This article originally appeared at Den of Geek UK.
Seldom a company to follow established trends, Nintendo reliably chooses the unexpected and the innovative over out-and-out processing power. In the case of the Wii, the move to motion control paid dividends; with its successor, the Wii U, the mix of tablet, controller, and traditional console failed to capture the same mass audience.
There’s a sense that, with its latest console – formerly codenamed the NX, now unveiled as Nintendo Switch – the gaming giant’s trying to learn from its mistakes with the Wii U. Because with the Switch, it hasn’t entirely jettisoned everything that was interesting and likeable about the previous system: it’s still a tablet you can hold in your hand, which also plugs into the big telly in your living room. But Nintendo are clearly aiming for a broader appeal with Switch, a system that is flexible enough to treat as a portable yet can also be played at home.
The preview trailer is another of those lifestyle-type things that Nintendo’s so fond of: happy young models with low body fat enjoying the Big N’s latest product in a haze of unblinking, zoned-out bliss.
Gradually, though, it becomes clear that what Nintendo’s been quietly working on is a kind of gaming Swiss army knife: a system which can be played in a bewildering array of configurations depending on where you are and who you’re with.
Here’s what we’ve spotted:
The Base System
So here it is: black, boxy, and unassuming-looking. This is the Switch’s cradle, which plugs into the television and also serves as a charger for the screen. It’s a blocky-looking device, but not entirely unattractive: it’s the kind of thing that will sit almost unnoticed next to your Blu-ray player, PS4, or Matsui VHS recorder.
Our handsome young model then shows us how this new-fangled controller works. Basically, it’s divided into three chunks: the left chunk being the D-pad while the right chunk holds the ABXY buttons and a second thumbstick. These can be removed from the main bulk of the controller and attached to the screen, which can sit quietly in its cradle when not in use. Note how the body of the controller has a pair of grips; we’re not currently sure whether these are detachable or not.
The Switch as Handheld
So in this configuration, the Switch starts to look like a more svelte version of the Wii U – albeit with true portability, since the Wii U’s Gamepad didn’t work if it was too far away from the main console. The screen looks much larger than the Gamepad, too, though this may be deceptive; at the time of writing, Nintendo hasn’t yet confirmed the precise measurement of the Switch’s display.
As rumoured, the Switch will take cartridges, which should please those of us who aren’t entirely sold on this whole downloading thing. We barely get time to see what kind of cartridges the Switch takes, but the thickness and overall shape suggests a proprietary format devised by Nintendo itself. In the next shot, we get what might be the name Nintendo’s giving these cartridges: look closely, and you’ll see the words “Game Card” on the lid where the cartridges are inserted. It’s not a name that’ll set the world on fire, but it’s better than Game Pak, we guess.
The Display Stand
This is a nice touch: there’s a little stand at the back of the Switch’s screen, which means you can sit it on a level surface and use it like a tiny flat screen television. Perfect for a plane journey or train commute.
Another shot, another control option: with the Switch standing up, you can detach the controllers and hold them in each hand, just as we used to with the Wii’s Nunchuck and Wii Remote. The promo doesn’t appear to tell us whether they’re motion-sensitive like the Wii’s controllers (unless we blinked and missed it) but we’re guessing the option will be there, as rumoured.
Yep, the Switch will also be getting a stand-alone controller, just like Nintendo’s Controller Pro for its current devices. The button configuration is quite different from the current Pro, though, and we don’t yet know whether the existing controllers will be compatible with the Switch. It’d certainly be handy if they were.
We might be misinterpreting this, but it appears from the shot above that Nintendo’s putting out some sort of travel stand for the Switch, allowing it to be clipped onto the back of a headrest for a long car journey. Failing that, we’re guessing some gaffer tape and a couple of elastic bands will provide a cheap alternative.
Like the Wii Remote, the Switch’s removable controllers can be turned on their side and used as tiny stand-alone game pads. It’s a neat touch, since it means you can still enjoy two-player games even if your friend’s forgotten to bring his or her own controller round.
This shot suggests another intriguing idea: two screens can be placed next to each other for head-to-head gaming. In this instance, a bunch of trendy looking gentlemen are playing an NBA basketball game of some kind, with each team having their own screen. If the link-up is smooth and well implemented, we can see this option being a lot of fun, particularly with a multiplayer shooter like Splatoon. Speaking of which…
The Switch can’t just be about the tech, of course: the system will ultimately stand or fall on the quality of its games. In the promo we saw brief glimpses of six games, which will likely either be launch titles or at least released close to the Switch’s debut next March.
The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is one we’ve been expecting, and has evidently been delayed in order to coincide with the Switch. A Mario Kart game is also in the offing, though we can’t quite tell from the tiny bits we’ve seen whether it’s a brand new game or a variation on Mario Kart 8 – there does appear to be one or two additional playable characters, though, since King Boo makes an appearance. There’s also the NBA basketball game mentioned above and what appears to be a straight port of Splatoon.
What’s a real pleasant surprise is the addition of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – not a game we’d expect to see so prominently in a Nintendo ad, but a clear attempt to court the core gamer market. Finally, there’s a teasing look at the next Mario game, which we’re guessing is called Super Mario Switch or Super Mario: Switchy Switchy Panic. In terms of viewpoint and design, it’s evidently a platformer in the vein of Super Mario 3D World or maybe even Super Mario 64 – at any rate, we can just about make out what appears to be a wild west-themed zone, and a welcome cameo from Bullet Bill.
This isn’t mentioned in the promo, but the news was eagerly thrown out at the time it debuted: the Switch is powered by Nvidia’s Tegra processor, and, per the company’s website, “includes an Nvidia GPU based on the same architecture as the world’s top-performing GeForce gaming graphics cards.” If you’re into techie stuff, Eurogamer‘s Digital Foundry did an accurate and detailed analysis of the Switch’s innards. They suggest that the Switch is likely to have a 1080p resolution output, though we are of course awaiting official confirmation on that.
There’s still much we don’t know about the Switch. Is the screen touch sensitive? Does the mid-section of the controller, with the enticing grey plastic and green lights, have some kind of touch sensitivity? Then there’s the price, which is likely to be a massive factor when it comes to the system’s initial popularity. Nintendo does, after all, have an awful lot of competition to rise above; the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One have new variants out, there’s VR to consider, plus the increasing ubiquity of tablets and smart phones.
The Switch evidently has some great ideas in its design, but are they enough to make the system appeal to an audience beyond Nintendo’s pre-installed faithful? That Nintendo are at least making a clean break with the past when it comes to naming – the Wii U and 3DS were sometimes confused as upgrades rather than brand new consoles at launch – is a good sign. Our best guess is that the Switch might be a little too complex in its range of configurations to capture the same universal market as the phenomenally successful Wii , but who knows? With the right marketing and games behind it, maybe Nintendo really does have another hit on its hands.
All we can say is, based on the first promo, the Switch appears to have hypnotic powers. I mean, just look at these people…
The Nintendo Switch is due for release in March 2017. We’ll bring you more as we hear it.