12 unanswered questions that will decide Nintendo Switch’s fate

Chris Stead 24 October 2016

NINTENDO-SWITCH (1)

So the cat is out of the bag, the Nintendo NX is now the Nintendo Switch, and like an episode of Lost, we only have more questions, and few answers.

Nintendo reveal of its next generation console late last week confirmed more-or-less what everyone already suspected. The NX, which from here forward will be coined the Nintendo Switch, is a hybrid console-handheld that plays first-party Nintendo games. These games are on a cartridge. And if you don’t like the comfort of your couch you can play, even in splitscreen multiplayer, anywhere you feel like by detaching a chunk of the console and taking it with you. You can even annoy the hell out of other passengers on a plane.

But the precious info – the stuff that really matters – was absent. The information that gives the Switch the context it needs to be accurately considered by gamers across the world. It starts with the obvious: How much will it be? When is it out? What are the launch games? But we’re going to bypass those questions. There are more burning queries that will define just how practical the Nintendo Switch is for you and your lifestyle. Questions like these:

1. How powerful is it?

This might seem like an obvious question too, but it couldn’t be more pertinent to the long term viability of the Switch as a console. The PlayStation Pro and Project Scorpio consoles of Sony and Microsoft are pushing gaming onwards towards a 4K future, and gamers want to ride that wave. The Switch was announced a mere hour before the most anticipated third-party game of 2017 – Red Dead Redemption 2 – yet it looks highly unlikely that the console will be able to play it.

Neither the console’s size nor its handheld component look sizeable enough to carry the tech required to power a game of that scope. In fact, outside of first-party titles all playable on the Wii U (bar a fleeting glance at a potentially new Super Mario game), the only third-party title available on PS4 and XBO shown was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Which is a port of an X360 and PS3 game released over three years ago.

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2. What will come in the box?

There were four different control experiences shown in the trailer. There is the Pro Controller; the two Wii-like detachable remote controls; the Wii U gamepad style with the screen in the middle of the controller; and the screen itself. Are they all in the box? Do you have to pay extra for any of it to get the full range of experiences? Will any of the existing Wii U devices work with the Switch? What about memory capacity and storage? Are there any bundled games? Is there one SKU or are they splitting it into multiple versions?

3. How long does the charge last?

Few things burn battery faster than bright screens and complex video games – games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. The idea of being able to detach the screen and take it with you sounds fun in theory, but how much battery life can you get out of it? Think about all the components of your mobile phone you had to turn off just to go hunting Pokémon Go critters for a few hours (and that was just an ugly mobile title). So how long will the battery last? And not just that, how quickly does it charge?

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4. Can the mobile device play downloaded indies or DLC?

What kind of storage is possible on that handheld device? When you detach it from the main console unit and set out upon your day, are you limited to just the games as they come on a cartridge? What about all those downloadable titles and the entire indie scene; are they precluded from the mobile experience? What about DLC packs for games you do own a cartridge for – are they left behind, too? If they can come with you, how much storage do they need? Do you have to lay down a tonne of cash for a bulky microSD with a stack of space on it?

5. Can it behave as a tablet or phone? Will it take a sim card?

Will purchasing a Switch enable me to avoid buying a tablet as well, or even a phone? Many consumers will already have a very capable mobile game playing device in their pocket, which also doubles as their portal to the internet, and to work, and to social, and to their friends. Can the Switch convince people it is worth coming on your journey as well? To do that, it might need to prove that it can be a viable option for consumers looking for a new tablet or phone, rather than asking them to buy two devices. Can you download apps like Netflix? And what about mobile games like Pokémon Go?

(It’s worth noting that DeNA – the developer Nintendo is partnering with on its mobile game development – is listed as one of the studios supporting the Switch, which potentially shows Nintendo’s plans in this regard.)

6. Is there any trick to finding a lost controller?

The first question those of you with young children may have asked was this: What about lost parts? Anything that can break down into components is something to stay away from in most houses with children. It’s hard enough to keep the remote in front of the TV, and with the battery cover on it. The idea of a controller that breaks into three parts with relative ease sounds like a cause for domestic violence. Will many a game session end before it starts because one-third of the controller is gone, hidden in a toy box or under a couch? Will Nintendo put a “find the controller” button somewhere on the main console?

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7. Can the dock work horizontally?

In the trailer, the Switch’s handheld component is only ever seen being taken out of its dock and returned while it is in the vertical position. This would prevent you from storing it in a shelf in any standard entertainment unit. As you would not be able to lift it upwards, you’d have to pull it out to get the clearance required to get the device mobile. So can you store it horizontally and pull it in and out that way? It’s a question of practicality in many people’s homes.

8. Do you have to repurchase Wii U games you own?

The announcement trailer appeared to use Wii U games primarily as a backdrop to its showcase of function and design. Mario Kart 8, Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Splatoon were the main titles shown. Backwards compatibility has always been a big thing for Nintendo and if the response to Microsoft’s announcement that Xbox 360 games would be coming to Xbox One is anything to go by, it remains a hotly desired feature for modern gamers. While unconfirmed, everything shown in the trailer supports the idea of Wii U games working on the Switch. But how? The new device is cartridge-based, not disc. So do you have to repurchase all the Wii U games you already own? Will there be a pre-owned market for old Wii U games?

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9. Is the 3DS dead?

Nintendo has been adamant since the start that the Switch will not replace the Wii U or the 3DS, but will instead work alongside them. For the former, that is a deadset lie. Not only has Nintendo clearly begun drying up its release schedule for Wii U games ahead of the launch of the Switch, but the Wii U is dead in the water anyway. The 3DS on the other hand has been bounding along strongly. So what happens when Nintendo effectively launches a new handheld device in the Switch? Do 3DS games now work on the Switch, too? Do Nintendo keep making and selling games for the 3DS? Or does it try and start rolling that audience towards the Switch?

10. Is it weatherproof?

Most modern day mobile devices have added water, dust and drop proof designs to their latest handsets to counter the reality of being outside with technology. What of the Switch? Can it cop a few raindrops or some good old-fashioned urban dust? What happens to it if it’s dropped, or bumped while on public transport? And when you crack the screen, can it be fixed?

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11. What will VR do?

True to form, Nintendo’s Switch console has its gimmick. You undock it and take it with you wherever you go. It’s a new idea, and one with potential, but the console doesn’t appear to lend itself well to virtual reality as a result of its focus on being a hybrid machine. VR is the current gimmick doing the rounds, and we don’t know how it will go just yet. PSVR has just released and sold out in most territories, which is a good start, but will it continue to grow through 2017. And if VR continues to trend up and becomes the gimmick of choice, does that leave room for the Switch?

12. Who is the audience?

The biggest and most important question, however, is a case of audience. Who is this console aimed at? What we know from the Wii U is that great Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong games aren’t enough to earn you a large install base. You need the Call of Duties, Red Dead Redemptions and Assassin’s Creeds, too. There was hope Nintendo would be on the front foot with its reveal showcasing a platform capable of playing the latest and greatest games – but instead it showed old titles.

The trailer is full of twenty-something cool, thin, fit, American people who love Mario Kart – a market who don't exist in reality and never have. It’s not good for young kids or parents because it comes in too many parts. It’s not good for old kids, because it can’t play the latest games. It’s not good for mainstream, because they already have mobiles. Handheld players already own a 3DS and Wii U owners already own a Wii U, so who is left? The hardest of hard-core? Some audience yet to reveal itself?

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These are all just questions to which we currently have no answers. Let's hope Nintendo has plenty more to show.

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