The Nintendo NX has been officially revealed under the name, the Nintendo Switch (the NS for short anyone?). There have been rumors bubbling up about the device for months now, and they had me skeptical at best. Now that it’s revealed, I have some thoughts about the design.
If you missed the reveal trailer, you need to see this first.
First, I want to say that the Switch is pretty much what I expected it to be based off of the rumors and speculation leading up to the reveal. I expected a small, disappointing device that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be a home console or a portable console. I expected something that would ride on the coat tails of the very successful 3DS, leaving the core gamer behind as Nintendo doesn’t understand what made their classic systems a success. The design in my head is exactly what was shown, but I was entirely wrong about the implementation, and this is where Nintendo, for me, made it work.
The Switch is a portable device, and it’s a come console. The whole idea of being able to quickly and easy move from one form factor to the other isn’t new, it’s been done for years by multiple companies, with varying degrees of success. What’s different here is the way it’s implemented. The portable form factor is large without being cumbersome. It has full, shaped grips that actually appear to be comfortable to hold, unlike the 3DS. In fact, it’s very much like the Wii U tablet, which is starting to feel like a prototype for what the NX has become. The problems with the Wii U tablet were numerous. It had a poor display, it looked cheap, and it was unceremoniously chained to the home unit via an invisible tether. All of these problems are gone, and the Switch is what the Wii U should have been in the first place. It’s beautiful, appears to have a nice 720p display, and it’s style in a way that makes it feel like a piece of equipment and not a toy.
That leads me to my second observation, this is obviously targeted towards adults. Adults buy consoles, adults buy games, and adults play more games than children. Seriously, the average gamer is someone, likely male, between 20 and 30 years old who just wants and escape from the doldrums of daily life. Nintendo, finally, appears to have realized this. The colors are black and gray, the finishes look elegant and sophisticated, and the entire unit seemed to be tailed to fit the hands of a full grown human. In the trailer, there was not a single child, only adults in adult situations living their lives, and the Switch was there to accommodate it. Walking the dog in the park, it has that covered. Having a gathering with your friends? It can do that too. Feel like some competition? LAN party time using a circle of Switch consoles. It’s also worth noting the games shown were games that adults play, Mario, Skyrim, NBA, Zelda, etc. To me, this bearing has Nintendo taking a huge step in the right direction, and it will surely pay off. Games aren’t necessarily toys, and it’s about time they started to treat them like entertainment devices instead of Lego bricks.
Now, the functionality as a whole. I love that I can dock the unit at the home, pick up a real controller, and forget this things a portable device. To me, this is the real selling point. Having the Switch Pro controller, as it’s being called, is invaluable in showing that the games on the system will be REAL games, and not gimmicky touch or waggle controlled games. This is likely how I will play this Switch, 95% of the time. I see myself occasionally pausing the game, taking the tablet with me to to the bed room or on the go, but for the most part, it’s going to be a console for the TV, as it should. There are those removable “Joy Con” controllers that remove from the sides, and those are cute. I don’t see them as useful, but I like the idea of setting up the display with the kick and using the Joy Con units paired with the battery pack/grip that’s shown (with the green LED lights assuming showing the battery level as it charges the smaller units). This, to me seems to work. Using them independently as multiplayer controllers? That seems uncomfortable at best, and the screen size certainly doesn’t seem large enough to facilitate that.
As far as smaller details about the design that you may have missed, it does us cartridge based games. Flash memory has become so fast, so efficient and so cheap that this makes perfect sense. They can hold more than a Bluray disk, be read much faster, and they’re practically indestructible. They’ll also boost the battery life of the system while reducing it’s bulk. Also, there is a small home button on the tablet, suggesting some a home menu, and another button that’s purposefully obscured during the video. Could this be a “share” button like on the PS4 and XB1? Probably. There is also a small vent along the top of the tablet which looks rather large. This could be a radiative or actively cooled system (with a fan), but either way it suggests the unit does produce some heat, suggesting a somewhat powerful chip inside. There is also a headphone jack, trigger and shoulder buttons, and a joystick layout similar to the XB1 controller, which may suggest the game is considering first person shooters a priority as that’s largely consider the ideal layout for those configurations.
Curiously, nowhere in the video does it show any shake the controllers or touch the screen. Does this mean there are no touch screen or motion control functions in the unit, or is Nintendo simply trying to avoid showing off features that would hint to adult gamers (their obvious target here) that there are gimmicks built into the unit. My assumption is it will be touchscreen with motion controls, as that will allow for 3Ds and Wii U compatibility when they want to resale us old games. They’re just avoiding showing it. I think they’re marketing this as a high end device for serious gamers, and those “features” are turn offs to many of them as it’s often considered “casual” experiences for children and families.
Finally, I want to talk about horsepower. This is the only part that concerns me with the Switch. Nvidia is already stating that it’s built off a heavily modified Tegra processor, roughly putting it somewhere in between the Xbox 360 and the Xbox One. I’m not completely convinced that this is going to be enough power to easily support third party developers, like the guys who make Skyrim (which actually hasn’t been confirmed for the system, despite showing up in the video). If porting to the console is difficult, or results in gimped versions of the games that can already be played on the PS4 or XB1, the Switch is already in the same situation that the Wii U landed in. First party support alone does not warrant or justify a new console purchase. Perhaps the dock has hardware inside that will pair with the unit to provide extra cooling, voltage (batteries are a graphical limiter on hand held devices) and some extra processing grunt. This, however, is only speculation and has yet to be confirmed. If not, games that run on the current consoles will have to be dramatically scaled back to run on the system, and no one wants to spend money on an inferior version of a game. Perhaps they’re using the upcoming Tegra 3 chip, instead of the Tegra 2, which would put the system much closer to the XB1’s capabilities, but this is unlikely as they have announced NO specs for the system, which in my experience is a very bad sign.
My assumption is that the system will run at 720p when in tablet mode, and when docked with the home unit, active cooling with kick in, voltage and clock speeds will be cranked to the max, and this thing will push 1080p, on the TV. This would maximize battery life on the go and visual quality when used at home. If they do include extra processing hardware in the dock such as an additional processor, this thing could actually, quite easily, out perform the Xbox One (assuming two Tegra processors, one in the dock and one in the handheld, would run in tandem) resulting in easy 1080p/60fps gaming at home. This, however would greatly increase the costs, but one rumor did put the unit at 450$ (ouch), and this would back up my hypothesis as well as sit the Switch in a very competitive place, at least in way of performance. It would be cheaper than buying a console and a handheld, so the move would make sense if looked up under the right light. That’s how I would handle this, anyway.
Overall, I’m pretty excited to learn more about the system. It’s a design that can work, given the internals are up to the task. They’re showing off real games, including Mario, Skyrim, Splatoon and the layout seems to fit the needs of the core gamer. The more I consider the variables that Nintendo is refusing to comment on, the more nervous I become, but I’m cautiously optimistic about the concept, and I can honestly say I can’t wait to get my hands on it. This could, potentially, be the turnaround Nintendo needs, and if they’re playing their cards right, they have a real chance of making that happen.