The Nintendo Switch – A skeptical view

Whenever a new piece of tech comes out, the internet swarms to tell us how amazing it’s going to be. Many people are excited about the recently revealed Nintendo Switch, going as far as calling it a revolution in gaming. Its reveal trailer and a hefty list of developers have made several gamers hopeful that this will redeem Nintendo for the lackluster performance of the Wii U. But in times like this, it’s good to look at the skeptical side of things too.

For all of the Nintendo Switch’s promise, there are still a lot of unknowns that could make or break it as the next big console. So I’m here to take the skeptic’s angle and point out all the things that can go wrong with the Nintendo Switch.

Crotchety old man mode…activate!

Reliving the Past – The Sega Nomad

The key feature of the Nintendo Switch is, of course, its portability. The little tablet screen is the console itself and contains all the processing power, while the dock seems to be used primarily for charging and as a video link to your television. The Nintendo Switch is making waves as the first handheld that can play console-quality games.

Except, it isn’t. You’ve probably seen this in meme form, but Sega beat Nintendo by several generations. The Sega Nomad came out around the end of the Sega Genesis’s life cycle, and allowed gamers to play any Sega Genesis game in handheld format while doubling as a home console. It was an incredible failure.

Looking at the Nomad’s failure leaves us with some important questions to ask Nintendo. First of all, the Nomad was expensive. It cost more than a Sega Genesis when Nintendo was marketing the GameBoy at only 99 dollars. The gaming public had already come to accept that a portable console should cost less than a home console, so they were reluctant to spend a lot of money on something you shoved in your pocket and walked around with all day.

That is, if you could actually fit the Nomad into your pocket. The Nomad was very big and very difficult to carry around. Even if you did have the largest pockets in existence, Genesis carts were incredibly inconvenient to lug around with you along with the Nomad itself.

The Nomad’s battery life was also abysmal. It took six AA batteries and chewed through them faster than the Game Gear, which was notorious for its crap battery life. No portable can be marketed with only around 2 hours of battery life. At that point, it’s really not portable at all.

It also came out while another generation of gaming was well underway. While it had the best resolution of a handheld at the time, it simply didn’t compare to the power of new home consoles. Since it was priced comparatively to home consoles, few people wanted to spend money on a Nomad when they could have spent an equal amount of money on a better performing PlayStation.

If any of these concerns sound familiar, it’s because they are the same concerns people have about the Nintendo Switch. While an official price has not yet been given, the Switch is estimated to have a similar cost to consoles. It’s big – too big for a pocket – and is subject to the same environmental hazards as any other portable. Its battery life hasn’t yet been announced, but it’s using a new Nvidia Tegra processor, and while those tend to be quite battery efficient it will still take a large amount of power to reliably produce current generation graphics. Even so, its graphical power will likely be less than the Xbox One and PS4, which people already have. If not, it will definitely be less powerful than the upcoming PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio.

More Portability, More Problems

So how can Nintendo fix these problems? Well, they aren’t going to shrink the Switch anytime soon. However, they can address fears about breaking it. Nintendo is, in essence, creating a tablet. So they have to treat it like a tablet. Their warranty needs to be perfect. When a Switch tablet breaks, you need to be able to go to a local shop and get a new one without spending full price. If you do get a new one, all your accounts need to easily transfer over. Unfortunately, this is not something Nintendo has allowed you to do with the Wii U or the Nintendo 3DS, so things aren’t looking good.

The battery that they choose to use needs to be powerful, run cool, and last a long time. This might seem like it’s asking a lot, but there are battery packs out there that can run laptops for days. Unfortunately, these battery packs cost 100-200 dollars, so that wouldn’t do much to keep the price of the console down.

To really sell the Switch, Nintendo is going to have to have an amazing launch line-up that offers an experience that others consoles cannot. Unfortunately, we aren’t really seeing that right now. Sure, we saw Zelda, Mario, Splatoon, and all the normal Mario properties, but Nintendo will have to rope in third-party support to stand a chance, and that’s difficult considering they have always been the hardest platform to develop for. Then again, if rumors prove true that Nintendo has axed motion and touch controls, this may no longer be the case.

A huge part of the reveal trailer was dedicated to e-sports, but a huge aspect of e-sports is customizing your equipment, whether that means bringing the keyboard and mouse of choice to an Overwatch tournament, or bringing a custom built arcade stick to a Street Fighter V tournament. All of these peripherals work via simple USB, making it quite easy to convert your favorite controller from console to console as long as you have a converter. For now, it appears as if third-party controllers will have to connect to the Switch wirelessly, which will make them more difficult to produce and will limit the controller market.

Then there’s market consolidation, which is my biggest fear. Nintendo originally said that the Switch wouldn’t be replacing the Wii U or the 3DS, yet recently it was revealed that Nintendo will be ceasing Wii U production in Japan soon. If Nintendo really is consolidating its console and handheld development into one platform, think of the implications.

This means that Fire Emblem, Pokémon, Phoenix Wright, and more will no longer be handheld games, but console games. You’ll be purchasing them at full price. More importantly, development studios will have to develop them as full priced games. That alone is terrifying. One of the big advantages of developing for a handheld console was that you could make a mass market game for less money than you could on a console. All games for the Switch, however, will likely have to meet console quality, which means many handheld-only franchises are going to die off as their developers find that they don’t have enough money to put toward development. This will also mean a lot of developers are going to lose their job as handheld and console departments merge.

We are entering a strange time for the Nintendo Switch to be coming out. The PC gaming market has been more profitable than ever and the console market has slowly been shrinking. With the upcoming release of the PS4 Pro and Project Scorpio, and the pressure to upgrade for the best high definition graphics, more and more gamers are turning to the PC platform in the hopes that a good top of the line PC will last them longer than one generation.

The Nintendo Switch is going to have to prove two things. 1) It has to prove that its console experience is better than the PC experience, and 2) It has to prove that its mobile experience is better than tablet and phone gaming. It probably has point 2 locked up, as it will by far be the most powerful (and most expensive) mobile platform on the market. This does give them something of a pseudo monopoly in the handheld world.

But I’m not convinced it can deliver the hardcore gaming experience it needs to make it a worthwhile purchase for the common gamer. For now, we are stuck waiting for more info, but the fact that Nintendo only has three months to go until launch and still hasn’t revealed the details on this thing doesn’t sit easy with me. Right now we are hyped about an idea – a portable console with home console power. But ideas don’t matter, execution matters. And right now we know absolutely nothing about the Switch’s execution.

For me, I’ll hold off on calling this a revolution in gaming until I can, at the very least, get some specs.