That has changed, but only slightly. The Wii U deluxe came with a mere 32 GB hard drive, and a significant chunk of that went to the operating system. SNES games topped out at around 128 MB and NES games were even less, so downloading old games isn’t really an issue. Even the apps (assuming the Switch supports apps like Netflix, Hulu, etc.) don’t take up much space, and running off a cartridge means you don’t need to install the game. The problem, however, is the games themselves.
It’s become a given that most games will have some form of DLC, and that content is getting bigger. The recent Fallout 4 DLC Nuka-World is about 4GB, while The Witcher 3 Blood and Wine is around 15 GB. Part of the appeal of the Switch is its size, so it’s unlikely it will have a lot of internal storage – and if it does, that will certainly raise the price exponentially.
One possibility is that the cartridges are essentially writable SD cards with room to spare for DLC, although that would potentially change the used game market. If someone sells a game that also has all the DLC already installed, it would change pricing and possibly alienate publishers.
The Switch could also have additional storage slots for SD cards or USB ports. Limiting the ability of gamers to shop online and purchase DLC is a non-starter. Nintendo has to allow that or it will lose the support of third-party developers, not to mention limit ists own revenue streams. The only question is how it will address this.
And speaking of third-party support, the Switch needs a lot of it. Nintendo released an image showing a lot of names, but it’s one thing for a company to claim support and another for it to release the biggest and best games on Nintendo’s system. Companies like Electronic Arts, Ubisoft, and Activision all supported the Wii U. There were a few original titles, but most were uninspired ports.
In the reveal video, Nintendo shows people playing Bethesda’s Skyrim and one of 2K’s NBA 2K games. It’s important to note that those games haven’t been confirmed for the Switch though. And while Skyrim and an NBA game would be an easy fit on the new console, will Nintendo nurture its online contingent? And will the fans care? The idea of a mobile Call of Duty game (possibly connected through a hotspot, for example) is incredibly appealing, but will the fans accept it?
That’s not really Nintendo’s audience, but the Switch isn’t really like anything else. It’s a mobile system for gamers that want more than Candy Crush. Nintendo has plenty of exclusives, including some coming to the Switch like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and a new Mario game. It will hopefully mine its library and give us new iterations of classics including Metroid, Donkey Kong, and Kid Icarus but it needs more.
Nintendo also confirmed that the Switch won’t play 3DS or Wii U games. That may not be a huge loss given that the Wii U’s library was anemic and most people probably didn’t expect 3DS compatibility anyway, but it means Nintendo will need help. A lot of that will depend on what the developers have to work with and how much work it will be for them.
The system’s specs
Nintendo can’t compete directly against Microsoft and Sony when it comes to the power of the hardware, and it shouldn’t try. No one needs a third, similar console. What gamers need is something new, and that’s what the Switch seems to be. Of course, it would be nice to know where the line is being drawn.
There have been rumors about the power of the Switch but that’s all they are for now. After the announcement, Nintendo confirmed that the Switch is basically the tablet. The docking station doesn’t seem to really do much beyond sending the video to the TV and recharging, so the processing power is all in the slim, portable device.
Beyond the processing power, it’s an open question as to what the resolution is on the tablet screen, what the frame rate is, if there is any 4K compatibility, does the screen have any touch function, etc., etc. We don’t even know the exact size yet. Maybe the people in the video have tiny hands.
The video also suggests that Switch systems can play together remotely. That may just be a trick of the video, it could mean the systems can connect directly with each other, or they can connect online and play like standard online-enabled systems. Eventually, all will be revealed.
Given that the Switch is essentially a mobile console, that raises one of the biggest questions of any mobile device: what’s the battery life? It’s an interesting idea to have a device you can take anywhere, but if the battery only lasts an hour it’s more of a gimmick than a real option.
Anyone with a smartphone can tell you that when you use multiple apps at once, your battery pays the price. With the Switch, it might sound great to take your device to a playground, connect to a WiFi network, and play a game with nearby friends. If doing all that at once means the battery disappears before you can even finish a game, what’s the point?
There’s also a question about how the battery will react to bigger games. Will it use the same energy running an old NES game as it is running Skyrim? And how is the battery installed? If Switch follows the iPhone model and keeps the battery in a sealed case, meaning you can’t replace it, that limits both its usefulness and its life. Every time you charge a battery you weaken its life a tiny bit. If a gaming console is designed to be played on the go and rely on that battery, every Switch has a finite lifespan.
If Nintendo designed the Switch in a way that allows you to replace the batteries, that makes it significantly more travel-friendly and potentially increases its lifespan – at least in theory. If that is the case, it then raises the question of how much those replacement/additional batteries cost.
And finally, while we know the Switch is coming in March, we don’t know an exact date. A few days in either direction won’t make a huge difference in the long run, but with families on spring break and sports fans glued to March Madness, you may want to plan accordingly.
The exact date – along with all the other relevant questions – should be announced soon.