It often feels like Nintendo is represented by the shy, imaginative kid in the corner, the one tinkering away with ideas, fueled by independent thought while his bigger, beefier peers dominate the playground. That’s certainly a valid comparison when considering all Nintendo have done over the past few years, starting with the game-changing Wii which took motion controls to a whole new level. That penchant for thinking outside of the box with hardware seems to have continued and spilled over nicely into the Nintendo Switch – the system that, for the last year and change, has been known as the Nintendo NX – which was finally revealed overnight, six months ahead of launch.
So what is it? It’s surely an interesting machine, and so far reactions have been mixed, but there’s an air of cautious optimism. What it seems Nintendo have done is chase a middle ground between the Wii U and 3DS, placing a heavy emphasis on portable gaming.
The nutshell version is that it’s what the Wii U should have been, The Switch is a more powerful version of Nintendo’s ailing successor to the Wii, but has the added benefit of being fully portable. Its slick detachable controllers take the Wii U’s “off-TV play” functionality to their logical extreme: when we say fully portable we mean you can play this in a freakin’ uber, on a flight, on a rooftop, sitting on a park bench while your dog annoys you, and more — at least, that’s what the trailer promises anyway. Time’s gonna tell on that one.
The home system is the “Nintendo Switch Dock.” This is where the Switch console sits when the player is nice and close to the TV. When the mood strikes, the player can instantly remove the Switch from the dock and it becomes a portable tablet-like machine. Best of all, your game continues uninterrupted, seamlessly Switching (oh I get it now) between the two and taking the game with them wherever they go. It’s an interesting move on Nintendo’s part, but a clear one when considering how core portable gaming has been the company’s success in the past.
So how does this switch work? You detach removable “Joy-Con” controllers that, when docked, sit on either side of the Nintendo Switch. Play style then depends on how many players are participating in the same game; one player can use a Joy-Con split between both hands; two players can each take one Joy-Con — in which case they appear to be far too small. Multiple players can take a few Joy-Cons for various gameplay options. The drawback seen here — and the most common complaint so far — is that when split between two people this controller looks like a kids toy, and it seems like it would be pretty hard to get comfortable holding such a tiny thing. Much better is the solo player who can split on Joy-Con between themselves, bringing things back to a similar configuration as the Wii where players had the nunchuk in one hand while holding the remote in the other.
When the player is ready to switch from portable back to TV play, they can put the Joy-Con controllers back onto the system or attach them onto a grip-like controller which seems to resemble something a bit more traditional for those who would prefer a classic. There’s also the option of using the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller (thank god).
In a statement released to media, Nintendo president Tatsumi Kimishima was quoted as saying “Nintendo Switch allows gamers the freedom to play however they like”, a concise description of where the iconic business is heading for this system. “It gives developers new abilities to bring their creative visions to life by opening up the concept of gaming without boundaries”.
For the games themselves, the Nintendo Switch will be making use of small cartridges known as Game Cards, appearing to be similar in size as 3DS games. This is of course a necessary function of the systems uninterrupted portability. It’s also a way to allow for easy multiplayer games, where players can bring together multiple Switch units for “local multiplayer face-to-face competition”. Imagine being able to throw down an intensely fierce Mario Kart or Smash Bros session just like that, anywhere.
The big unknown variable here is battery life. The Switch’s reveal trailer gives us a lot of information but any technical specifications remain to be seen, so we’ll have to wait and see on that front. The inclusion of the remastered Skyrim in the trailer, which (in addition to drawing a sigh of relief from long-suffering Nintendo devotees tired of being passed over by third party devs) does suggest the Switch will operate with much better visual fidelity. While good news in the home, this could mean significant battery drain when on the move unless the Switch eschews this fidelity for something lower spec when running on battery.
Other games included in the trailer include the obvious Zelda: Breath of the Wild, what looks like a Mario Kart title, a Mario platformer title (please be Galaxy 3), and NBA 2K.
The Nintendo Switch will release in March 2017. No price has been confirmed at this stage.