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Nintendo Switch reveal impressions | Hybrid dreams that could end in nightmares

Carl 'Malkaurai' Phillips

The Nintendo NX is dead. Long live the Nintendo Switch!

If you have yet to watch the reveal trailer you should probably do so right now. All done? Good. So let’s discuss why the reveal for the device formally known as the NX was a magnificent one. It helps that the sudden announcement of the trailer eight hours prior built up the hype, but it’s the way the trailer demonstrated the functionality of the Switch that was the true masterstroke. We now know it really is a home / portable console hybrid; we know that the detachable controllers are a thing, and we know it aims to handle AAA titles like Skyrim Special Edition (which Bethesda aren’t admitting is happening, weirdly.) Best of all, it has a name that actually makes sense. If Nintendo’s goal for yesterday’s reveal was to get my attention they well and truly nailed it.

Then again, I was always going to say that. The home / portable console hybrid experience is exactly what I wanted from the Wii U back when it was called Project Cafe (skip the last paragraph.) The technology for it clearly wasn’t there back then, but the idea of a gaming device capable of playing AAA experiences in a handheld manner stuck with me. Some five years later it looks like that dream is to become a reality if the Switch trailer is to be believed. It certainly answered our biggest question – what is the NX? – but we’ve now got more questions that need answering. Having had time to calm down from the excitement and process yesterday’s reveal, I’ve decided to cover why the Switch has definitely piqued my interest, along with my concerns for Nintendo’s next device.

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Socially Acceptable Freedom

Ignoring the fact the trailer makes it look like only good looking people who play basketball, ride in VW campervans and hang out at hipster roof parties will play it, what struck me the most is how social the device aims to be. The ability to use the detachable Joy-Con controllers (because it wouldn’t be Nintendo without some sort of stupid name) in various configurations is cool, but allowing one pair to be split for 2-player Mario Kart is a great out-of-the-box feature. Never having enough controllers for local multiplayer as always been an annoyance when buying a new console, especially with spare controllers costing as much as a game, but this avoids that annoyance from the get-go.

Then there’s the suggestion that Switch users can bring multiple devices together to form a LAN-esque experience. No longer will players need to gather around one screen sat in a line (although that’s still doable) but instead have the option of sitting opposite one another. That freedom could mean sitting around a table, or one person lying on a bed while another is on the floor. It’s a sense of freedom usually reserved for handheld gaming, but the Switch looks to bring it to AAA titles. That said, I’m not sure hanging out under a motorway / freeway bridge with expensive equipment is the best idea, but otherwise this kind of freedom is exciting.

More importantly, it should also help stop others from looking at your screen to gain the advantage in a multiplayer game (we all know someone who does it, those swines.)

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Getting competitive

That freedom also extends to eSports, something Nintendo is keeping in mind if the trailer is accurate. The idea of players bringing their own tablet and plugging it into the dock on stage is something I think will add to the spectacle of large events (I’m calling it right now – sponsorship skins on tablets will be a thing.) Hopefully, this is a sign that there will be greater improvements to Nintendo’s online network to help foster competitive communities (in Ninty’s usual family friendly manner of course.)

It’s not just the multiplayer stakes that are getting competitive with the Switch as Nintendo has some serious 3rd party support this time. Industry analyst Daniel Ahmad pointed out on Twitter that the number of partners announced yesterday is double that of the Wii U. It’s a huge leap in confidence from developers who are no doubt thankful there aren’t any input gimmicks to worry about this time. There’s also a lot of big names in there – Ubisoft, Square Enix, 2K Games, and Bethesda (who really should just admit portable Skyrim is a thing.)

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Confirmed tech & WILD INTERNET SPECULATION

Outside of the trailer, there was some confirmation on the hardware used in the Switch, along with a whole bunch of rumours. For starters, we know for sure that nVidia tech is powering the switch, specifically a custom Tegra processor. We also know that the dock for the main device will include two USB ports and output visuals at 1080p. Meanwhile, we learned that visuals will be at 720p while in handheld form, there’s a headphone jack (take THAT, Apple), and all games will come on cartridges. The lack of moving parts in the Switch helps its be as slim as it is, and should hopefully mean it doesn’t make any noise, too.

Other than that, there has been plenty of wild speculation on its additional features that, while have come from credible sources, should be taken with a pinch of salt for now. Firstly, there’s the rumour of it include an SD card slot. This would be a huge win for gamers if true as larger capacity cards are becoming cheaper by the day. Secondly, there have been whispers that all games will be region free. Such a move would be a huge departure from Nintendo’s previous policy, but it would cause importers to rejoice loudly.

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But before we get too excited…

Yep, it’s time for me to deflate my own hype by asking a few questions and raising a few issues. First off…

What will the battery power be like?

This is actually the biggest dealbreaker for me. Portability is the big gimmick here with the Switch, so for it to work it’s going to need some hefty battery life. Right now there isn’t any indication on this topic, but there’s honestly no point in it being a handheld device if it can’t hold its charge. The original 3DS manages 3 to 5 hours of use, as does the Vita, so I would hope that the Switch can manage four hours minimum. If the average is any less than that my enthusiasm will start to dissipate rapidly.

