Nintendo just dropped their big, long awaited announcement of the console heretofore known as the NX. Now we know that the official name of the new console is Switch.
It is an impressive, ambitious design that shows Nintendo are deeply committed to innovation and reinventing how we play videogames.
Portable, handheld, yet capable of connecting to docking station, playing through a standard HDTV and acting like a full-size console, with detachable controller-handles that Nintendo calls “joy-con”. It also looks like it is very easy to do social/party games, with easy to configure multiplayer, where every player brings their own Switch and they communicate wirelessly in an ad hoc manner.
The Switch logo evokes the detatchable controllers, and looks like a yin-yang. Very cool.
It shows that the console is essentially like the Wii U controller with the large screen in the middle, with controls at the wings, which also serve as handles. But beyond that, the controller wings are detachable, and can be held in the hand, while the screen is propped up at some distance. Or the console/screen can be mated to a dock which allows the console to use a full size TV as its screen.
This design is so smart, it’s like something that you’d see in an art student’s senior portfolio for industrial design concepts — concepts which tend to be more whimsical or ambitious, and less practical. That it’s actually a working piece of engineering is jaw dropping. Switch is reconfigurable, almost like a Transformers toy.
I’m still digesting it, but I do think that my initial impression is that this is somewhat gimmicky and the “neato” factor will wear off unless Switch is better than everything it’s competing with in all its configurations, and not a “swiss army knife” game console that does everything but none of it better.
And that’s a really tall order. Especially considering that it’s virtually certain it won’t have the power of the PS4 and XBone. Nintendo have always done well with lesser hardware by bringing better games, though. So I think ultimately the success of Switch will hinge on the software and whether Nintendo can keep us interested in another sequel to their 30+ year old gaming franchises.
But from a practical standpoint, it may not be as fun to reconfigure and transport the thing all the time. While the “take anywhere, play anywhere, same experience everywhere” factor is pretty cool, I’ve yet to see what Switch will offer gamers that is actually new. The Wii gave us motion controls, taking a bold new direction from the then-standard gamepad paradigm, and thus offered a new way to play videogames. I’m not sure that Switch does anything like that, or what a new direction for playing games would look like. I’m even skeptical that a new direction is needed at this point, or whether an incremental evolution is all that we need. But it does impress that Nintendo have put so much thought and creativity into the design of the new hardware.
There’s also practical considerations such as the pieces becoming separated and lost, their locking mechanisms wearing out and not working securely, and so forth. This could slide the Switch more toward the gimmicky, impractical end of the spectrum, and away from the cool, does everything end.
At this point, it appears that the writing is on the wall for the DS handheld line. If the Switch is portable enough, it seems like this is the new handheld platform, and it can do more than the DS did.
It doesn’t look like they’re going to be able to offer backward compatibility with the DS library, either, since the Switch doesn’t have dual screens. We haven’t seen yet whether the Switch tablet screen is even touch sensitive (although I have to assume so) or whether it will support the 3D effects introduced by the 3DS (which at the moment I doubt). It’s possible they could emulate the dual screen DS by doing some kind of split screen windowing effect, or perhaps by using the tablet screen in conjunction with a TV. Nintendo has said that they do not intend to release any new information about Switch’s specs or capabilities until the official launch in March 2017. But if the aim was to unify the customer bases, bringing the living room and handheld markets back together, Switch looks capable of delivering.
Ultimately, whether the Switch succeeds or not will depend entirely upon the catalog of games released for it, and support of third-party game developers. If these are good, and compelling, and different from what the competition are able to offer, Switch will be another big hit.
Price is another consideration, of course. People seem to be saying that $300 is about what they feel it should be. If it turns out to be more than that, it could hurt sales. With the lackluster sales for the Wii U, Nintendo cannot afford to have a slow start with Switch. But I expect that Nintendo will bring its usual first person exclusive titles and draw fans of Zelda, Metroid, Mario, Kirby, and the rest in, almost regardless of price, so long as those games are top-notch. And from the teaser video’s snippets of the new Zelda, it looks like they’re on target.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Switch handles battery life. With separate, detatched controls, there are three different distinct units that make up the system and will need to be powered somehow. This appears complex, perhaps overly so, and may not work out as great in practice.
One of the neatest ideas I’ve seen for the Nintendo Switch is the idea of having variant joy-cons, the modular controllers that clip to the sides of the tablet-thing. If they could produce a variety of inexpensive yet high quality joy-cons with different layouts or different types of controls on them, it could open up home gaming in a big way.
One thing I miss about the early 80’s arcade was that every arcade cabinet had its own unique layout of just the right controls for that game, whether it be a joystick, buttons, spinning dials, trak balls, light guns, or whatever. Game design was more inventive back then, more experimental, as companies were trying to find out what games were, or could be. Of course in time this converged into some more-or-less standard layouts, but to this day the arcade enjoys a wider variety of control schemes.
The home console market by contrast has usually tried to offer different types of controllers, but in order to reach the widest possible market these controllers usually have to conform to a design spec enough so that the controller can be used with any game, which tends to make them all same-y. You may get a gamepad and an arcade stick, but that’s about it. Nothing crazy, like track balls and flight sticks and more exotic stuff. This changed somewhat with Guitar Hero’s unique controllers, and more so with the launch of the Wii and the Xbox Kinect. But the possibilities enabled by modular controls hinted at by the Switch are tantalizing.
But one major problem is that any unique controller that isn’t packed in with the console doesn’t get games developed for it, because the smaller install base of the unique controller makes the games market for games that work with that controller that much smaller. The NES Zapper wasn’t part of the cheapest basic package that Nintendo sold, and so the number of games developed to use the Zapper was very small — game studios wisely targeted the largest market, which was everyone who had a NES, and everyone who had a NES had a gamepad.
In any case, I’m sure this new system will get a lot of talk and attention over coming days and weeks, and more information will be forthcoming shortly.