When Nintendo’s WiiU was initially announced, I thought that the built-in screen would be used to play games on the go. There was a battery, the thing was bulky and a tiny bit heavy (for long-term travelling use, anyway), analog sticks and buttons and everything that reminded me of a Ben Heck portable build. In short: I was excited. Think of the possibilities! Not just a portable Nintendo console, but a fully-fledged Nintendo console on the go! As much as I love my 3DS, it’s not quite the experience of sitting down through a cutting-edge Mario or Zelda title!
When I heard for certain that it still needed the plugged-in box to actually play, I wasn’t devastated per se, but I was a sad panda. Even with the touch screen capabilities (which were fun and interesting, BTW) I couldn’t justify for myself buying one. Partly because of being broke, but also because I’ve been focused on enjoying my portable consoles over the past few years for my personal fix. So when I watched the trailer for the Nintendo Switch this morning, I started getting really excited.
Nintendo hasn’t confirmed any specifics yet from what I can tell, so I’ll have to go from the promo video. The Switch looks to be a tablet-based console that can plug into a unit plugged into a TV for big-screen play. This should also charge the unit itself, holding it much like the WiiU’s tablet charger. The system can then be removed from the unit, and either slide on or off controller “sliders” (I’m calling them “sliders” from here out) that are each “half” of a controller; we see late in the video that these can be used as individual controllers much like WiiMotes are used with the Nunchuck plug-in. Each have to have their own battery (along with the unit itself), since there wasn’t a cable to be found, so how these might charge or their potential battery life will be a persistent and important question going forward… will it charge the controller batteries when plugged into the main docking unit?
Speaking of controllers, there’s a lot of options available here – the WiiMote dual-wielding concept (sans connector cable), multi-player play using one half of the controller on each (with both “sliders” having an analog stick and diamond button layout, possibly a Start or similar button as well), playing on either side of the tablet screen or even on a dedicated slider-holding controller. It appears there’s at least two-player split-screen when divvying up the otherwise-single controller on a single unit, though with what looks to be maybe an 8” screen only two players could comfortably accomplish this.
The games are on physical media – the cost of SD and microSD cards has gone down so much and can hold even more – and should be up to the quality of at least the WiiU. In recent years Nintendo hasn’t been interested much in keeping up the hardware power that companies like Sony and Microsoft have strived for, instead focusing entirely on the experience of the current available and affordable tech, so this approach makes sense for keeping costs lower. But what surprises me is that they were showing off WiiU games, but no touch screen material, so it’s possible that the touchpad aspect of the previous console has been removed. For a device that looks very much like a screen with half a controller on either side, this would be a surprising revelation.
I have two main worries about the final product: weight and capabilities. As this is a tablet filled with the gizzards of a full-fledged TV console, that kind of hardware should weigh down a user trying to play like they might a 3DS. On a plane or wherever there’s a flat surface this shouldn’t be a problem, as there is a sort of kickstand that makes an appearance on the back of the tablet unit, so maybe physically holding the unit isn’t meant for long-term use. As with the capabilities, this is a tablet of some sort after all, so will it include additional apps or programs like Netflix, or YouTube? Is wifi included so online play is as easy as can be, or can players gather around like LAN parties of the past with ad-hoc play? And, can anything be stored within the unit, like music or videos for playback when you need a break from the game?
The only games shown were games we’ve seen before, most notably the new Legend of Zelda and Splatoon! along with what looks like NBA2K. These are all current-gen, so they’re not showing us anything we haven’t really seen before. But they are solid examples of both dedicated single-player and multiplayer experiences, so as far as moving images of the screen go, they’re not bad to start with. Hopefully we can see more, Switch-dedicated games coming soon enough.
Over the past few cycles Nintendo has wanted to make a profit on the hardware as well as the software. I’ve seen suggestions of pricing anywhere between $200-$400, but I would put my money somewhere in the lower-middle — if Nintendo still does want to make a profit on the unit, the thing will likely have to place the unit around at least $250. The Wii launched at $199, the WiiU launched at a minimum $299, so splitting the difference until I hear otherwise is how I’ll wait for this one. And at $250 I can see myself picking this up, should the line-up be there… if any downloaded titles from the previous generation, like Virtual Console titles, are available on the new unit so I can pick up and play instantly, all the easier the purchase becomes.
A March 2017 tentative release date is closing in, so any specifics on the hardware will be released in pretty rapid-fire succession in the coming months. Are you excited about this? Will this be Nintendo ruling the roost again, or have they consciously taken a step back to being truly a toy company and not a tech and gaming giant like previous generations? Or, hell, are they now a “gadget” company with a gaming focus? Leave any comments or thoughts on the unit in the comments, I look forward to hearing if you think this will go big or go bust.
Stand tall and game on, friends!