The same question also needs to be asked about the Joy-Con controllers, as their switchable nature would be useless if there is only a few hours use before they die before the main unit does. With battery life been recently called the next frontier for smartphones, I hope this has been addressed by Nintendo as well. At the very least, the charging solution should allow for portable batteries to be used as they have saved me many a time with my 3DS.

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Is there a touchscreen? Will it be usable as a Tablet?

The second big question revolves around the main unit’s screen. At no point in the trailer does anybody tap the screen for any input, which would be slightly disappointing if true. It would certainly help avoid development fragmentation in creating features to match a console’s gimmick (ie. Mass Effect 3 Special Edition or ZombiU on Wii U) but it would also reduce its ability to be seen as a commuter’s travel device of choice. Yes, playing games is the number one factor, but being able to switch to an internet browser or even social media apps. Mobile phones are always there, I guess, but having the functionality right there would be preferable.

What about 3DS backwards compatibility?

This is the other reason why a lack of touchscreen would be a shame, as without one the ability to play most 3DS games will be gone. Likewise, we know that cartridges will be the main media of the Switch, but there’s also been confirmation since yesterday that the Switch won’t be compatible with 3DS cartridges. That’s a huge blow, but all hope isn’t lost just yet. The wording on these reports suggests it only affects physical media, so the current theory is that digital purchases would be playable on the Switch.

It’s a bold move that solves two problems; the need to add old hardware to read old media, and ensuring all profits for old games goes directly into Ninty’s pockets. Sneaky. Regardless of whether this proves to be true, we definitely won’t get the dream of playing 3DS games on a TV that some had theorised could happen because of the dock. Still, digital versions are certainly the next best thing. Let’s hope Nintendo are just holding back details to build up hype as confirming some form of 3DS compatibility would be a major tick in the Pro column.

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“What is this? A controller for ants?!”

Now this topic doesn’t necessarily affect me as I’m built like a hobbit, but I know of many people with huge hands that might find a single Joy-Con controller way too small. I remember having long conversations with my former Dealspwn comrade Matt Gardner about how the Dualshock 3 controller would cause him to crap up easily, much preferring the chunky size (and thumbstick placement) of the Xbox 360 controller. I can already see him throwing fits of rage at being handed one of the Joy-Con controllers to use, and me laughing at him, but it does raise a good point. With the Switch aiming to be a versatile device in terms of its input, will it force those with huge paws for hands to buy a Pro Controller? It looks like we won’t know for sure until we start getting hands-on impressions, but let’s hope it isn’t the case.

Even if it would be funny to watch Matt rage again.

Another issue that has been raised is the likelihood of the Joy-Cons being misplaced. This isn’t Nintendo’s problem, of course, but then again I’m the sort that puts stuff away when I’m not using it. Chances are they probably won’t mind you having to buy replacements, either, so I’m just going to be controversial and say that people will need to look over their stuff.

Yes, I can hear your booing from here.

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The answers lie in 2017…

If you are expecting to learn more details in the near future you might want to want brace yourself for disappointment. Takashi Mochizuki of the Wall Street Journal tweeted that we won’t get any more official announcements until next year, which is both understandable and worrying. On one hand, it allows Nintendo for focus on Pokemon Sun / Moon next month, while on the other hand, it could cause the PR push to be rushed when the intended release date is around five months away. Perhaps they are hoping that panic buying through hype will see them through, but I honestly feel the Switch needs solid messaging to be successful.

I say this because the Wii and Wii U both ended up failing to secure the hardcore gamer demographic, so Nintendo needs to confirm two things. Firstly, that appropriate experiences will be there. Secondly, that the Switch is comfortable to play on in both a home and portable situation. I guess you can add Sleep / Resume functionality to that as well, which will definitely be needed for commutes. All these questions and more (including that all important price) will need answering to win gamers over, but the reveal trailer for the Nintendo Switch did exactly what it needed to do. It showed us the actual device, it demonstrated its main feature, and it got us talking. Let’s just hope that Nintendo delivers on the rest of the details before March next year.

  • BC01

    Great article. I’m a huge fan of Nintendo handhelds and fell for the reveal hook line and sinker… until I started to think about it. All of these questions are key in terms of whether this console will sink or swim, and you have to wonder if this market Ninty are targeting really exists.

    Wotcha gorgeous. Here’s hoping Ninty have a decent price and specs in the offing.

    • Malkaurai

      Thanks BC! I too hope Nintendo pulls it out of the bag with the Switch, but right now there’s too little we know (or is confirmed at least.) As someone who became disillusioned with the Wii and wasn’t convinced by the Wii U (despite it having some great games) I need to know the hardware works as advertised before I buy in.

      The thing is, when Ninty get it right they really get it right, as I found out when I finally got hold of a 3DS last year (thanks to a rather generous donation / hand-me-down.) It took time for the handheld to get to the position it is in, but the games are great and Streetpassing is a freakin’ addiction. It’s because of this that Nintendo can’t afford to not get it right from launch this time and, as you said, whether the market will be there for the Switch is the big question.

      Either way, it’s exciting times and I can’t wait to find out.

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